By Russell Sadler
The last election made Republicans vulnerable who have not been vulnerable before. That is not good news for Senator Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, who is up for reelection in 2008.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 to replace the retiring Mark Hatfield, Smith was reelected in 2002. Smith has kept a low profile and is regarded as a “moderate” Republican.
As regular readers know, this column has banned the term “moderate,” because it means so many different things to different people it is no longer a useful label. Smith has wrapped himself tightly in Hatfield’s “maverick” mantle, but a close examination of his voting record reveals Smith is no maverick. He consistently votes the Bush regime party line. Smith is an orthodox Republican. And that is why he suddenly appears vulnerable in 2008.
This last election was not a triumph of Democrats over Republicans. This election was a repudiation of what has become the orthodox Republican Party at the federal, state and local levels. It is no longer the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon or even Ronald Reagan.
Although the Republican partisans mouth the slogans of traditional Republicans -- smaller, less intrusive government, less spending, balanced budget, no new programs, leave people alone -- that is not what the present Republicans deliver. In the election just past, voters saw that Republican rule resulted in bigger government, more programs, more spending, record deficits, a mismanaged war, incompetence, corruption, cronyism and a flirtation with theocracy. Voters rebuked the Republican Party by voting for Democrats. They were not Republicans. It was enough.
Republicans delude themselves if they think these were just narrow defeats under strained circumstances and they can regain their majority on 2008 by mouthing the traditional Republican litany. The brand is seriously damaged. The Republican Party substituted marketing slogans for substance. But even marketers must deliver on their slogans eventually. The Republicans failed to deliver.
The damage to the Republican brand will linger. And it will affect Smith’s reelection chances in 2008.
Hotline -- an internet blog sponsored by the prestigious National Journal -- already predicts a tough campaign for Smith and is handicapping challengers.
Hotline suggests serious challengers could include former Gov. John Kitzhaber, State Treasurer Randall Edwards, State School Superintendent Susan Castillo, Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, State Sen. Ben Westlund and Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer.
Hotline has a seductive, if unrealistic, laundry list.
Kitzhaber is working on his labor of love -- health care reform. He has joint custody of his son, Logan, with his former wife in Portland. He is unlikely to go to Washington, D.C. for anything less than a cabinet-level post that involves health care reform if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2008.
Edwards and Castillo have been pleasant surprises in the Democrats’ farm club, but they are more likely to be candidates for governor than Smith’s U.S. Senate seat.
Josh Marquis is a Democrat? Who knew? Marquis was Oregon’s most-traveled district attorney until he finally found a home in Clatsop County where voters have a soft spot in their hearts for odd ducks. Marquis should not challenge the Peter Principle.
DeFazio’s passionate populism makes him a creature of the House. He would be uncomfortable and less effective among the stuffed suits in the Senate.
Blumenauer would be a serious challenger, but now that the Democrats are in the majority, his seniority will restore his clout in the House.
That leaves Ben Westlund who, I suspect, is about to do that most spectacular of political maneuvers -- a Wayne Morse double reverse with a twist.
Morse was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1944 and reelected in 1950. He had a falling out with Republicans over foreign policy and McCarthyism and declared himself an Independent in 1952.
Morse became a Democrat in 1955 and was reelected in 1956 and 1960, before Bob Packwood, another Republican maverick, defeated him in 1966.
Westlund won a State Senate seat from Central Oregon as a Republican. He quietly tried to end his party’s fake “surplus” rebates and their reckless “borrow and spend” policies. He was threatened with a purge from the party when he ran for reelection.
Westlund got the message, became an independent and ran for governor instead. When polls showed he could not win, Westlund gracefully retired from the field. Some grateful Democrats are now urging him to join their party and run for Smith’s Senate seat in 2008.
Given the voters’ rebuke of the Republican Party and Smith’s orthodox partisan voting record, Smith can no longer hide in Mark Hatfield’s maverick cloak. Smith is no maverick. Ben Westlund is. And Oregonians love their mavericks.
