Ruth Conniff

The Supreme Court gets to decide if Republicans can cheat to win elections

The Republican Party and rightwing groups have worked for years to solidify their hold on power at every level of government by cheating young people, minorities, and other likely Democratic voters out of their right to have their votes count.

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Give Your Values This Holiday Season: Buy Mexican

Still shopping for holiday gifts? Here’s an idea: buy something from Mexico. How about a piece of gorgeous handmade embroidery? Filigreed gold earrings? Or a bottle of the trendiest spirit of the season, mezcal?  While you’re at it, you can give a helping hand to the victims of Mexico’s massive earthquakes, and a stiff pushback to the ugly, anti-Mexican rhetoric of Donald Trump.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Started a War Against Teachers - Now Education Could Decide a Key Battleground Election

Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public instruction announced on Wednesday, August 23 that he plans to run for governor against Scott Walker. In his speech declaring his candidacy, he promised to invest in children, public schools, and the middle class, and declared that he will heal the political divide exploited by Scott Walker and Donald Trump.

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Why the Arguments for Privatizing Public Schools Fall Flat

This animated video by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore looks at school privatization through the eyes of little Timmy, a kindergartener who likes his public school.

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FBI Raids of Charter School Operators Jump

There’s been a flood of local news stories in recent months about FBI raids on charter schools all over the country.

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Scathing Report Finds School Privatization Hurts Poor Kids

This article originally appeared at The Progressive, and is reprinted here with their permission. This report was made possible by a generous grant from the Voqal Fund.

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Threat of Benefit Cuts in Wisconsin Prompts Wave of Sudden Retirements

On Friday night, the eve of a massive rally in Madison, Wisconsin, against Governor Scott Walker's union-busting "budget repair bill," a few state employees gathered for a hasty retirement party at Jenna's, a downtown bar directly across from the Capitol building.

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The Bailout Is a Fraud That Could Bring Down Obama

Goldman Sachs reports better-than-expected profits this quarter. Wells Fargo cleared record profits last week. The President, understandably, points to signs of hope and encourages Americans to be optimistic about the economy. But when do we move from healthy confidence to a confidence game? The banks are reporting profits thanks to massive infusions of taxpayer bailout funds. It's simply silly to be lulled by cheery-sounding reports when the institutions are actually insolvent. At some point we have to take a clear-eyed look at the massive failure of our financial system. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

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Torturers in the White House: Why Is This Story Being Ignored?

The biggest news of the last week went virtually uncovered by the mainstream, print media. ABC News first reported last Wednesday that top Bush Administration officials, including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, and George Tenet, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld met to discuss which particular torture techniques should be used against Al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody.

The group signed off on specific techniques, including sleep deprivation, slapping, pushing, and waterboarding, and gave instruction "so detailed … some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed, down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic."

If John McCain is seriously considering Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, the former POW should keep in mind that Rice not only condoned torture, but chaired the National Security Council's "Principals Committee" meetings to plan the details of torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was so troubled by the meetings, he was moved to object: "Why are we discussing this in the White House?" he asked, according to ABC. "History will not judge this kindly."

On Friday, ABC added this blockbuster: Bush himself was aware of the meetings. Unlike Ashcroft, he had no compunctions. There was nothing "startling" about the revelations that his top advisers were directing the waterboarding of individual prisoners, Bush told ABC's Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue and I approved," Bush said.

Why is this not bigger news?

Remember when the nation was brought to a virtual standstill over Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern?

We now have confirmation that the President of the United States gave the OK for his national security team to violate international law and plot the sordid details of torture. The Democrats in Congress should be raising the roof.

House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, to his credit, has suggested subpoenaing the members of the Principals Committee, calling their actions "a stain on our democracy."

Conyers also threatened last week to subpoena John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer whose recently declassified 2003 torture memos attempted to give legal cover to practices such as waterboarding.

Such techniques, as long as their sole purpose wasn't sadism, were acceptable, Yoo wrote. Being a sadist was presumably necessary but not sufficient qualification for employment in the Bush White House.

In his new book The Terror Presidency, Yoo's colleague Jack Goldsmith writes about his evolution from friend and supporter of the officials who brought us to this pass to a conscientious objector to their illegal and morally corrupt practices.

Back when he worked for Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, Goldsmith wrote a memo warning that Bush Administration officials could be indicted by the International Criminal Court for their actions in the war on terror.

After he went to work for Justice, Goldsmith began standing up to the torture cabal at the White House -- to his enduring discomfort. In one incident, recounted in his book and in a September profile by Jeffrey Rosen of the New York Times Magazine, he knocked heads with Dick Cheney's advisor (now his chief of staff) David Addington. Goldsmith delivered the bad news that terror suspects were, in fact, covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention against torture of civilians: "'The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections,'" Addington replied angrily, according to Goldsmith. 'You cannot question his decision.'"

Goldsmith also criticized the torture memos for their "extremely broad and unnecessary analysis of the President's Commander-in-Chief power" and for their extremely loose definition of torture as limited to causing a level of pain akin to organ failure.

Pointing out that the Administration was violating the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Geneva Conventions, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Goldmith withdrew Yoo's torture memos -- and promptly resigned his post.

Even after losing that flimsy legal cover, Bush and the other members of the Principals Committee appear unrepentant and undeterred.

Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, is no civil libertarian, but like John Ashcroft and John McCain, he has spoken out against executive lawlessness. No doubt he would have plenty to tell the House Judiciary Committee.

And perhaps the International Criminal Court as well.

Elizabeth Edwards Interview: "The Candidate Who's Best for Women in This Race is My Husband"

Eizabeth Edwards is one of those rare creatures in politics -- a real human being. As she campaigns for her husband, John Edwards, she is winning audiences with her warm, straight-shooting style. She keeps a frenetic schedule, even after the bad news about her breast cancer returning. In May, she spoke to reporters in Madison, Wisconsin, before delivering a speech to a bipartisan group of women in politics. Looking sharp and relaxed in a black pantsuit, she paused to comment wryly to a photographer crouched in front of her, "That is the worst possible angle for a woman, you know. You may take those pictures, but you may not run them."

She dispatched questions about her decision to continue campaigning. "I don't think people who have actually been through these situations are surprised that we would want to live our lives to the fullest, and not give up the things that are important to us," she said. She tied her own diagnosis to the issue of health care generally, which remains people's number-one concern on the campaign trail, she said. "It would be hard to be selfish, eating bon bons with my feet on an ottoman, clicking the remote," rather than trying to do something about the "pain that is out there."

The campaign, she said, "is about the thousands of women who face the same diagnosis I face, but don't have the same access to care. Giving up on campaigning, on trying to make a difference, would be like giving up on them."

Aside from questions about her health, the topic she was pressed to address most was Hillary Clinton. Edwards talks a lot about breaking barriers as part of a generation of female attorneys who had to prove that women could do as well as the guys in previously all-male law firms. So now the delicate job of explaining why women should vote against her fellow barrier-breaking female attorney falls to her. As an advocate for women's issues and women's equal rights, how can she justify seeking votes for her husband, instead of the first likely female nominee for President? "In my opinion, the candidate who's best for women in this race is my husband," she said, citing his universal health care plan, his pledge to end poverty (a predominantly female problem, she reminded reporters), and his determination to fight for equal pay.

In her speech to the group Wisconsin Women in Government, Edwards made an interesting comment that could be interpreted as a sidelong swipe at Hillary. Speaking of Woodrow Wilson's First Lady, Edith Wilson, who is sometimes called the United States' first woman President because she filled in for her husband after he had a stroke, she noted, "She was against women voting." It turned out, Edwards said, "what she wanted was not for women to have power, but for Edith Wilson to have power."

In her book, Saving Graces, Edwards writes frankly about her grief after the death of her teenaged son, Wade; her decision, later in life, to have more children; her battle with breast cancer; and the communities of friends, well-wishers, and even an online support group of fellow sufferers who have sustained her. The book is heartbreaking in parts, and also unexpectedly funny -- as when she talks about telling her young children, Jack and Emma Claire, about her cancer diagnosis:

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Finally, Elite Democrats Are Feeling the Heat

David Broder recently wrote a column in the Washington Post warning of a battle between sensible centrists and "vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the left" and their heroes.

He singled out Ned Lamont in Connecticut and, in Ohio, Sherrod Brown, whom Broder called "a loud advocate of protectionist policies that offer a false hope of solving our trade and job problems."

Broder's ire shows how media establishment types and defenders of the status quo are "freaking out" because a majority of Americans are not forming their opinions according to the opinion-makers' predictions, according to one leftwing blogger -- political activist David Sirota.

Change is in the air, and the people who have been holding onto power in Washington are worried.

It is the Republicans' betrayal of middle-class voters that got them into the hot water they're in this year, Brown says. "People look at whose side are you on?" he says. "The Republican leaders in the state see government as a piggy bank.[Ohio's Republican Senator Mike] DeWine and that crowd are giving away tax breaks to drug companies and the oil industry. People reject that."

As for Broder's critique, Brown shrugs it off. "Reporters and editors in Washington have always hated my position on trade," he says. "Out here they don't feel that way."

The controversy over Brown -- whom the National Journal compares to John Edwards, saying he's turned his "liberal" record in Congress into a popular pitch for "economic populism" -- captures a basic struggle within the country.

Brown has always been for establishing fair trade, raising the minimum wage, and breaking the oil and drug companies' stranglehold on public policy. He has also opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. These positions turn out to be particularly popular with voters this year, both in the Rust Belt and around the country, as polls show the public definitively opposed to the Administration's war in Iraq and in favor of progressive wage and health care policies.

But, as David Sirota put it in his furious blog following Broder's column, the ragged people who work at manufacturing jobs in Ohio -- those Brown represents -- aren't the people Washington insiders care about.

"In David Broder's world, those hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers who have been thrown out onto the street thanks to NAFTA and China PNTR are the filth of the earth that high and mighty elite Washington journalists like him cannot be bothered with," Sirota ranted in vituperative-blogger fashion. "In David Broder's world, any request for our trade pacts to include restrictions on child slavery, environmental degradation, and pharmaceutical industry profiteering off desperately poor people, positively un-American. Why? Because David Broder lives in a place where all of these critical issues are merely just more fodder and gossip for a newspaper column -- not real challenges in his life, nor in the life of the people he spends his time with in the Washington Beltway."

In the Democratic Party, the economic populists are fighting an uphill battle against the Washington in crowd. The outcome of that struggle is one of the interesting issues up for grabs in this fall's midterm elections.

Across the country, the Democrats are all over the map on Iraq and other fundamental issues. "I understand there's not going to be a national Democratic policy on Iraq," Brown says, "because Harold Ford doesn't want to say what I'm saying. Everybody runs their own race the way they run it -- that's endemic in the party and maybe in politics generally."

But for Brown, being a straight shooter seems to be winning politics.

"He is a person who says what he thinks," says Progressive Democrats of America chapter member John Cross. "Despite fourteen years in Congress he's pretty straight-forward. I think people appreciate that."

But, as Sirota laments, it's not a quality that's necessarily prized in Washington. Take Rahm Emanuel, head of the DCCC, who is another Sirota nemesis.

A rather breathless Newsweek story on Emanuel and his brother Ari -- who happens to be the model for the smarmy Hollywood agent on the hit HBO series "Entourage" -- gushes over the two men's similar roles as gatekeepers and kingmakers in their intersecting Hollywood and political worlds. One big question in this fall's midterms is what chance does the rabble who care about "kitchen table" issues have against this glamorous "in crowd" of the Washington and Hollywood elite?

Sirota calls the coming election a "tidal wave" heading for Washington's "hall of mirrors," conjuring up a massive populist uprising against the smug establishment types that will smash their arrogant worldview to smithereens. It's a gratifying image. But the positions of individual candidates around the country don't necessarily sustain it. Along with the Sherrod Browns and Ned Lamonts, there are the Maria Cantwells and James Webbs, who don't take such a strong position on getting out of Iraq, and who supported CAFTA and other free-trade bills. Around the country, a majority of Democratic Congressional candidates are not calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

Still, "the growing feeling against the war in the country is boosting Democrats' chances, even when they are too afraid to press their advantage," says veteran Democratic campaign strategist Steve Cobble. "The main reason the Republicans are in trouble is because they lied about a war which has turned out to be a disaster. That fundamental fact should not be forgotten, even when individual Democrats shy away from running against the war."

Certainly the Democratic leadership wants to capitalize on that sentiment. In his book The Plan, Rahm Emanuel has a chapter entitled "Who sunk my battleship?" (All the chapters have cutesy titles designed to appeal to younger, hipper voters). Emanuel criticizes the Bush Administration for its handling of the war on terror. But here's the plan he comes up with: "We cannot fight and win a long war without more troops. ... We need a bigger, better-equipped Army."

Sure, "the administration jeopardized the success of our mission in Afghanistan by shifting troops to Iraq because it didn't have enough to go all out in both places," and "Osama bin Laden got away at Tora Bora in part because we didn't have the personnel to pursue him." But the answer Emanuel proposes is the Joe Lieberman/Hillary Clinton bill to add 100,000 soldiers to a U.S. Army that is losing soldiers at an alarming rate while bogged down in an unwinnable civil war. Worse, Emanuel lumps together Iraq and the war on terrorism generally -- giving credence to the Bush Administration fiction that the U.S. presence in Iraq is part of the effort to fight terrorism, instead of a tragic, costly distraction that has only helped create a bigger terrorist threat.

