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The Democrats in Wartime


As I write it’s now seven weeks since the U.S. began it’s near-unilateral war against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, in the words of President Bush on November 21st, “other terrorists who threaten America and our friends,” as well as “other nations who sponsor them. . . Across the world, and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win.”

As if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Tom Ridge can be trusted to decide who and what is terrorism and what is the best way to defeat it.

These are the same people, the same types of U.S. rulers, responsible for the defense and expansion of a corporate world “order” where about 400 individuals have financial assets equal to 3 billion of the world’s people, those who make less than $2.00 a day. Jesus’ words come to mind: “Before you take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye, take the beam out of your own.”

And yet, with the exception of Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney, no other U.S. Congresspeople or Senators, as far as I’ve heard or seen, have publicly questioned this “war on terrorism.”

Not one has publicly called for those responsible for the 9-11 attacks to be found, prosecuted and punished consistent with international law and through international bodies. Not one has called for either an end to the bombing of Afghanistan or even a temporary bombing halt, as did Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over a month ago, because of the very real threat of starvation for literally millions this winter because of the war.

Not one Republican, not one other Democrat, neither of the two Congressional independents.

On the other hand, the Congressional Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders have opposed the shameless war-profiteering being attempted by the Republicans. They have supported unemployment and health benefits and tax cuts oriented toward those in need.

Some had the courage to oppose the most egregious rollbacks of civil liberties being pushed by Ashcroft and the Republican Congressional leadership. In other words, when it comes to domestic issues, some, sometimes many, Democrats in Congress have been willing to do at least some of the right things.

Why the distinction?

Perhaps it’s because they’re getting more pressure from the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, liberal groups and others on the domestic issues and not so much from peace groups and those opposed to this war. That’s very possible, even likely, but again: not even one Congressional Democrat calling for just a temporary bombing halt so food and supplies can get in to starving Afghans?

Are they that terrified of political backlash, so afraid that if they speak out in this way that they will be targeted and subject to losing come their next election cycle? Many progressive Democrats have won office quite easily by large margins. Their political base is relatively secure. Again, why the silence?

This is not a new problem.

Within a week of the September 11th attacks I pulled out a book by Paul Frolich about Rosa Luxemburg, a heroine of the socialist movement of the first part of the 20th century. I read about what happened in 1914 as Europe moved toward World War I.

At that moment in time there was a powerful and relatively unified Socialist International composed of parties with literally millions of members and scores of representatives in legislatures across Europe. As the danger of war grew, this body came out strongly against it.

Yet, when explicit military mobilizations began, almost all the member parties capitulated to the war fever propagated by the dominant financial and political powers in each respective country. The Socialist International collapsed under the weight of jingoistic militarism. It was left to a relative handful, at first, although many more later, to oppose this horrible war between rival colonialist powers.

More than a handful of us have been opposing this first stage of Bush and Co.’s “war on terrorism.” Literally tens of thousands have demonstrated throughout the country. We are getting organized and connecting up with one another. We have allies around the world who are generally further along and with a broader base of opposition to the Bush-oil-and-war-men.

Indeed, recent polls have shown that the understandable support around the world for the U.S. following the 9-11 attacks is shrinking fast. Most of the world is with the U.S. peace movement in our on-going efforts to bring sanity, humanity and law to U.S. actions.

It is maddening that Congressional Democrats appear to be so cowed by the Republican/mass media propaganda campaign. It is even more maddening when one considers that there are 55 members of Congress part of the Progressive Caucus.*

I am sure that most of these self-defined “progressives” understand clearly that what the Bush-oil-and-war-men intend with their “war on terrorism” will not end terrorism. In the long run it is likely to increase it while making it more difficult for progressive programs to be enacted on a national level.

And it poses a great danger to many of the values and principles they believe in. Yet there is a deafening silence from them collectively and individually, Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney excepted.

Some might say the reason for this timidity is that they are Democrats, not Greens or independents. Maybe. It is reasonable to expect that if there were more progressive independents in Congress, elected because of an organized and active citizen base and accountable to that base, we would see more political courage and better politics.

Yet, as someone who has been working for over 25 years for an independent, progressive political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, I’m not sure, in this case, if that’s the main reason for this timidity. After all, look at German Green support for the German government’s support of this war.

Here’s what I’m thinking: we need something new, a Justice and Peace Accountability Campaign, JPAC, and we need it now. We need to organize mass, community meetings, accountability sessions, for our progressive (and other) Congresspeople.

We need to bring out all the progressive-minded people in their districts to provide some backbone and direction on these issues. We need to get ourselves organized to keep the pressure on those who are supposed to be our national, progressive, political leaders. (We can’t wait for the day, hopefully soon, when there’s a decent group of independent progressives in Congress.)

All members of the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the U.S. Senate are up for re-election less than a year from now. If, during that election season, there is little public expression of concern about the direction the Bush-men are taking, not just domestically but internationally, we will be in even more trouble than we are now.

We need explicit public commitments to a justice and peace program from those who call themselves progressive. If they won’t make such commitments, we should actively search for people to run against them who will, either as independents or in primaries. These elected officials need to understand that they face public criticism and challenges if they bob and weave on these critical issues.

These are the great issues of our time, and they’re on the wrong side, or they might as well be. They need to be held accountable. Progressivism-lite will not do the job. Justice and peace, an end to state terrorism and the conditions that breed individual and organizational terrorism, call for speaking truth to power and a powerful people’s movement.

Two-party, spineless, politics-as-usual is an almost criminal response to the urgent situation we are facing. Those in national political leadership who call themselves “progressive” need to show it now.

*You can find out more about who the 55 are and what the Progressive Caucus is doing at http://bernie.house.gov/pc.

Ted Glick is National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and author of Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society. He can be reached at [email protected] or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

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