It was "a dark day for democracy," as the Green Party declared in a press release after Congress voted to give George W. Bush the authority to do what he wishes with Iraq. But I don't see how voting Green against Democrats this year can accomplish anything but set up Bush and his cronies to run the nation unchallenged for at least the next two years.
The Bush White House spent all of September beating the war drums against Iraq, distracting the public from the corporate scandals and the faltering economy. Then Republican congressional leaders, taking their cue, insisted on a war vote in October in order to split the Democrats just before the mid-term elections. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate buckled, although a 126-81 majority of House Democrats opposed the measure. Urged to caution by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., 21 of 50 Senate Democrats voted against the attack.
The Greens clearly hope to be the beneficiary of the peace camp's frustration with those Democrats who signed off on the war threat. Rahul Mahajan, Green candidate for Texas governor, was quoted, "Those who voted against the resolution should be applauded, but there can be no further reason for anyone to vote for the Democrats who supported this resolution."
That statement exposes a weakness of the Greens: lack of proportion. As I have written before, I agree with most of the Green agenda, but elections are about electing people, and the only candidates the Greens will elect this year are Republicans. As much as I wish instant runoffs and proportional representation were in play this election, we are still operating under the old winner-takes-all rules (in all but Louisiana, which at least provides for a runoff). Greens are running in 60 House races and they threaten to make a difference in the Minnesota Senate race. That only encourages the GOP. White House officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill are so optimistic about winning both chambers of Congress Nov. 5 that they have started planning to use their new power to speed up tax cuts next year, Mike Allen reported in the Oct. 20 Washington Post.
Business lobbyists also plan to seek nationwide limits on the amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases, plus an overhaul of the tax code to reduce the burden on corporations. The White House plans to subsidize prescription drugs only for low-income Medicare patients instead of the broader assistance favored by Democrats. Due to the stock market nosedive, the White House is unlikely to resume its push for privatization of Social Security, at least until after the 2004 election, Allen wrote. White House economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey recently met with 15 chief executives of major corporations to solicit their suggestions.
Capturing control of the Senate also would allow Republicans to set up the new homeland security department as a union-free zone of GOP patronage. It would clear the nomination of right-wing judges to federal courts. Certainly the Bush administration is no friend of labor or the environment. Dubya hasn't seen an oil drilling plan so far that he didn't like. Only brother Jeb's electoral needs kept offshore drilling away from Florida. When small farmers or small businesses run up against factory farms and big businesses, with the Bush administration the rule is: Whoever has the gold makes the rules.
Greens also criticized Congress "for dropping plans for an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, after negotiations with the House Intelligence Committee fell apart." However, according to published reports, congressional Democrats thought they had a final deal over the scope and powers of a 9/11 panel, only to see the Republicans renege. Newsweek reported that a few hours after the deal was announced, Vice President Dick Cheney called House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. Later that day Goss told a closed-door conference committee he couldn't accept the deal, citing instructions from "above my pay grade,'' sources said. Goss later said he was referring to other House leaders, not Cheney, but it's clear the Republicans scuttled the panel.
Greens have the right to run, of course, but progressive voters should heed the physician's dictum: "First, do no harm."
I hope, perhaps in vain, that after the election the Greens will be able to get together with progressive Democrats, as well as pragmatic centrists, to move initiatives for instant runoff voting and proportional representation, which would help both parties. If Greens and Democrats keep poking each other in the eyes, it can only hurt the cause of progressive populism.
THE PROGRESSIVE CAUSE lost a great organizer with the death of Tony Mazzochi of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 5. Mazzochi, who was 76, dropped out of school at age 16 but never stopped studying ways to improve the lives of working people. After serving as a combat soldier in World War II, he worked as an auto worker, steel worker and in construction trades before he became involved with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union, first in his New York local and later as the international union's citizenship-legislative director in 1965. He played key roles in the civil rights movement and in the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. He was elected OCAW vice-president in 1977 and served in various union posts until his retirement in 1999. In 1991, as assistant to the OCAW president, he established the Alice Hamilton College, a school-without-walls dedicated to the educational needs of union members, published New Solutions, a journal of environmental and occupational health policy, and with other trade union activists formed the Labor Party Advocates, which became the Labor Party in 1996.
In his last message to the party at its convention last July, Mazzochi noted that organized labor has declined from 12% of private sector workers in 1990 to less than 9% this year.
"The implications of this decline for the Labor Party are many and profound," he said. "Unions are besieged. They are losing ground on every front. They are consumed with day-to-day struggles. Except for a very few, they are in retreat. Several prominent labor leaders have told me that while they agree with the Labor Party ideologically, they have to be very pragmatic in this era. They fear losing access to politicians needed to help them survive. Others agree with our platform but don't have the time to build for the future. This state of siege, indeed, is a formidable obstacle."
The party should be proud of its working-class agenda and its anti-corporate message, he said. Its organizing campaigns for universal health care, free higher education and expanded worker rights not only are popular but help the party shape national debates and keep doors open with unions that believe in the agenda but are not ready to join the party.
"Finally," he said, "we have learned about the wisdom of our basic electoral strategy. From the start we resolved never to play the role of spoiler. Our electoral rules insure that the Labor Party would always have broad labor support when it engaged in electoral politics. That policy has served as well. ..."
Despite the long odds, he concluded, "there is reason for profound optimism. Our time is coming. When corporations collapse, the opportunity for profound change emerges. Working people, at the height of the Great Depression, had the resilience to organize new institutions and reshape the economy. Then, as now, working people need an institution to voice their rage. I have dedicated a lifetime to building such an expression. It certainly will not happen in the limited time now afforded to me. But you have the ability to position our party for great deeds. While other groups may waffle, let this party serve as the dog at the corporate throat."
Mazzochi's family requests that memorial donations be made to the Labor Party's Debs-Jones-Douglass Institute, 1532 16th Street, Washington, D.C. 20009. (See also www.thelaborparty.org.)
AFTER THE 11/15/02 ISSUE went to press, and as I prepared to post this to the Web, the news broke that Paul Wellstone, his wife, daughter, three staff members and two pilots were lost in an airplane crash in northern Minnesota. The nation's working people have lost a champion. The Senate has lost its most progressive populist member, a man who embodied the best of 1960s activism and represented, as he joked during his abortive run for the presidency in the late 1990s, "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." It appears the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor Party will be allowed to name a substitute candidate to run in Wellstone's place during the last week and a half of the campaign. But win or lose in Minnesota, now it's up to the rest of the Senate Democrats to stand up for the issues Paul Wellstone took up for -- issues of vital interest to working people, small businesses and family farmers.
WHILE I WAS WAITING TO POST THIS as our web host worked on technical issues, it now appears that the Wellstone family has asked Walter Mondale to take Wellstone's place on the ballot. Mondale was holding off on a final decision until after Wellstone's memorial service Tuesday, Oct. 29, but the former Minnesota senator, vice president under Jimmy Carter, Democratic nominee for president in 1984 and ambassador to Japan under Bill Clinton probably is the best choice given the limited time until the election. Mondale was quoted as telling Wellstone's son the only thing he and Paul had disagreed over was Wellstone's pledge to serve only two terms. -- JMC