Make no mistake about it: the Republicans have a clear objective. They want to win the 2008 presidential and congressional elections to roll back our recent gains and advance their ruthless program for America. We ignore their plans at our peril.
Their agenda is clear, and it is extreme. They would extend the occupation of Iraq, ignore the nation's health care needs, destroy Social Security through privatization, end the federal enforcement of civil rights, undermine public schools and public higher education, bust unions, overturn Roe v. Wade, ignore the devastating effects of global warming, demonize immigrants, eviscerate public services, cut taxes for the wealthy, free private companies from environmental regulations and continue the trade deals that send U.S. jobs overseas. They call it "the ownership society," but we know what it really is. It's the YOYO economy ("You're on your own") with a my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy and the suspension of any civil liberties that get in the way.
In recent days, President Bush has demonstrated how ruthless the Republicans can be. He has used recess appointments to put right-wing ideologues in positions of power without Senate confirmation. One was Andrew Biggs as Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Only a few years ago, Biggs wrote that Social Security "should be sent to the slaughterhouse." When he penned those words, he was just a GOP hanger-on at a right-wing think tank. Today, he has the power to do real damage to millions of Americans who rely on Social Security to make ends meet.
And Bush appointed Susan Dudley to be the regulatory czar in the White House. Dudley is on record opposing even the most basic regulations, such as requiring air bags in cars and limiting the number of hours the driver of that 18-wheeler next to you on the highway can be behind the wheel. Dudley believes the evidence of global climate change is "tenuous" and that the public doesn't need strong protections against arsenic in drinking water.
It's becoming clear that the GOP is more than willing to use federal jobs to advance their political objectives. The now-exposed e-mails between the White House and the operatives Bush appointed to top jobs in the U.S. Justice Department reveal the White House insisted that U.S. attorneys focus on the hunt for nonexistent "voter fraud" with the same intensity the Bush administration pushed for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The message to U.S. attorneys was clear: "If it's not there, keep looking until you find it, or we'll fire you and put someone in your place who will." With the appointment of political operatives as U.S. attorneys in key battleground states, including Minnesota, New Mexico and Arkansas, the GOP has new power to suppress the Democratic vote next year.
They're also using appointments to embed their ideological loyalists throughout the federal bureaucracy, all the while seeking to privatize any function they can. The privateers return the favor by filling the GOP war chest; the officers of companies that have been built on Bush administration contracts, like Blackwater USA, max out to the Republicans. They've even privatized functions that have always been performed by government - in war-torn Iraq today, for example, the number of private American contractors is close to equaling the number of service personnel.
The privatization agenda goes well beyond federal contracting. A Republican victory in 2008 will open up many vistas to the privateers. They'll be turning interstate highways into privately administered toll roads. Public administration of public programs like food stamp eligibility determination will be contracted out.
And when citizens go to court to resist any of this, they will find the Judicial Branch remade with judicial activists defending the Republican administration's power to do what it pleases, reinterpreting 70-year-old precedents based on the Commerce Clause that favored a positive role for government, and striking down 30-year-old protections based on the right to privacy that guaranteed a woman's right to reproductive choice.
If they win, they will try to fix the rules of the game so that they're pretty much assured of successes in 2010, and then, through redistricting, for the decade to come.
It's a bold agenda. There's no mandate for it in American public opinion. There is even less support for the Republican agenda than they enjoyed in 2000 and 2004, before their true intentions, not to mention their arrogance and incompetence, became clearer to most Americans. Before they went after Social Security. Before Katrina. Before the Iraq fiasco. Before Gonzales-gate.
But they have a well-honed electoral apparatus that has proven its ability to win close elections. Our successes in 2006 should not lead to over-confidence. We're in the fight for our lives, and we must not let them win.