CRASHING THE GATE NETROOTS, GRASSROOTS, AND THE RISE OF PEOPLE-POWERED POLITICS
By Jerome Armstrong Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
CHELSEA GREEN PUBLISHING COMPANY Copyright © 2006 Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
All right reserved. ISBN: 1-931498-99-7
Chapter One AMERICAN REALITY, CIRCA 2006
"This country is going so far to the right that you won't recognize it." -Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security has got to go!" -College Republicans' chant at a campaign event for Senator Rick Santorum, February 2005
We have a Republican Party that can't govern, a Democratic Party that can't get elected, and little doubt that a great nation is suffering as a result.
A prescient headline in the satirical publication The Onion proclaimed three days before George W. Bush's inauguration as the nation's forty-third president on January 20, 2001: "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over.'" While some took solace in the fact that Bush actually lost the popular vote and stole the election in 2000, the results were much harder to explain away in 2004. Bush's first term was a disaster, both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. Nevertheless, the American people hit the polls on November 2, 2004, and delivered a legitimatevictory to the very architect of the nation's greatest woes. It was a stunning rejection of the Democratic Party and an undeserved validation of a Republican Party that has been hijacked by ideologues who place their dogma above the national interest.
Meanwhile, we've also been plagued by a Democratic Party unsure of itself, lacking the expression of any core principles, and devoid of any institutional machinery to develop and promote its agenda. Democrats have utterly failed to offer a compelling alternative to Bush and his Republican acolytes, oftentimes parroting Republican positions on any number of issues in the mistaken belief that it might help them capture centrist or independent voters. We saw that strategy fail in 2000, in 2002, and in 2004. But the Democratic Party-its leadership in Washington, D.C., its legions of campaign consultants and the single-issue groups that form its traditional base-has failed to learn lessons from these recurring losses. The party's stakeholders resist being dislodged from their entrenched positions of wealth and power. Even as a marginalized minority, they won't surrender their fiefdoms without a fight. Why risk their comfy little gigs and rackets in a bid for majority status when they've already got it so good?
The Democrats are content to wait for the Republicans to self-destruct so that they can become the default option. Sure, the ever-increasing scandals and mismanagement surrounding the Republican Party threaten to drown its near-term electoral chances. But Democrats can't be political vultures-winning only when there are rotting Republican carcasses to munch on. We need a party that can win on the strength of its own ideas and convictions. And we need to build our forces to match what the Republicans have on the political battlefield-in technology usage, in media access and resources, in research and message development, and in training and leadership efforts.
We cannot wait any longer for the Democratic Party to reform itself and lead us into a new era of electoral success. Those of us who became energized ever since Bush and his circle of fiends took over in 2000-the netroots, the grassroots, the progressive base of America-must act now to take back our party and our country. They may view us in D.C. as barbarians at the gate, but we are not armed with pitchforks and torches. Technology has opened up the previously closed realm of activist politics to riffraff like us. Whether the stagnant establishment wants it or not, the new progressive populist movement will reclaim the Democratic Party as the party of the people. Our message is simple: You can get out of the way or work with us. Trying to stop us is a losing proposition.
If only we could say, "To hell with the Democratic Party!" But part of the present American reality is that we live in a two-party system, and the Democratic Party is our only alternative. It's efficient-and expedient-to reform the existing party of the left, much as the conservative movement took over the Republican Party in the 1970s and converted it into the electoral powerhouse it is today.
Time is of the essence. America is going to hell in a handbasket under a morally and economically bankrupt Republican leadership. We need an authentic and populist democratic movement to crash the gate and save our nation.
Some political observers claim that unlike a generation ago, the United States is now a conservative nation, that Republicans are now the dominant governing party. And given recent Republican successes, it's certainly plausible. The Republicans own the government, controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and an increasing number of federal benches that will block progressive policies for the next thirty to forty years. Republicans and their powerful machine have taken aim at every single cause progressives hold dear and have undone whatever progress had been achieved. They annihilated the gun control groups, beat the labor movement down to a shadow of its former self, weakened the pro-choice groups, took shots at the trial lawyers, watered down the gains of the environmental movement, and diverted public resources for the low and middle classes to their wealthy corporate cronies. To keep winning at the ballot box, however, Republicans would have to show an ability to govern. And given their performance these past five years, their inability to run the country and meet the needs of all Americans (not just the rich and the corporations) will be their undoing.
