SEVERAL HUNDRED LEFTISTS and a collection of their national icons gathered Sunday, February 17 on the University of Southern California campus, for a forum sponsored by the local chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action and titled “Our Democracy After 9/11: Can We Save It?” A panel of speakers spent hours lamenting the alleged hijacking of the United States Constitution and the threats posed by what they identified as the enemy of liberty – no, not Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or any terrorist state – but rather the George W. Bush Administration.
Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, OH, drew cheers and whistling, often bringing the crowd to its feet, as he denounced the Patriot Act and accused President Bush of “canceling, in effect” the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. He spoke ominously of Congress being forced to abandon Washington and its investigation of the Administration “during the anthrax scare when anthrax, possibly from a government lab, arrived in the mail.”
“The trappings of a state of siege trap us in a state of fear,” he continued. The crowd lost control of itself when Kucinich excoriated, “the patriot games, the lying games, the war games of an un-elected President….”
Kucinich said that the Congress gave the President the authority to respond to what happened on September 11, but that the Administration had overstepped its bounds. He charged the Administration with the intent to acquire “weapons systems in search of new enemies and to create new wars.” What Bush is doing “has nothing to do with fighting terror. This has everything to do with fueling a military industrial machine with the treasure of our nation, risking the future of our nation, risking democracy itself….” As an alternative, the self-styled progressive touted his proposal for a Department of Peace, which supposedly would lead to nuclear disarmament, “a universe free of fear,” and “infinite possibilities.”
Another firebrand speaker was Los Angeles Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who brought down the house as she proudly declared, “I am a liberal!” and launched into a bitter attack on President Bush’s conduct of the War on Terrorism. “Some of us, maybe foolishly, gave this President the authority to go after the terrorists. We didn’t know that he too was gonna go crazy with it.” She questioned Bush’s desire to spend more billions to pursue “all of these other countries that supposedly are identified with terrorism.” She evoked laughter and applause from the audience, “Now we know that he has a problem with Saddam Hussein. We know that. We know that he’s got to take revenge for what Saddam did to his daddy.” Waters all but apologized for her vote in support of Bush’s response to the events of September 11 as she saluted the sole Congressional holdout: “The only person who should be celebrated and honored and revered is Barbara Lee [of Oakland, CA].” The room went wild.
1960s radical and veteran California politician Tom Hayden warned that the “open-ended War on Terrorism is a framework that may control the rest of our lives….” Hayden conceded, “It’s not to say that terror is a made-up problem,” but he advised his audience to pressure Democratic officeholders with safe seats into challenging the Bush Administration in order “to raise fundamental questions” about the war effort. He predicted that the Bush tax cuts, combined with an expanding military budget, would doom social, educational, and environmental spending. He condemned the Wall Street Journal editorial page post-September 11 as “an example of the unabashed opportunism of some who would take advantage of the War on Terrorism and our fear to go overboard with their agenda. That has to be stopped.”
Congresswoman Diane Watson, Democrat of Los Angeles, complained, “the President was given 40 billion dollars” to fight terrorism but, “We never declared war.” “So when the President says we need more money to fight the war, it is a ruse to keep his ratings up.” She called John Ashcroft “your Attorney General, not mine.” Watson urged her audience to get to work and win six more seats so that the House of Representatives will be back in the hands of the Democrats and Charlie Rangel can become Chair of Ways and Means and John Conyers can sit as Chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Former Southern California ACLU President Stephen Rohde compared the Bush Administration’s incarceration of Middle East Muslims with the jailing of Eugene Debs in World War I and the roundup of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Rohde warned, “There are dark forces in America. There is bigotry, there is hate, and there is anti-Semitism, and there are deep feelings of resentment against people of color and people who are the other.”
Amidst all the hyperbole and rhetorical excess, author and nationally syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington focused on a different subject as she issued a trenchant warning to the business community. She said that the Enron scandal could be “the transforming moment in American politics” that reveals “the dark side of capitalism.” She threw down the gauntlet against corporate perfidy as she spoke about “two nations, one nation cashing out just in time to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, the other nation left to hold the bag, locked in steerage while the Titanic is going down.”
Huffington claimed, “Enron illustrates unequivocally the connection between money and political influence.” She named campaign contributions as “the only reason for Ken Lay’s unbelievable access to the epicenter of American political power,” and she further noted how quickly President Bush distanced himself from his old friend. She added that this scandal would shame Bush into signing the campaign finance reform bill into law. “But this is only the beginning,” she declared. “There are at the moment thousands of lobbyists crawling all over Washington making sure that special interests get what they want at the expense of the public interest….”
Businessman Ted Williams, head of an effort to put an initiative on the November 2004, California ballot, providing for public financing of campaigns, promised that if the Golden State adopted such a change, the nation would follow. He made clear that the purpose of a ban on private contributions was to shift the ideological balance of power. This would facilitate the election of politicians who would fulfill a left-wing wish list – a single payer universal health care plan, the enactment of anti-business environmental measures, an increase in corporate taxes, and a radical reduction in the military budget.
Others among the assemblage of liberal luminaries were Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, actor-environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr., Southern California Democratic Congresswoman Hilda Solis, radio talk show host Jim Hightower, California State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, Southern California ADA President Lila Garrett, and former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
Not to worry, the event was about more than simply listening to speeches. The crowd also had the opportunity to join in a sing-along with a quartet whose repertoire included lyrics attacking US military contractors and mocking national missile defense. For those who survived the day’s program, there remained the treat of perusing the literature tables that overflowed the front patio of the auditorium. Here one had the chance to obtain materials explaining the cruelties inflicted by the United States on the rest of the world, the urgency of releasing Cuban political prisoners (held by the US Government, not Cuba), and the need for the state to pay women for their housework. One could also purchase a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “I used to be a white American, but I gave it up in the interest of humanity.”
All in all, it was another display of the hysterical reflexes that have gripped the Left since September 11.