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March 26, 2010

Reforming Health Reform?

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist John Nichols and women's advocate Terry O'Neill about the health reform President Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

Nichols said that the reform in and of itself is not sufficient, but that it's an important foundation and that activists must now demand further improvements to the nation's health system:

"For a hundred years we tried to create a project. We tried to take this vacant site and dig a hole, put in a foundation, and start some construction. That's what's happened. The fact of the matter is it's best to understand the health care legislation that was passed on Sunday as the beginning of a construction project, and that's why some people fought so hard against it, because they understood [that] once you begin that project, it is very unlikely that we're going to fill the hole in, tear down all the construction... Compromises are always made, and the most important thing is that we're here today screamin' and yellin' about it... The objections that we raise to this health care bill, the demands that we make that it be improved, that we in fact reform the reform - that's what's going to give us a health care system that is humane, that is decent, that is worthy of the United States... Barack Obama is a cautious president. It is time to go out and make him do the things that need to be done. That's an organizing task, and people are ready."

O'Neill said that the health reforms discriminate against women by, for instance, allowing insurers to charge them more for policies and not providing tax dollars to cover abortions, but that the new laws change the conversation and set the stage for an eventual shift to a single-payer system.

"My organization looked at the entire bill at the end of the day when it was passed, and we concluded that on balance, despite the good things that are in the bill, the bill is actually bad for women... What's best about this law, really, is the concept of it. The actual provisions of it are not good, but the concept that in fact the federal government has the largest role to play, the idea that we as an entire society must have health care for all of our people has not been implemented, but the concept is in the bill... We've been told over and over again that gender rating is gone, but it's not. [For] employers with more than 100 employees who buy into a plan on an exchange, the insurance companies will be permitted to charge higher premiums, up to 50% higher for women than for men just because they're women... [And] age rating - the triple premiums being paid by older people has a disproportionate impact on women... It's so crucial that we undo this pernicious idea that somehow federal tax dollars should not be used to pay for abortion. They must be used to pay for all health care needs, including abortion, because eventually where we need to get to is a single-payer system."

While Nichols and O'Neill both believe that President Obama's health reform laws provide an important first step towards a more equitable health system, others argue that they represent a troubling expansion of unchecked government power. Columnist A. Barton Hinkle wrote in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH that the reforms centralize too much power in the federal government with no mechanism to prevent intrusion into citizens' private lives:

"The increased federal involvement in health care will become a pretext for increased federal involvement in, well, everything. The reasoning will be that individual health affects health care, which is now a federal enterprise. And everything can be said, with more or less sophistry, to affect individual health. So 'managing' the 'system' will become the all-purpose excuse for dictating the manner in which you live your life... Throughout the Bush years, progressives howled as the administration exploited a national-security crisis to expand executive power, while conservatives egged the administration on. Yet neither paused long to note that Bush did not even try to roll back expansions of federal power undertaken in the name of social policy... Obama has also pushed relentlessly for expansions of social welfare and the regulatory state. Every administration expands power where it wishes, but no authority is ever repealed. And so the ratchet tightens."

What do you think?

  • Are you pleased that the health reform bill has been signed into law? Why or why not?

  • John Nichols said that health reform lacked compassion for immigrants, while O'Neill said that it should have paid for abortions. Do you agree? What else would you have included or excluded from the legislation?

  • How are you working to 'reform the reform?'

  • Can Washington Rein In Wall Street?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson about the financial reform legislation that lawmakers are crafting in Washington.

    Morgenson said that the proposals she's seen have been insufficient to rein in many of the Wall Street abuses that helped bring on the economic meltdown.

    "I think that the bills we have seen have been so half-baked and really do not address some of the crucial elements of reform that are needed if we want to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again... We are nowhere closer to any kind of technique [or] strategy to prevent that kind of behemoth from growing again... I myself have been stunned watching the brazenness with which [the bankers] are willing to operate now - just swaggering about town, throwing money at their problem, throwing money at legislators to make sure they don't have to face a formidable regulatory framework... They take the gains when their stock is rising, when their companies are profitable, but when they get into trouble, you socialize the losses. The taxpayer has to pay them. We have rewarded this kind of dysfunctional behavior... It wasn't that we needed more regulation. We needed regulators with an appetite to regulate. We had plenty of regulations on the books about mortgages, products, practices, [but] no one was enforcing it."

