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While civil rights may or may not be bolstered in the long run by these Republican gestures, they have been dagger thrusts to the Democratic Party.

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george w. bush

President George W. Bush is applauded by Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and the joyful House Speaker Dennis Hastert, joint session of Congress, Washington February 27, 2001. Doug Mills

United States

Bush's Reign of Milk and Honey

by Kelly Cogswell

MARCH 5, 2001. You can sleep easy in Republican, U.S.A. where there is no homophobia, racism, or colonial monster hiding in the closet. At least that's the consoling fairy tale spun in the first months of the open-armed reign of the handsome young Prince of Civility, George W. Bush.

Republicans 3, Democrats 0
On February 22, gay Log Cabin Republicans were allowed to bask for a whole 25 minutes in the newly benevolent aura of the right-wing, historically anti-gay Attorney General John Ashcroft while he promised to uphold civil rights laws for all Americans, even gay ones, and welcomed the group's offer to work with him. "It's important for them to know that if they have a concern it can be voiced," said Mindy Tucker, Ashcroft's spokeswoman.

In last Tuesday's congressional address, George W. Bush pledged to pursue the end of racial profiling by police and state troopers, though not that of the death penalty. On Wednesday, the formerly anti-affirmative action, anti-black social butterfly John Ashcroft met with black lawmakers generously promising not to oppose Judge Ronnie White's appointment to the federal bench, as he had once done. He also promised to follow up on racial profiling by the police, and improve faulty balloting procedures like those which primarily affected minority voters in Florida.

sila maria calderonPuerto Ricans got their spoonful of honey on March 2, when the compassionate Republican Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderón's request to suspend the Navy's bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as of March 15 until the Department of Health examined a new local study showing that Vieques residents have a high rate of heart abnormalities, which might be caused by noise from the Navy's practice bombs.

The Golden Gesture
While civil rights may or may not be bolstered in the long run by these Republican gestures, they have been dagger thrusts to the Democratic Party, and liberal and minority opposition.

Democrats, in particular, are in trouble. They can blame Clinton and his foolish pardons all they want, but their demise began when, despite unified pressure from the Democratic Representatives in the Black Caucus, not one Democratic Senator challenged the dubious Florida electoral vote count. In short, the Party valued white Senators over black Representatives, politics over democracy, and appearance over truth.

And by prioritizing politics as usual and accepting Bush as their legitimate president, they were also forced to accept Bush's new political rule of engagement, a spurious "civility," which both muzzles opposition, and gives an inordinate weight to appearances and symbols.

This was a stupid move by Democrats given the new Republican president's uncanny ability to jolly his opponents into silence, force his rivals to choose between wimpish acquiescence or brutish uncivil dissent, and coast on political frequent-flier miles with effective symbolic concessions.

Vieques Bombing
navy outTake the case of Vieques, where the U.S. Navy has conducted training and bombing exercises since it summarily expropriated two-thirds of the island from residents in 1941. Democratic President Bill Clinton could have been the one to stall the bombing there. In his last pardon and directive-signing binge in office, Clinton was presented with the exact same health study and besieged by requests to quit using the Puerto Rican island for bombing practice, or better yet, evict the Navy altogether, but he and his advisors simply didn't see the PR potential.

Instead, with one brief hiatus in bombing, it is the Republicans that can score easy points against the seemingly hard-hearted Democrats. And when the Pentagon produces tame scientists to declare the study hysterical rubbish, the Navy can resume training at the "crown jewel of its air, land and sea training facilities," with a semi-clean slate.

The appearance of a compassionate Navy may even convince some Vieques voters to accept the Navy's presence in perpetuity in the November referendum on the island's future. After all, the Navy wouldn't be so bad if it actually complied with time-dishonored pledges to clean up the ravaged Vieques environment, and showered the inhabitants with the cash promised to develop the island's ravaged economy.

Also, by passing up one teeny-weeny Navy bombing session which Puerto Rican critics charge may not have been scheduled anyway, Republicans laid the groundwork to weaken Puerto Rico Governor Calderón's position as hardline advocate for evicting the Navy, and improving her nation's colonial status—two of her top priorities. With no stonewalling colonial power to pose against, an adamant Calderón runs the risk of looking like a spoiled political debutante or an extremist, and losing moderate support.

Moving Targets
More than ever, it's not enough to be right, especially when those in power refuse to look wrong. We should have learned that under the Democrats, who have smiled and nodded civil rights movements almost to death.

Assured of our votes by their overt support of civil rights, Democrats increasingly ignored the will of many average Americans. This was most apparent when they dumped inconvenient black Representatives, outlawed gay civil unions and double-crossed gay soldiers, and, among other things, firmly reinforced Puerto Rico's nineteenth century colonial status by insisting on the Navy's right to bomb the inhabited island of Vieques.

bee Now, sandwiched between honeyed Republicans and smiling, shell-shocked Democrats, activists must learn to outwit the paralyzing quicksand of "civility," and train our sights on Bush's moving targets. The irony is that his erratic concessions to both the religious right and the civil rights left are just sideshows to increase his popularity and solidify his hold on the White House, while he gets on with his real business: cutting taxes for his friends, and making money for them, and Bush Family, Inc.

Related links:

For more info on Vieques including history, photos check out Vieques Libre.

For the U.S. Navy's viewpoint regarding Vieques.

For Complete Coverage of U.S. Politics

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