In his chapter on universal college education, "Toga Party," Emanuel proposes "big ideas" that sound good, but could easily be whittled down to teensy-weensy micro-policy initiatives. He points out that college tuition has more than doubled in the last five years, while "the Bush administration pushed the largest cut in college aid in history," shutting the door to higher education for much of the middle class. He endorses the idea of a $3,000-a-year tax credit, and, even better, tuition grants to the states on the model of nineteenth century land grants. But who knows whether the "billions we can save by lending directly to students instead of subsidizing banks" will materialize, particularly given the Democrats' reliance on the financial industry (where Emanuel worked for years).

If there is going to be a tidal wave in November, it will have to be pushed along by voters who are far more assertive than most of the Democratic candidates. And, of course, which candidates make it at the House level is going to be determined in large part by Rahm Emanuel, who controls the national party's purse strings.

The DCCC, with it's "Red to Blue" program for winning the midterms and taking back the House, vets candidates regularly for viability and makes decisions about financing that can cause any given campaign to sink or swim.

"At some point they'll pull out of all but about 25 House races," says veteran politico Bill Dixon, who ran Gary Hart's presidential campaign. "They have these meetings on a daily basis about who to dump and who not to dump."

In both the House and Senate, the most the Democrats can hope for is a slim majority. That, combined with their internal disagreements about how best to govern, doesn't bode well for massive legislative change. Even so, a political upheaval in November could send a reverberating message through Washington.

"It's not just the number of seats the Democrats win," says Sherrod Brown. "It's the message voters send that they are unhappy with Bush." He points to the increasing willingness of Republicans to defect from the White House on a variety of issues, from torture to privatizing Social Security.

If the Democrats do retake the House, Senate, or both, Brown says, "We pass a new minimum wage right away, the first week, pass the 9/11 Commission recommendations, pass legislation negotiating drug prices -- substantive legislation." On that "populist" issue, the minimum wage, he points out: "There are always the votes if the leadership schedules it. If we brought it to the house floor almost all the Democrats and half Republicans would vote for it."

Pressure from below could make a major difference -- even on the most cautious politicians in both parties.

Back to (Public vs. Private) School

Our oldest child is going to kindergarten this fall, and we are caught up in the back-to-school frenzy. We have to get school supplies, and I notice one telling change since we were kids: The list now includes not just supplies for our child, but a share of the pens, crayons, scissors, and glue the whole class will need this year. I guess budget cuts have reached the supply cabinet. We have to make doctors' appointments, fill out forms, find out who the teacher will be, and talk to our neighbors about finding the bus stop. It's a thrilling, poignant, nervous time.

I'm proud of the parents who are keeping their kids in our community school, and who have decided that the best way to help their kids get a great education is to work to support the staff and help make the school as good as it can be.

"Will I be scared?" my daughter asked yesterday, when we stopped by the school building to pick up some forms, and she tried out the playground equipment and peeked in the disassembled classrooms. Maybe at first, I said, but you'll like it. I'm sure that she will. Her friends from the neighborhood will be there. And I've heard enough good things from other parents -- many of whom volunteer in the classroom, go to meetings, and otherwise stay involved -- that I have a comfortable feeling of community support for my daughter's big leap to kindergarten.

But as I stepped over a condom wrapper on the playground and looked past my beaming five-year-old showing off on the monkey bars and noticed the spray paint on the slide, I had my own little twinge.

All parents worry about sending their kids out into the world. The short ride on the yellow bus to school is the first big step. I don't blame the parents who are fretting enough to wonder whether they should pony up for private education if they can afford to.

There's an interesting piece on MSNBC's website about public versus private school. It notes that much of parents' nervous gossip about schools conveys less about the quality of the schools themselves than it does about the values of the parents. And while most people assume that private schools are generally of higher quality than public schools, a recent study shows better scores, controlling for economic background, among public school students.

At any rate, sending your child off to school for the first time feels momentous, and parents feel pressed to do the best they can for their kids.

And, in our free-market preschool system, we are used to shopping for child-care arrangements that suit us. We are consumers, and the babysitters and daycare centers and preschools pitch their services to us, giving us at least the illusion that we are in control (even if the trade-offs are high cost, short supply and no guarantee of quality).

There is a seismic shift when school starts. Just being in the school building -- with the bells ringing and lockers slamming and the unforgettable school-lunch smell -- marks the beginning of something entirely different. The principal at our daughter's school -- a tough-looking, middle-aged woman who has been around the block a few times -- sat all the new parents down in the library and went over the rules, giving me, at least, the feeling of being a kid again, listening to what I was supposed to do, not making any demands.

The school my daughter will attend is one of the most racially and economically diverse in our community. Spanish and Hmong mix with English in the hallway. One of the school bus routes passes through a trailer park, then climbs a steep bluff to one of the wealthiest areas of town.

That diverse group of kids seems like an asset to me. But I know that there are more private schools than ever now, that some have park-like campuses, and classrooms full of kids who are privileged and generally well behaved. And I'm aware that focusing on academics is easier when everyone can read and everyone has had breakfast, and no one is wondering if there will be somewhere to sleep tonight.

For that reason, I'm proud of the parents who are keeping their kids in our community school, and who have decided that the best way to help their kids get a great education is to work to support the staff and help make the school as good as it can be.

When I talk to other parents who are on the fence about going to our public school, I always mention my old high school, on the historically working-class side of town. I went back there to coach girls' track and cross-country after I graduated from college, and I was struck at how much I liked the kids. They were a diverse bunch, and there was something great about going to meets and seeing them all together -- boys and girls, white, African-American, Asian and Latino -- cheering for each other, fooling around, and generally getting along. It struck me then that some of the ugly cliquishness we read so much about lately -- "queen bee" girls, the obsession with money and designer labels, and all the other poisonous elements of the culture I'd like to shield my own kids from -- were much less in evidence at my old school than at some elite, private institutions. Part of the reason was that there were so many different kinds of people, from so many different backgrounds, no one really had a chance to establish a monopoly on popularity or status.

That democratic spirit is one reason I fell excited about my daughter starting public school. Besides learning reading and math and all the rest of those important accomplishments, I want her to develop into a happy, healthy, kind person with good values. Going to public school can nurture that.

To make it work, parents have to have less of a consumer mentality and more of a cooperative, civic-minded focus. It strikes me that the consumer mentality some of us develop when our kids are in preschool leads directly to a kind of victim mentality. We set out to try to get our kids the best education we can afford. From vouchers to Catholic schools to tony private institutions, more and more places give more and more parents the ability to exercise their consumer power. There's even a theory among conservatives that this sort of behavior will make the public schools better: that they will be forced to improve as more parents vote with their feet.

But so far, this year, I am most impressed by the parents I know who are acting on the idea that we must invest in the community where we live, and work to make it good for all of us. At some point you have to stop shopping around and make the best of things where you are. At least, that's the idea I'd like my kids to grow up with.

The President's Man

We have heard a lot from Judge Sam Alito this week on various troubling issues in his record: his assertions in the 1980s that he was a proud opponent of Roe v. Wade, and a member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton--a group then-famous for its opposition to female and minority enrollment.

Senator Leahy made a good point on the CAP issue. Perhaps it's believable that Alito was, as he said, an inactive member of the group not well acquainted with its activities when he joined. But thirty years later, when he mentioned his "proud membership" in the group on his job application to the Reagan Justice Department, there is no way he could have missed the news that other prominent alumni, including Bill Frist, had denounced CAP's retrograde positions. "You are a very careful and cautious person," Leahy said. Alito must surely have taken great care with that job application, and knew the implications of everything he put on it. Lindsey Graham had the best line on that and other instances of Alito's faulty memory: "I hope you'll understand if some of us come before a court and we can't remember Abramoff, you'll tend to believe us."

Ted Kennedy brought out Alito's record as a federal judge upholding abusive law-enforcement officers' behavior: strip-searching a ten-year-old girl, and pointing loaded guns at an unarmed family, after breaking into a home to enforce an eviction order.

But we have still not heard Alito provide a satisfactory answer to a direct question about the most important issue hovering over these hearings: executive power.

Alito backpedaled on a phrase in his 1985 job application to the Justice Department when Kennedy quoted it to him: "I believe very strongly in the supremacy of the elected branches of government."

Alito said he regretted his choice of words. It was "poorly phrased," and in fact he believed, and always has believed, in the balance of power among equal branches of government.

But Kennedy went on, "Your record still shows . . . excessive, almost single-minded deference to executive power."

Most of the examples Kennedy gave were of law-enforcement power--the unreasonable searches in Doe v. Groody (the ten-year-old girl who was strip-searched) and other cases.

But he pointed out that the power of the executive under the Bush Administration is of historic importance.

After he was pressured into signing the McCain bill outlawing torture by American military and intelligence officers, for example, Bush issued a "signing statement" that cast doubt on his commitment to enforcing the law, asserting that the President reserves the right to act in accordance with his power as commander in chief.

"You were an early advocate of signing statements," Kennedy said to Alito, urging Reagan to use them to limit the scope of bills he signed into law. "Is this what you had in mind?" Kennedy asked, when Alito said the "President's understanding of the law" was as important as that of Congress?

Alito only answered that signing statements are "unexplored territory." And he defended himself by explaining that he was a lawyer for the Reagan Administration and what he wrote merely reflected Administration policy.

Another important point Kennedy brought up was that Bush often uses the phrase "unitary executive branch" to defend his belief in an almost all-powerful executive. Alito, Kennedy noted, has called the unitary executive theory "gospel."

Alito explained his understanding of the "unitary executive" concept by saying that the scope of Presidential power is one issue and the importance of the President within the executive branch is another. His comments, he said, referred only to the preeminence of the President within the executive branch, and not the scope of his power in government.

But Alito never squarely said what he thinks of "signing statements," or the torture issue, or NSA spying, or the limits of executive power.

We need answers to these questions, urgently.

Marching Progressives Back into Power

Everything about freshman Congresswoman Gwen Moore is fabulous -- from her rhinestone glasses and her cackling laugh to her passionate grassroots politics and blunt outspokenness (something the professional handlers, if they can get hold of her, might try to tamp down). Moore represents Wisconsin's Fourth Congressional District in Milwaukee, with areas of black unemployment as high as 59 percent. She's the second woman and the first African-American the state has ever sent to the nation's Capitol.

When Moore was a young single mother of three, the repo man came for the washer and dryer she got from the local rent-to-own shop. "I'd paid for it two or three times, I'm sure," she says. "That's how it works." In response, Moore organized a march on her local bank and helped form a community development credit union. Today she's on the House Financial Services committee.

If you want progressive politics, Moore has the whole package. She fought for women's reproductive rights as a state senator. She battled former governor Tommy Thompson over his welfare "reform" experiments and still gets worked up when she talks about it: "Ten thousand women got kicked out of college and technical college!" (Moore herself finished college while on welfare.) She's a big supporter of labor. She's also, perhaps surprisingly, a star candidate for EMILY's List, the political action committee best known for using the power of the purse to propel such heavy hitters as senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to "Year of the Woman" victories.

As EMILY's List -- the name is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise...) -- turns twenty this year, it has built an impressive track record with its innovative fundraising and its simple mission of electing pro-choice, Democratic women to office. The group has helped elect sixty-one women to the House and eleven to the Senate, along with eight governors and hundreds of state officeholders. Members gave $10.7 million to EMILY's List candidates in the last election cycle, making it the wealthiest PAC in America.

But EMILY's List has not been known for working with grassroots, progressive campaigns. So when the group began calling Moore during her primary, she says, frankly, "I was irritated." When the group had reached out to a woman candidate for governor in Wisconsin, Moore says, "They courted her and talked to her and smiled, and in the end they didn't do much." Moore figured EMILY's List wouldn't put any real energy into her race either, especially since she was running against other pro-choice Democrats. She finally agreed to go to lunch with an EMILY's List representative, whom she told, "I know all about you. You're the people waiting on the shoreline with the warm towels and the hot chocolate after the woman swims the English Channel."

To Moore's surprise, EMILY's List put more than $685,000 into Wisconsin last year -- not only helping send her to Washington but filling the State Senate seat she left behind with another African-American woman, Lena Taylor. EMILY's List also helped a third candidate, Tamara Grigsby, win Taylor's seat in the State Assembly. "I was stunned that they got in and they got in as deeply as they did," says Moore. EMILY's List supported Moore not so much because of her progressive values, but because she was a viable candidate. With the group's expert advice, Moore built her own crack fundraising operation -- a good thing, because she didn't have a dime of her own to put into the race. No one was more surprised by it all than Tamara Grigsby, a social worker whose initial thought when her friend Lena Taylor suggested that she run to fill her State Assembly seat was, "You must be crazy!"

The trifecta of victories in Wisconsin illustrates a favorite point for EMILY's List -- that by working together, women can achieve more in politics than they thought possible. But the broader lesson is about taking back the country from the right. Especially since 2004, progressives have been talking about the need to replicate the right-wing takeover of American politics. After Barry Goldwater's crushing defeat in 1964, the hard right began a long march to power, taking over local school boards and Republican Party machinery, grooming candidates for higher office, building networks, coordinating strategy.