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe that Washington lawmakers will create legislation that seriously tackles financial abuses from Wall Street?

  • What specifically would you like the legislation to address?

  • How can citizens take action to encourage regulators to actually regulate?

  • Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Unbearable Lightness of Reform

    That wickedly satirical Ambrose Bierce described politics as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

    Bierce vanished to Mexico nearly a hundred years ago - to the relief of the American political class of his day, one assumes - but in an eerie way he was forecasting America's political culture today. It seems like most efforts to reform a system that's gone awry - to clean house and make a fresh start - end up benefiting the very people who wrecked it in the first place.

    Which is why Bierce, in his classic little book, The DEVIL'S DICTIONARY, defined reform as "a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation."

    So we got health care reform this week - but it's a far cry from reformation. You can't blame President Obama for celebrating what he did get - he and the Democrats needed some political points on the scoreboard. And imagine the mood in the White House if the vote had gone the other way; they would have been cutting wrists instead of cake.

    Give the victors their due: the bill Obama signed expands coverage to many more people, stops some very ugly and immoral practices by the health insurance industry that should have been stopped long ago, and offers a framework for more change down the road, if there's any heart or will left to fight for it.

    But reformation? Hardly. For all their screaming and gnashing of teeth, the insurance companies still make out like bandits. Millions of new customers, under penalty of law, will be required to buy the companies' policies, feeding the insatiable greed of their CEO's and filling the campaign coffers of the politicians they wine and dine. Profits are secure; they don't have to worry about competition from a public alternative to their cartel, and they can continue to scam us without fear of anti-trust action.

    The big drug companies bought their protection before the fight even began, when the White House agreed that if they supported Obama's brand of health care reform - not reformation - they could hold onto their monopoly. No imports of cheaper drugs from abroad, no prescriptions filled at a lower price by our friendly Canadian neighbors to the north.

    And let's not forget another, gigantic health care winner: a new report from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity says the battle for reform has been "a bonanza" for the lobbying industry. According to the Center's analysis, "About 1,750 businesses and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists, total - eight for each member of Congress - and spent at least $1.2 billion to influence health care bills and other issues."

    But while we're at it, a cheer for the federal student loan overhaul - Democrats managed to pass that reform with an end run around powerful lobbyists, cleverly nestling it in the health care reconciliation package.

    Nonetheless, under pressure from the lending industry, it, too, was watered down from its original intent. The three Democratic senators who voted against - Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor - have all received campaign contributions from Nelnet, the student loan company based in Nelson's home state of Nebraska, or its lobbyists.

    (And would you be amazed to learn that one of the student loan industry's lobbyists used to be Blanche Lincoln's chief of staff? The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described Kelly Bingel as Lincoln's "alter ego," and cited a former colleague saying Bingel was "first on the list of the Senator's callbacks," words that would sound like heaven to any Washington lobbyist's ears.)

    Another case of reform gone off track: this week, a year and a half after Wall Street brought us so close to fiscal hell we could smell the brimstone, a crippled little financial regulation bill seems to be hobbling out of the wreckage, but still faces an array of well-armed forces gunning for it.

    No wonder. In the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, members of the Senate Banking Committee - which sent the bill to Congress this week - received more than $39 million from Wall Street and the banks; members of the House Financial Services Committee raked in more than $21 million - so far. Just how serious do you think they're going to be about true reform?

    Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut has sounded like a champion of reform ever since he announced he will not run for reelection. It's about time. Since 2005, his top ten campaign contributors have included Citigroup, A.IG, Merrill Lynch and the now deceased Bear Stearns, all front-line players in bringing on the financial calamity.

    Then there are the Republicans, shamelessly hawking their favors en masse to the highest bidder. The Web site Politico.com reports that the reelection campaign of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker - who's one of the key negotiators on financial reform - sent an e-mail to Wall Street lobbyists and others soliciting contributions of up to $10,000 for a chance to meet or grab a meal with the senator.

    Informed of the e-mail, Corker was shocked - shocked! - saying the e-mail was "grotesque and inappropriate." But did House Republican leader John Boehner think it was inappropriate last week when he advised the American Bankers Association to fight back against the proposed rules and regulations?

    This is, of course, the same John Boehner who in the summer of 1995 walked around the floor of the House of Representatives handing out checks to his fellow Republicans - checks from a tobacco company. And the same John Boehner who was the grateful recipient of campaign contributions from the four Native American tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist currently cooling his heels in a Federal corrections facility.

