The next campaign
Being of the Irish persuasion, I naturally am attracted to lost causes,
like the idea of democracy. Still my response to the recent election was:
What were we thinking?
The only reasonable answer that I could come up with was that the American
voter opted for entertainment value in pitting the Republican 105th Congress
against repentant Democrat Bill Clinton.
Either that, or they're hoping to advance the career of Vice President Al
Gore after Clinton's impeachment.
Progressives can be pleased with the re-election of senators Tom Harkin,
Paul Wellstone, Max Baucus, Carl Levin, John Kerry and Jay Rockefeller and
the promotion to the Senate of Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Dick Durbin
in Illinois, Jack Reed in Rhode Island, Bob Torricelli in New Jersey, Mary
Landrieu in Louisiana and Max Cleland in Georgia, but with Republicans posting
a net gain of two the Senate likely will be even more hostile to progressive
Progressive forces, led by the AFL-CIO, managed to sidetrack Newt Gingrich's
revolution and forced Republicans to back off plans to cut Medicare and
Social Security to pay for tax breaks for the rich. Congress even approved
a modest increase in the minimum wage.
While battered-but-unbowed Republicans are now considering ways to further
restrict labor unions from engaging in political activity, the $35 million
the AFL-CIO spent was a small fraction of the contributions by corporate
executives and their PACs that went overwhelmingly to Republicans and conservative
Democrats. "There's no way that corporate America can be outspent by
any other entity. That will never be overcome," said Ira Arlook, national
director of Citizen Action.
He sees the answer as public financing. An initiative approved by voters
in Maine could become a model: It limits campaign contributions from individuals,
corporations and PACs to $500 for gubernatorial candidates and $250 for
state House and Senate candidates. It also provides public funding for candidates
who agree to limit their spending, refuse private contributions and shorten
their campaign seasons.
The money is expected to come from cutting the operating budgets of the
legislative and executive branches and doubling lobbyists' registration
fees (to $400).
"We're never going to be in a position where the individual and the
corporations are not in a position to express their position," Arlook
said. "But public funding would make sure that good candidates who
are not wealthy can be viable candidates."
For all the talk about two-thirds of the American people wanting an alternative
party, they must have been among the 51% of eligible voters who stayed home.
Ross Perot got 7.8 million votes, or 8.5% of the total, to earn the Reform
Party a place on the ballot and public funding in the next election. Ralph
Nader got 580,627, 0.6% of the total, followed by Libertarian Harry Browne's
470,818, Taxpayer Party's Howard Phillips' 178,779, Natural Law Party's
John Hagelin's 110,194 and more than a dozen other declared candidates.
After the election, Nader said, "The Greens have much to be proud of
this fall. They themselves have broadened the deepened their roots in communities
throughout this country. ... The Green Party numbers, while much smaller
than those received by the Democratic, Republican and Reform Party, are
good first national steps by the emerging young party toward strengthening
our democracy and will form a substantial foundation for future Green campaigns."
The Greens had some successes in local races, gaining the majority on the
City Council of Arcata, in northern California. Michael Feinstein won a
City Council seat in Santa Monica, and two Greens won City Council seats
in Berkeley. Overall, Greens won 6 out of 7 local races in California. Nationwide,
Green Party members hold local office in 12 states, including school board,
city council, and county commission seats.
New Party members and supported candidates won 16 of 23 races, including
an at-large race for the Little Rock, Ark., City Council, a seat on the
county board for Little Rock and the school board for Prince George's County,
Md. Chicago is sending the first New Party member to Congress, as Danny
Davis, who ran as a Democrat, won an overwhelming 85% victory. New Party
member Barack Obama was uncontested for a State Senate seat from Chicago.
The New Party also helped Carolyn McCarthy knock off freshman Republican
Dan Frisa in a closely watched U.S. House seat in Long Island. Tom DiNapoli,
the most progressive State Assemblyman on Long Island, handily won re-election
as a Democratic Party/New Party fusion candidate. Progressive Milwaukee
members affiliated with the New Party won a seat in the state Assembly and
two seats in the state Senate.
San Francisco voters by 56-44 percent rejected a preference voting initiative
as a competing initiative to resume single-member, winner-take-all district
elections for the Board of Supervisors was approved by 57%. But advocates
of proportional representation were heartened by the re-election of Democratic
Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a black congresswoman who was targeted for defeat
by Republicans in a redrawn suburban Atlanta district. She won a second
term with 58% of the vote. She views proportional representation as a way
to allow minorities to be represented and maintain the spirit of the Voting
Rights Act without gerrymandering districts.
