When I was young, my mother would make certain that I was protected against the chill of winter. She would collect patches of material--different colors, different textures, just discarded scraps of material. Then she would arrange them and use a strong thread to attach them together into a quilt, a thing of beauty and of warmth.
Now it's time to assemble a big quilt to protect against the chill of the Bush administration's assault on working and poor people.
When an outside threat is great, the family comes together. The members discard their bitter disputes and remember the bond that unites them. Old rivalries and lingering resentments are put aside to meet the common threat. And that is now what progressives must do in the face of the threat posed by the Bush administration.
A crucial first step is for Ralph Nader and the Green Party to unite with Democrats in the coming election year. Democrats must put aside their anger; Greens must put aside their pain. Nader is a historical citizen leader. The Greens have passion and purpose, and a reach into the idealism and hopes of the young.
That energy and that leadership now must be brought back into the tent to meet a greater threat. Democratic and Nader voters in 2000 tallied the largest center-left majority vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In 2004, we will need all of those votes and more.
No one should question the radical scope of the threat posed by this administration. It has given over large parts of its policy to the most extreme elements of the right.
Its judicial appointments are vetted by ideologues who seek right-wing activist judges who will strip the government of the authority to regulate corporations and protect workers, consumers and the environment. Its Justice Department is waging a continuous war on the right of women to control their own bodies, on affirmative action and civil rights.
Its foreign policy is driven by neoconservative zealots who openly proclaim the desire for an American Empire, in violation of our entire history, and who are willing to lie to the American people, even to the president, to pursue their ends.
And large parts of the rest are pure crony corruption: an energy policy for and by big oil, a prescription-drug plan cooked up with the drug companies.
Across the country, this assault is producing a growing reaction. But the reality is that alone, the patches are not big enough to protect against the chill. Labor unions can rally 25 percent of the vote, but that patch is not big enough. Women produce a gender gap of growing breadth, but alone that patch is not big enough. African Americans, Latinos and other minorities will vote in great numbers, but together their patches are not big enough.
But knitted together, in common bond against a common threat, we can change the course of this country. Some naysayers in the Democratic Party are threatened by this. They prefer positioning to passion. They fear a mobilized people will demand too much and alienate the elusive ''swing voter.'' They want to read the peace movement out of the party, so they can posture tough on national security. They want labor to bite its tongue, so they can raise money from business. They want women and minorities to trust them, even as they abandon their cause.
They just don't get it. Winning requires the family to come together, not be driven apart by fearful and petty operators.
The New Right understands this. Bush is pushing legislation on partial-birth abortion, slashing taxes on the wealthy, calling on the Supreme Court to reverse affirmative action, sending taxpayer money to churches, dismantling the wall between church and state. He does so because he wants to energize his right-wing base and get them ready to fight in 2004.
Next year, we'll see him ''roll out'' the compassion, make gestures to the center, hug a tree, visit a poor neighborhood, as he reaches to the center. But he serves his right-wing base first, gaining permission for compromise later. Until the Democratic family learns this lesson, its parts will always be less than the whole.
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