We call our disillusion with democracy "politics" and let it go at that. It's raw, it's dirty. The fix is always in. You've got to be a cynic to go into it -- able to tolerate the stench of moral compromise. You've got to serve the shadowy interests of the powerful; you've got to play their game.
Yeah, sure, the Bush Administration is a disaster and the Democrats are no better, but they're on the other side of that foul moat we call politics and they're going to do what they want, right? Most Americans oppose the war; Bush's approval rating is in the 30s -- down to the true-believing core. But he has only scattered, Quixotic opposition in Congress, even as the virulence of his policies gets public exposure and the electorate looks on, appalled and helpless. And now the fanatics who wrecked Iraq are seriously eying regime change in Iran. Is there no way to stop them?
"'There's no pressure from Congress' not to take military action," writes Seymour Hersh in the April 17 New Yorker, quoting an anonymous congressman about Iran. "'The only political pressure is from the guys who want to do it.' Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, 'The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.'"
I'm happy to report that not everyone feels helpless in the face of this unchecked messianic vision of war and global domination, or is content to believe that a counter-vision of peace, global interdependence and the rule of international law is a political pipedream.
Meet Marcy Winograd, longtime activist and grassroots organizer, who recently stepped over that line, from ordinary citizen to political candidate, and has been waging a gritty campaign in Southern California's liberal 36th Congressional District (a strip of oceanfront communities near L.A., from Venice to San Pedro), to unseat six-term incumbent "Republicrat" Jane Harman in the state's June 6 primary.
"People have said to me, you are so courageous. I don't feel courageous, I feel compelled. I feel I have no choice," she told me. "I'm running with a sense of urgency -- to stop the next war before it happens and redirect the war billions to education, health care, housing and the environment."
Harman, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is a loyal and important member of the ineffective opposition: She supports more of the Bush agenda than she opposes, including virtually everything related to the disastrous war in Iraq and the incursion of unchecked presidential power into our constitutional rights and protections. Harman is part of the Democratic Party's drift away from its base and its de facto surrender to the fanatics of the right and the politics of fear.
Finally, it was Harman's public support of warrantless wiretapping back in February, on "Meet the Press," that pushed Winograd to step out of her idealistic comfort zone and enter the primary fray. "And by the way, I deplore that leak," Harman had said, mouthing the Bush administration talking point that the program's exposure in the New York Times was the problem, not the unregulated domestic spying itself.
"We think of others as taking the reins of history. We don't think of doing it ourselves. But there are times when we must act," Winograd said. "As I watched that interview, I felt such a sense of urgency. . . . Will the Democrats denounce Bush when he sends bombs raining down on Teheran? What kind of world do I want my children and grandchildren to inherit?
"I never planned to run for office. . . ."
So far Winograd, who is president of the Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles (for more info, visit winogradforcongress.com), has generated national interest in her campaign. Her high-profile support includes endorsements from Daniel Ellsberg, Ed Asner, Ed Begley Jr., Howard Zinn, Ron Kovic, Tom Hayden and Jim Hightower. She has also been endorsed by important local politicians like Manhattan Beach Mayor Mitch Ward.
The reluctant candidate has also made an impact. For instance, when she appeared at the state's delegate caucus at the beginning of April, she managed to sway enough of those present to block the party's automatic endorsement of Harman.
"If you have ever protested the war," she told the delegates, "if you have ever sent an e-mail urging a Democrat in Congress to take a stronger stand in the face of the Bush administration's reckless agenda, if you have ever felt frustrated with the lack of leadership within the Democratic Party, now is the time to send a message. Your vote to bring the troops home and end this senseless war will reverberate across the nation."
David Swanson of afterdowningstreet.org has written: "If Democrats want to end this war (and they do), they will need to replace every Harman in Washington with a Winograd."
What's at stake is the enfranchisement of the anti-war majority, whose voice in the national debate is a minuscule percentage of its numbers. What's at stake is our transition to a sustainable way of living on this planet.
"Let us be visionaries," Winograd told me. "Let us affirm life, not destroy it."
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.