Editor's Note: RS poses an intriguing scenario here. However, it would be foolish to underestimate Senator Smith. He has cultivated a close working relationship with his Democratic counterpart, Senator Ron Wyden. They may be a kind of political 'odd couple' but it seems to work for Oregon. And while the Smith as Hatfield gig may be nothing more than a good PR job - it's worked so far very well. Senator Smith has cast key, albeit losing votes, to save medicare and medicaid dollars. He's also been a leader on the mental health issue largely due to his son's suicide. And he exudes the "Senator" role - right out of central casting. Ben Westlund would give him a run for his money, if he ran as a D. But Ben is focused on being a leader on health care reform in Oregon. Should he succeed with Kitzhaber and Kulongoski in putting Oregon on the map again in health care reform - then he would have something to run on in '08 besides not being a "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" candidate.
By Russell Sadler
By Floyd J. McKay, "Congress should revamp our broken voting system"
We have less than two years to get it right — and I don't mean Iraq, which will only continue to go further wrong. I mean voting.
Our national voting system (or non-system) is badly broken, and people simply do not have confidence their vote will be properly counted. And with good reason.
Nothing is more vital to a democratic system, yet we have conducted our last two presidential elections under a dark cloud that lingers in 2006 in some of the same problem areas, Florida and Ohio in particular. Voting problems have become a big item in the blogosphere, and errors will be called to public attention.
Elections are run by state and local officials, but there is federal oversight in such areas as civil rights and, most recently, a federal mandate to use electronic machines. To add to the distrust, that federal law was pushed through Congress by Rep. Bob Ney, the Ohio Republican who pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who lobbied for the law.
Although King County [Seattle et al] still doesn't seem able to get it right, our problems are tame compared with areas such as Florida and Ohio, which could benefit from poll-watch teams from Venezuela or Iraq. Controversy persists over George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 victories in those states, and similar problems continued in 2006. In Florida's 13th Congressional District, electronic machines recorded a huge under-vote (no vote cast) in a county carried by Democrat Christine Jennings. Republican Vern Buchanan was declared the winner with a 369-vote margin.
"Machines don't make mistakes," said the county elections supervisor, but she failed to add that machines can be programmed or hacked to make mistakes, which is the fear haunting the electronic system.
Electronic machines are only part of the problem, and perhaps not the worst of it.
The new Congress really should immediately do a major investigation and do what it can to revamp the fractured system.
At the very minimum, there should be uniform regulations across the country, including several key items:
• Require a paper trail on every voting machine. The close Virginia race for the U.S. Senate, which gave Democrats control, could not be properly recounted because there was no paper trail for much of the state.
• Protect elections officers from partisan supervision. Secretaries of state, usually the top elections officers, are elected on a partisan basis. Many (probably most) try hard to separate themselves from partisanship, but others (again, Florida and Ohio stand out) serve as leaders of partisan campaigns for which they count the votes. Elections officers should be appointed in a bipartisan manner for terms that extend beyond four years. Richard R. Hasen, who supports this idea on his Election Law Blog, notes that Canada and Australia use this system.
• Require systematic rotation of names on ballots. Credible studies have shown that names appearing first on a ballot gain as much as a 2-to-3-percent advantage, more in races that appear lower on the ballot. Yet, many states do not rotate names, and sometimes their process clearly benefits one political party.
• Establish a common voter identification, to avoid the Draconian rules of some states, reminiscent of the Jim Crow system in the South that disenfranchised blacks. Arizona requires a birth certificate or passport to register, a separate government document to vote.
• A common rule regarding voting rights of ex-felons should be part of this package; Florida's 2000 record of denying African Americans who had records but ignoring Hispanic (Cuban) ex-felons is Exhibit A.
I'm not one who sees the solution in mail balloting, although its popularity may dictate adoption. There are just too many ways to influence a mail ballot, and sooner or later every one will be utilized.
More promising, I think, is a combination of the basic reforms outlined above and the replacement of partisan elections officers with nonpartisan specialists whose only responsibility is to the electorate.