Bruce Colburn, secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee Labor Council, member
of the New Party-affiliated Progressive Milwaukee and president of Wisconsin
Citizen Action, and Joel Rogers, chairman of the New Party, wrote of the
possibility of building a new progressive populist coalition in "What's
Next: Beyond the Election" in the Nov. 18 issue of The Nation. The
core Democratic idea of using public power to build a genuinely democratic
society has all but vanished as a practical political ideal, in their analysis.
In addition to the deep changes in the structure of the economy, organizational
rivalries within progressive ranks, tactical mistakes and failures of leadership,
they write, "the most important reason is also the most obvious: As
a movement, we are not serious players in the electoral game."
Progressives have allowed themselves to be defined at the left wing of the
liberal/conservative axis, they write. But "the liberal/conservative
axis itself misses the real conflict in politics today -- which is not so
much a battle between left and right as between bottom and top -- between
those favoring stronger democracy and corporate accountability (the majority)
and those opposed to both (the tiny rich minority and their apologists).
This fight is the one we should declare as our own. Taking sides with the
majority, we should wage the 'democrat versus anti-democrat' and 'worker-consumer-citizen
versus irresponsible corporate power' struggle. It will be an exceptionally
nasty fight, but this is one we can win."
Colburn and Rogers propose this progressive program:
-- Reform tax and industrial policy to close off the 'low road' on industrial
restructuring and promote high-wage/low-waste domestic investment and business
-- Revitalize metropolitan economies as model regions of advanced production.
-- Build high-speed trains -- "capital and labor intensive, they're
good for the earth and people like them."
-- Make equal opportunity real by declaring a "Bill of Rights for America's
Children," providing everybody with a "starting even" package
of day care, health insurance, parental income allowances, recreation and
advanced, high-quality education.
-- Declare America a "lifelong learning society," fundamentally
reforming public education, replacing local property taxes with more general
revenues, imposing high standards on teachers and students and provide links
to work for those who don't go on to college. Also ensure lifelong learning
opportunities for adults.
-- Restore government accountability, beginning with public funding of campaigns.
-- Strengthen the organizing rights of workers, consumers and communities,
while explicitly assigning them a greater role in devising and administering
"public" programs for economic upgrading and community renewal.
-- Provide single-payer health insurance.
-- Simplify and integrate our tax system to tax both private and social
income on a progressive basis.
-- Declare the budgetary "peace dividend."
-- Declare an "environmental dividend" in energy and other savings
that application of current technologies would permit.
-- Forge a new internationalism centered on "leveling up" international
worker rights and wages, rather than the leveling down associated with GATT.
We like most of that program but would also strengthen anti-trust legislation
to help small businesses compete with corporate chain stores. We also would
gear agricultural policy to promote small, family-based farms and sustainable
economic development in rural areas. And we would require accountability
from the media conglomerates that use public airwaves.
A progressive electoral alliance could include the AFL-CIO and its member
unions, citizen advocacy groups such as ACORN, Citizen Action, Public Citizen
and the Public Interest Research Groups, political parties such as the Green
Party, Labor Party and New Party, civil rights organizations such as the
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the NAACP and NOW and
environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation
If progressives want to build a populist movement for the 1998 election,
when 16 GOP and 18 Democratic seats will be up for grabs in the Senate,
they had better start working now to build a national network that can recruit
progressive candidates and raise funds and organize people to elect them.
The populist Alliance, holding its organizational convention the weekend
of November 21 near Kerrville, Texas, hopes to develop into a forum for
progressive populist movement. For information on the Alliance, call 617-491-4221.
For the New Party call 1-800-200-1294. For the Labor Party call 202-234-5190.
For the Green Party call 607-756-4211. For Democrats 2000, which promotes
progressive populists in the Democratic Party, call 202-626-5620.
Progressives should consider whether to take back the Democratic Party or
take over the Reform Party. Since the Reformers are on the ballot in every
state and have a guarantee of public funding in the next presidential race,
somebody is bound to take it over. And if you can't take the Reform Party
away from Ross Perot, you surely can't take the Democratic Party away from
the Fortune 500.
-- Jim Cullen
News | Current Issue
| Back Issues | Essays
About the Progressive Populist | How
to Subscribe | How to Contact Us
Copyright © 1995-1996 The Progressive Populist