A few days after Sept. 11, 2001, Bill Scheurer realized that the nation's soul was in jeopardy. He saw George Bush on TV, standing in the rubble of Ground Zero, whipping the national grief into carte blanche for revenge. Behind him, as the death toll wavered, people held up a banner that screamed: 6,000 MORE REASONS TO KILL THEM ALL.
"That's when I said, 'We're in trouble,'" he told me the other day, describing the journey that has made him a standard-bearer for what has become perhaps the largest bloc of disenfranchised voters in the country: the war-disillusioned. Four-plus years into the Bush version of homeland security, with the blood and the lies seeping into the national psyche, with public revulsion at high simmer, Scheurer is poised to help the peace majority remake American politics.
The anger and horror so many of us have felt about the national direction since we went to war with the rest of the world has shockingly little political traction. No matter how many people oppose Bush's bomb-and-torture show, it continues, the system incapable of shutting it down. The loyal opposition blesses it with endless mush.
Do you support the war effort, Congresswoman?
"The reality is we are there. And right now, Baghdad is not safe for people to walk down the street. We need to make sure that the area is secure, and our military is doing a great job to do just that."
Go Democrats! Cringe. Say nothing.
This was U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean's response last October, after she returned from a five-day trip to Iraq, to an Associated Press reporter's question. Bean, who represents Illinois' 8th District, having unseated archconservative Phil Crane in 2004, has proceeded to blaze a voting record that has gotten her dubbed "Crane lite," backing a healthy chunk of the Bush agenda (CAFTA, the bankruptcy bill, tax cuts for millionaires) and, of course, mouthing wishy-washy support of the war.
Come November, antiwar voters of the 8th District, which is part of the fast-growing, mall-and-subdivision exurbia north of Chicago, will have the choice of voting for Bean or likely Republican challenger David McSweeney, a millionaire former investment banker who "fully supports President Bush in the war on terror." In other words, like voters in much of the rest of the country, they'll have no choice whatsoever.
Unless Bill Scheurer gets on the ballot as an independent.
To listen to Scheurer is to start believing that: A) he means what he says; B) he has a viable shot at winning; and C) his campaign, powered by some 40 volunteers and endorsed so far by two local unions, the Teamsters and the Machinists and Aerospace Workers (both of which have given him the maximum allowable contributions), is one spot where the rubber meets the road in progressive politics - where ideals and pragmatism have joined forces to create . . . possibility.
If campaigns like Scheurer's are a go, Democrats could begin crossing the line back into values politics. What if, folks? What if the hollow, flip-flop Democrats - the ones who are so intimidated by Republicans they renounce their base (gosh, we can't be linked to the loony left) - are held accountable at the national level? What if they're forced, on pain of early retirement, to represent their constituency?
Scheurer, a 55-year-old father of four, former lawyer and tech entrepreneur, a poet, screenwriter and editor of peacemajority.org, speaks with savvy and idealism. He's uncompromising on Iraq: "We have an illegal war of aggression and occupation going on. Our republic is in serious trouble on the issue of war and peace. This is about how we've lost our way."
His campaign is also broad, standing on such core issues as universal health care, a balanced federal budget and the fight against "the attack on working families" (opposing CAFTA and other such trade agreements, tax cuts for the rich and "corporate welfare"). For more info on his campaign, and how to help, check out winwithbill.com.
"Sixty to 70 percent of Americans agree (with these positions) and yet we're totally powerless," he says. "The entire game is rigged." He calls the current two-party system a national "bipolar personality disorder - we're locked into two choices. People don't participate because it's a broken game."
In politics, majorities have to be forged. Scheurer and his volunteers are out there in the trenches doing just that: clarifying issues that cut across the social spectrum, creating a new coalition. Following the March 21 Illinois primary, they have 90 days to get 14,000 signatures within the district to put Scheurer and the tactically named Bring Our Troops Home party on the ballot. Their goal is to get 25,000. "This is our vulnerable period," he acknowledges. The campaign needs as much support right now as it can muster.
In this race between a rich Republican and a substantially financed mainstream Democrat that's likely to hinge on minutiae masquerading as substantive disagreement, one citizen running on real values is dead serious about changing the course of American politics.