Extremists? Which Extremists?
are using the word "extremist" to describe John Ashcroft, Gale Ann
Norton, Tommy Thompson, and just about every GW Bush nominee. Sure enough,
the people Bush wants to install are more hostile to the idea of federal
oversight of the environment, labor law and civil rights than any GOP
administration in the last half-century. But if voters expect power
players in the Democratic party to stand firm against their extremism,
they will surely be disappointed. Democratic leaders could have joined
with the Congressional Black Caucus and refused to accept the results of
this stolen election. They chose not to. They could have campaigned
against the Republican's far-Right agenda throughout the presidential
race. They did not. They could now be joining the "special
interest" groups (who represent massive, key Democratic
constituencies) in opposing Bush's cabinet nominations, but we hear
instead that they are loathe to oppose confirmation. Why? Because even
"extremists" like Ashcroft are members of their "club."
Leading Democrats work with people like that all the time.
Ralph Neas of People for The American Way put it: John Ashcroft's record on
abortion, gun control, gay rights and racial equality make him "too extreme"
to be confirmed as US Attorney General. Neas is part of a huge coalition
of civil rights, feminist, gay and lesbian, labor, environmental and
gun-control groups that has spoken out against Ashcroft, condemning among other
parts of his record, his 1999 visit to segregationist Bob Jones University.
With similar force, environmentalists from both sides of the aisle and
others have come out against Gale Norton: the former Colorado Attorney
General who would, in the words of Friends of the Earth be an "Extreme
Anti-Environmental Interior Secretary."
coalition of 120 women's rights groups held a press conference to announce
their opposition to both Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson, Bush's Health and
Human Services secretary-nominee: "Women's organizations are
justifiably outraged over Bush's appointment of right, wing, anti-women's
rights extremists," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist
Majority. "Both Ashcroft and Thompson want to criminalize abortion
and make it a felony."
no question, Bush's chosen cabinet holds clear, far-Right views but Ashcroft,
Norton, Thompson, et al, aren't wacky invaders, breaking and entering into
the political establishment. They swim comfortably in the mainstream of
contemporary Republican ideology and GW Bush picked them precisely because
they share his agenda. Unfortunately, the nomination hearings are airing
ideology that was never forced to light in the election race. (Ashcroft
was a known-quantity; an active member of the Senate, he co-chaired the
Constitution, Federalism and Property rights subcommittee of the Judiciary
Committee and has a friendly relationship with every Senator on that
committee as we've heard ad nauseam during his hearings to be AG.) The Gore
campaign chose not to flush out the facts on the campaign trail. Why? Was
it because Gore too, wanted the votes of anti-federalists, deregulators and
civil rights resisters? Or because on issue after issue the leadership of
the Democratic Party has colluded with politicians who hold these views and
has helped them achieve their goals?
Ashcroft is described as the driving force behind "Charitable choice,"
the contracting-out of federal functions to private religious
organizations not covered under federal anti-discrimination law.
Charitable choice was written into the Personal Responsibility Act, the
welfare reform law that Al Gore applauded Bill Clinton for signing in
1996. In his presidential campaign, Gore supported charitable choice,
despite complaints from workers groups and others that the practice
permits taxpayer funds to go to groups that discriminate. Under charitable
choice, for example, federal dollars can go to "workfare"
agencies that ban workers or clients they think are lesbian, or who have
abortions, to homeless shelters that admit only Christians or Moslems or
Ann Norton is a big supporter of corporate "self-monitoring." As
attorney general in Colorado, she backed a controversial "self
audit" law that essentially called on businesses to monitor their
impact on the environment themselves. She's a harsh critic of the
Endangered Species Act. "Self monitoring" was big with
Clinton/Gore. It was Clinton/Gore that pushed through the General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, making a closed-door cabal of private
corporations (the World Trade Organization), the ultimate monitor of
corporate incursions on the environment -- not just in the United States,
but also around the world. (The WTO ran almost immediately into conflict
with the US Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and comparable legislation
in Europe, eventually provoking the fury that exploded in Seattle in '99.)
1995, in an era of health scares, involving among other things tainted meat,
Gore addressed his colleagues on Reinventing Government, a program he directed:
"Of course, Government must be involved in food safety, but is there
a way we could rely on market incentives and people's common sense instead
of government interference? Can't we get the government's nose out of this
business?" REGO, as Gore's program was called, was charged with the task
of cutting government jobs, contracting-out federal programs, and
privatizing federal assets, including lands. During the presidential
debates with his Republican opponent Gore even boasted about the cutting
he'd done: The Democratic administration had shrunk government, he
bragged. Indeed, they cut more than 300,000 federal jobs.
used to conservatives who hanker for the pre-women's rights, pre-civil rights,
Father Knows Best era of the 1950s. It's bracing to meet Republicans who
want the 1850s back. Not one, but two of the W's nominees are on the record
with a stated fondness for the Confederacy. It's no coincidence that the
stealers of the 2000 election should have a fondness for the limited suffrage
years before the Civil War. The whole Bush team would not be where it is
were it not for the selective disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands
of poor and black, Democratic voters in Florida. Courageous members of the
Congressional Black Caucus rose to protest the certification of Florida's
Electoral College vote this January 6. One after another, they explained
their reasons: voter fraud, 19th Century felon disenfranchisment laws, the
witholding of functioning voting machines, the harassment and intimidation
of vulnerable voters, the denial of the right to a recount. Not one
Democratic senator joined them. Not one would sign their name to that objection
- and for that reason, Vice President, Al Gore, presiding over the joint
session of Congress refused, under the rules, to let the nation hear a debate
on voter fraud and the denial of voting rights in the 2000 election.
January 19 and 20, protestors will flock to Washington DC. Some will be there to protest what happened in Florida; others to send a message to elected officials that there is public support for firm opposition to the incoming Republican administration on every issue from civil rights and choice to the preservation of public lands. What all will probably agree on is that there's been too much accommodation of "extremism" by way too many for too long. We need to change the electoral system in all the ways necessary to let some folks with stiffer spines into power. The CBC (with two "non black liberals," as the Wall St. Journal called them) inaugurated something much more than a President January 6. They started the new millennium with civil disobedience on the floor of Congress. Let's make that the real inauguration day.