The 2004 Elections are Pivotal to Save Our Country and the World

Report to National Board, CPUSA April 17, 2003



These remarks are meant to open up our first National Board discussion on the 2004 Elections. They are not complete, but rather set out some ideas to develop a framework.

Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans are Vulnerable

Some are saying that the never-ending war policy may render Bush unbeatable in 2004. In reality, the Bush administration and the Congressional Republicans are very vulnerable. Their defeat is of the greatest importance for the future of our country and the world.

While the number of favorables for Bush in the polls are up now, under the surface is opposition to nuclear first strike, opposition to unilateral action, opposition to the policy of preemption, and dissatisfaction with the Bush economic policy.

Deep cuts in basic necessities at the local level caused by the Bush tax cut to the rich, military spending and the economic downturn are giving rise to a new level of political involvement. Every issue relates to the presidential and congressional elections.

The Bush administration and the Republican majority in Congress continue to represent the most extreme right-wing corporate elements. Their seizure of the presidency and control of both branches of Congress is a serious threat to democracy and democratic rights. The broadest unity is required to defeat them.

The Bush team is targeting four states that Gore narrowly won and six states that Bush narrowly won. All in all, Bush can only count on about half the electoral votes he needs to win at this time. As well, the Democrats can count on states that equal about half the electoral votes they need. This election is very much in play.

As high as we said the stakes were in 2000, they couldn't be higher today. Clearly, Bush will continue to play the 'patriotism' card and the 'terrorism' card as he seeks further imperialist ventures. Embracing Bush on this will not win the Democrats the election.

There are splits even within the Republicans about Bush's war policy. On Monday, Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under George Bush Sr., warned that if Bush were to go into Syria and Iran now, 'even I would feel he should be impeached. You can't get away with that sort of thing in a democracy.'

Several legislative initiatives are underway, which can help change the debate. HR-141, introduced by Barbara Lee with 21 co-sponsors, opposes the Bush policy of preemption, thereby providing an opening for broad forces to challenge Bush foreign and military policy.

The ACLU is organizing its first-ever four-day legislative lobby in Washington DC in June around issues to repeal the USA Patriot Act. Rep Charles Rangel, after being called unpatriotic for opposing the war, announced legislation to 'provide generous higher education and health care benefits, for the troops after their discharge, their spouses and children ...'

Pressure from the grassroots in support of these and other initiatives to stop the Bush war policy will clarify the debate for the 2004 election, and can become an important voter registration and get out the vote infra structure. Voices4Change has just announced a call for a register-for-peace voter drive with a goal of three million new voters.

The National Youth and Student Peace Coalitions lobby day on May 6 is kicking off their electoral strategy around the demands placed in the 'Books not Bombs' actions held in March. Voter registration and get out the vote by newly activated youth from the peace, student labor support and campus affirmative action struggles is also a powerful force that could contribute toward winning this election.

In Southern California, Illinois and elsewhere, the Neighbors against the War formations are holding conferences to develop a common approach at the grass roots. This is an excellent vehicle to build voter registration and participation from the bottom up.

The first public appearance by all nine Democratic candidates for president took place last Wednesday at the Children's Defense Fund national conference. The candidates had met with the AFL-CIO earlier in the day. The audience was a multiracial mix of professionals and grass-roots activists. Their strong favorites were those candidates who spoke against the war.

The 'debate' exposed Bush's demagogy and thievery in using the name 'No Child Left Behind' for a bill that sounded good but had no funding or implementation. My first observation is that people are becoming politicized (which Sam had raised in reference to the anti-war actions).

Many of the child care and preschool workers, were angry because of TANF regulations and cuts in funding. Many were from states and rural areas that Bush carried: Mississippi, Oklahoma, the Carolinas, Florida, Arkansas. From the floor came the idea that 'We can change the election ... child care in every community, connected to parents....'.

Farm and rural areas must be fought for in this election. The special approaches Lem Harris was in the midst of helping our party develop should be examined and carried forward.