At least the most serious problems must be addressed at the national level. It is of little solace for states that adopt reforms to learn that the White House has been stolen by corrupt partisans in another state. We need to go to the polls knowing that we play on a level field, and that has not been the case.
Congress does have ultimate authority, for it must certify election results. If a state refusing to clean up its act knew its newly elected members of Congress might not be seated because of questions about its election, we might see some real reform.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to the Seattle Times editorial pages. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: If we go to some form of voter identification in voter registration this will eliminate voter registration as a campaign tactic by partisans of a party or initiative. Oregon makes voter registration very accessible and easy. Changing this will inevitably be more bureaucratic and time consuming requiring public money being spent to encourage and regulate voter registration. One of the reasons Oregon has vote-by-mail is the efficiency and money saved by the system. This rationale, never appealing to RAD, might have to be reconsidered in light of the bigger issues FM talks about. But voter ID and registration can be separated from the process of how we vote. One can envision voter registration/idenfication polling stations periodically being set up prior to each election cycle. The more we change, the more we stay the same!
Christian Parenti, author of "The Freedom, Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq," contributor to The Nation magazine and visiting professor at CUNY Graduate School spoke last night (November 27) at Pacific University.
RAD hosted Parenti's father, Michael Parenti many years ago during a week of the Tom McCall Forum - so it was intriguing to hear the son of the father. As they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!
The CUNY Graduate School is also a familiar place since in the early '70s RAD regularly attended annual spring conferences where intellectual heavyweights in political philosophy met. My most vivid memories were hearing Robert J. Lifton, Bernard Crick and C.B. MacPherson.
Christian Parenti as a working journalist has been in both Iraq and Afghanistan. So his knowledge of the scene of America's latest neo-colonial war comes first hand. And nothing he said last night gives anyone hope that there is a light at the end of the Iraq/Afghanistan tunnel.
Parenti argues that the long-term strategic objective in Iraq is tied to a larger hegemonic role of the US as the wannabe arbiter of the oil riches of the Middle East. Keep in mind, Iraq alone has 10% of world's untapped oil reserves. Nothing new there.
But more intriguing, Parenti connects the Bush policy of pursuing hegemony over oil as a kind of preemptive strike at China - a move to prevent that emerging giant from becoming the next economic and military superpower challenge to US hegemony in the world.
As Parenti says in The Freedom (p. 53) - "Of course the war is about much more than contracts or even access to oil. Iraq is part of an ongoing project of ever-expanding US power…" Parenti argues that the Bush strategy is part of a great-power competition.
"…The two possible candidates for this [competition] are an independent European Union or down the line, China…" So the policy enunciated by Richard Perle et al and carried out by Donald Rumsfeld et al is part and parcel of a policy "…tied to a larger strategy of global control…" (p. 54)
The doctrine of American hegemony has been best articulated by Richard Haas, currently President of the Council on Foreign Relations but until June 2003, Haas served as director of policy planning for the U.S. Department of State, where he was a principal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Parenti argues - "In his superb book The Global Gamble: Washington's Faustian Bid for Global Dominance, Peter Gowan points out that during the Cold War, the other two poles of world capitalism - Europe and Asia (with Japan as its economic engine) - were beholden to the US for protection against Soviet power and regional communist rebellion…" (p. 54)
But with the collapse of the Soviet Union all of this changed. "…How would the US maintain its power over its friends, particularly the developed economies that might become possible 'peer competitors?'" Oil becomes central to maintaining US hegemony. In this case American military control and influence from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Basin is the key.
With US control of this oil rich region that serves the increasing petro demands of Europe, Japan and now India and China, less so than the US (only 11% of our oil comes from the region) - we can become the "…sole security arbiter upon which all advanced economies are dependent…" (p. 54)
As "energy gendarme" the US can then put the squeeze on ally and foe alike. We then can keep other core economies in the role of "junior partners" as the Global North extracts the resources of the Global South.
But as Parenti concludes - with a taste of sarcastic irony - "But in the end this grand strategy has turned out to be a pipe dream. There will be no clean victory in Iraq." P. 55) Nor for that matter in Afghanistan. And with the election results of '06 - the screws have tightened.