In this decade, Republicans have turned President Bill Clinton's record surpluses into record deficits, dismantled environmental protections on behalf of their corporate patrons, and mired us in a deadly and costly quagmire in Iraq. They have helped export millions of jobs overseas, have forced formerly well-paid workers into the low-pay, low-benefits Wal-Mart economy, and have created a big-government bureaucratic mess out of our public education system. Meanwhile, they have done nothing to improve the health-care system as millions more Americans go without health insurance and access to decent medical care. To top it all off, the Bush administration and its Wall Street cohorts have set their sights on destroying the single most popular government program in the nation's history-Social Security.
By any measure, the Republican agenda is not America's agenda. It is the agenda of some of the major groups of conservatives-or cons-of the Republican Party.
THE CORPORATE CONS
Joe Allbaugh was a central figure in Bush's rise to power, playing the role of "enforcer" during Bush's campaigns and as his chief of staff in Texas. He has always been known as one of Bush's most trusted aides, along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. He ran the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000. After the Supreme Court appointed Bush to the White House in January 2001, Bush appointed Allbaugh to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His two-year tenure as FEMA director was rife with allegations of massive fraud in the agency's contracting. In March 2003, Allbaugh left FEMA and teamed up with cronies of Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and current governor of Mississippi, to form a private company named New Bridge Strategies LLC-just in time to take advantage of the Iraq War. The new firm's specialty was shaking down lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Or as Allbaugh puts it on his company's website:
New Bridge Strategies, LLC, is a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.... The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that companies seeking to work in that environment must have the very best advice and guidance available.
In March 2005, Allbaugh signed on to work for Halliburton "to educate the congressional and executive branch on defense, disaster relief and homeland security issues." Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August, Allbaugh headed down to help "coordinate the private-sector response to the storm," which is apparently a polite way to say he was "bring[ing] his influence peddling racket" to the region (as blogger Josh Marshall put it). Sure enough, first in line to benefit from the human tragedy in New Orleans was none other than Halliburton, helped, no doubt, by the fact that Allbaugh had signed on as a lobbyist for the company.
Let's summarize: We have the president and vice president's former campaign manager and confidant appointed to head the disaster-management agency who is now reaping profits from "business opportunities" created by the president's war on Iraq and from "business opportunities" he created for the vice president's former company following the Katrina disaster.
It's all par for the course for the corporate conservative-the oldest of the Republican constituency groups. Corporate cons seek to craft a government friendly to unfettered, unregulated capitalism, not to mention a government that provides generous subsidies and a steady stream of lucrative contracts to further line their pockets-codifying the culture of corruption into the nation's laws. This faction is the granddaddy of the Republican Party-the oil barons, the railroad tycoons, the steel magnates, all grown fat on corporate welfare, growing even fatter under the Bush administration. For the corporate cons, if Halliburton, Shell, and Texaco are enjoying all-time high profits, then it's time for them to get more tax breaks under the new energy bill-the same bill crafted in secret by Vice President Dick Cheney and energy industry executives in May 2001. By the time Bush signed the bill into law in August 2005, it contained $14.5 billion in tax breaks, mostly for the large energy companies.
There is nothing inherently bad about big business, but the corporate cons put their financial profits ahead of the national interest. Much like the corporate boardrooms they occupy, they run their government behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the media and public. They dole out their no-bid contracts among friends, all the while treating the public's "right to know" as an unwelcome nuisance. Regulatory agencies are infested with insiders from the very industries those agencies are supposed to regulate, encouraging a "fox in the henhouse" atmosphere.
They sure take care of their own. The pharmaceutical industry, which pumped more than $50 million into the campaign coffers of Bush and other Republicans between 1999 and 2003, gained a handsome reward with the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. The Boston Globe reported in October 2004 that estimates for increase in drug-industry revenues from the bill ranged between $100 billion and $139 billion over the first eight years beginning in 2006. That's a nice return on that $50 million investment in the Republican Party. Among other things, the bill prevents Medicare from even negotiating volume discounts from Big Pharma when it buys drugs for its forty million beneficiaries.
Excerpted from CRASHING THE GATE by Jerome Armstrong Markos Moulitsas Zúniga Copyright ©2006 by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga. Excerpted by permission.
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