By JAN HERMAN
The wizards from the Land of Is spelled out What We Stand For over the weekend in a stellar gathering at New York University’s Skirball Center, convened by the New Democracy Project and The Nation. They didn’t need to take their cues from Paul Krugman, the economist and liberal New York Times op-ed columnist, because they all came with plenty of their own ideas about Taking Back America.
But you know what? The conference was one of those ya-hadda be-there things.I’d never heard Jeffrey Sachs before. Man! Powerful. Eliot Spitzer was a spritzer. Robert Reich is even shorter than I thought, and a much bigger presence, too. Leggy Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, looked way sexy enough in her miniskirt and spike heels to pass for a high-class hooker sorta. Mark Green was smarter than I expected, but he can sound like a Borscht Belt comic. The two of them, Green and vanden Heuval, organized the conference. They must have very fine Rolodexes.
Since it was Krugman who launched the conference with fightin’ words about the current regime’s deceit and incompetence, let’s begin with him. If “regime change” comes in November, Krugman said, he hoped the next administration would “throw open the records” and not be “too magnanimous” to this one. “I believe the sunshine is going to be quite deadly,” he said. It is precisely because the Bush regime has so much to hide, Krugman added, that the upcoming “election campaign is going to be so bitter.”
Reminding an audience of more than 800 people in the sold-out hall that “we’re dealing with Nixon but without the competence,” Krugman went on to list seven progressive ideas needed to “change the mindset” of America. None of them were startling in themselves. But they were a collective touchstone for the rest of the conference, and he drove home each point as contrary to what the current regime believes: 1) intelligent economic policy works; 2) social insurance works; 3) health care works; 4) regulation works; 5) environmental protection works; 6) civil liberties work; and 7) democracy works.
Gary Hart, the former senator from Colorado who co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, picked up on Krugman’s theme of incompetence and deceit in a panel discussion on terrorism and war. Hart said he believes “there must be an old memo” in the files “explaining the strategy for going into Iraq.” It “will be surfaced one day, although not by [Bob] Woodward.”
The invasion “was not for oil,” he said, but “oil must have been part of it.” It was to establish a military and, therefore, political presence in the Middle East “to condition the behavior of Iran, Syria, Lebanon” and other nations in the neighborhood, “and to protect our ally” Israel. While he disagreed with that as a policy, he said, one could make an argument for it. “What I object to,” he emphasized, “is that this strategy was not layed out to the American people” before the invasion of Iraq.
Hart said that from the very beginning he believed “the president was doomed to fail in Iraq because he didn’t have the support of the American people in the sense that he needed it.” The current regime “never fully told the American people” what the cost of the war would be, not only in dollars or deaths but in the huge number of casualties. In addition to the more than 700 American soldiers who have died, there have been 8,500 to 10,000 combat and non-combat casualties. “This has been kept quiet,” Hart added, on top of what he said were tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties.
Asked how he assessed current developments in Iraq, he said he believed “the war reached a turning point 10 days ago” when the U.S. military “lost Falluja by turning authority over to a Baathist to extricate itself from an untenable situation.”
This report will be continued tomorrow. Coming attraction: Kevin Phillips, author of American Dynasty, subtitled: “Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.” Phillips, once the architect of the Republicans’ “southern strategy” and now a former Republican, was blistering about the presumed Democratic presidential candidate. “If [John] Kerry wants to be stamped second-rate he can keep on being a stiff,” Phillips said. “He’ll join Dukakis and Gore. But if Kerry loses, historians will have to put him in a category not invented yet.”