Published on Friday, June 4, 2004 by the Baltimore Sun
Progressives Rally Around Singular Goal
by Jules Witcover
A mushrooming progressive movement, feeding on revulsion toward President Bush and his war in Iraq, has been meeting here this week with the singular objective of getting him out of the White House in November.
A galaxy of stars in the firmament of the left, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has been arrayed to serve up oratorical red meat to these true believers.
Their anti-Bush speeches go beyond their complaints that the president waged an unnecessary war and then botched the occupation, to raps against his tax cuts for the rich, a stumbling economy and the USA Patriot Act.
Among this assemblage of Bush foes, one might have expected to find prospective Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. But according to Robert L. Borosage, the co-director of the conference run by the Campaign for America's Future, Mr. Kerry was previously scheduled to be on the campaign trail in Florida and other key swing states.
Mr. Kerry's absence under other circumstances might have raised eyebrows and, beyond that, gripes about his relatively cautious approach to the deep desire of progressive Democrats to get U.S. forces out of Iraq, and the sooner the better.
But virtually no complaints on that score have been heard here. The fervor for ousting Mr. Bush in the fall is so strong that these usually contentious voices on the left are being muted on any coolness toward Mr. Kerry or disappointment in what many perceive as a deficiency in his ardor for a quick Iraq exit.
Roger Hickey, the co-director of the conference, says: "Most progressives are not worried about Kerry's position on the war, even those who would like to see a faster pullout, because they know this election is all about bringing a change in direction. We can quibble after the election about how fast or how slow we should go. Progressives are more concerned about getting Bush out of the White House."
Former Bill Clinton pollster Stan Greenberg, in analyzing the public attitude toward Mr. Kerry, at one point observed, "If John Kerry ran as we would like him to," but let it go at that, alluding to progressives' concerns about Mr. Kerry's caution.
Had Mr. Kerry attended the conference, Mr. Borosage says, he would have received a positive reception as an acceptable vehicle for the prime objective of ousting the Republican president. "He wouldn't be trashed here," he says, in part because "there is very little Ralph Nader sentiment, reflecting the urgency about getting rid of Bush."
Four years ago, Mr. Borosage notes, prominent progressive Nader made the argument that there was no difference between Mr. Bush, campaigning as a moderate, and Democratic nominee Al Gore. Today, he says, Mr. Nader can no longer stick to that contention, and the appeal of his message to progressives has diminished accordingly.
Last year, when this group met here, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took the conference by storm with a bombastic assault on Mr. Bush and the war. But one reason Dr. Dean faded, Mr. Borosage says, was "he taught the other Democrats to stand up."
Among them was Mr. Kerry, who made the anti-Bush message in a more temperate way to the Democratic primary electorate. "A lot of people may want him to be bolder and speak stronger," Mr. Borosage says, "but they want him to win."
For all the focus on the Bush performance in Iraq, the progressives meeting here have been laying out a much broader indictment concerning the administration's policies on the economy, trade, health care, education and the rest. The long-range objective, according to Mr. Borosage, is the rejuvenation of the progressive movement, wedding the new tool of the Internet with the old energy of protest.
Julian Bond, one of the authentic heroes of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, called here for bringing "cyberspace and city streets together" to achieve that energy.
In all, the conference has been demonstrating how Mr. Bush, who pledged in 2000 to be a "uniter," has succeeded - in uniting a usually contentious Democratic Party.
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