The Recipe for Success

How can the left begin its march back to power? EMILY's List has a big piece of the answer. The group is doing work long neglected by both the Democratic Party and progressive groups: training and funding political newcomers to get them into office, then helping them move up.

From the beginning, women's status as political outsiders spurred EMILY's List's entrepreneurial approach. When it started in 1985, at a "Rolodex party" in founder Ellen Malcolm's basement, the goal was to help Maryland's Barbara Mikulski become the first Democratic woman to win a Senate election (other Democratic women had served by appointment). Malcolm's innovation was "bundling" contributions -- getting members to write small checks to individual candidates, which the group then pools for maximum impact. Two decades later, there are more than 100,000 members who write checks averaging $93 each election year to candidates EMILY's List supports.

The group's mission has evolved with the political landscape. In the 1990s EMILY's List began training candidates. When the candidates had trouble finding professional fundraisers and staff, EMILY's List began training them, too. By 1995 the PAC had launched its Women Vote! project, which last year put $10 million into voter mobilization. In 2001, when women's representation in state government had begun to decline for the first time, EMILY's List began reaching "down ballot" to recruit and train candidates for state offices. Its Political Opportunity Program has so far trained 3,200 women, helping 217 get elected to statewide office in twenty-nine states.

Now Karen White, EMILY's List's political director, is in the middle of a ten-year plan to help the Democrats control as many state legislatures and governor's mansions as possible in time for Congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census. (With an eye on redistricting, the group is now putting male incumbents in New York through its patented training.) "In 2004 all people could talk about was the presidential election," says White. "But we were continuing to build a farm team." In five states where legislative chambers flipped from Republican to Democratic control in 2004, EMILY's List played a pivotal role -- nowhere more than in Colorado. After John Kerry's campaign pulled out, judging the state a lost cause, EMILY's List continued to pour resources into the races of thirteen women. All thirteen won, as both houses went Democratic. For the first time, both the Colorado speaker pro tempore of the House and the president of the Senate are women.

EMILY's List training sessions are the heart of its effort to build its "farm team," combining the inspirational power of a consciousness-raising group with professional nuts-and-bolts instruction. At a recent candidate training session in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, regional director Tanya Bjork offered EMILY's List's standard uplifting slogan, "When Women Run, Women Win." Bjork cited a Brown University study showing that men are almost twice as likely than women to consider themselves "highly qualified" for office -- even though women candidates do just as well as men at the polls.

One of the featured speakers was the charismatic new state senator from Milwaukee, Lena Taylor -- Gwen Moore's successor. At a Friday evening dinner, she grasped the hand of Ame Grail, a realtor from Door County, a tourist mecca in northern Wisconsin. Grail is brand-new to politics, getting ready to run for State Assembly because she is concerned about the environment. "There is so much E. coli on the beaches, our children can't swim," she said. "I commend your courage!" Taylor told Grail. "I and others will be there for you when you run. You go through a lot and have to know you have a sisterhood of elected officials."

That feeling of "sisterhood" is evident throughout the EMILY's List candidate training. Women share information and laugh about common problems -- especially the particular forms of insecurity and overpoliteness that plague some female candidates. At a training session last spring in Arizona, Ann Liston of EMILY's List asked participants to role-play candidates asking donors for money. (EMILY's List asked that I protect the participants' anonymity.) First, Liston gave the group a pep talk about how Ellen Malcolm has raised tens of millions of dollars in her career. Her method: Break the ice, chat about your shared political goals, then cut to the "ask" -- very directly, for a specific amount of money. Then stop talking. Don't say another word.

It sounds easy. But as the candidates began trying to do it in the role-playing session, it was anything but. They ran right over the "ask," apologizing, even bringing up reasons the donor might not want to support them. A shy woman with long dark hair choked when the "donor" asked why she shouldn't support her opponent. "Oh, she's a master of manipulation!" she blurted out, turning beet red. "The phone is your friend," Liston said kindly. "If you blush a lot, stick with the phone." Another candidate began her role-play by folding her arms across her chest and declaring, "You all can't laugh at me!"

In each case Liston followed the same script: Get the group to comment first on what the candidate had done well, then ever so gently work in some constructive criticism. "You have to make sure you're not talking down to these women," Bjork explains. "You don't want to undermine their confidence." Even the most unsteady neophytes improve dramatically with practice, she says, and can blossom into great candidates. Take it from Ellen Malcolm, who was not always a fundraising legend. "I used to be scared to death," she says. "My knees would shake. I'd think, I hope nobody notices."

The fundraising success of EMILY's List had made it a model even for the right. "We copied some of their tactics, especially the concept of bundling small contributions," says David Keating of the Club for Growth, a conservative PAC that supports candidates who favor tax cuts and smaller government. But while EMILY's List is mainly concerned with getting more women to run for office -- and win -- PACs like the Club for Growth, and like the Progressive Majority on the left, support candidates who reflect a political ideology. EMILY's List focuses on winning more seats for prochoice, Democratic women. Period. Which raises a legitimate question: Are these women leading the country in a more progressive direction?

Spreading the Dough to the Grassroots

The EMILY's List offices take up most of the eleventh floor of a big building on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC. The walls are lined with the photos of women the group has helped elect. No longer political outsiders, many of these women now represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party -- Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu. Even on choice, the only litmus-test issue for EMILY's List, some of them -- most notably Hillary Clinton (she of the "sad, even tragic choice" speech) -- have retreated, rhetorically at least.

Malcolm is careful not to criticize Hillary, except to say that Democrats have, in her view, "misread" the polling on "values voters" after 2004. If Senator Clinton runs for President, EMILY's List will be "delighted," Malcolm says -- behind her 100 percent. "If you want a more progressive America," Malcolm argues, "your best bet is to elect more pro-choice, Democratic women." But surely there's more to it than that.

In some races EMILY's List has actually backed the less progressive candidate. In last year's gubernatorial primary in Washington, for example, the group helped knock out King County executive Ron Sims, who favored abolishing the regressive sales tax in favor of a more equitable statewide income tax. The EMILY's List candidate, Christine Gregoire -- who won after a long recount -- was the more cautious, centrist candidate.

Dean Nielsen, Washington State director of Progressive Majority, found the race frustrating. "Their model worked beautifully. The early money was like yeast," he says. But the upshot was the defeat of a viable progressive. Nielsen also says he doesn't see EMILY's List putting much emphasis on candidate recruitment at the grassroots. "Are they out there every day beating the bushes for candidates? No," he says. "Their contribution is primarily financial." And the group's "bundled" contributions go only to federal candidates.

That criticism is echoed by Mandy Carter, a longtime grassroots organizer and former member of the Democratic National Committee from North Carolina. "EMILY's List is absolutely a model" for their national work, Carter says. But like many progressives fed up with Democratic centrism, Carter counts herself among those who think "it makes more sense to put money into the very local level, where there's a lot of energy and excitement -- not so much as you move up."

EMILY's List's achievement, thus far, has been to move one disenfranchised group -- women -- into power. "We all bow to the feet of EMILY's List in terms of their effectiveness and what they've accomplished for women," says Progressive Majority's executive director, Gloria Totten. "Do they have women in their ranks who we wouldn't consider progressive? Absolutely." Unlike EMILY's List, Progressive Majority supports only candidates who score 100 percent on a forty-question quiz covering issues like economic justice and the environment. But Progressive Majority works only in a handful of states -- with candidates for local office, like City Council, that EMILY's List won't touch.

EMILY's List does occasionally partner with progressive groups like Totten's. The candidate training in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, was a joint effort, for instance. More notably, Malcolm co-founded America Coming Together, the progressive coalition that launched a massive voter-outreach effort for Democrats in 2004. She continues to meet weekly with a coalition of more than thirty progressive groups called America Votes to share information, strategy and research.

Those efforts are essential, because when it comes to building a coordinated strategy to take back power in the states, the Democratic Party has left the field wide open. "The lack of infrastructure-building by the party has created a need that we have just moved in to fill," says Malcolm. DNC chair Howard Dean agrees. "When I came in, because of my own experience in the presidential campaign, I believed we needed to do what EMILY's List is doing," he says. Under Dean, the DNC is putting paid organizers in every state to work on party-building. Teaming with EMILY's List and with younger progressive groups, Dean wants to get the Democrats to reconnect with the grassroots.

That means finding more candidates like Gwen Moore, who says of her campaign for Congress, "Whenever I would get discouraged, I'd see the faces of the people who were going to have no voice in government if I weren't elected. A lot of them were female. A lot of them were people of color. And a lot of them were white, and they were poor. And they didn't matter. They just were obscure."

If it's up to her, it won't stay that way.

Meet Mr. Rogers

In the face of the right's 2004 election victories and shrieking triumphalism, the Democrats picked Harry Reid of Nevada, a pro-life, pro-war, anti-flag-burning buddy of President Bush, to be their leader in the Senate. One of Reid's colleagues, Sen. Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, had this to say about the new minority leader, who is taking over from Karl Rove's drive-by victim Tom Daschle: "When the conservative talk show hosts start saying bad things about Harry Reid, it will be like attacking Mr. Rogers."

This is the Democrats' idea of mounting an opposition to the rightwing takeover of all three branches of the federal government? Let us all unite behind our fearless leader ... Mr. Rogers!

Fortunately, while party leaders are busy putting on their cardigans and practicing their Bible verses in the hopes that the big bullies in Washington won't pick on them, out in the states progressives are organizing.

Many of the independent groups that worked so hard to defeat Bush are now turning their attention to the longer-term battle to take back the country. They are modeling their efforts on what the right did in the 1970s.

Back then, Democrats controlled a large majority of governorships and state legislatures, and the Republican Party was trying to blend in behind the moderate face of Gerald Ford. Conservatives – particularly Christian evangelicals – were in despair.

That's when the coalition of corporate interests and family-values folks started working together to promote candidates and legislation at the state and local level – slowly building toward the takeover of the Republican Party, the nation, and, of course, the world.

At the center of this evil plot is a group called ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. Founded in 1973 by right-wing Christian activist Paul Weyrich, ALEC drafts model bills and flies state legislators to posh, corporate-financed conferences to teach them how to push its agenda in statehouses across the nation.

"Every time I see a really, really bad idea come through, it seems to be generated by ALEC," says embattled progressive state assemblyman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.

From rolling back pollution controls to privatizing health care to attacking what it calls a "liberal social agenda that ... pervaded the schools," ALEC has been busy for the last 30 years bringing its "groundbreaking" ideas to the states.

ALEC's charter members included state legislator Henry Hyde of Illinois (later chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment) and future star Republican governors Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and John Engler of Michigan, who both pushed welfare reform onto the national agenda.

According to a comprehensive report on ALEC available on, "three hundred corporate sponsors each paying tens of thousands of dollars a year" draft model bills, sending platoons of lobbyists to help conservative legislators adopt and sell their ideas. Controlling policy at the state level can be almost as good, from the corporate point of view, as getting a law passed by Congress.

Today, the Republicans control most governorships and statehouses and are ramming through copycat legislation focusing on God, guns, and gays, as well as the rollback of regulation all across the country. Meanwhile, an increasingly right-wing farm team of politicians is winning Congressional races and moving up to Washington, D.C.

"Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council," a report prepared by the National Resources Defense Council for ALECwatch, notes that ALEC started off by focusing almost exclusively on hot-button social issues: anti-abortion, anti-feminist causes. "In the late 1980s, however, ALEC abandoned most of these issues in favor of those that had the benefit of attracting substantial corporate donations," the report says.

ALEC members straddle the social conservative/corporate fat-cat fence quite effectively. They talk the red-meat talk that rallies their social conservative base, and they pass legislation that brings home the bacon for their corporate underwriters.

If progressives are going to have any impact on public policy, they have to begin to compete with this juggernaut. Everyone at the grassroots seems to agree with this analysis. Look at the Web sites of Progressive Majority ("purpose: to elect progressive champions who will help change the direction of this country"), Progressive Democrats of America (goal: to "create caucuses inside the Democratic Party structure at the state and local levels" and to take over Congress "by outorganizing the corporate interests that now control it"), and ALICE – the American Legislative Issue Campaign Exchange, a nascent effort modeled on ALEC.

The question is, can the left get together behind the kind of disciplined, coordinated campaign the right has managed to pull off? And can it be done without wads of corporate cash to finance the effort? The left has been slow to take an interest in state politics. "How many of your closest friends have run for office?" asks Joel Rogers, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and one of the prime movers behind ALICE. "For a generation, the left has been out of the business of competing for political power," he says. Republicans, in contrast, "get all excited about taking over the local water commission or the state assembly, or, God knows, the governorship."

No wonder legislators like Pocan find themselves fighting a lonely battle against a highly organized Republican machine and its sponsoring teams of lobbyists.

But thanks in part to Republican efforts to shrink the federal government, much public policy is now determined at the state level. It's time for the left to get in the game. We can't count on the courts or federal agencies to save the environment or civil rights.

Rogers thinks the financing could be relatively easy. Membership lists of 527 groups and other progressive organizations could be consolidated by state and shared. And weak state Democratic Parties are ripe for takeover.

It will take some serious coordination to get an effective effort off the ground.

"First, you have to want to do it," says Rogers, who is part of a multigroup effort to try to put together a take-over-the-states organization. "In the last thirty years, I've never been in a left or progressive conversation where people said, 'OK, what we've got to do is take over the Democratic Party in our state, create our own farm team, and run with a shared, simple program with broad appeal.' That has been the conversation on the right."