    So wouldn't it have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall earlier this year when Boehner sat down for drinks with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase? Reportedly, he invited Dimon and the rest of the financial community to pony up the cash and see what good things follow.

    According to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Republicans already were receiving an increasing share of campaign contributions from the Street. In the game of reform, it's the political version of loading the dice.

    We can't know for sure what Ambrose Bierce would have made of all this; what THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY author would say about the current DC scams. But he might have agreed that the only answer to organized money is organized people. That would be one hell of a reformation.

    March 19, 2010

    Preserving Planet Earth

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with famed scientist Jane Goodall, best known for her groundbreaking work with Chimpanzees in Tanzania.

    For the past two decades, Goodall has devoted much of her time to environmental advocacy, convincing audiences that saving the wilderness and wild creatures needs to be a priority for all of us, and that individual citizens can make a profound difference. She told Moyers:

    "There have been extinctions. The dinosaurs are thought to have been [because of] a meteorite or something. And there've been gradual extinctions, because there have been fluctuations in climate that changes ecosystems and habitats. But since the industrial revolution, our human impact on the planet - our greenhouse gas emissions, our reckless damage to the natural world, the continual growth of our populations, have had a tremendously damaging effect... Wouldn't it be easy just to say, 'Well, it's a trend and it's just happening. The pendulum is swinging. We just better sit back and let it swing. And maybe one day it'll swing back.' If everybody stopped, [if] everybody gave up, then I wouldn't like to think of the world that my great-great-grandchildren would be born into."

    What do you think?

    How are you and your community helping to preserve the environment?

    March 11, 2010

    Do Americans Suffer From an "Allergy to Thought?"

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with New York University president John Sexton for a wide-ranging conversation about religion, the role of higher education in a globalizing world, and the troubling disintegration of civil discourse in today's society.

    Sexton suggested that America increasingly exhibits what he calls an "allergy to thought" and that universities are the key to restoring nuance to public discourse:

    "This is a pattern that I see: an allergy to thought, to complexity [and] nuance - a kind of collapse into an intellectual relativism where opinions become fact... It's a dangerous thing... I think there's a growing hostility to knowledge in this country... Our national progress is being retarded because we have fallen into this discourse by slogan. We have fallen into this relativism where it's a conversation to stop and say, "Well, that's your opinion. [This is] my opinion...' Go back to the Athenian idea of political speech - it was a search for good answers. We're so far from that today that it's almost ludicrous for me to bring that up, but I want to remind us... We don't listen well as a society. When we listen, we listen in feedback loops to people who are likely to say what it is we think is right... We're in the process, it seems to me, because of this allergy to complexity and nuance, of devaluing the importance of education... I think universities are the last, best hope for pushing back against this because what we do is complexity and nuance."

    Some critics contend that many of today's universities refuse to foster a truly vigorous exchange of ideas. Arguing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL that recent high-profile incidents at Yale, Harvard and Duke demonstrate universities' lack of commitment to open dialogue, columnist Peter Berkowitz wrote:

    "Professors have a professional interest in - indeed a professional duty to uphold - liberty of thought and discussion. But in recent years, precisely where they should be most engaged and outspoken they have been apathetic and inarticulate... The aim of liberal education is not to guard [students'] sensitivities but to teach them to listen to diverse opinions and fortify them to respond with better arguments to those with whom they disagree... As the controversies at Yale, Duke and Harvard captured national attention, professors from other universities haven't had much to say in defense of liberty of thought and discussion either. This silence represents a collective failure of America's professors of colossal proportions. What could be a clearer sign of our professors' loss of understanding of the requirements of liberal education than their failure to defend liberty of thought and discussion where it touches them most directly?"

    What do you think?

  • Does American society suffer from "an allergy to thought?" Why or why not?

  • Do you believe that America's universities encourage open and nuanced debate on the issues of our time? Explain.

  • Are there other institutions you see "pushing back" against sloganeering in favor of honest and intelligent dialogue?

  • What's Your Favorite Poem?

