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To the barricades!



So how depressed are you? The media had predicted that last week's election would be a cliffhanger. What a hoot. But we should have seen this rout coming. The Democrats caved on Iraq so they could focus on the economy --- and then had no message. No plan. No conviction. No fire.

                  Meantime, the Republicans had all of the above. The Dems dithered (and worse: Dem leader Terry McAuliffe cut Carl McCall's fundraising effort off at the knees, announcing through the New York Times that the McCall candidacy was doomed). The Republicans stayed on message, push-brooming economic news and corporate scandals right out of voters' minds.

                  And in the last days before the election, there was the Republican in Chief popping around the country on behalf of his team, and having a great time. Even if you weren't in one of the states Bush visited, you couldn't avoid the scene on TV: smiling, determined president; grateful, confident candidates; wildly enthusiastic supporters. Here was conviction. Here was leadership.

                  The New York Times poll published on November 3 said it all: Voters didn't believe that Democrats had a clear plan for what they would do if they got control of Congress.

Clear plan or no, it matters whether the Democrats or this current crop of Republicans are in charge. Media analysts predict that the Bush pro-rich tax cuts will become permanent, the estate tax will disappear, right-wing, anti-choice appointments to courts will speed through. We'll drill for oil in the Alaskan wilderness. Environmental protections will continue to erode, civil liberties will continue to erode. Investigations into Enron and similar matters will wither away. The secretive workings of the Bush administration will have almost no oversight.

                  (Just before the election, the New York Times' Dan Keller put together a "Congressional dishonor roll." Among the Senators on his list was Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, whom Keller described as "an intolerant, xenophobic, might-makes-right ultrapatriot" who "once likened the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo." Under Republican control of the Senate, wrote Keller, Inhofe might become chair of... the Environment and Public Works Committee.)

                  The Democrats could filibuster, of course --- stalling and delaying the most offensive of the right-wing nominations and proposals. The new Senate will contain 51 or 52 Republicans; it takes 60 Senators to end a filibuster.

                  But there the Democrats are in a trap. If they filibuster, the president will say they're obstructionist, and that's one of the charges that may have cost them the election.

                  On the Lehrer Newshour the night after the election, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform was almost gleeful. "If they want to stand up and filibuster in support of gun control, against welfare reform, against tax reduction, and for their trial lawyer financial backers, let them do so," said Norquist. " Two years from now they'll do even worse in the Senate races."

Democrats are now arguing about whether the party needs to move left or stay in the center. Being too "centrist" is what got them into this mess in the first place, in my humble opinion. Besides, I'm tired of conservatives defining the agenda for the nation, and I'm tired of Democrats and moderate Republicans cowering in the face of it, afraid to say what they believe.

                  There is nothing "centrist" about eliminating abortion rights. Most Americans support choice.

                  There is nothing "centrist" about opposing gun control. (Ask the nation's police officers.)

                  There is nothing "centrist" in President Bush's dangerous determination to go to war against Iraq, nothing "centrist" in his dreams of the United States as international dictator.

                  There is nothing "centrist in John Ashcroft's approach to individual rights, nothing "centrist" in breaking down the barriers between church and state.

                  And protecting the environment, protecting the investments of middle-income Americans from greedy CEOs and stock analysts, expecting corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, wanting all Americans to have access to affordable, high-quality health care: these are not "leftist" goals.

All of these issues were available to Democrats prior to the election. They are available still. But the Democrats are weakened, and their leadership is crippled.

                  The burden for the moment falls on non-politicians --- the environmental groups, peace groups, pro-choice advocates, education advocates, religious leaders --- and the mayors of the nation's cities. Well over half of voting-age Americans are so disenchanted that they did not vote last week. Political leaders can't inspire them. Citizens groups may be able to.

                  Republicans do remember their experience with Newt Gingrich. And letters to political leaders do have an effect, sometimes.

                  It's not going to be an easy two years. But there's no time to lose. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and start to work.

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