With so much energy and determination marshaled in 2004, the rest of this decade could be to the progressive movement what the decade of the 1970s was to conservatives. Signs of life at the grassroots already abound.

On Nov. 2, minimum wage referendums passed handily in Nevada and Florida, and legalizing medical marijuana won in Montana. There are plenty of people working on living wage, environmental, and social justice issues who have a message most Americans can agree with. The challenge is to get groups to come together that too often duplicate each other's efforts or splinter into factions.

If people who care about fundamentalist Christian moral values more than anything can make common cause with people who care about nothing more than money, surely progressives can bring together a powerful coalition, too.

Imagine if the left really became the dominant cultural and legislative force the right likes to run against. Now is the time to make it happen. And the states are the place.

A Shadow of His Past

In mid-September, Ralph Nader came to Wisconsin, a perilously teetering swing state. The day before he arrived, more than 70 well-known supporters of his 2000 campaign released a statement urging people who live in states where the election looks tight not to vote for him. Noam Chomsky, Phil Donahue, Barbara Ehrenreich and Howard Zinn were among the signers, as were Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon, Jim Hightower, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Cornel West. "Even while we strongly disagree with Kerry's policies on Iraq and other issues," they wrote, "for people seeking progressive social change in the United States, removing George W. Bush from office should be the priority in 2004."

That opinion is so ubiquitous among people who supported Nader in 2000 that I wondered: Who are the Nader supporters in 2004?

To find out, I called Bill Linville, the statewide coordinator of the Nader campaign in Wisconsin. A recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Linville showed up for our interview at the UW student union wearing a Ramones T-shirt, sneakers, and a backpack. He shook my hand, glanced around the room, and announced that something had come up and he had to go. He ended up sticking around after all, though, and he answered my questions for almost an hour, fiddling with his cell phone and looking pained.

Linville and his colleagues – mostly college students and recent grads – had just finished collecting 4,000 signatures to get Nader on the ballot. It was a harrowing experience, to hear them describe it.

"The people who got Nader on the ballot in Wisconsin are damn principled," Linville said, flushing. "We grew so much from taking so much crap."

At their regular weekly meetings on Monday nights, members of Students for Nader in Madison shared stories of being yelled at, spat on, and called names as they canvassed for signatures. Their signs were torn down, doors were slammed in their faces. And, of course, there were the legal challenges from the Democratic Party, which had teams of lawyers fighting hard to keep Nader off the ballot across the country.

When they finally turned in their signatures to the state elections board, "the Democrats challenged us with a minute and a half to go before the deadline Friday afternoon," Linville said. The Democrats found a mistake on the petitions and seized on it: An elector was listed in the wrong district. The Democrats' other argument – that it was illegal for Nader to run as in independent in Wisconsin – seemed unlikely to succeed. It looked like Linville and his small band of Naderites would beat the party. Linville shared this news with the Monday night group after our interview. "The guy I'm working with in D.C. thought we should sue them!" he said, to laughter from the dozen or so young men and women sitting around a small classroom.

How many of these folks voted for Nader in 2000? I asked the group. Two of the students giggled. "We were fourteen in 2000," one said. The rest had voted for Nader – except for Linville, who voted for Gore in 2000. He was radicalized after Sept. 11 by the war in Afghanistan, and after marching against the war, joined the International Socialist Organization. The ISO endorsed Nader, and Linville volunteered to be state coordinator of his campaign. When the campaign is over, he plans to become a high school history teacher.

Linville gives chapter and verse from the Nader bible: the rise of movements throughout American history; the corporate takeover of the Democratic Party; the need for an independent force for social change. This campaign "is about the AFL spending $60 million on the Democrats and not organizing Wal-Mart," he said. "It's about LBGT groups giving all this money to the Democratic Party, which is responsible for 'don't-ask-don't-tell,' and the Defense of Marriage Act." In Wisconsin, Linville says disgustedly, left wing Democrats urged activists to drop pressure for gay marriage legislation because it wasn't good for the party. "By these groups and institutions supporting the Democrats, their ideas become muted. You have to take more and more concessions as you shill for the Democrats," he said.

But it's a pretty serious thing to do to be getting Nader on the ballot in a swing state. Given that he isn't building any immediate third party alternative to the Democrats, does it really make sense?

Linville got angry. "I think it's a serious thing for a progressive to vote for Kerry," he said, rattling off Kerry's regressive stands on Iraq, U.S. militarism, and corporate tax breaks. "You're asking me to connect the dots, but no one connects the dots. No one stopped and said, 'What will you do after the sit-in?' during the anti-Vietnam War movement. It's about starting something."

Linville and Paul Heideman, the head of Students for Nader, a friendly guy with a mop of red curls and a Shakespeare T-shirt, both quoted Howard Zinn to me: "It's not important who's sitting in the White House, it's who's sitting in." But, of course, Zinn recently signed the letter urging swing state voters to get Bush out of the White House.

The Students for Nader are impatient with such a cautious approach.

Matt Goins, a junior in the philosophy department, who compared the Democrats to the Mafia "without the killings," said, about re-electing Bush, "It's irrelevant."

Heideman took a gentler tone. "We shouldn't belittle it, but it's not as important as building a movement," he said.

Alycia Sellie, a library science graduate student who was organizing a 'zine fest in town, said, "I don't want to support either party, because they don't represent me. I don't believe in the two party system."

(This was followed by a lot of head-shaking in the group about how many 'zines and punk rockers are apparently backing Kerry.)

"I'd rather vote for something and not get it than vote for something I hate," said Nate Punswick, who recently graduated from UW-Whitewater and works at a local bank.

Can't one criticize the Democrats and still not organize voters in a swing state so that Bush may well win four more years? They debated the point passionately.

"Every single one of us is involved in a social movement, but they're dead because of folding into the Kerry campaign!" said ISO member Laura Nelson. The other students agreed: stopping the war, gay marriage, and other causes have been abandoned as activists fall in line with Kerry. The goal of the Nader campaign, they said, is to force these movements to break from the party that has hijacked their ideals.

You have to hand it to these young people. They're idealistic, and they are running uphill to do what they think is right.

Talking to Linville and the Students for Nader reminded me of a conversation I had, back during the 2000 campaign, with a middle-aged activist in Vermont. He worked for one of Nader's public interest research groups when he was in his 20s, and his life changed. He walked into the PIRG office thinking he'd volunteer to do drudge work. Instead, they sat him down at a phone and had him call some big corporations. He was to go up the chain of command, until he was talking to an executive and saying "you are in violation of the law and, if you don't stop what you're doing, we are going to sue you." The thrill of that experience made him glow, remembering his young, disaffected self transformed into a Nader Raider.

Linville's battle with the Democratic Party lawyers produced a similar glow. Seated in the marble-colonnaded chambers of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, he and his T-shirt-clad colleagues passed notes to the pro bono attorney arguing for Nader's ballot line. Here they were, in the heart of power, making their case. The court decided in their favor.

At 70, Nader is still issuing a clarion call to young people – that they can and should change the world. Whether Nader is right or wrong, that message is as heart-stirring as ever.

I hadn't seen Nader since 2000, when I tagged along with him in his campaign car, watching him electrify audiences up and down the East Coast.

When I caught up with him before his speech at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the statement from his former supporters asking people in swing states not to vote for him had just come out. He called it "unconditional surrender." "It's the politics of fear run amok," he said. "The loss of nerve. They are helping Kerry lose."

Nader blamed liberal intellectuals – along with labor unions, the ACLU, and other progressive groups who are now backing Kerry – for what looked like a floundering Democratic campaign. By giving up their "stature and integrity," by acting like "weaklings," and by not holding the Democrats' feet to the fire on trade, civil liberties, the war in Iraq, and economic justice, progressives have allowed the party to be pulled to the right by corporate interests and their preferred brand of "swing vote" politics, he says. Hence, Kerry's dismally vague message.

"I don't remember any time in history when the left has surrendered like this on the foreign policy, military, and economic issues they believe in," Nader said.

Instead of releasing a statement opposing Nader, "Why couldn't they have said, 'We urge Kerry to adopt the following positions'?" he asked. "If they don't make Kerry better, he'll be made worse."

Sitting backstage before his speech, eating Middle Eastern take-out, Nader looked tired. Who are your supporters now? I asked. "We've been abandoned by most people," he said, matter-of-factly. "Patti Smith is the only entertainer."

Was it true, I asked, that he changed his mind and decided to campaign in swing states because he was angry about the Democrats' legal challenges aiming to keep him off the ballot? "I told them you're driving us into the swing states," he said. "We were going to set up an office in Crawford, Texas." Instead, an aide jumped in: "The Democrats want to bury Ralph so no one ever tries this again."

But is it so contemptible to be scared of another four years of Bush? Even if the Democrats are as hollow as he says, isn't it a high price for teaching them a lesson to help perpetuate the current far-right regime?

"I'm running to defeat Bush," Nader said. He repeated this idea in his speech later: The Democrats can't be trusted to beat Bush. Someone else needs to make the progressive argument. The party needs a "jolt." If they lose, it's their fault, not his.

The "help" Nader talks about offering the Democrats has been a murky concept from the start. Early in the campaign, he suggested that he would pull more votes from Republicans. That does not seem to be the case. Now he's threatening that if the Democrats don't motivate voters with a more aggressive message and set of policies, they'll lose. Fair enough. But meanwhile, by taking his campaign to states like Wisconsin, he seems poised to give them an extra push off the cliff.

Sometimes Nader seems to acknowledge that the Republicans are significantly worse than the Democrats. Sometimes he seems to say the two parties are just alike. The strongest part of his message, it seems to me, is that the Democrats have been a growth medium for the far right.

In his speech to the packed Union Theater, the applause lines started rolling as he attacked Bush and expressed progressives' exasperation with the feckless Democrats.

He described meeting with John Kerry and offering a list of issues that Kerry could adopt. If Kerry had taken his advice, Nader said, "you would now be singing bye-bye George W. Bush." Besides opposing the war, Nader's advice included a repeal of Taft-Hartley and other anti-union laws, curbs on outsourcing, and serious prosecution of corporate crime.

Kerry demurred, Nader said, and as a consequence, "he's falling behind. Bush is taunting him on Iraq. He's taunting him! This bumbling governor from Texas who can barely read his cue cards!"

Why are Kerry and Edwards acting so weak? Nader asked rhetorically. Because years ago they began "dialing for corporate dollars."

"Look at the results ... with the worst right wing administration in history, the Democratic Party has left our country defenseless. Over the last 10 years, they've repeatedly lost to the worst of the Republicans, who are the most anti-worker, anti-anything that can be called human decency."

That got a huge round of applause.

Nader blamed not only the Democrats, but also the "liberal intelligentsia," including The Progressive magazine. "They're so freaked out by Bush, they make the following mantra: 'Anybody but Bush,' not making any demands on Kerry. If John Kerry loses to this craven regime in Washington, he'll lose because the liberals abdicated responsibility to make him a more popular, go-getting Democrat. It's almost as if they're ashamed of what they're advocating."

To the Democrats, he said, "Throw in the towel. Give up. Step aside. Let the younger generation that sees through the sham take over."

And to the audience: "This is a decadent party. This is a decaying party. You can watch it, or you can do something. Try to give it a jolt, as we're doing. Make demands on it. But do something."

This is the same message that was so galvanizing in 2000 when Nader packed Madison Square Garden, and so many other venues, talking to people eager to help build the grassroots movement he envisioned. What has happened since then?

Eddie Vedder, Bonnie Raitt, and other entertainers who were on stage with Nader are out playing anti-Bush events. Nader derided Michael Moore in his speech for getting down on his knees and begging him not to run. ("Don't grovel. ... Stand up for justice," he said.)

Has the dream died? Has the left given up? Are Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ehrenreich really just "scared liberals," as Nader called them in his reply to their recent statement?

"It's hard to dismiss them as corporate Democrats," says Jeff Cohen, former head of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, who helped put together the statement to swing state voters. "Clearly, I don't think people signed this because they think the Democratic leadership under Kerry is dramatically better than the Democratic leadership under Gore," Cohen says. "It's because the Republicans are worse than anyone imagined."

The optimistic feeling many on the left had in 2000 is almost hard to recall now. The country has taken such a hard turn to the right since then. Bush seemed like a bumbler who couldn't win. If elected, he might, as Ehrenreich put it, "while away his presidency on the elliptical trainer." Activists were fed up with Democratic retreat on issues like welfare reform and corporate control of the media. People believed, as Cohen says, that it was a good time for a "center-left" strategy: helping to build a strong Green Party to put pressure on the corporate Democrats who were running things.

Bush's regime, Sept. 11, and its aftermath changed everything. The most devastating aspect of the Republican regime, it seems to me, is its lawless militarism, which is spreading a toxic hatred of America around the globe. Linville snorts at this: "I'm glad America is hated," he said. "I think the U.S. should shut down all its military bases abroad."

To the young people supporting Nader today, Bush is the status quo – not some freakish aberration. They see the pre-emptive war in Iraq as an extension of Clinton's bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. They see Dennis Kucinich, the leftmost Democrat, as a sellout, whose campaign was designed, from the beginning, to co-opt the anti-war movement. (The ISO website calls Kucinich a "bagman" for Kerry.)