    Bill Moyers concluded the JOURNAL this week by mentioning his favorite poem, "Yes To Blue" by Jim Haba long-time director of the Dodge Poetry Festival. It's reproduced below:

    "Yes to blue after trying
    to separate green from yellow
    and hoping that everything
    will get simpler each time
    you bring an idea closer
    to the light which is always
    changing always being
    day after day
    year after year
    again and again

    Explore more poetry from the Moyers Digital Archives.

    Please share your favorite poem in the space below.

    Bill Moyers & Michael Winship - Ask the Chamber of Commerce: Why Is Too Much Not Enough?

    Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: how much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be, how many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?

    After all, as billionaire movie director Steven Spielberg is reported to have said, when all is said and done, "How much better can lunch get?"

    But since greed is not self-governing, hardly anyone raking in the dough ever stops to say, "That's it. Enough's enough! How do we prevent it from sweeping up everything in its path, including us?"

    Look at the health care industry saying to hell with consumers and then hiking premiums - by as much as 39% in the case of Anthem Blue Cross in California. According to congressional investigators, over a two-year period Anthem's parent company WellPoint spent more than $27 million dollars for executive retreats at luxury resorts. And in 2008, WellPoint paid 39 of its executives more than a million dollars each. Profit before patients.

    This week, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance industry's lobby, announced they'd be spending more than a million dollars on new television ads justifying their costs.

    Speaking at their annual policy meeting in Washington - and without a trace of irony - AHIP's president and CEO Karen Ignagni declared, "The current debate about rising premiums has demonstrated that, in fact, we have a health care cost crisis in this country. Unfortunately, the path that has been followed is one of vilification rather than problem solving."

    Beg pardon? You're lamenting a health care cost crisis and raising your premiums? Isn't that like the guy complaining there's an obesity epidemic in America while ordering a double Big Mac with extra fries?

    Of course, a million is a mere bagatelle in the shadow of the $544 million that was spent on lobbying by the health sector last year, plus more than $200 million in advocacy ads. And a million's just the curtain raiser to what will be spent in these final weeks of health care reform debate.

    Two weeks ago, THE WASHINGTON POST reported, "Washington interest groups have burst back into action in hopes of bolstering or defeating a new Democratic push on health-care reform legislation, sparking another wave of rallies, lobbying efforts and costly advertising campaigns."

    This in spite of the projection that over ten years the Obama plan would plop an additional $336 billion into the insurance companies' pockets - in the form of subsidies given to those who can't afford to buy health insurance on their own.

    Okay, this is getting weird: We're going to help the poor by enriching their exploiters?

    But apparently even that won't satisfy big business' voracious appetite for more. On Tuesday, Employers for a Healthy Economy, a coalition of 248 business groups, led by the U.S Chamber of Commerce, and including construction and manufacturing interests, as well as health insurance companies, said that over ten days they will spend up to $10 million on ads aimed at putting the screws on members of Congress to vote against health care reform.

    Goodness knows, it isn't just because their profit margins may dwindle. No, according to Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation, one of the trade associations involved, "These bills are job killers. Retail simply cannot afford any higher benefit costs or burdensome mandates." (Never mind that extrapolating from baseline forecasts made by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Projections Program, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, projects that health care reform possibly could create an average of as many as 400,000 new jobs a year.)

    But beyond the health care fight, and perhaps far more significant in the long run, this effort is just one more example of life, Pandora-style. The Company has arrived, only it's called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and it's got its sights on anything that moves, damn the natives, full speed ahead. During 2008, 86% of contributions from the chamber's political action committee went to GOP candidates. The conservatives have found their Avatar, AKA Frankenstein.

    Of course there is not actually a Chamber of Commerce, at least the way we might imagine it. This is no confederation of congenial, small town business groups that pass out maps of Main Street and souvenir key rings. The chamber in question is a front group. Yes, yes, it reports a membership of three million businesses, but tax records indicate that in 2008 a third of its contributions came from 19 companies paying between $1 million and $15.3 million. Don't hold your breath: the chamber is not required to reveal who those 19 are.

    The March 8 edition of the LOS ANGELES TIMES reports that "internal documents suggest the organization's treasury is filled in substantial part by contributions from a couple dozen major corporations most affected by Washington policymakers."

    Got it? Predators who prey together stick together.

    With all that cash, the TIMES notes, "The chamber spent more than $144 million on lobbying and grass-roots organizing last year, a 60% increase over 2008, and well beyond the spending of individual labor unions or the Democratic or Republican national committees. The chamber is expected to substantially exceed that spending level in 2010."

