Extremists? Which Extremists?

Laura Flanders


are using the word "extremist" to describe John Ashcroft, Gale Ann

 Norton, Tommy Thompson, and just about every GW Bush nominee. Sure enough,

 the people Bush wants to install are more hostile to the idea of federal

 oversight of the environment, labor law and civil rights than any GOP

 administration in the last half-century. But if voters expect power

players  in the Democratic party to stand firm against their extremism,

they will  surely be disappointed. Democratic leaders could have joined

with the  Congressional Black Caucus and refused to accept the results of

this stolen  election. They chose not to. They could have campaigned

against the  Republican’s far-Right agenda throughout the presidential

race. They did not.  They could now be joining the "special

interest" groups (who represent  massive, key Democratic

constituencies) in opposing Bush’s cabinet  nominations, but we hear

instead that they are loathe to oppose confirmation.  Why? Because even

"extremists" like Ashcroft are members of their "club."

 Leading Democrats work with people like that all the time.


Ralph Neas of People for The American Way put it: John Ashcroft’s record  on

abortion, gun control, gay rights and racial equality make him "too  extreme"

to be confirmed as US Attorney General. Neas is part of a huge  coalition

of civil rights, feminist, gay and lesbian, labor, environmental  and

gun-control groups that has spoken out against Ashcroft, condemning among  other

parts of his record, his 1999 visit to segregationist Bob Jones  University.

With similar force, environmentalists from both sides of the  aisle and

others have come out against Gale Norton: the former Colorado  Attorney

General who would, in the words of Friends of the Earth be an  "Extreme

Anti-Environmental Interior Secretary."


coalition of 120 women’s rights groups held a press conference to announce

 their opposition to both Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson, Bush’s Health and

Human  Services secretary-nominee: "Women’s organizations are

justifiably outraged  over Bush’s appointment of right, wing, anti-women’s

rights extremists," said  Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist

Majority. "Both Ashcroft and  Thompson want to criminalize abortion

and make it a felony."


no question, Bush’s chosen cabinet holds clear, far-Right views but  Ashcroft,

Norton, Thompson, et al, aren’t wacky invaders, breaking and  entering into

the political establishment. They swim comfortably in the  mainstream of

contemporary Republican ideology and GW Bush picked them  precisely because

they share his agenda. Unfortunately, the nomination  hearings are airing

ideology that was never forced to light in the election  race. (Ashcroft

was a known-quantity; an active member of the Senate, he  co-chaired the

Constitution, Federalism and Property rights subcommittee of  the Judiciary

Committee and has a friendly relationship with every Senator on  that

committee as we’ve heard ad nauseam during his hearings to be AG.) The  Gore

campaign chose not to flush out the facts on the campaign trail. Why?  Was

it because Gore too, wanted the votes of anti-federalists, deregulators  and

civil rights resisters? Or because on issue after issue the leadership  of

the Democratic Party has colluded with politicians who hold these views  and

has helped them achieve their goals?


Ashcroft is described as the driving force behind "Charitable choice,"

 the contracting-out of federal functions to private religious

organizations  not covered under federal anti-discrimination law.

Charitable choice was  written into the Personal Responsibility Act, the

welfare reform law that Al  Gore applauded Bill Clinton for signing in

1996. In his presidential  campaign, Gore supported charitable choice,

despite complaints from workers  groups and others that the practice

permits taxpayer funds to go to groups  that discriminate. Under charitable

choice, for example, federal dollars can  go to "workfare"

agencies that ban workers or clients they think are lesbian,  or who have

abortions, to homeless shelters that admit only Christians or  Moslems or



Ann Norton is a big supporter of corporate "self-monitoring." As

 attorney general in Colorado, she backed a controversial "self

audit" law  that essentially called on businesses to monitor their

impact on the  environment themselves. She’s a harsh critic of the

Endangered Species Act.  "Self monitoring" was big with

Clinton/Gore. It was Clinton/Gore that pushed  through the General

Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, making a closed-door  cabal of private

corporations (the World Trade Organization), the ultimate  monitor of

corporate incursions on the environment — not just in the United  States,

but also around the world. (The WTO ran almost immediately into  conflict

with the US Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and comparable  legislation

in Europe, eventually provoking the fury that exploded in Seattle  in ’99.)


1995, in an era of health scares, involving among other things tainted  meat,

Gore addressed his colleagues on Reinventing Government, a program he  directed:

"Of course, Government must be involved in food safety, but is  there

a way we could rely on market incentives and people’s common sense  instead

of government interference? Can’t we get the government’s nose out of  this

business?" REGO, as Gore’s program was called, was charged with the task

 of cutting government jobs, contracting-out federal programs, and

privatizing  federal assets, including lands. During the presidential

debates with his  Republican opponent Gore even boasted about the cutting

he’d done: The  Democratic administration had shrunk government, he

bragged. Indeed, they cut  more than 300,000 federal jobs.


used to conservatives who hanker for the pre-women’s rights, pre-civil  rights,

Father Knows Best era of the 1950s. It’s bracing to meet Republicans  who

want the 1850s back. Not one, but two of the W’s nominees are on the  record

with a stated fondness for the Confederacy. It’s no coincidence that  the

stealers of the 2000 election should have a fondness for the limited  suffrage

years before the Civil War. The whole Bush team would not be where  it is

were it not for the selective disenfranchisement of hundreds of  thousands

of poor and black, Democratic voters in Florida. Courageous members  of the

Congressional Black Caucus rose to protest the certification of  Florida’s

Electoral College vote this January 6. One after another, they  explained

their reasons: voter fraud, 19th Century felon disenfranchisment  laws, the

witholding of functioning voting machines, the harassment and  intimidation

of vulnerable voters, the denial of the right to a recount. Not  one

Democratic senator joined them. Not one would sign their name to that  objection

- and for that reason, Vice President, Al Gore, presiding over the  joint

session of Congress refused, under the rules, to let the nation hear a  debate

on voter fraud and the denial of voting rights in the 2000 election.


19 and 20, protestors will flock to Washington DC. Some will be there  to

protest what happened in Florida; others to send a message to elected  officials

that there is public support for firm opposition to the incoming  Republican

administration on every issue from civil rights and choice to the  preservation

of public lands. What all will probably agree on is that  there’s been too

much accommodation of "extremism" by way too many for too  long.

We need to change the electoral system in all the ways necessary to let  some

folks with stiffer spines into power. The CBC (with two "non black  liberals,"

as the Wall St. Journal called them) inaugurated something much  more than

a President January 6. They started the new millennium with civil  disobedience

on the floor of Congress. Let’s make that the real inauguration  day.


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