Sweeping Astroturf

By David Swanson

Imagine for a second that it’s November 5th, and the Democrats are set to control both houses of Congress and the White House. Perhaps they even control 60 Senate seats, making Republican filibusters impossible. Now what?

For the past two years, numerous activist groups have opposed the demands of their own members by arguing that the Democrats were helpless. They couldn’t get past filibusters or vetoes, and were therefore as impotent as newborn babes.

This was largely nonsense, of course. The Democrats could have stopped funding wars by simply ceasing to fund wars; they wouldn’t have needed to enact any legislation. They could have impeached the president and the vice president in an afternoon and, yes, probably moved enough Republicans to convict them too. They could have avoided shredding the Fourth Amendment or borrowing a trillion dollars for Wall Street bankers by simply refraining from passing outrageous bills. Rather than redundantly recriminalizing ongoing crimes like torture and the theft of Iraqi oil, they could have locked up witnesses, compelled testimony, impeached top officials, and demanded prosecution. They simply did not try.

For the past year or more, the same activist groups have signed onto or silently accepted all sorts of policy positions opposed by their own members because they are the policy positions of Barack Obama and other Democrats. Now I happen to believe that had the Democrats tried to accomplish anything these past two years and had activist groups pressured Obama and others for better positions, then Obama and other Democrats would be doing much better in the coming elections than they are currently expected to. Be that as it may, it is of course clear that John McCain, Sarah Palin, and most Congressional Republican candidates are significantly worse than their Democratic opponents, and that the public seems to recognize that fact.

There may be an additional reason for even those who are disgusted by the “lesser of two evils” argument to get out and work to elect Democrats during the next couple of weeks. While you can’t get any results from watering or fertilizing astroturf, you can sweep it. If the Democrats take both houses of Congress and the White House, and especially if they take 60 senate seats, their principal recent excuses for all variety of crimes of both omission and commission will vanish. Accomplishing this with margins of victory too large to plausibly steal remains an uphill fight requiring full attention. And fighting election fraud, which is already almost openly underway, will require working on the behalf of candidates who will not lift a finger to help themselves. We need all hands on deck for this one for the next two weeks and possibly far beyond.

But come November 5th, pseudo-grassroots groups, also known as astroturf organizations will have to begin thinking hard about how they will relate to both their members and to a government swept by the party whose wishes they habitually defer to. With that in mind, here are my recommendations:

First, begin to think and act more in terms of individual representatives, senators, and president, and less in terms of party. The health care plan we all favor, H.R. 676, has 94 cosponsors, and we are about to elect more. No longer can our silence on such legislation be justified by the need to elect someone other than McCain. We’ve already elected Obama. He’s in the White House.

Second, begin to think in terms of Congress as the first branch of our government. If we allow all power to continue to remain in the White House, we will be represented less well during the next four years, and all power will still remain in the White House when the next Republican lives there. We need to restore the power of the purse, the power of subpoena, the power to ratify or reject treaties, the power to legislate free of editing by “signing statement,” and the power to begin and end wars. If we cannot restore those powers to the branch of our government they were supposed to belong to now, while we have the supposed people’s party cooperatively running the Congress and the presidency, then when can we?

Third, clearly and publicly lay out the policy demands that you, as a legitimate activist organization, are making of our government, and do so in November. Do so before appointees are chosen and staff people hired. Do so before agendas are set and 100-hour plans are announced by the people who are supposed to work for us, not vice versa. If we do not get everything we demand, there is no shame. If we later compromise in order to get something done, there is no shame. The only shame is not to have ever stood for anything to begin with.

And what should we stand for? We should demand an end to our imperial wars in the Middle East. This will have been the third consecutive election in which we voted for that change. If the will of the voters is matched by the official election outcomes, and if those outcomes remove the major recent excuses for inaction and regression, then it will be time for us to demand clearly what we, the people, the sovereigns of this nation, want. We don’t want to reduce any occupations or move them anywhere else. We want our men and women brought home. Now.

We don’t want to enlarge the world’s largest military. We want to shrink it. We want to shift our resources to where they will do some good for people. We don’t want to put our children into debt funding weapons, wars, or Wall Street. We want major investment in green energy, jobs, affordable housing, education, and foreign aid. And I mean major investment, with no excuses about the needs of poor struggling billionaires and arms dealers.

Don’t have enough money? Remove the cap on income taxed for Social Security. Remove the loopholes and tax corporations. Undo the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. Undo Paulson’s Plunder. Tax financial transactions. End wars, and begin closing the 1,000 or so military bases we maintain to our great detriment in other people’s nations around the world. There is enough money to do things you’ve never dreamed of. Start dreaming.

We want the minimum wage made a living wage and indexed to the cost of living. We want the right to organize a labor union restored. We want corporate trade agreements shredded and new trade policies written to benefit people, not corporations. None of that costs a dime, but it would work wonders in the way of putting money in people’s pockets.

We also want money removed from politics. If a completely Democratic government does not create public financing and free air time for candidates, then they can drop all pretense that they want it. If they don’t give the District of Columbia representation in Congress, then the people of DC should hear that message loud and clear. If the Democrats who constantly tell you they can’t do things because they’re afraid of the media are swept into power and refuse to break up the media cartel, we can henceforth assume they enjoy being afraid. And if they do not establish the right to vote and to have our votes openly counted, including universal registration, weekend elections, and on-site hand-counted paper ballots, we can henceforth assume winning didn’t feel as good to them as it does to normal people.

We have an opportunity to either do great things or expose great flaws. We want war profiteers in prison, not just off our payroll. We want predatory lenders in prison, not multi-million-dollar public housing. We want torturers, war criminals, Richard B. Cheney, and George W. Bush prosecuted, imprisoned, and impeached. We want every future government to know that we are a nation of laws. If an election alone could communicate that to future tyrants, then the election of Jimmy Carter would have prevented the presidency of George W. Bush.

We can’t expect to accomplish everything we want by next spring or even in the space of four years, but if we are afraid to even articulate what we want, we will never begin to accomplish it.

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