"Some of that rhetoric made sense to me decades ago, but when I hear it today it seems like it's wanting me to conflate Barbara Lee and Dennis Kucinich with Joe Lieberman," says Cohen. "It's not meaningful."

As for Howard Zinn and that quote of his the Nader backers repeated to me: "That quote is a little misleading, because it suggests I don't care who's in the White House," Zinn said, when I reached him by phone. "I'm arguing that social action is more important. But it doesn't mean that who's in the White House is of zero importance." Having Bush in charge of the world's mightiest war machine is too dangerous, he says.

About Nader, Zinn said, "He's been seduced by the last thing in the world he should be seduced by, which is electoral politics. He's not about that. He's about movement politics."

Zinn is sympathetic with Nader's supporters.

"The Democratic Party is a pitiful example of an opposition. And when you look at what Kerry stands for and what Nader stands for, I understand perfectly why people might find it repugnant to vote for Kerry and not for Nader ... I'm sort of with them emotionally.

"But," he continues, "I think that in this election they, too, are placing too much stock in the election itself, thinking it's very important for people to mark their ballots for Nader. That's not the most important thing. The most important thing is carrying on the issues he stands for."

In fact, if Nader gets less than he did last time, Zinn thinks it gives an erroneous picture of how much support there is for what he stands for – causes that a majority of Americans actually agree with.

The election will be over soon. The effect of Nader's run may be to help drive the country further to the right. But I like Zinn's optimism. I hope his students, and Nader's, bring about the massive social change they, and their mentors, still believe in.

Conventional Change

Toward the end of the Democrats' convention, a couple of veterans for John Kerry stood on the Boston Common watching a group of peace-sign carriers for Dennis Kucinich pass by. "What is this, a time machine?" one of them asked. Like the Kucinich delegates, the vets opposed the war in Iraq. But they excused Kerry's vote to support it by explaining that it was really a vote to give President Bush authority to seek an international consensus. I asked whether that was letting Kerry and the rest of Congress off too easy. After all, it's Congress's duty to declare war, not just pass the buck to the President. They shrugged. "Goes back to the Gulf of Tonkin," one said. Indeed.

The Democrats are not poised to address long-term problems like the War Powers Act, or the drift from democracy to empire. For almost everyone under their big tent, beating Bush is the only issue. Almost no one at the convention, including Kucinich delegates and other progressives, had much appetite for criticizing Kerry.

It was a stroke of genius for the Democrats to pick a theme for their convention that's been working itself out for decades in our culture: healing the rift over Vietnam. At the pageant in Boston, liberal-minded Americans could unite in a consensus that the war was a mistake and that soldiers like Kerry and his "band of brothers" were its victims and heroes, not villains.

Unfortunately, all that healing was of no help in generating a solution to the Vietnam-like situation now unfolding in Iraq. Kerry and John Edwards are mute on the crucial question: How and when do we extract American soldiers from their current directionless, violent predicament? Now that the crazed rightwing think-tankers in the Bush administration have had four years to get us stuck in Iraq and earn the enmity of the world, the Democrats seem to be preparing to drift onward, not with the same "forward-leaning" intensity as the Republicans, but, to use another of the boat metaphors that were so ubiquitous at the convention, without a rudder of their own.

The cost, if Kerry wins, is that the Democrats may beat the Republicans and take office without any effective pressure from within the party for peace, for a more humane program at home and abroad, and for a more rational set of policies that will take us off perpetual high alert.

Even the protesters were polite. When they ventured out of the insane dog pound set up for them outside the convention center – under some elevated tracks, with razor wire enclosing it, a mesh roof on top, and snipers overhead – demonstrators, led by the anti-war group Code Pink, argued briefly with the police. The police insisted the protesters take down a big pink sign – "Bring the troops home now" – that they'd hung on the outside of the giant wall surrounding the convention center. The protesters put it up again a few feet away. But when they finally made their speeches, most endorsed Kerry, only pleading with him to take a more anti-war stance.

Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin spoke to some TV cameras, wearing a sticker that said, "80% of Democrats say Iraq was a mistake."

"The Democrats will lose the election if they don't fire up their own base," Benjamin said. "I'm a Green. I'm giving him free advice because I want to see Bush out of office."

Eric Wasileski, a retired Navy fire controlman, also faced the cameras. "Vietnam started on a lie, and this war started on a lie as well," he said. "Mr. Kerry, you were in Vietnam and you said when you got back it was wrong for the politicians to send people to die there. I pray to God President Bush does not get reelected, and Mr. Kerry, if you take the reins of power, remember your words."

Fernandez Suarez de Solar of Escondido, California, held up a picture of his son Jesus, who died on March 27, 2003, in Baghdad. "I have two goals," he said. "To demand the end of the occupation, and bring home all the troops, and, specifically, here for the Democratic Convention, to put on the table very clearly, what is the position about the war?" De Solar declined to say whom he would vote for in November. "I support the Democratic Party," he said, "but I can't support any candidate." Then he hustled off for a meeting with Michael Moore.

The unity projected from the convention stage was fine – uplifting, in fact, when Barack Obama gave his stirring keynote address. "There are those who want to divide us," he said, but "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America. There's a United States of America."

Talking to delegates on the floor who were cheering Obama, you could see the potential for a Democratic Party to represent something truly great – a united, diverse, and just America.

Seema Shah, an Indian American delegate from Minnesota who supported Kucinich, said she was there to show that "people of different faiths and races can be in the party."

Leon Lynch, an African American steelworker from Pittsburgh, went with his union for Gephardt, but liked Dean the best in the primary field, and thought "Kerry will probably be gracious enough to listen" to progressive voices.

Renee Crawford, a nurse and Kucinich delegate from Milwaukee who was wearing a "delegate for peace" scarf, said, "I support John Kerry 100 percent. She also liked Dean, "because he was the strongest anti-war candidate."

But after the good feeling of the major speeches wore off, there were the same, Clinton-era policies: a small hike in the minimum wage, tax credits for education, balancing the budget, and "finishing the job" on welfare reform. Not to mention the convention planners' dismal attitude toward civil liberties.

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, did a stand-up routine in the dreadful "free speech area." Wearing a tan sports jacket and wire-rimmed glasses and grinning broadly, Terry called out to people who hurried past the protest cage talking into cell phones, "This is how the Democrats treat free speech!" Pointing to the fences and the razor wire, Terry mocked the delegates: "Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy – they'd be proud of the Democratic Party of today!.. Let freedom ring! Woo!" Terry was joined by about a dozen other protesters with anti-abortion signs: "God is pro-life," "Kerry is wrong."

Terry was right. The Democrats reached new heights of censoriousness the same year dissent in the party fell to a low watermark. On the floor, when delegates held up signs that threatened "unity," they were quickly surrounded by droves of Kerry sign-holders.

Dennis Kucinich and other progressives did get a chance to speak from the stage at the convention – mostly outside of prime time. Kucinich used his moment in the limelight to remind the audience "who we Democrats are."

"When we show up holding the banner of social and economic justice, we win," he said. He criticized Bush for leading us into a war that had "nothing to do with Al Qaeda" and where there were "no weapons of mass destruction." Listing all the positions the Democrats ought to stand for, Kucinich repeatedly yelled, "Courage, America!" He concluded with, "John Kerry, America!" as ambient chatter in the convention hall drowned him out and the convention planners got him off the stage to the dated anthem "Power to the People."

Howard Dean seemed to disappear – not even mentioning Iraq in his brief remarks endorsing Kerry. Only Al Sharpton blew everyone off the stage, going overtime with an extemporaneous speech about the stolen election in Florida and Republican hypocrisy – and driving the delegates crazy with delight.

It was at alternate events sponsored by a new group called Progressive Democrats of America where leftwingers made their strongest criticisms of the Patriot Act (which Kerry voted for) and the war in Iraq (which his running mate promised to win). Thunderous applause greeted these broadsides.

Kucinich was the big star at a panel on civil liberties at St. Paul's Cathedral. Speaking from the pulpit, to the packed pews, flanked by handpainted posters that read "Repeal the Patriot Act" and "Civil Rights for All," he criticized random searches on public transportation, the "concentration camp" atmosphere of the "free speech area" for protesters, and the overwhelming police presence. "We are not going gentle into a good night of totalitarianism," he said.

On the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, I asked Kucinich what he got from Kerry in exchange for his endorsement. "My voice is in," he said. "I'm speaking to the convention." But what about Kerry and the Iraq War? "This war belongs to George Bush, and we're not going to insist John Kerry take the burden of the war until he's in the White House," he said. "If John Kerry desires to take a new position on Iraq when he becomes President, he'll have the support of the grassroots."

Kucinich whipped up the crowd for Jesse Jackson, who came in to deliver the following message: "We who are winners must not have a loser's complex. We who are ants must not have a grasshopper's complex."

Jackson took issue with the people who say Kerry and Edwards need to motivate them. "My experience about motivation is that it comes bottom-up, not top-down," he said. "Slave masters never change their mind. The enslaved change their mind. Abolition did not come top down. Abolition came bottom up. Women's suffrage came bottom up." As the crowd cheered, he shouted, "We can win! We have the power to win! Some amazing things are happening."

Jackson invoked Barack Obama's rise in Illinois and other promising Democratic Senate races around the country. "We keep winning," he said. "We keep winning every day." But he got the biggest response when he condemned the war. "We have a moral obligation. We must end the war in Iraq," he bellowed, to a round of loud stomping and applause. "It's time to bring the troops home and send George Bush home."

Then he urged the audience to go "door to door, house to house," to register voters. "We have the numbers, if we have the will to fight back. Don't let them break our spirits. We marched too long, bled too much. Don't let them break our spirit." Finally, he got his audience chanting along to his familiar chorus. By the end, the whole room was yelling "Keep hope alive!" It was irresistible. But later, on the stage at the convention center, Jackson's speech was toned-down and flat, with the requisite Kerry hagiography grafted on in place of the passionate call to progressives to continue the fight.

At another Progressive Democrats event, Representative John Conyers showed up to deliver the same pitch, pleading with progressives to support Kerry. In a freezing cold gym at the Roxbury Community College, delegates sat in folding chairs divided into sections by state, like the regular convention. Signs on the cement-block walls said "Universal, single-payer health care" and "End the occupation of Iraq" and "Repeal the Patriot Act" – messages that did not make it to the red-carpeted floor of the FleetCenter.

"Let's face it, Ralph Nader – and I am his closest friend in Congress – you are potentially re-electing the most crypto-fascist Administration that has ever existed in my lifetime," Conyers said. "Don't tell me Nader didn't cost Gore the election. He did. And don't tell me he can't cost Kerry the election. He can."

"This is the most exciting convention I've ever been to in my life," Conyers declared, straining credulity. He noted all the progressive speakers, including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Robert Byrd. "The progressive movement is now gaining a foothold," he said. "Dennis Kucinich is the leader of the Democratic Party. Don't you get it?" Here, credulity snapped.

In conclusion, he told the assembled progressives, there is Edwards, who "may be more progressive than Kerry, for all you know."

"Yes, we're going to vote for candidate Kerry," Boston council member Chuck Turner told the same audience. "But when I hear Kerry say he doesn't believe in a redistributive tax policy, he isn't going to provide the kind of leadership we need."

The Progressive Democrats are determined to develop that leadership – nurturing, as their own rather verbose mission statement puts it, "a new, democratic, grassroots-based, nationally federated organization, through which we shall endeavor, over a period of years, to build an unstoppable coalition."

Granny D., the campaign-finance-reform-walkathon icon and New Hampshire Senate candidate, was at one of the Progressive Democrats events. I asked her what she thought of the main convention so far, and she said she was "very pleased and praying they'll all unite and there won't be a split vote and everybody will vote for Kerry." When I asked her what she thought about Kerry's record-level fundraising, she said, "It's the system that has developed. I've watched it develop through the years. It's not his fault."

I'd never heard so much conciliatory language at what was billed as an "alternative" political event. The truth is, most of the delegates in the convention hall agreed with these progressive "outsiders." As a group, they were way to the left of their candidates on health care, the economy, and the war.

But for the most part, they were even more polite. The Kucinich delegates I spoke to confined their antiwar message to wearing and sharing Code Pink scarves imprinted with the slogan "another delegate for peace." One Kucinich delegate from Minnesota, Faith Kidder, said she felt encouraged because she stuck her fingers in the air, holding up a peace sign during the convention, and noticed delegates for other candidates joining her. She also led a round of the song "Imagine."

"We are talking about how to get a voice at the table without it being a dissenting voice that pulls the party apart," she said. A few Kucinich delegates, in an act of rebellion, decided to vote against the party platform, and even against Kerry's nomination. But they were a minority. Still, Kidder said, "I had a woman who's a Kerry delegate sitting next to me who said, 'This platform is not appropriate.' We see power in that."

Thomas Higgins, a theater tech from Anchorage, Alaska, was the exception. He wore a T-shirt that said "I did not vote for Kerry" with a picture of a purple sheep standing apart from the herd. He broke ranks and voted for Kucinich, not Kerry, on the roll-call vote giving Kerry the nomination, aggravating his fellow delegates on the floor.

"Right now, I cannot support a Democratic war over a Republican war," he said. "Most of the speakers would speak eloquently about health care, education, and then they'd start ranting about increases in homeland security, building up the troops in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists." He hadn't decided whom to vote for yet.