But what is fascinating is that the old China card emerges as part of a very complex vision or plot. The US has always had a problem with China. In the 1920s we obsessed about the "Yellow Peril." In the 1950s under the aegis of McCarthyism we engaged in the blame game over who "lost" China to the "commies." And in Vietnam, we worried about the domino effect of losing another piece of Asia to godless Sino/Soviet communism.
In a globalized economy - why is hegemony necessary? Why can't each nation with its human and natural resources use its particular "comparative" advantages to compete? And as global economic and environmental protocols create a more even playing field - such advantages will even out over the long term.
What in the American psyche requires of us that we "dominate"? The search for American hegemony seems to be the evil offspring of two doctrines - manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. Both have been the undercurrents in US history from our founding.
However, they have bought us the veil of tears associated at home with the mistreatment of Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian Americans and now Latinos. And throughout our history American foreign/military policy has been one of explicit or implicit conquest - first of a continent and then of an economic empire extending from the developing world to space.
In our primal urge of conquest and forgetting the lessons of Vietnam, we have now come full circle - sacrificing another generation of American soldiers on the altar of the illusion of global hegemony.
So, no matter how much George Bush says it, shouts it, proclaims it - at the end - our policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not about freedom, regime change or bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice - it's about creating an imperium premised on OIL.
Pax Britannica was built on the doctrine of British mercantilism. The American offspring seems to have not fallen far from that evil British seed. When Christopher Columbus and Lewis & Clark were exploring the "West" - the goal was to find that passage to the East. What is this obsession in the Euro/Anglo mindset about China?
By Robert Scheer, "Bush's Vietnam Analogy", from The Nation online...
Editor's Note: On the day when more Iraqis were killed than anytime during the US occupation, the words of Robert Scheer are a good read. RAD met Scheer, then editor of Ramparts magazine in 1967 at a teach-in RAD helped put together at the University of Minnesota. My god, the more things change, the more they stay the same!
RS: President Bush has said many dumb things in defense of his Iraq policy. Citing the Vietnam War as a model, however, is perhaps his most ludicrous yet.
This past week found the President sitting before a bust of the victorious Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, seemingly unaware that the United States lost its war with the Communist-led country. Having long and vehemently denied parallels between the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, he nevertheless admitted now to seeing one.
"Yes," Bush said. "One lesson is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is ... just going to take a long period of time to--for the ideology that is hopeful, and that's an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate.... We'll succeed, unless we quit."
RAD: Leave it to an historical illiterate president to learn the wrong lesson! But then again, Bush was AWOL during the Vietnam War hiding out in the Texas Air Force and being a poor little rich kid. How ironic that virtually all of the architects of this war never served their county or saw combat in their generation's war.
RS: Bush seems not to have noticed that we succeeded in Vietnam precisely because we did quit the military occupation of that nation, permitting an ideology of freedom to overcome one of hate. Bush's rhetoric is frighteningly reminiscent of Richard Nixon's escalation and expansion of the Vietnam War in an attempt to buy an "honorable" exit with the blood of millions of Southeast Asians and thousands of American soldiers. In the end, a decade of bitter fighting did not prevent an ignominious US departure from Saigon.
RAD: We face a similar ignominious US exit from Iraq. So 30 plus years from now will another American president be visiting a unified Iraq? Let's hope so no thanks to the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice "can do" team.
RS: Now, however, Vietnam is at peace with its neighbors and poses no security threat to the United States. Many of the "boat people" have returned as investors, and successive American Presidents have made visits to the second fastest-growing economy in Asia. While Vietnam is still run by its Communist Party, eventually postwar leaders on both sides have accepted that peace is practical.
The lesson of Vietnam is not to keep pouring lives and treasure down a dark and poisonous well, but to patiently use a pragmatic mix of diplomacy and trade with even our ideological competitors.
