Time will tell

Posted: Sep 06, 2002 12:00 AM
If you believe what you read in the new Simon & Schuster book "The Emerging Democratic Majority," Republicans on Capitol Hill might as well pack their bags and head home. Yes, American politics has gone in cycles where one party dominated for a decade or two. It was New Deal Democrats in command from 1932 to 1968, and from 1980 to 1992 conservative Republicans prevailed, even with the House and Senate in Democratic hands. But John Judis, a senior editor for the New Republic, and co-author Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, predict that this November's midterm elections hold the potential to launch a "tremendous political realignment," the likes of which this country has not seen before, in the form of an "uprising" in Democratic political power. The pair of political observers suggests Americans are "turned off" by what they describe as Republican big business, a year of "devastating scandals" (so much for the Clinton escapades), and right-wing religious affiliations. They predict a large jump in support this fall for "progressive Democrats," and their emphasis on health care, retirement benefits and the environment. While not speaking to this particular book, but rather its arguments, Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot countered recently by noting that the Republican-controlled House passed important legislation providing prescription-drug coverage for America's senior citizens, as well as pension reform to provide for retirement security for seniors who need it. "All bills that Senator Majority Leader (Tom) Daschle has been unable or unwilling to pass," Racicot said of stalled Senate action during much of the summer. Republicans insist the GOP has a "firm grasp" on the upcoming midterm elections, and are actually in a position to expand their House majority. The Republicans also cite an advantage over Democrats in polls, momentum and fund raising. All 435 House seats are up for grabs this November, along with 34 Senate seats and 36 governorships. Judis and Teixeira argue, however, that shifting demographics complement geographic, political and ideological changes that are slowly gaining force in favor of Democrats. Rural America, they explain further, typically a bastion of Republican strength, is shrinking, while support for Democrats is growing in urban areas. A few keys to the November voting, say the authors: college-educated women (57 percent voted for Al Gore in 2000), as well as blacks (90 percent supported Gore two years ago) and other minorities, particularly Hispanics. TIMBER! The "forest fire of the week" that is raging outside Los Angeles has yet to be blamed on President Bush, but give Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and his lieutenants time. "If you want to start a fire, do you set a match to a big tree?" the DNC's leadership asks this week. "Apparently that's how President Bush would do it since his 'fire prevention' program allows the timber industry to go deep into our national forests and cut down old-growth trees." Democrats charge that Bush has overstepped his original proposal to clear out brush and small trees that help fuel fires, focusing instead on the removal of "big trees" deep in national forests, an accusation the White House denies. The DNC claims Bush's trespassing into the forest is "nothing more then a gift to the timber industry, a big donor to Bush's campaign." They bolstered their accusations this week by posting the arguments of Princeton economist Paul Krugman, who opined in The New York Times: "Wouldn't it be nice if just once, on some issue, the Bush administration came up with a plan that didn't involve weakened environmental protection, financial breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations, and reduced public oversight?" How about his plan to invade Iraq? TRUST YOUR COMMANDER As some "experts" project a high number of casualties should U.S. armed forces attack Iraq, we're reminded of similar "grim" forecasts prior to the last military tangle with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Take the Los Angeles Times headline of Sept. 5, 1990: "Potential War Casualties put at 100,000." The story beneath it suggested U.S. troops would suffer fewer casualties than Iraq, "but even by conservative projections, around 160 U.S. soldiers a day would come home in body bags once war broke out." "My projection is that there would be about 10,000 American casualties in 10 days of fighting to occupy Kuwait" and dislodge Iraqi forces, military historian Trevor duPuy was quoted as saying. "You can win," added Brookings Institution defense analyst Joshua Epstein, "but it will be very bloody and very expensive. A lot of people are going to die." U.S. News & World Report quoted the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council as estimating the United States would suffer between 20,000 and 30,000 dead and wounded during a Gulf war. Knight-Ridder Newspapers called on "one of the nation's leading military scholars," who warned up to 18,000 Americans could be killed or wounded during an Iraqi offensive. And on Nov. 13, 1990, past the headline "Grim Forecast for Gulf War," the Toronto Star wrote: "If war erupts in the Persian Gulf, U.S. forces could suffer more casualties in a few days than they sustained in an average year during the war in Vietnam." For the record, there were 148 U.S. battle deaths in the entire Gulf war, which was 148 too many. ARMY COL. WILSON Debate rages over whether President Bush should have the consent of Congress before striking Iraq. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and member of the House Armed Services Committee, says it's no time to be arguing. The congressman, few people know, moonlights. He is a colonel in the Army National Guard, with 29 years of service under his belt. He warns that debate over an "additional" vote of consent to use military force (Bush on Sept. 14 already received unanimous consent both in the House and Senate) "would only serve to tip off (Saddam) Hussein to our intelligence reports, military intentions and capabilities putting the lives of our military at further risk." SPLITTING LOGS As President Bush huddled with congressional leaders on the subject of invading Iraq, his not-so-eager secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, was dispatched to South Africa to defend the U.S. environmental record (of all pressing matters) and efforts to help the poor. To make matters worse for Powell, he was heckled repeatedly by protesters during his brief remarks to the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development. "The United States is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change," Powell said over the loud booing from youth activists and environmentalists. "Shame on Bush," the protesters shouted to a visibly annoyed Powell. Journalists on hand said the heckling began when the secretary criticized Zimbabwe for pursuing land-reform policies, exacerbating the food crisis and creating starvation. "Here we've seen a new U.S. State Department emerge," explains Christopher Horner, Washington counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is in Johannesburg for the summit. "In the face of charges of 'global apartheid' - meant to head off the tough Bush stance on weaning corrupt regimes from our trough, the U.S. stood tall in the saddle and said this is about helping the poor, not buying you new Land Rovers, and the best thing you can do for the poor is allow them to create wealth, specifically through economic and judicial reforms," Horner tells this column. MIXING WITH HUMANS Being passed around Washington is a list of silly statements reportedly uttered at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, where delegates took to the podium to condemn the Western world and big business, and offer their two-cents' worth on how to improve everything from water quality to mankind. A few of our favorites: "This is my country, so you go first." - South African Minister of Water Affairs Ronnie Kasrils to Sir Richard Jolly, champion of the U.N. Development Report, before the two took turns sitting on a makeshift toilet to highlight an apparent breakthrough in sanitation. "(World leaders) are embarrassed by the condom, when in fact they should be embarrassed by Nike, because there's more rubber in Nike." - U.N. AIDS ambassador Mechai Viravaidya, also known as "Mr. Condom" in his home country of Thailand. "For someone who has spent most of her life studying chimpanzees, I find it strange to be here." - Wildlife activist Jane Goodall, named a U.N. messenger for peace.