Politics Mondays: Electing A President In 2004 by Congressman Elijah Cummings
"People yearn for a 'politics of the center,'" the late Senator Paul Wellstone counseled before his tragic death in a Minnesota plane crash last year, "not 'the center' so widely discussed by politicians and pundits in Washington, but, rather, a politics that speaks to the center of people's lives."
I am convinced that President Bush is losing popular support because of his failure to heed Paul Wellstone's admonition.
Spurred in part by recent public opinion polling that confirms that more Americans now oppose his reelection than support it, George Bush is now out on the campaign trail. He has the power of incumbency behind him, as well as a world-class "spin machine."
Nevertheless, he must be finding it difficult to look the American people in the eye and answer some very troubling questions about his stewardship of the White House.
The national unemployment rate is now over six percent. Joblessness in African American communities is twice that appalling figure. How will the President explain the reality that, since he took office in January of 2001, the U.S. economy has lost over three million jobs?
How will he attempt to justify rejecting Democratic proposals that would have stimulated the national economy by providing meaningful tax cuts to middle-income Americans and small businesses? Why did his Administration ram through more than $1 Trillion in tax cuts that principally benefit the wealthiest one percent of our citizens while, at the same time, denying a child tax credit to the families of 12 million American children (2.4 million of whom are African Americans)?
In the most affluent country of the world, how does the President reconcile the fact that more than 44 million Americans still have no health insurance? How does he rationalize this reality when, for a fraction of the Bush Administration's generosity to the wealthy, we could have assured high-quality health care for every American child up to age 18 - and have given a defined, guaranteed prescription drug benefit under Medicare to every senior.
Why has his Administration not provided the federal funding that would have given the four out of every ten children who are eligible, but do not yet receive, the Head Start that they need and deserve in life? Why are the President and his Republican allies shortchanging federal aid to public education to the tune of 9 billion dollars - under-funding the No Child Left Behind Act, freezing the level of student financial aid and starving Historically Black Colleges and Universities?
Why - while the Bush Administration is spending billions each month in its attempt to "go it alone" in Iraq – has it not yet provided the states and our major cities with the federal support that would allow our "first responders" to more safely defend our ports, our railways and other public infrastructure against the terrorist threat?
Since this Administration and their congressional allies talk endlessly about "defending our freedom," why have they asserted the most extreme assault upon our civil liberties that I have witnessed in my lifetime? How could they have the hubris to call the centerpiece of their challenge to our fundamental freedoms the "PATRIOT Act?"
Why have they nominated federal judges with no demonstrated commitment to our civil rights or liberty?
Why, when the Congress passed sweeping election reform legislation to address the 2000 presidential election debacle, have the President and Republicans in Congress not yet provided the cash-strapped states with adequate financial support to implement these reforms? Why has this President failed to keep the solemn promise to govern from the center that he made to us after the contested presidential election of 2000?
Centrist talk is not enough for a people who need jobs, education, health care and housing - a people who deserve freedom, as well as security. We are living through a time of crisis - a time that cries out for a president who will defend this country while also advancing the policies that will bind us together even more firmly as a nation.
Principled, credible leaders are seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge George Bush for the presidency. That is why the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute is sponsoring two nationally-televised presidential debates on the Fox News Network.
We are determined that the more than 26 million Americans represented in the Congress by the 39 members of the Congressional Black Caucus will have a meaningful, informed voice in choosing our next president. That process begins Tuesday, September 9, beginning at 8:00 P.M., E.D.T., at Baltimore's Morgan State University - and will continue in Detroit on October 26.
We are committed to doing everything within our power to restore a national government that, once again, reflects the will of the American people.
We believe that, if we do our part, the democratic power of the American people will never again be denied.
The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland's Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives and serves as Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 108th Congress.
Monday, September 8, 2003