Start Your Engines
It's bad enough that President Clinton did not press the Republican congressional
leadership to include health coverage for all uninsured children as part
of the budget deal. But then, when senators Orrin Hatch and Edward Kennedy
tried to marshal bipartisan support to attach their children's health care
bill to the budget reconciliation, Clinton sent his minions to persuade
Democrats to vote against the amendment.
The Hatch-Kennedy amendment was defeated on a 55-45 vote, with eight Democrats
voting to kill it. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had called the amendment
a deal buster, and it probably would have made the budget more difficult
to pass, with its 43-cent-a-pack levy on cigarette smokers. But the participation
of the Clinton White House in smothering this initiative surely must remove
all hope that the administration will return to a progressive course in
the next four years, much less a populist one.
The budget begrudges some good points, such as tax breaks for families with
minor children and college students, funding for Head Start, subsidized
housing and restoration of disability and Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants,
but what the headlines giveth the small print taketh away. For example,
while the budget deal grants $15 million that is supposed to provide health
insurance for almost half of the nation's uninsured children, it takes away
a similar amount from Medicaid payments to charity hospitals and increases
Medicare premiums paid by the elderly. The wealthy, however, will get their
long-sought cuts in the capital gains tax and higher exemptions from the
inheritance tax. When it comes to choosing between Wall Street and Main
Street, Clinton repeatedly has bowed to the big-dollar boys. The poor folks
must settle for gestures and scraps.
At least House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt rose to speak against the budget,
which, he pointed out, again enriches the wealthy at the expense of the
poor, the young and the helpless. We reprint his speech on page 6. If it
was the first shot of the 2000 campaign, marking Gephardt in opposition
not only to the House Majority but also to the White House, well, it is
about time. After all, Clinton has installed the North American Free Trade
Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which put American
workers at the mercy of multinational corporations; then he botched an attempt
at health-care reform; he apologized for the modest tax increase on wealthy
people that was part of the 1993 budget deal; he renominated Alan Greenspan
as Federal Reserve Board chairman to pursue a fiscal policy of low wages;
he signed the welfare repeal act to force more people onto the job market,
further depressing wages; and now he has signed off on a budget deal that
grants more tax breaks to the wealthy, and he won't even hold out for a
provision that taxes smokers to provide health insurance for children. Vice
President Al Gore is in no position to voice his criticism even if he disagreed
with these "New Democratic" policies -- and there is no evidence
that he does.
Given this view of "New Democratic" policies, it is appropriate
that many New Mexico progressive Democrats opted for Green candidate Carol
Miller in the May 13 special election for the seat Bill Richardson gave
up to become ambassador to the United Nations. Miller's 17 percent of the
vote -- the best finish ever by a Green in a federal election -- threw the
race to the Republican in a district that normally votes solidly Democratic.
But Miller was having no talk of being a "spoiler."
"The spoilers are the people who were afraid to vote for the best candidate,"
she told the Santa Fe New Mexican on election night. Democratic officials
had put forward Eric Serna, the state corporation commissioner, who ran
an undistinguished, if expensive, campaign as a moderate. Organized labor
and environmental groups dutifully lined up behind the Democratic anointee,
but enough of the rank and file turned Green to let Republican Bill Redmond
win with 43 percent.
You would think New Mexico Democrats would have learned something from the
1994 race for governor, when Green candidate Robert Mondragon polled 11
percent of the vote. That was enough to tip the race to Republican Gary
Johnson over moderate Democrat Bruce King. This special election sent one
more Republican to Congress for a year and a half. That will not upset the
balance of power. But Democrats had better find a way to work with the Greens,
or at least find a more progressive candidate to run in 1998, when Miller,
a health-care worker, says she will run again.
Progressives don't want to be spoilers, but they hardly can be blamed for
refusing to vote for Democrats who turn their backs on progressive interests.
Unfortunately, neither the Greens nor any other alternative party is currently
in a position to win a congressional race. Progressives must decide first
if they can take back the Democratic Party and return it to its progressive
populist roots. The 1998 elections could provide a good test. If Dick Gephardt
wants to be a progressive populist standard-bearer, his speech opposing
the Republicrat budget deal is a good start. He and Minority Whip David
Bonior also should fight further expansion of "free trade" unless
strong labor and environmental standards are in place. And advocating public
financing for congressional campaigns would go a long way toward making
the party accountable to the people, not corporations.
Those who have given up on the Democrats should decide which of the alternative
parties provides the best route to electoral power. One way or the other,
progressives need to start winning congressional races, not just spoiling
According to Ballot Access News, the Reform Party, which grew from
Ross Perot's 1994 and 1998 runs for president, is already qualified for
31 state ballots for the 1998 election. The Libertarian Party is on 22 state
ballots, the Natural Law and the Taxpayers' parties are on nine state ballots
and the Greens are on eight state ballots.
Ideally, the Greens would be able to figure out a way to cooperate with
the Reformists. However, there is a struggle over the direction of the Reform
Party between Perot loyalists who want to maintain top-down control over
the party and representatives of at least 10 states, allied with former
Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who favor opening up the party as a participatory
democracy with grassroots control.
The Dallas-based Perot loyalists want to focus attention on key issues and
are not interested in running candidates for Congress or local office while
the dissidents, who have formed the National Reform Party Steering Committee,
want to leave those decisions up to the state parties. [For information
on the democratic Reformists, contact Ralph Copeland at (804) 288-1100.]
In New Jersey, five alternative parties have formed a "Council of Alternative
Political Parties" to work together on common problems such as ballot
access. The council, including the Greens, Natural Law, New Jersey Conservative,
Libertarian and the US Taxpayers parties, have joined in a federal lawsuit
against the New Jersey Secretary of State to force a constructive change
in NJ's stifling ballot access requirements. The council is being represented
by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "If alternative
parties can work together on common problems, they can get REAL changes
done," said spokesman Albert Larotonda. For information, call 908-741-2129.
As Dick J. Reavis notes in his essay on the Patriot movement on page 10,
it has been a while since working-class whites felt comfortable with liberals.
It is long past time that rift was repaired. Just to make it clear: We are
not fans of Louis Beam, the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity Movement,
the Patriots or other militias, but we agree with Reavis that progressive
populists have a lot of complaints in common with those groups and others
on what is characterized as the "hard right."
For several years Joel Dyer, editor of Boulder Weekly, has been tracking
the movement of farmers forced off the land and into the anti-government
movement. He recently wrote, "There is one question I always ask the
people I meet in the anti-government movement: 'What was it that finally
made you stop and say, "this isn't right, I've got to do something
about it?"' The answers they've given are varied, yet in one sense
"'They took my farm.' 'The IRS took everything I owned.' 'Environmentalists
wouldn't let me run my cows cause some damn little sparrow they said was
endangered lived on my place.' 'They were going to put me in jail because
I didn't have the money to pay my tickets.' 'They took away my kids because
I can't pay my child support. I only make five bucks an hour. How can I
pay child support?'
"Different answers, one theme. Simply put, those who can't financially
afford to live in our system are taking up arms. The economic gap between
rich and poor can no longer be bridged by our dwindling middle class. We
have once again, as at other times in our history, reached a turning point.
We can watch these people turn to despair and violence or we can give them
a political alternative that shows how they share interests with environmentalists,
minorities, small businesses and even the hated, hapless liberals. If it
is asking too much of the Greens (or the New Party, the Labor Party, the
Socialist Party or whatever party) to make a connection with working-class
whites, then they will have to settle for spoiling the Democrats' chances.
Good words needed
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