At the alternative convention, some people were wearing shirts that said "I will vote against the war" on the back, and on the front: "John Kerry, don't make me vote for Nader."

Tim Carpenter, an organizer who helped found the Progressive Democrats of America, asked how many people were considering voting for Nader in a swing state. A few hands went up. "We want to talk to you before the day is over," he said.

From my own unofficial survey, it seemed that arm-twisting progressives to vote for Kerry was going to be an easy job.

Lenny Matthews, a nurse from Northern California, had crossed out the name Nader on her "don't make me vote for Nader" shirt and written in "Mickey Mouse." Would she vote for Kerry? "Oh, of course I'll vote for him," she said. But she wanted to send a more pointed message than "all those pom pom fluffers" on the convention floor.

On the final night of the convention, the delegates devoured the red-meat attacks on Bush, which were all saved up for Kerry to throw out. You had to hand it to him, and to the convention planners: They put on an impressive show. The pitch was just right – positive, idealistic, caring about ordinary Americans, the soldiers, the single mothers, and the rest of the great majority of people struggling to get by yet still believing in the promise of America.

The Kerry on paper – who seemed like such a great opponent to the President, if only he weren't such a dud in person – finally merged with the Kerry on stage. His speech was a hit. Most of all, the unity theme – not Democratic Party unity, but a broader, American unity of tolerance, diversity, and social justice – pointed up a stark contrast with the parochial, meanspirited Republicans and put the Democrats in a great position to win in November.

The lingering question is: Then what?

Outside the FleetCenter, the choppers, military police everywhere, and barricades that turned downtown Boston into an armed camp created a heavy atmosphere of foreboding that belied the primetime sunshine inside. The shadow of terrorism bore down on everyone.

Police in riot gear have been a fixture at political conventions since 2000 – a reaction to the WTO protesters in Seattle. In Boston, the atmosphere was ratcheted up a few notches. Cops patrolled the T stops wearing sunglasses and dressed all in black with huge rifles slung across their chests. Since there were no terrorists in Boston, as it turned out, the cops turned their attention to their old adversaries, the protesters. They didn't meet with much resistance.

On the last day of the convention, six demonstrators with an anarchist flag stood across from the Boston Public Library. Three news trucks, three cameramen, and a newscaster in a pink jacket doing a live report blocked the view of the protesters from the street. One of the protesters peeked around the newscaster's shoulder, trying to get into the shot. A young woman wearing a pirate hat beat on a drum painted with the message: "Rich lie, poor die." A group of bemused onlookers in business attire watched from a park bench. They outnumbered the protesters, who were obscured by the TV trucks and heavy camera equipment. An older guy in a baseball cap walked by. "Slow news day," he said.

Kerry, Vietnam and Iraq

Twenty-four-year-old Marine Michael Hoffman feels betrayed by John Kerry. Hoffman took part in the invasion of Iraq and served there for a year before returning home recently to tell Americans what he saw. "The troops aren't fighting for what Bush is espousing on TV," he says. "Basically, they're just fighting for their lives now."

Traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard, speaking at rallies for Military Families Against the War and Veterans for Peace, Hoffman sees a growing movement of dissent against Bush's Iraq folly. "The troops know it's not true that they're there because there were weapons of mass destruction or to bring democracy to Iraq," Hoffman says. Instead, as he sees it, the troops are stuck in a complex and ugly situation, with no clear mission and no way out.

In his anger and forthrightness, Hoffman sounds a lot like another young soldier who returned home from an ill-conceived war to protest against it: John Kerry. But that was back in the early 1970s. Today, Democratic Presidential candidate Kerry is singing a different tune.

In his April 18 appearance on Meet the Press, Kerry distanced himself from his younger, anti-war incarnation. Host Tim Russert showed a clip of the young Kerry in uniform, just back from Vietnam, telling of the atrocities he and his fellow soldiers had taken part in, and saying that the United States had engaged in war crimes in Vietnam. "Atrocities?" Russert asked Kerry. The candidate squirmed and tried a stiff joke, making light of his own earnest image in that early video footage: "Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me," he said, chuckling awkwardly. He went on to say that his description of burning villages and machine-gunning women and children as "war crimes" was "over the top"--just the bluster of an angry young man.

On other issues of war and peace, Kerry sounded similarly defensive and eager to portray himself as a hawk. He bobbed and weaved and qualified his way out of his eminently sensible statement that the war on terror is not primarily a military endeavor. He reminded Russert that he supported more troops in Iraq and more money for the military budget. He left no daylight at all between the Bush Administration's staunch support of Ariel Sharon's aggressive policies in the Occupied Territories and his own.

"I'm incredibly disappointed in Kerry so far," says Hoffman. "I can relate to what he was saying right after he got back from Vietnam. That's where I am right now." To this young soldier, Kerry's support for the war in Iraq "feels almost like a stab in the back."

"He's the one who said, 'No one wants to be the last man to die for a mistake,'" says Hoffman. "That's what he's asking the troops to do right now."

The worse things look in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Bush Administration's hapless "war on terror," the more the question arises: What can be done to put the genie back in the bottle? Would a Kerry Administration rein in military adventurism, and restore some sense of security to a country seemingly determined to provoke more and more resentment around the globe, making us more of a target for further terrorist attacks?

Some of candidate Kerry's statements sound encouraging. In a speech last December to the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry said: "Simply put: The Bush Administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in modern history." What the Administration has done in Iraq, he said, is to win a military victory, "yet make America weaker." Our "foreign policy of triumphalism," he said, "diminishes Islamic moderates and fuels the fire of jihadists."

The solutions Kerry offers sound sensible. "I will immediately convene a summit with European and world leaders to discuss a common anti-terrorism agenda," he says. He would fight back the warlords who are taking over Afghanistan and shore up the Karzai government. He would hold the Saudi royal family accountable for its support of terrorism.

In a speech on fighting the war on terror at UCLA in February, Kerry even got to the point about our "corporate and energy dependence" on the Saudis: "If I am President, we will embark on a historic effort to create alternative fuels and the vehicles of the future -- to make this country energy independent of Mideast oil within ten years. So our sons and daughters will never have to fight and die for it."

He also warned the Council on Foreign Relations that "George Bush is poised to set off a new nuclear arms race by building . . . smaller and, some incredibly believe, more 'usable' nuclear bombs. I don't want a world with usable nuclear bombs."

It is time to "replace unilateral action with collective security," Kerry told the Council, in conclusion. Among the most important steps on the road to peace is bringing together the Israelis and Palestinians. "In the first days of a Kerry Administration, I will appoint a Presidential Ambassador to the Peace Process. . . . President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, or . . . President Clinton."

Unfortunately, Kerry promptly backed away from that list on Meet the Press, saying he'd no longer consider Carter or Baker. Apparently, some of his more hawkish advisers on Middle East policy didn't approve.

Kerry's foreign policy team is quite conservative. As Ron Brownstein pointed out in The Los Angeles Times, former Clinton Administration official Richard Holbrooke and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, both of whom argued in favor of Bush's invasion of Iraq without U.N. authorization, are likely candidates for Secretary of State.

Other Clinton Administration officials close to Kerry -- Anthony Lake and Madeleine Albright -- are no more ringing in their indictments of Bush. "On preventive war, their argument is over tactics," says William Hartung of the World Policy Institute. "They say unilateral force should be an option, not a doctrine. We should be able to do this, but not brag about it from the rooftops."

Hartung, like a lot of progressives, is frustrated that Kerry is not taking more swings at Bush. "He could do more to say Bush is out of step," he says

Some of President Bush's advisers are so far out on the rightwing conspiracy-theory fringe they have even suggested that Iraq had a hand in the Oklahoma City bombings, Hartung laments. (Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, a close friend of Donald Rumsfeld, promoted the claim that there was an Iraqi "third man" in Oklahoma.)

"These folks are certifiable and yet they are welcomed by the Bush folks as their colleagues," says Hartung. "I don't see why Kerry couldn't say it's time to restore balance and sanity to our foreign policy without being afraid of looking like a tall Michael Dukakis."

Overall, Kerry has some incisive criticisms of Bush. But he seems to lack the courage of his convictions, often sounding apologetic or defensive. It wasn't supposed to be that way. The argument for Kerry during the primaries was that, with his war record, he could easily overcome the Democratic phobia of appearing "soft on defense." With so much going wrong for this Administration, a tough critic could ride a wave of popular doubt.

Says Hartung: "I think he'd be smarter to think about whether he really wants, for example, his mantra about Iraq to be something other than 'stay the course' and 'finish the job.' That can lead to nothing but trouble. A larger U.S. troop presence is just going to provoke a larger backlash."

The anti-U.S. sentiment Bush is currently provoking throughout the Middle East will resonate for decades, Hartung and other critics charge. They say Kerry should make a clean break with Bush Administration policy.

"The hand he's been dealt is really terrible," says Erik Leaver at the Institute for Policy Studies. "But he's just trying to patch up what Bush has been doing." Instead, Kerry could be talking about repealing the law that lets foreign companies control Iraq's resources and seeking regional allies, not to mention talking about getting American troops out soon.

"It was really hopeful seeing how much support Dean got during the primaries," Leaver says. "It's dismaying that progressives are not taking a stronger tact -- everyone is trying not to tread too heavily on Kerry because they want to beat Bush."

But the left "can and should get its concerns out," says Leaver.

To this end, some progressive think tanks have been throwing around ideas of cabinet members who would represent a safer, saner set of policies for a Kerry Administration. Among them: AFL-CIO Vice-President Linda Chavez-Thompson for Secretary of Labor; David Bonior, former Representative from Michigan, for U.S. Trade Rep; Representative John Conyers for Attorney General; economist and New York Times op-ed page gadfly Paul Krugman for the Council of Economic Advisors; former Republican Senator Jim Jeffords for EPA; and for Secretary of Defense, former Reagan Administration assistant defense secretary Larry Korb, who has argued that the U.S. must admit it was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, that the war is going badly, and move quickly to internationalize peace-keeping and nation-building efforts in Iraq.

As he continues speaking out against the war in Iraq, Hoffman sees a groundswell of public opinion for change. "This is the beginning of something," he says, "but it's going to be an uphill fight."

And he hasn't given up on Kerry.

"I do think we've got a better chance changing Kerry's mind than Bush," Hoffman adds. "But as someone said at a Veterans for Peace meeting recently, even if we do like Kerry, we'll be protesting and fighting the day after he takes office."

When Kerry Was Liberal

The Bush campaign and its conservative patrons want you to know: John Kerry is the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. More liberal than Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, the Generation GOP website crows. The Democrats couldn't have picked a more leftwing presidential candidate if they'd nominated Dennis Kucinich, the Washington Times reports.

What's going on here?

The "most liberal" label comes from a credible source: the National Journal, bible of Beltway wonks. Guided by contributing editor and CNN commentator William Schneider, the National Journal has been using the same complicated, computerized process to rank "conservative" and "liberal" members of Congress since 1981.

But if Kerry is so liberal, why did Kucinich, Howard Dean, and even John Edwards attract more support from labor, peace activists, and other groups traditionally associated with the left? Why did Democratic Party leaders applaud when these "unelectable" progressives gave way to the more mainstream, moderate Kerry?

Using a different ranking system, the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action put Kerry at number twenty-five among Senate liberals in 2003. (Ted Kennedy ranked number five.) Nor does Kerry make the ADA's lifetime top-ten list of Senate liberals, headed by the late Paul Wellstone at number one.

Jeff Blodgett runs Wellstone Action, a group that trains political organizers and promotes progressive politics.

"Paul saw himself as part of a movement, connected to organizations around the country," Blodgett says. Wellstone proposed legislation that he knew would not pass, like a single-payer health insurance bill "just because he thought it should be part of the debate." More than anything he saw himself as an activist and a "voice for the voiceless," Blodgett says.

The same can hardly be said of John Kerry. He endorsed the idea of campaign finance reform but spent heavily to drive away potential opponents in his reelection campaigns. And he annoyed progressives in Massachusetts with his opposition to single-payer health care and his unenthusiastic support for raising the minimum wage--a major cause of his colleague Ted Kennedy. Kerry also supported the welfare reform bill that did away with Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- a vote that more than anything divided the Wellstone liberals from the Clinton New Democrats.

A couple of things to know about the National Journal rankings: Kerry rated number one last year for the first time in more than a decade. Not coincidentally, 2003 was also the year he missed thirty-seven of the sixty-two votes tallied in the ranking process because he was out on the campaign trail.

What was not included in the National Journal rankings is at least as important as what was. The Journal looks at votes cast by Senators and Representatives in three areas: economic, social, and foreign policy. Kerry missed all the 2003 votes in two of the three categories. So his ranking is based entirely on economic policy. Trade, an area where Kerry has always been at odds with the Democratic base, barely showed up on the radar screen. Some of the most significant votes he cast on the issue -- for NAFTA, Fast Track, and normal trade relations with China -- did not take place in 2003. On the most important trade votes in 2003, such as dropping trade barriers with Africa and the Caribbean, and free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore, Kerry was a no-show.

Kerry isn't the only one whose record seems distorted in the National Journal. Some of the most conservative members of Congress found themselves rated as moderates because of their votes opposing the President's Medicare plan, supplemental appropriations for the reconstruction of Iraq, and the drug war in South America, all of which they viewed as wasteful government spending. Representative Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, a proud rightwinger who was rated among the moderates in 2003, told the National Journal it should change its ratings system.