    This elite organization of oligarchs has been emboldened by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which now allows corporations to spend freely on political campaigns right up until Election Day, and by the chamber's recent success contributing a million dollars for ads supporting Republican Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

    What's more, writes the LOS ANGELES TIMES, "Using trade associations such as the chamber as the vehicle for spending corporate money on politics has an extra appeal: These groups can take large contributions from companies and wealthy individuals in ways that will probably avoid public disclosure requirements."

    So with the spring comes anonymous greed run rampant. "In the past a lot of companies and wealthy individuals stood on the sidelines" of politics, a corporate lawyer at Washington's influential law firm Covington & Burling told the TIMES.

    "That cloud has been lifted," he said.

    As the sun sets on democracy.

    No wonder demonstrators outside that health insurance meeting in Washington this week surrounded the hotel with yellow crime scene tape. The entire country is being mugged.

    March 5, 2010

    Is the President's Health Bill Worth Supporting?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In January, when Republican Scott Brown won the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority and the fate of their health reform legislation plunged into uncertainty.

    After weeks of strategizing and negotiation, President Obama made headlines Wednesday by encouraging Democratic members of Congress to pass the Senate's version of the health bill through the controversial tactic known as reconciliation. Originally intended for budget bills rather than more complicated legislation, reconciliation would bypass potential filibusters in the Senate and require only a simple majority of votes in both chambers for passage. Democratic leaders are now working to amass enough support among Democratic Senators and Congressmen, many of whom disagree with aspects of the legislation, to pass the bill despite polls suggesting that a plurality of the public opposes it.

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent advocates of health reform with very different perspectives on the President's health bill.

    Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who has become an outspoken critic of the industry, said that the legislation is flawed but good enough that it should become law:

    "We need to look at this as a win for consumers as well. Yes, it'll be a win for the insurance companies, but I don't think we're gonna wind up with the insurance companies walking away [and] winning the whole ball game. If we don't do anything right now, that's what will happen. They'll win everything... I was distraught when I saw what happened, what I saw the Senate voting on. But then I realized - you know, I studied a lot of these efforts over the past many years to get reform - [that] often we've come short because we've tried to get the perfect, and we've never been able to get anything as a consequence... We need to have a foundation, and this may seem to be not an adequate foundation for a lot of people, but there are more than 50 million people in this country who don't have insurance... Wouldn't you rather, and I think wouldn't most Americans rather, that we have something to start from rather than starting from scratch the next time? It's very hard to build up to doing this in the first place... I'm frankly pretty amazed that we're getting this close to passing something."

    Dr. Marcia Angell, a Harvard medical lecturer and former editor-in-chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, has advocated for single-payer reform, in which the federal government would provide a national health insurance program for everyone. Angell argued that the current bill would make a bad situation worse and sour the public on further reforms, so Democrats should regroup and push for better legislation in the future:

    "What this bill does is not only permit the commercial insurance industry to remain in place, but it actually expands and cements their position as the linchpin of health care reform... Not only does it keep them in place, but it pours about $500 billion of public money into these companies over 10 years... and it mandates that people buy these companies' products for whatever they charge. Now that's a recipe for the growth in health care costs not only to continue but to skyrocket, to grow even faster... The President's absolutely right that the status quo is awful. If we do nothing, costs will continue to go up. People will continue to lose their coverage... Things will get very bad. The issue is, will this bill make them better or worse? I believe it will make them worse... Let's say [the bill] is passed. It will begin to unravel almost immediately, and then what will people do? Well, they'll say 'We tried health reform, and it didn't work. Better not try that anymore'... Whereas if the bill dies now, people can say 'This bill died because it was a bad bill,' and the problem is still on the front burner."

    What do you think?

  • Do you think the President's health bill is worth supporting? Why or why not?

  • What do you think should be the goals of health reform, and how are you working to get there?

  • Michael Winship - Campaign 2010: Déjà Vu All Over Again

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    "Campaign 2010: Déjà Vu All Over Again"
    By Michael Winship

    Comparisons are odious, the old saying goes, and certainly Democrats are dealing with some smelly, stinky realities as they stare down the next eight months until Election Day 2010 and pundits galore compare the party's prospects to debacles of the past.