My second observation is that the horrible crisis in funding that every town and state is facing is pushing communities toward grass-roots organizing. The president of the National Conference of State Legislators (Oklahoma State Senator Angela Monson) and the Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio (Mayor Jane Campbell) described the horrible choices they are confronting. Both recognized that the Republican agenda is to destroy government's ability to fund entitlements. Their message was that grass-roots organizing is critical; not to allow one to get pitted against the other; and get out the vote.

Eighteen months from now, unemployment will probably be as high, the economic indicators will probably be as bad, and state and city finances will probably be even worse. In the battle over what happens to state programs, the connection to the military policy and tax policy of the Bush administration brings the focus to the 2004 elections.

The Bush program cannot be defeated on the basis of viewing each issue as separate. Along with peace, the budget fight; affirmative action; labor rights; reproductive rights; civil liberties; immigrant rights and environmental protection are all threatened by the overall policy to defund government, privatize social services, and dominate the entire world for corporate profit.

Bush and the Congressional Republicans are especially vulnerable on the economy. Organizing efforts are underway, which are laying the groundwork for the elections.

Healthcare is a major issue as cities and states are going bankrupt trying to pay Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance premiums for workers and retirees. A coalition of the AFL-CIO and health care groups, called 'Put Families First,' is organizing local protests against federal cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, calling for Congress to' help by sending some of working families' federal tax dollars back to their states to protect health care for our families.'

A passionate battle against budget cuts to human needs and tax cuts to the wealthy was played out on the floor of the House last month with dozens of amendments offered by Democrats from the Progressive Caucus and Black Caucus that were dramatically voted down one after another along party lines.

The amendments were aimed at stopping $265 billion in entitlement cuts over ten years. $165 billion of these cuts 62 percent of them would come from low-income programs, including Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These are the largest low-income entitlement cuts in recent history.

In the Senate, divisions in the Republican ranks forced Bush to back down on the enormity of the tax cut to the rich, although the compromise is still huge and unconscionable. The Bush proposal is a tax cut for the rich and a disguised tax increase for the rest of us, as well as the dismantling of government, meaning higher local taxes, higher tuition at state schools, etc. It is also notable that Bush lost the vote on drilling in Anwar in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In the 2004 elections, Bush and the Congressional Republicans must be made to answer for the suffering those votes are causing millions of people. The level of corruption and brazenness in seeking more tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals leaves the Republicans vulnerable.

The Bush administration's arrogant decision to weigh in against affirmative action at the Supreme Court also leaves them vulnerable.

The outpouring of opposition, especially many young people who declared themselves 'the new civil rights movement,' will certainly make its voice heard in the 2004 elections.



Candidates

Of the nine Democratic candidates for president, three are linked to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), with the most conservative being Joe Lieberman, who has played an enabling role for the Bush administration by leading on compromises that undercut stronger Democratic proposals, especially in foreign policy.

John Edwards, who is attracting big money donations ($7.41 million to date), and Richard Gephardt are also part of the DLC. We need to develop our assessment of the DLC.

John Kerry opposed the war before it began and opposes the policy of preemption, as did Bob Graham. Howard Dean made opposition to the war on Iraq a central part of his platform, although his peace stand is limited. The centerpiece of his campaign is health-care reform. It surprised some that he was able to raise $2.6 million to date with opposition to the war on Iraq as his starting point.

Dennis Kucinich, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, is a true peace candidate with a 100 percent labor voting record. His presence has already served to shift the debate. At the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) he was the only one to support their program of $20 billion for child care.

Al Sharpton was most enthusiastically received at the CDF for sharply condemning the Bush administration and opposing the war. Carol Moseley Braun also opposed the war.

Within the labor and people's organizations there are bound to be different first choices for presidential candidate, based on different estimates of who can defeat George Bush. We should become involved in this discussion to help shape the issues and determine the outcome.

Where the candidates stand on the issue of preemption can help isolate the most conservative. The ability to pull out the vote at the grassroots, and to build a united front in the general election will be affected by the choice of Democratic candidate.

The AFL-CIO has indicated to state labor federations and labor councils that they should not endorse any candidate at this time. Different unions are carrying out their own processes. AFSCME is holding a special conference in Iowa next month to be attended by the congressional district chairs of the PEOPLE (political action) committees to hear from and meet with each of the nine candidates.