It is undeniable that over the course of his lifetime, Kerry has racked up a liberal voting record. That record is reflected in his lifetime National Journal ranking of ninety-two out of 100 points -- higher than the formerly pro-life Kucinich. But that's largely because Kerry was a liberal -- during his first term. The previous time he was among the most liberal Senators, according to the Journal, was in 1990.

In a cover story entitled "What's Right with Kerry," in The Nation, David Corn recently declared "what distinguishes Kerry's career are key moments when he displayed guts and took tough actions that few colleagues would imitate."

Those moments, which Corn catalogues, mostly took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Iran-Contra hearings, inquiries into the Reagan Administration's coddling of drug dealers, and the BCCI investigation that linked members of both parties to a bank supporting a network of criminals and terrorists. One of his last courageous stands was in 1996, when he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which even Wellstone voted for.

But if the old John Kerry scored a lot of liberal points, the new John Kerry, the National Journal points out, was "especially moderate in his second term when it came to foreign policy issues." He voted for missile defense and intelligence spending legislation opposed by his Democratic colleagues. As Kerry likes to brag on the campaign trail, he endorsed sixteen out of nineteen military budget increases during his time in the Senate. Kerry's pro-military record is particularly galling to one of his constituents, John Bonifaz, the founder and director of the National Voting Rights Institute. Bonifaz even explored running against Kerry from the left in 2001, but decided not to when September 11 eclipsed his platform of economic and social justice.

Bonifaz was a young campaign staffer for Ted Kennedy in 1988. "I was not of the view that no one in the U.S. Senate was carrying the torch for progressive fights. There were some people, Senator Kennedy being one, Paul Wellstone being one." But Kerry, in Bonifaz's view, was no ally of progressives. His biggest beef with Kerry now is his support of the principle that Bush did not have to consult Congress again before invading Iraq -- the subject of a lawsuit Bonifaz is pressing against the Administration.

Like most liberals and progressives, Bonifaz wants to see Kerry beat Bush. That raises the question: Why criticize him now?

"For starters, I'd like to see a debate at the Democratic National Convention on where the party stands about the process of going into war," he says. "Does the party embrace the [idea that] presidents have inherent authority to invade other countries on their own volition, or does it embrace the view of the framers of the Constitution?"

Initially, Kerry explained his vote on the Iraq resolution by saying that the President had promised he'd go to war only with U.N. approval.

"Kerry made his own promise in a floor speech," says Bonifaz. "If the President didn't proceed to build a multilateral coalition, he'd be the first to speak out. He did not."

Instead, Bonifaz says, he stood by as the Administration blew off the international community and now endorses Bush on the war powers question.

Beyond that, says Bonifaz, a lot of people want to see a challenge to corporate politics. "That mobilized a lot of people behind Dean," he says. "Will Kerry embrace that message, or will he move to the center and right?"

If he keeps on the way he has been going, 2004 may be the year Kerry finally loses the liberal label.

Ruth Conniff is political editor of The Progressive.

Ganging Up on Howard Dean

Democratic Presidential hopeful Howard Dean is getting the treatment. The acerbic physician and former governor of Vermont has raised more money and gained more popularity than expected. As a result, the pundits who examine political candidates' viability have turned their gaze on him. In June, Tim Russert and a clique of Washington pundits and reporters who follow Russert's lead pronounced Dean unfit. According to a flurry of news stories and columns, Dean's appearance on Meet the Press with Russert on June 22 was an embarrassment for the candidate and a disaster for his campaign.

People who saw the show or read the transcript might well ask: What was the big deal?

The New York Times and The Washington Post pulled out the following "embarrassing" details: Russert quizzed Dean on the exact number of U.S. military personnel on active duty. Dean said there were between one and two million. The correct number is, in fact, right in the middle-1.4 million. Russert asked Dean how many troops are currently stationed in Iraq (a constantly fluctuating number). Dean said it was "in the neighborhood of 135,000 troops." The number is really 146,000, the Times pointed out.

How would President Bush do on a similar pop quiz? My guess is our current commander in chief couldn't answer those questions. But Russert made a big deal of Dean's failure to produce the precise figures from memory.

"For me to have to know right now, participating in the Democratic Party [primary], how many troops are actively on duty in the United States military-when that is actually a number that's composed both of people on duty today and people who are in the National Guard . . . it's silly," Dean said. "That's like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is."

"Oh, no, no, no. Not at all," Russert replied. "Not if you want to be commander in chief."

Russert planted a seed that grew into a tree, casting a big shadow of doubt on Dean as the Post, the Times, and the Sunday morning pundits asked, "Is Dean Presidential material?"

The New York Times called the show a "debacle."

Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Post, summed up a host of other bad reviews: New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets called Dean's interview "perhaps the worst performance by a presidential candidate in the history of television." The Dallas Morning News quoted unnamed Democrats comparing Dean to Republican landslide victims George McGovern and Walter Mondale. said "the politico-media establishment continues to look at him as an anti-war pipsqueak . . . decidedly not ready for prime time."

What's really going on here?

Certainly Tim Russert has a reputation for being a tough interviewer, and for not letting anyone off the hook.

But as comedian and media gadfly Bob Sommerby pointed out on his website The Daily Howler (, Russert's treatment of another governor who was running for President was completely different. In his first interview with candidate George W. Bush in 1999, Russert actually supplied some numbers:

Russert: "In your speech, you said that arms reductions are not our most pressing challenge. Right now, we have 7,200 nuclear weapons; the Russians have 6,000. What to you is an acceptable level?"

Bush: "That's going to depend upon the generals helping me make that decision, Tim. That's going to depend upon the people whose judgment I will rely upon to make sure that we have a peaceful world."

But if it was OK for Bush to fob off detailed policy discussions on a future team of advisers, for Dean the rules were different.

Before his combative interview with Dean, Russert went to Bush Administration officials at the Treasury Department to ask for budget data to attack Dean's plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts. Predictably, the Administration generated figures that showed a reversal of Bush tax policy would be a disaster for middle class Americans.

Parroting the Bush line, Russert challenged Dean: "Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent [for married couples with two children] or 107 percent [for married retirees] and be elected?"

Dean stuck to his guns. "Were those figures from the Treasury Department, did you say, or CBO [the Congressional Budget Office]?" he asked. "I don't believe them."

Russert persisted: "But in the middle of an economic downturn, Howard Dean wants to raise taxes on the average of $1,200 per family."

Dean was vindicated the next day. In a short piece on June 23, The Washington Post noted the release of the Treasury Department report, calling it "a highly selective analysis of the cost to families of rolling back scheduled tax cuts" and quoting a Brookings Institution economist who poked holes in the figures. "The research was prepared at the request of Meet the Press," the Post noted, adding: "The analysis does not include single people or lower income couples, two groups that benefit little from Bush's cuts."

Is Tim Russert a stalking horse for the Bush Administration? Or does he just have it in for Howard Dean?

Peter Hart of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting sees a subtler dynamic. The problem for Dean, according to Hart, is something like the problem Al Gore faced in the last election. Reporters just don't like him much. Indeed, Dean had a reputation in Vermont for being impatient and sometimes downright rude. Newsweek recently ran a piece that described Dean getting annoyed and sarcastic with members of the national press corps.

"He doesn't seem to like journalists, and the feeling is mutual," Hart says. That leads the press to jump on unflattering stories, even if they're not quite accurate. A public stumble that might be overlooked in another candidate could become the dreaded Jimmy-Carter-attack-rabbit episode. Look for more anecdotes about Dean losing his cool and getting his facts mixed up, says Hart.

The Washington press corps can be like a gang of mean junior high school kids. But there is more than fickle dislike for a certain personality in the media tarring of Dean. Dean is an outsider. As the most identifiably progressive candidate-or at least the one with the most money, since Dennis Kucinich, who is running to the left of Dean, hasn't raised millions and has been almost completely ignored by the press-Dean sticks out. The "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," which Dean claims to represent, is not much in evidence in Washington these days.

To the inside-the-Beltway media, which lives and dies by connections, contacts, and conventional wisdom, "there is something appealing and at the same time unappealing about someone who comes from the outside," says Hart. "They need to take an extra look. They need to neutralize him by showing that this guy isn't ready for prime time." That's because, at bottom, what most stands out about Dean to Washington insiders is that he's not an insider himself. That threatens their sense of superiority-not just of the insider candidates in the field, but also of the press corps that follows and anoints them. "Political veterans, insiders, would never get a pop quiz," says Hart.

Can Dean survive the drubbing? Yes. After all, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush were all governors with little or no military experience. All had to face questions about their preparation for office. Carter even espoused some establishment-shaking ideas about regulation and reform. But Dean needs to do two things to protect himself from being fatally marginalized, one of which he is already doing. First, he needs to stop being needlessly prickly with the press. (He hasn't done that yet.) And second, he must keep on speaking directly to voters, through his remarkably successful website and in his more plentiful public appearances than the candidates with the inside track. The public, leaving aside gatekeepers like Tim Russert, are less interested in a candidate who can pass a rigged, on-the-spot civics test than they are in someone with the brains and guts to aggressively take on George W. Bush.

Ruth Conniff is Political Editor of The Progressive.

The Peace Candidate

kucinichDennis Kucinich is clearly holding down the left end of the bench of Democratic Presidential contenders for 2004. The co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, an advocate of nonviolence who has proposed that the U.S. government create a Department of Peace, a vegan because he believes in "the sacredness of all species," and a pro-labor environmentalist who marched in the streets of Seattle and Washington, D.C., Kucinich is, without a doubt, the progressive candidate. The argument for his candidacy, unlikely though it may be, is that it represents a point of view the Democrats should be forced to deal with.

The former "boy mayor" of Cleveland, now fifty-six, is the most vocal opponent of war with Iraq in the House of Representatives. A year ago, he began making impassioned speeches on the subject, and lately he's showing up on the talk show circuit as a lonely voice for peace. Meet the Press, Crossfire, Hardball, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, among others, have had him on to debate the Bush Administration's Iraq policy -- though the Washington establishment is not taking his Presidential bid seriously. (The New York Times ranks him somewhere below Al Sharpton as a "viable candidate," and his February announcement in Iowa that he was running was greeted with a resounding shrug by most of the mainstream media.)

Kucinich thinks the pundits are in for a surprise. "They try to make it appear that the positions I'm taking are way out, but they're not," he told me on the phone recently. "As the war effort continues, I think you'll see that more and more people will join in and want to be involved with the campaign."

Steve Cobble agrees. A longtime progressive political strategist who worked for Jesse Jackson, Cobble compares Kucinich to Jackson in 1988. He thinks he could do much better than expected, thanks to the support of people the politicos in Washington don't notice.

"The people who are dismissing Kucinich out of hand are the same people who are shocked by this big anti-war movement that has had such growth in so short a time," says Cobble, who is an adviser to the candidate. Like the late Senator Paul Wellstone, Kucinich is long on big ideas and short on glitz. He is neither tall nor telegenic, neither wealthy nor well connected. And, of course, there's his minimal national name recognition.

But no one voted Ralph Nader "Mr. Charisma" five years ago, Cobble points out, and Nader became a pop star on college campuses during the 2000 campaign. "Young people responded to Nader in 2000," says Cobble. "It was the ideas and the sense of integrity, not blowing in the wind. Dennis is going to give the same vibes."

That's where the comparison to Nader ends, however. "I have no interest in a third party candidacy. None," says Kucinich. "I want to do it the other way -- bring third party candidates into the [Democratic] Party and get support in the primaries." Taking much of Nader's message into the Democratic Party may be a worthy goal. But how far will it get Kucinich?

If a lot of progressives have a hangover from the last Presidential election and are feeling down, Kucinich and his campaign staff are energized by the massive anti-war and anti-globalization demonstrations around the world and by the feeling that a newly active grass-roots movement is rising up and making itself heard.

Kucinich, who opposes NAFTA, is the only candidate proudly giving voice to the fair trade movement. And his opposition to weapons in space and civil liberties violations under the Patriot Act are welcome among a Democratic base eager for a strong opposition to Bush.

"Whereas everyone else says, 'Gee, I'd have used a different airplane, or maybe we should use this missile instead of that one,' he'll be a clarion call for peace," says progressive Wisconsin Democrat and labor lawyer Ed Garvey. Now a supporter of Kucinich, Garvey was moved by the experience of hearing him speak out early against the Iraq war. "The passion and intellectual depth of his speech was really impressive."

Certainly, Kucinich, who quotes long passages of poetry and has a deeply thoughtful, almost starry-eyed quality, is not your usual politician. So is Kucinich the peace movement candidate, as Eugene McCarthy was in 1968?

"This movement precedes a war. The 1968 movement happened years after war began," Kucinich says. His campaign takes on not only war but also a complex array of domestic and international concerns.

Kucinich denounces the Bush Administration's whole political philosophy of "projecting aggression into the world." The issues of his campaign are empire versus democracy, globalization versus equality, war versus peace, a private health insurance system that leaves seventy-five million people intermittently uncovered versus national health care, the Patriot Act versus the Bill of Rights. Get him going, and he'll blow your ears back with a litany of calamitous news.