    For a long time parallels were being made with 1994 and the midterm elections during Bill Clinton's first term. Those gave us a Republican House and Senate, the glory that was Newt Gingrich and a Contract with America that after a dozen years turned out to have a hell of a balloon payment attached.

    But this week, the mainstream media meme has shifted, advancing to the elections of 2006, when Democrats took back control of Congress, campaigning against a GOP "culture of corruption." Now the village drums are signaling that it's the Democrats who have been poisoned by too much power and made vulnerable. Exhibit A is Charlie Rangel, dean of the New York congressional delegation, forced to step down this week as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

    As Reid Wilson wrote Wednesday on the NATIONAL JOURNAL's Hotline on Call blog, "Dems have seen this movie before - only last time, it happened to the other guys. Now, a beleaguered Dem majority has to hope their party can withstand a building wave that favors the GOP, and that effort isn't made any easier by countless, and mounting, self-inflicted errors.

    "Four years ago, it was GOPers who found themselves on the receiving end of jolt after jolt of bad news. This time around, Dem strategists are beginning to accept the inevitability of big losses, and a sort of morbid gallows humor has settled over Congressional and political aides."

    Jeff Zeleny echoed that theme in Friday's NEW YORK TIMES: "The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state's congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards. Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats... used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

    "The mix of power and the temptations of corruption can be a compelling political narrative at any time. But with voters appearing to be in an angry mood and many already inclined to view all things Washington with mistrust, the risks for Democrats could be that much greater this year."

    Wilson and Zeleny make a compelling case for a 2006 remake with a role reversal. But in the end, I fear that another important - and sadly, fitting - comparison may be the 2002 midterms, the first big elections after 9/11.

    I use the word "fear" deliberately, for 2002 was the election year the Republicans first used the public's fear of terrorism and attendant homeland insecurities as a campaign issue. It was on August 26, 2002, that Vice President Dick Cheney announced, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," and during the weeks leading up to the elections that President Bush insisted on the congressional vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq. You'll remember, too, that Condoleezza Rice stirred fantasies of smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds.

    It was also the year Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss upended Democratic Senator Max Cleland's bid for re-election, impugning his patriotism and running a television ad with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that mischaracterized Cleland's votes against amendments to the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

    This year, Democrats may have been sufficiently snakebitten on the economy and health care - and now, corruption - without conservatives having to do much of anything else. But fear is their ace in the hole and they already are playing it with gusto.

    As in 2002, the current election cycle has featured a steady stream of attack and insinuation from Republicans that Democrats in Congress and this time, the Obama administration, have been soft on terrorism, despite a pretty solid record so far snagging terrorist suspects both here and abroad. Dick Cheney was on the offensive during a February 14 interview on ABC's This Week and the following day his daughter Liz told Fox News, "There's simply no way that you can say that the president is using every tool at his disposal to fight and win this war."

    Liz Cheney is one of the founders of Keep America Safe, a right-wing group whose other board members are The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot whose plane struck the Pentagon on 9/11. Its stated purpose is "to provide information for concerned Americans about critical national security issues."

    This week, the organization put out a television spot demanding that the Justice Department reveal the names of "The Al Qaeda Seven," attorneys working for the Justice Department who previously, as the ad states, "represented or advocated for terrorist detainees." Ominously, it asks, "Whose values do they share?"

    Well, mine for one, and those of a lot of other academics, legal scholars and judges whose opinions I respect. In the words of former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, from an article he co-wrote in 2007, "The ethos of the bar is built on the idea that lawyers will represent both the popular and the unpopular, so that everyone has access to justice. Despite the horrible September 11, 2001, attacks, this is proudly held as a basic tenet of our profession." Olson's wife perished in the Pentagon crash.

    Of the slurs against the Justice Department by Keep America Safe and others, Ken Gude, a human rights expert with the liberal Center for American Progress told THE AMERICAN PROSPECT magazine, "This is exactly what Joe McCarthy did. Not kind of like McCarthyism; this is exactly McCarthyism."

    Fear also is a strategy outlined in a confidential Republican National Committee document, inadvertently left behind at a Florida resort and leaked by a Democrat to Politico.com. The motivations of small donors to the party are listed as "fear," "Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration," and "Reactionary."

    The PowerPoint presentation asks, "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate...?" and replies, "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!"

    As the GOP trends further and further right, they can and will attack on any and all fronts, but in the end, it may be that the only thing they have is fear.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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