The United States dropped more bombs on tiny Vietnam than it unloaded on all of Europe in World War II, only hardening Vietnamese nationalist resolve. Hundreds of thousands of troops, massive defoliation of the countryside, "free fire zones," South Vietnamese allies, bombing the harbors ... none of it worked. Yet, never admitting that our blundering military presence fueled the native nationalist militancy we supposedly sought to eradicate, three US Presidents--two of them Democrats--lied themselves into believing victory was around some mythical corner.
RAD: Actually three Democratic presidents accepted the "lies" of another generation - Truman, JFK and LBJ - then followed by Tricky Dick Nixon who in '68 said he had a peace plan. The only president who avoided the swamp of Vietnam was IKE. As a general he knew a land war in Asia was unwinnable. This generation is finding a 'war' against terrorism is also unwinnable. Be careful anytime a president signs on to a "war" on poverty, drugs etc. You know we're headed for big trouble. We need less war and more geo-political common sense!
RS: While difficult for inveterate hawks to admit, the victory for normalcy in Vietnam, celebrated by Bush last week, came about not despite the US withdrawal but because of it.
Iraq and Vietnam are not the same country, yet both have long experience with imperial meddling and fiercely resist it. Bush has said Iraq "is in many ways, religious in nature, and I don't see the parallels" to Vietnam, but that is just another sign that he probably cut most of his history classes at Yale.
He--and apparently the mass media, as well--seems to have forgotten that the United States tried to stoke a religious war in Vietnam by intervening to install a Roman Catholic exile in power in this primarily Buddhist country. The struggle to overthrow that US puppet dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem, began with Buddhist monks immolating themselves on the streets of Saigon.
RAD: American history is littered with dirty little wars of intervention disguised as moral or righteous causes but masking naked geo-political aggression - from our theft of native American homelands in the 18th century; to supporting Texas secession from Mexico in the 19th century; to intervention in Cuba, Panama and the banana republics of Central American in the early 20th century; to our meddling in the Middle East in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran - often in covert operations to topple governments in the mid 20th century; to wars in the JFK years in Africa (the Congo) and then onto Vietnam, the secret war in Laos, Nixon's "incursion" into Cambodia and lest we forget Reagan's Iran/Contra affair. I'm sure I missed some examples - please post your favorite! We call it Manifest Destiny - others term it neo-colonialism!
RS: To be sure, there followed a decade of constant talk about bringing democracy to the country we had occupied and a never-ending series of elections and new power arrangements that followed the US-engineered murder of Diem, who like Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi had been deemed by US officials as "the George Washington" of his country. At least Chalabi is still alive to complain, as he did to the New York Times this month, "that the Americans sold us out."
But the final collapse of our puppet regime in Vietnam did not produce the domino effect of other nations surrendering to communism any more than a US withdrawal from Iraq will inevitably lead to the spread of terrorism. This is why the wiser voices in the Bush dynastic circle--Daddy Bush's clean-up crew, led by James Baker--are calling for involving Syria and Iran in the effort to stabilize Iraq. Iran is to host a summit with Iraq and other nations in the area, while on Monday Syria and Iraq resumed long-broken diplomatic relations.
The lesson of the Vietnam debacle is that yesterday's enemy is more likely to become today's trading partner if we remove the specter of US imperialism and leave the fate of Iraq to the Iraqis.
RAD: American foreign policy makers love the domino theory - if we don't stop 'em there - they will come to the USA... We'll they did on 9/11. But if you read Osama bin Ladin's fatwa his major objection was the US presence in his adopted home land - Saudi Arabia. Now the stakes are higher. But the stupidity of a "war" strategy instead of a police strategy is all too clear - 3000 Americans dead and still counting and somewhere over 600,000 Iraqis dead and still counting. And there is still no light at the end of this tunnel! But now it's the Democrats turn to show whether they've learned the hard lessons of history!
By Russell Sadler
It was one of those headlines that reaches out from the front page and grabs you by the throat. “Food banks have less to work with as they try to meet holiday demand: Donations of U.S. surplus food, private cash down” -- USA Today.
The story detailed the steady decline in value of federal help, in food and cash, given to U.S. food banks. It’s down from $418 million 2001, the first year of the Bush regime, to $201 million in 2006. So much for Compassionate Conservatism and Christian charity in a regime that prances around parading their piety and proclaiming their faith in the Gospel. Despite the results of the last election, many of these people remain unchastened.
