Beyond Bush

UTNE IS AN officially non-partisan magazine, and if you don’t believe me, flip to page 152. That’s where we profile one of our readers, James D. Hodgson, who served as Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Labor and helped enact the controversial Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

But this column, I should warn you, makes a rather partisan appeal–a fact explained in part by Mr. Hodgson’s presence in our pages. Can you imagine a Bush cabinet member reading a magazine like Utne, or proposing regulations to ensure safer working conditions for all Americans? The GOP today is not your father’s Republican party. (It’s not even Bush’s father’s party.) Guess how long a genuinely compassionate conservative like James Hodgson would last in Washington these days?

Let me get to my point right away: We must do everything we can to unseat George W. Bush and his congressional supporters in next year’s election. The fate of America depends on it. I mean this literally. The Bush administration’s actions on Iraq, terrorism, the environment, the economy, civil liberties, and the judicial system pose a serious threat to our future. A nation solely dedicated to exercising military might and expanding corporate power will not stand tall for long.

We should be open to a rebellion in Republican ranks, in which someone arises from obscurity to challenge the madness that’s overtaken the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. We should also invite the Green Party to come forward with a plan showing how they can sew up 270 electoral votes in the next 18 months. But until then, we’re left with the Democrats.

Now, before you sigh and throw up your hands, please recall what a different country this was three years ago. Al Gore, whatever his shortcomings as a progressive and dynamic leader, would not be searching the world for new opportunities to wage war and scheming to eliminate taxes on millionaires. It’s worth remembering that Democrats are the political force that has implemented or maintained most of the valuable political initiatives in American life–social security, environmental regulation, the 40-hour workweek, even Mr. Hodgson’s OSHA.

Like many of you, I’ve had my patience tested to the breaking point on numerous occasions by the party of Carter and Clinton. And I don’t see much happening in Democratic circles right now that renews my confidence. The Dems have refused to take a decisive stand against the Bush administration on many crucial issues, and their current line-up of presidential candidates looks far from inspiring, at least at first glance. But this is not the time for us to sit back and wait for the perfect candidate who embodies progressive purity. Our mission is to stop Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Cheney, and Gail Norton from undermining much of what’s finest about this country–both in the eyes of the world and in our own lives here at home.

It’s a big job, so we’d better start today. George W. Bush has proven himself to be a startlingly effective spokesman for radical right-wing ideas. Instead of laughing him off as a grammatically challenged intellectual underachiever, we should have been studying his gift for making connections with people–especially many Middle Americans who find something in him that reassures them, despite the fact that his economic, environmental, and foreign policies undercut their best interests. So how do we beat Bush in 2004?

It’s not as hard as it looks, says Jim Hightower, chief rabble-rouser for the cause of progressive populism and a former elected state official in conservative Texas. “The Republicans won with only 15 percent of eligible voters in last year’s congressional races. We need a message that appeals to the people who aren’t voting.”

Hightower doesn’t buy the standard political line that Democrats must moderate their views to pull in more supporters. Just the opposite, he says in his amiable drawl. “I say we need to get people excited. We need a candidate with integrity who will ignite the public. And we need a message that shows people that ‘we’re on your side.'”

The peace movement, Hightower says, is the place to start organizing an ouster of Bush and company. He then rattles off a few other key issues that Democrats could embrace to win a majority of voters (see box).

Veteran activist Harriet Barlow, who was sufficiently disenchanted with the Democrats in 1980 to become one of the driving forces behind Barry Commoner’s Citizens Party, is also strategizing how to get the Democratic Party back into power. “What people really want is to hear a voice that is as determined to promote the values of an open society and the rule of law and the well-being of the domestic populace, as George Bush is about his ideology of god and guns.

“We should be doing everything we can as citizens,” she adds, ” to force the Democrats to change their terrible tendency to spend untold amounts of money battling each other in the primaries, destroying the party’s chance of competing in November. My big fantasy is that instead of having primary debates where the candidates fight with each other, we put together some footage of George Bush so the candidates can debate him. Then we can see who’s really good at it.”

Sending Bush and Cheney back to the Texas oilfields won’t deliver us immediately into the political promised land; it may not even signal a big switch in foreign or economic policy. But it will let peace-loving, fairness-minded Americans of all political stripes become part of the national debate again. That’s a small but fundamentally important step toward fulfilling our country’s promise as America the Beautiful. So, let’s go!

p.s.: If you believe American politics ought to encompass a broader range of ideas than the Republican and Democratic party platforms, turn to page 30 for a look at a promising electoral reform that’s already a part of politics in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instant run-off voting (IRV) allows voters to support third-party efforts like Greens, Libertarians, or the Reform Party without undermining major-party candidates. Had Florida adopted IRV, Al Gore would almost surely be president today.

Energy Independence
A big push for conservation and renewable power sources that would diminish our dependence on Mideast oil.

Health Care for Everyone
The issue that won it for Clinton in 1992 but he then botched with a timid and overly bureaucratic managed-care proposal.

Fair Tax Policy
Stop tax cuts for the wealthy and reduce the bite of payroll taxes (social security and such) on most people’s take-home pay by eliminating loopholes that exempt well-to-do folks from paying payroll taxes on any income over $85,000.

Restore Privacy Protections
Keep both government and corporate big brothers out of our lives.

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