Democracy Requires Participation

By Margie Burns

In the 2008 elections, Democrats will have 12 senatorial seats to defend and the Republicans will have 21 -- theoretically a strategic disadvantage for the GOP. However, nine GOP senators are from southern states (counting Kentucky and Texas), so if Democrats write off the South, they will exactly erase their advantage.

This electoral strategy, not one of scintillating brilliance, is being touted in sectors of the D.C. corporate media &endash; generally the same sectors who saw George W. Bush as a credible presidential candidate, who acquiesced feebly in the buildup to the Iraq war and who to this day have not adequately reported problems with election fraud, vote suppression and vote tampering still lingering six years after November 2000.

These are not necessarily analysts to listen to, at least not for Democrats who actually want to win. Tabling for the moment the question of which Democratic incumbents most need a good primary opponent in '08, it is still a given that individuals who have made some sort of successful accommodation -- for themselves -- with the war boosters and vote suppressers may not be motivated to support essential reforms.

A few simple points here:

1) Voter registration is the name of the game. With younger voters and some marginalized voters more energized than they have been in 20 years, there is no excuse for failing to support every local voter registration effort in any state. Genuine grassroots or netroots action means signing up voters. Supporting voters is supporting elections. Trying to "depress turnout," as the euphemistic phrase goes, strikes at the very heart of the American political system.

2) Speaking of that, practically every GOP incumbent from Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia to Sen. John Warner of Virginia has gone along with the unconstitutional policy of indefinite detention and not telling prisoners the charge against them. Indefinite detention is torture. Not telling prisoners the charges against them cannot possibly make us safer. Every citizen in the US, in every region of the country, should be allowed to know that the attack on habeas corpus by the Bush White House is an attack on America.

3) Saxby Chambliss won last time by having a name resembling that of incumbent Sen. Max Cleland (D) and by insulting and smearing wounded Vietnam hero Cleland with a picture of Osama bin Laden. (There were not enough clear photographs of Cleland, clearly labeled with his name.) Chambliss is among Senate chickenhawks [war supporters who never served in the military].

4) Virtually every GOP candidates has also gone along with the use of federal money in the "war on terror" as an unregulated slush fund for profiteering. Many of them have opposed even the least investigation into corruption, fraud and profiteering in Afghanistan, Iraq and at home in regard to military spending or security spending. Most of them receive campaign donations, basically legalized bribery, from the same corporate interests most associated with profiteering, cost overruns and other problems.

5) It is typical for the D.C. press corps to write off some states as "safe" and some candidates as unbeatable. They did it with -&endash; picking a random example here -- Sen. George Allen, R-Va. Not so fast. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is a backer of Gov. Rick Perry, who is basically a walking set of pressure points and not a safe actuarial bet to last a full term without scandal of one kind or another.

6) Most of all, every GOP candidate for Senate actively pushed the G.W. Bush war in Iraq. Some went farther than others in smearing citizens who questioned the war or who opposed it; none has opposed Bush-Cheney smears. None has opposed the White House policy of screening audiences for taxpayer-funded presidential events. None has opposed White House secrecy in forming "energy policy" regarding Iraq among other topics.

What the "red states" have in common is not region but a dearth of newspapers -- that is, of strong daily newspapers free to report adequately on issues of genuine significance. This statement, which can be checked at, is as true of those Old Confederacy strongholds Alaska and Utah as of any other state.

The functioning of participatory democracy requires an informed citizenry, toward which the administration has by now more than clarified its true attitude. (That "No Child Left Behind" legislation was largely designed to sweeten coverage by the Washington Post, owned by the same corporation that owns the Kaplan standardized-testing company; the Post Co. has reaped half a billion dollars so far from the current emphasis on testing and test-prepping.)

There is a bright spot on the horizon, however. The old news media have, indeed, been downgraded, sad to say. But a remedy was to some extent inevitable. People stop reading newspapers when they can no longer find out what's going on from reading the paper -&endash; and now, many people have quite simply started turning to each other for information. When people work separately together -&endash; as when they each individually decide, by the millions, to turn out to vote, standing in line for hours -- we have participatory democracy in spite of all the discouraging measures against it.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

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