"People are fearful," Kucinich says. "My candidacy steps forward and says, 'Hey, stop! Hold it!' We're losing what's dear to our country. We have a foreign policy that's setting the stage for new wars. We're talking about first use of nuclear weapons. We still have chemical and biological weapons, which disqualifies us from the chemical and biological weapons treaty. The polar ice caps are still melting. Islands in the Pacific are seeing the water rising. Meteorological changes suggest that global climate change is here to stay. The Kyoto climate change treaty is urgent. The U.S. has to recognize the interconnectedness, interdependence, of the world. We're not doing it. I'm looking at the entire structure of our society and saying, how can government be relevant?"

Whoa! That's Kucinich. Passion and intellectual depth? Yes. Glib pol? Not exactly.

Kucinich has one big problem with a grass-roots, progressive base: His position on abortion. Until last year, he maintained a nearly perfect voting record according to National Right to Life, and scored an absolute zero in the vote tally kept by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Since then, he says, his position has evolved, and he has broken ranks with his former colleagues on anti-abortion legislation.

"I withheld my support on a number of bills in the last year," he says, adding that the aggressive Republican effort to overturn Roe v. Wade persuaded him to help protect women's fundamental constitutional right to abortion.

"I don't believe in abortion, but I do believe in choice," he says.

How does that work?

"I don't believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned," he says. "I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the way the choices are framed in the House of Representatives." He says the Republican assault on Roe v. Wade has become an assault on the Constitution. He now sees the issue as "a question of equality -- whether a woman was going to be equal in society and have constitutional protections. Women will not be equal to men if that constitutionally protected right is denied. Criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional."

Kucinich says he wants to overcome the us-and-them nature of the abortion debate by supporting a kind of nurturing environment for women and children, including full employment, a living wage, universal health care, and affordable and high quality child care. He wants abortion to be legal but rare.

"It's not wrong to support life, and it's not wrong to support a woman's right to choose," he says. "We have to permit both points of view to have expression. But there is a point at which the Constitution cannot be undermined. I've never advocated a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe v. Wade."

Kucinich thinks he can radically change politics in America. He cites his successes as the nation's youngest mayor, standing up to the privatization of Cleveland's public utilities, as well as coming to the aid of its steel industry and its hospitals when they were about to be shut down. "We changed the outcome," he says. "Government presents opportunities for profound creativity."

Cobble cites Barry Goldwater and George McGovern -- dark horse candidates who didn't win the Presidency but transformed politics. "It's worth taking this burgeoning peace movement into the party, whether or not a candidate who voted for the war resolution wins," says Cobble. "We have a group of people in the White House that overtly put empire, first strike, and the occupation of other countries on the table," he adds. "We need a widespread discussion of this, and not many people are volunteering for the job."

Even former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who is running another anti-war candidacy, is not taking on the big picture the way Kucinich is.

"We need someone like Dennis, who has the guts to carry this case," Cobble says.

Says Kucinich: "If I'm able to win some early primaries I'll be able to move these domestic concerns right to the top of the campaign concerns for the party. . . . FDR said in '33 we have nothing to fear but fear itself. We can create a new world. It's possible."

Ruth Conniff is Political Editor of The Progressive.

DNC: Corporate Crusaders

Los Angeles -- On Wednesday night, at the House of Blues on Sunset strip, the Edison Electric Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Gas Association, and the National Mining Association put on a Motown bash honoring Representative John Dingell (Democrat of Michigan) under the banner "The Motor City Takes L.A. for a Spin."

While Motown bands warmed up the crowd and the drinks flowed freely at the open bar, a couple of women slipped quietly onto the stage. Standing in front of the mike, they began to chant a protest lyric about nuclear power. Seconds later, a couple of security guards grabbed them around the neck, according to party-goers, and hustled them out of the club. A representative from the nuclear industry took the stage later between bands to thank the sponsors and address the crowd. "Go nuclear!" she yelled. "And if you want to protest, I'll grab you around the neck and throw you out!" The crowd cheered.

"Democratic National Convention. America's Energy Party" the goodie bags handed out to guests declared. Inside each politically correct, recyclable brown paper bag was a foam rubber light bulb, with the Nuclear Energy Institute logo and tag line "nuclear, the clean air energy". There was also a t-shirt, with an American flag on the front, along with the names of the four event sponsors, and "Independence" printed in blue on the back, with a star next to it, and, below, a line thanking three more energy companies for sponsoring the t-shirt: Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison, and Michcon.

It seems like an appropriate icon for the environmentalist candidate. Except Al should wear a t-shirt with the word "environmentalist" on it, with an asterisk and a list of the industry groups he can thank for getting him this far.

Oh, and don't forget, this is also the party of campaign finance reform. As New York Democratic Party fundraiser Toni Goodale put it to a reporter from USA Today, "I think soft money is horrible, and I'm sorry I have to do this. But it's important to me that the Gore-Lieberman ticket win... The Republicans are awash in money. There's no contest unless we do this."

We've got to feed the monster before we can kill it. Look for more such rationalizations as the campaign spirals onward. Perhaps this is Lieberman's attitude toward the Hollywood glitterati he's been schmoozing with this week.

Plenty has been said about how awkward it is for the party of Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore to hold a convention next door to Hollywood. All that sanctimonious talk about family values and the corrupting influence of the media doesn't go down particularly well here.

Actually, Joe and Tipper can blather on all they want. The bottom line is, they pose no particular threat to industry tycoons in Hollywood or elsewhere. The convention still reached its apex after Al Gore's speech on Thursday with a $5 million Barbara Streisand concert gala. Entertainment figures are still forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Clinton friends like David Geffen have raise the stakes so much with all the money they pour into party coffers, that one big Democratic donor grumbles "I don't have nearly the leverage I did even five years ago!"

Imagine, for a moment, if the Democrats' values crusade were more than just shtick. Instead of invoking God and family at the podium, and then slipping off to a reception at the Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel with donors who have given at least $100,000 to the party, Lieberman could use his bully pulpit to talk about the corrupting influence of corporations and the spirit of greed in every aspect of American life. Instead of just throwing a line in his speech saying "No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children," he could specifically denounce advertising in schools, targeting American kids. He could join Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Nader in condemning Channel One, the television news program that makes commercials for junk food, movies, and sneakers mandatory viewing for 40 percent of American teenagers during school. He could call our attention to the soul-destroying effects of the commercialization of everything, including our democracy, and call for a return to old-fashioned community values that put people over corporate profit.

Instead of dealing with the charges of hypocrisy that naturally arise when the Democrats hang out with Hugh Hefner one night, and bash sex and violence in the media the next, they could develop a genuinely progressive, non-censorious message about the real source of our increasingly cynical culture.

Someone could suggest it, but first a whole lot of voters might have to chip in to throw a party or buy a hospitality suite, so we could get access to those crusading Democrats.

Ruth Conniff is Washington Editor of the Progressive Magazine.

Bikinis Upset GOP Love-In

Philadelphia, August 1 -- Among the myriad corporate sponsors of the Republican Convention this year is Dale Carnegie and Associates, Inc., the self-described "global leader in business training." Along with a plastic cup from CNN, a mini First Aid kit from Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Kraft macaroni and cheese in the shape of elephants, every reporter who arrived to cover the convention received a little golden booklet with pearls of wisdom from Dale Carnegie, the granddaddy of American salesmanship. Tip number one from the late author of How to Win Friends and Influence People is "Don't criticize, condemn, or complain."

The Republicans seem to have taken that one to heart. So friendly are the Republicans this year that the delegates and lawyers I've talked to repeatedly marvel at how little work there is to do. Disagreements in the Rules and Platform committees were quickly squelched. All controversy, debate, and ideology have been squeezed out of the proceedings. However, anti-abortion language remains unchanged from the 1996 platform and efforts to remove anti-gay rights planks failed. Still, there is no floor debate, no political jockeying, no issues to be resolved. Nothing remains but a giant corporate schmoozefest.

As far as most attendees are concerned, that's a good thing. "We got rid of the rough edges," says former Congressman Bob Livingston, who helped Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson craft the feel-good Republican platform. In a draft of the platform based on the tenets that passed in 1996, Livingston says, "they wanted to get rid of the Department of Education, and cut off funding for the space program -- we got rid of all that," he adds proudly. Never mind that Livingston himself, as a Newt Gingrich loyalist, once campaigned on a proposal to axe the Department of Ed. Tip number six in Dale Carnegie's little golden book is: "Don't worry about the past."

A few protesters have arrived on the scene to break up the don't-worry-be-happy mood. On Tuesday morning, at a $1,000-a-plate breakfast for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) at the Four Seasons hotel, a cluster of Republicans and corporate lobbyists were suddenly confronted by a bikini-clad hooker with a Miss Liberty hat and a pair of thigh-high fishnet stockings stuffed with dollar bills. "Trent Lott's a corporate whore, we won't take no more!" the "prostitute" and two other women chanted.

Hotel staff rushed to push the three protesters out of the room and close the glass doors. Miss Liberty, a.k.a. Jessica Parsley of the Rainforest Action Network, blew kisses and waved through the glass at the gawking breakfast-goers. (Look for Miss Liberty doing her part to "make the issue of money in politics sexy" on a cross-country road show en route to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Washington Action, a coalition of environmental, human rights, and campaign finance reform advocates will be driving a forty-foot bus donated by Ben and Jerry's papered with cash).

After being hustled outside the Four Seasons, the protesters posed in front of the giant elephant erected at the hotel entrance, waving and chanting "Lott, Lott, he's been bought, family values he ain't got." Half a dozen print journalists and seven photographers, all desperately seeking news, descended on the group.

Protest organizers, Randall Hayes, President of the Rainforest Action Network, and Medea Benjamin, co-director of Global Exchange, said they planned the event on Monday night at a cocktail party where people were passing plastic cups and tote bags promoting a fundraiser for Trent Lott. The souvenirs sported the names of the event's corporate sponsors, Lockheed Martin, Freddie Mac, AT&T, Union Pacific, American Bond Market Association, and other companies. "It's amazing how brazen these politicians have become that they even give out bags and cups with their corporate sponsors on them," says Benjamin. "There is no separation between corporations and politicians any more. They're proud to be seen together."

As attendees emerged from the coffee, Benjamin waved a fistful of fake $100 bills and called : "Yoohoo! Did you buy a Republican today? What did you get for $1,000?"

Hotel security officers tried to block the cameras' view of the demonstrators, and a few police officers came over. "Don't they have to keep moving?" one of the hotel security guards asked hopefully. The police explained that no, the protesters had a right to be on the public sidewalk, and gently drew the guards away.

"Sometimes we have to explain to them how it is -- not how they want it to be," Lieutenant Anthony J. McLaughlin of Philadelphia Police Department's Civil Affairs Unit said.

It was a typical response by the police this week. While there is an overwhelming police presence in Philadelphia around the convention hall, for the most part the protesters and police are acting friendly and cooperative. It's a new twist the concept of a blue/green alliance. In Philadelphia, a strong Democratic, pro-union town, some of the cops even appear sympathetic to the protesters' message.

As reporters double-teamed Miss Liberty, the police chatted with Rainforest Action's Hayes about the various demonstrations at this week's convention. Lieutenant McLaughlin pointed out a group of yellow-shirted union members from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 1776, which is in a stand-off with the state-operated liquor stores in Pennsylvania ever since Governor Tom Ridge moved to privatize the stores and scrap the workers' contract. "They haven't had a contract for four years," the cop told Hayes.

The soft talk and big stick approach by the police has helped keep conflict to a minimum -- there is a cop on every corner of the downtown, giving directions, smiling, and generally making the overwhelming law enforcement presence felt. Another reason the protest scene in Philadelphia is far tamer than at the massive anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle or Washington, DC, is that it is dominated not by national groups but by local activists like the UFCW workers and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. According to protest organizers, these groups made clear that they didn't want national organizations coming in and stealing the show.

On Monday, a 2,500-person march by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union drew attention to plight of Philadelphia's most impoverished neighborhoods. The Kensington group also ran "reality bus tours" of Philadelphia from the Liberty Bell through some of Philadelphia's most down and out communities. The tours drew a lot of interest from delegates and the media.

"We saw this as a chance to show that there is poverty in America," says Brian Wisniewski, an organizer with the welfare rights group. "In my neighborhood in Kensington the number-one source of income is welfare and the number-two source is drugs. When factories left Kensington everyone was pushed into underground economy."

"The Republicans haven't done anything for people in my neighborhood, and neither have the Democrats," he adds. "We're working to end poverty, not to get a little more money for social services or a homeless shelter -- those are just bandages on the problem. We're talking about ending poverty permanently."

The Republicans, meanwhile, are talking about "compassionate conservativism" and attempting to paper over their ideological rifts. The effort to project inclusiveness has not only unified the party, it also has helped stifle unrest outside the convention. Instead of marching in the streets like they did in Seattle and Washington, DC, the Teamsters are busy schmoozing in the convention hotels. RNC chairman Jim Nicholson hosted a "Salute to Jimmy Hoffa" on Monday night, at which Hoffa thanked the Republicans in Congress who opposed Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, and posed for photos shaking hands with the RNC chair.

Blurring ideological lines and embracing gung-ho capitalism may be a winning formula for the Republicans this year. The same strategy of triangulation and cooptation won the Democrats eight years in the White House. In Philadelphia, it's up to a small band of demonstrators to get out the opposing view.

Ruth Conniff is Washington editor of the Progressive magazine.

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