At no time in the past century has the Judeo-Christian ethic of being our brothers’ keeper been so overwhelmed by the crass selfishness of accumulated wealth. Self-appointed Christian leaders who declare the nation to be in the midst of a Christian Revival insist the Judeo-Christian ethic is limited to voluntary charity, ignoring the warnings from those who administer private charity that there never have been sufficient charitable resources to meet the need.
Charity, for all its importance, is not designed to help the poor. Charity is deliberately designed to make the well-to-do feel good about themselves during seasons we are supposed to “help others.” The rest of the year self-styled conservatives and Libertarians practice Ayn Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness.” The poor remain an out-of-sight, out-of-mind disposable low-wage workforce to serve those who can still afford to live well.
“If the poor folks in the floating army of ‘temporary’ labor don’t make it they have only their own lack of ambition and character to blame,” we are told by economic moralists who are usually on the payroll of some tax-exempt “think tank” or comfortably tenured at some prestigious research university.
People with more experience in the real world know living on the streets is often just a missed paycheck away. An injury, an illness, a lost job, a layoff.
Food stamps do not pay for a roof over your head. The house goes first. Then bankruptcy, which now leaves you with nearly nothing to start over again. You move into the car. The car breaks down. You go to the shelter. The shelter closes or says you have been there long enough. You move to the street. The street is wet and cold. You move under the bridge. It still happens to ordinary people every day.
We feed them a token meal at Thanksgiving. We plunk spare change in a little red kettle to send them a token box of food at Christmas. We declare our duty done. We pretend their misfortune is their own fault the rest of the year - until it happens to someone we know. Then we realize the problem is not so simple.
This is not Marxist criticism. It is an Old Line Protestant criticism of the neo-Victorian reactionary reflection that private charity is sufficient and the Libertarian libel that government welfare is immoral coercion.
It was the late Pope John Paul II -- not Marx -- who criticized the “I’ve-got-mine-Jack-you-get-yours” attitude that claims income tax cuts for the well-to-do are more moral than providing bare-bones health insurance for the working poor or food for the hungry.
In a public relations triumph of symbols over substance the Bush regime announced earlier this month that people once determined “hungry” by the Department of Agriculture, will now be labeled “food insecure.” By a stroke of a publicist’s pen, hunger officially no longer exists in the United States.
We will shortly be celebrating -- in case the commercial excesses of the season cause you to forget -- the birth of a Nazarene carpenter who spent most of his short life among poor social outcasts by choice. He never shrunk the tent. He never excluded anyone. His admonition to his followers was explicitly clear, "Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."
Whether in the conservative writings of the Early Church fathers or the liberal writings of Social Gospel in the early twentieth century, the message about our personal and collective responsibility for the poor has not changed much in 2,000 years. We are commanded to be our brother’s keeper. Nothing has come along to absolve us of that responsibility.
Editor's Note: Amen brother Sadler! Americans are a compassionate people. When they witness a tragedy like a tsunami or Katrina - they want to help and often open their wallets. Or when they see the face of homelessness they want to help (as many have in the Bridge the Gap campaign here in Washington County). But all too often, when the face of tragedy is not personalized by the media or witnessed first hand - we can be very tone deaf and blame the victim. We are also less likely to get involved in "political" attempts to deal with "housing or food insecurity" because politics is messy and we lead busy lives. Isn't that why we elect politicians? But the transcendent message of all the world's religions boils down to some version of the "golden rule" - do unto others as you would have done to you. As we head into another Oregon legislature - we are abuzz with reports of a robust economy and a general fund that is growing. But in June, July or August will the budget, as sine die comes, reflect our concerns about the lesser of us or me first ism? We'll find out in part by who shows up in Salem. Will it be the same old pols (and hangers on) or will a citizen's legislature be prevailed upon by a less me too oriented citizenry? Charity may begin at home but it shouldn't end there.
Happy Thanksgiving 2006!