John Sweeney and others from labor are scheduled to participate in the America's Future conference in June of progressive Democrats, organized around the Wellstone campaign slogan, 'Stand Up, Keep Fighting.'

The situation is fluid. We may find ourselves in organizations which have made different endorsements. Certainly, the more exposure the most advanced candidates get, the greater the pressure for a more progressive choice.

Helping Kucinich be a part of the mix and overcome the fact that he is not well-known nationally, will make it possible for his candidacy to more effectively influence the debate.

Probably the biggest contribution we can make now through the primaries is to organize locally and push issues to the fore and register voters.

The Immigrant Rights Freedom Ride could be a great mobilizer for the elections, as it travels across the country. The Bush administration continues to target the Latino vote.

Holding back from the Freedom Ride, as we understand some Democrats are doing, leaves the door wide open for Bush's demagogy to prevail.

On the other hand, joining the freedom ride (with Congressman John Lewis), and taking a principled stand for immigrant rights could help galvanize many communities, as well as labor to participate enthusiastically in voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities. The Cesar Chavez holiday campaign has also proved to be an important vehicle to win the Latino community away from Bush, and to build Latino-labor unity.



Independent politics

In many ways, I think our 2000 electoral position continues to have validity in the 2004 campaign. The war on Iraq, carried out in the face of millions of protesters world-wide, and the war on people's needs and rights in our own country, verify our tactic of broad unity against the extreme right wing.

Some say that there is no significant difference in foreign policy, citing, for example, Clinton's war against Yugoslavia. We need to develop our approach to the extent of differences both between Democrats and Republicans and within the Democratic Party on these questions.

The need to build up the number of labor/pro-labor members of Congress, and of state and local elected bodies is more important in light of the frontal attack on the labor movement and the state and local economic crisis.

There are other forms with which we support at the local level, such as the Working Families Party, which has played an important role in New York, and with those Greens who accept a coalition approach. There are now 177 Greens elected to local offices throughout the country. We should discuss how local labor, peace and justice candidates can emerge at the local level.

By not fielding more of our own for elected office at the local level on whatever ticket weakens our united front policy. With more Communists running for office, we would learn a lot and we would contribute working class elected officials with a broad outreach approach.

We should prioritize discussions within each district to search for possible local candidates, and then help to make needed resources available. However, I do not think it makes political sense to field a Communist Party candidate for president in 2004. I am raising the issue, because it has come up.

Our presidential campaigns in the past were a great opportunity to project our program, and I'm sure we will find ourselves at that point some time in the future. At this moment, we will convey our program best by working with all our might to build the broadest possible coalitions, fronts and networks that can defeat the undemocratic, imperialistic Bush war machine. This is our responsibility to our own class here and internationally.

There are a number of forums being organized 'on the left' to discuss third party candidacies, some by the Greens and some by others.

Where we participate in such discussions, we should argue for local candidates in selected districts on third party tickets, but not at the Presidential and Congressional level where one united push is required to defeat the Republican stronghold.

This discussion will require a special approach with groups like the Campus Greens and the Peace and Freedom Party in California.

In summary:

The Bush administration and Republican Congress are vulnerable and can be defeated with a broad, coalition, grass roots approach focused on the issues. We should find every way we can to bring together forces and issues around peace and the economic crisis.

Every struggle is connected to the 2004 elections.

Organizing in coalition on the issues, including such forms as peoples assemblies or town hall meetings, can allow the peoples forces to mold the candidates and produce the best primary results.

Our tactic of broad, united front to defeat the extreme right-wing applies to the 2004 elections, and should be expanded

We should contribute to independent politics through grass roots organizing, supporting labor candidates, and fielding our own candidates on whatever line is appropriate.

These ideas are meant to spark an opening discussion on our work in the 2004 elections.

Between now and the national committee meeting, we should prepare materials on the election calendar and other practical mechanics.

The work and activity of the whole party for the next 18 months should center around the defeat of Bush and the Republican majority in Congress. Discussions should take place now on the situation in each district including to identify targeted congressional races.

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