“The spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest and ourselves united. From the conclusion of [their] war [for independence, a nation begins] going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of [that] war will remain on [them] long, will be made heavier and heavier, till [their] rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.” — Thomas Jefferson from Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782
If the [Democratic] Party is to have a future, there sure as hell better be a place for progressives. — Dr. Chuck Pennacchio, Pennsylvania Democrat and candidate for US Senate
Founding father Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” For many Americans, the time for massive change in government is now, and that need is felt acutely by many in Pennsylvania. Since January 1995, Keystone Staters have been represented in the US Senate by Rick Santorum, an ultra-conservative Republican who supports the Bush Administration and its Iraq policy and opposes basic American values such as the right to privacy and equality for all under law. The Democratic Party elite, now entrenched in its often losing strategy of pitting centrist and right-leaning candidates against strong Republican incumbents, is at this point throwing its support behind state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., whose stands on the issues have led him to be labeled “Santorum-lite” by liberals and progressives. But there is another Democratic candidate, a brash, tell-it-as-it-is history teacher who is taking aim at both Casey and Santorum in his hope of restoring true American values, returning this nation to a place of integrity, and turning the government’s focus back to serving its citizens.
His name is Dr. Chuck Pennacchio and he is a professor of history and director of the history program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The 46-year-old educator lives with his spouse Nancy and their children in rural Bucks County, PA. For more than 30 years, he has been laser-focused on pushing a progressive people’s agenda – working as an aide to former California Sen. Alan Cranston and as Military Personnel Advocate for former California Rep. Ron Dellums; organizing successful campaigns for Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Tim Wirth (D-CO) and the late former Minnesota Sen. Paul Simon; serving as a community leader and activist working for positive, progressive change.
Chuck Pennacchio is a man on a mission: He is determined to fix the nation’s and Pennsylvania’s schools, to ensure that equal opportunity is available to all, to protect reproductive freedoms and privacy, to bring poor and working-class people out of poverty, to ensure marriage equality under law and protect our constitutional rights, to establish a “sane,” justice- and security-focused foreign policy and restore America’s good name throughout the world. And though seen as an underdog – many media accounts preface his name with the word “unknown” – his message is breaking through to people who see his old-school progressive platitudes – calls for a living wage and Democratic core principles – as nothing short of revolutionary.
The more people know about this bright, experienced, tough, passionate, and exceedingly positive young man, the more they see that perhaps he is the hope to quash the Democratic policy of appeasing the right wing, that maybe Chuck Pennacchio is the one person who can energize an apathetic, acquiescent, fearful, defeated base and put Rick Santorum out of office.
A January survey by independent pollster Zogby (and commissioned by left-wing blog OpEdNews.com) bears this out. The poll found that when likely voters examined Santorum’s, Casey’s and Pennacchio’s stands on issues facing Pennsylvania and the nation, they were inclined to support the truly progressive candidate. It makes one wonder: What is Chuck Pennacchio saying? And why are informed people considering him a revolutionary who can bring real American values of justice and freedom back to the forefront?
On Feb. 24, I had the pleasure and privilege of chatting with Chuck Pennacchio about his campaign, the Democratic Party, the nation’s past and its future, the responsibilities of citizenship, and his undying faith in American values and people. Please take a read and meet a true believer who looks to be Pennsylvania’s great progressive hope.
Natalie Davis: You started your campaign in 2003 as a grassroots, progressive candidate. What was it that motivated you to run to represent Pennsylvania in the US Senate in the first place?
Chuck Pennacchio: I think it was the idea that I don’t like train wrecks. I saw the prospect of Rick Santorum winning reelection as a train wreck. That’s quite literally how I visualized the Senate Democratic politics of Pennsylvania. Democrats in Pennsylvania don’t know how to win US Senate seats. So my first motivation was: How do we stop Rick Santorum from being reelected in 2006? And I scratched my head and I looked at the history of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania and realized that they’ve lost 14 straight US Senate elections since 1964. The last one who won, in 1962, was Joe Clark, who was progressive. And I said to myself, this party is not going to choose a candidate who can beat Rick Santorum, I’m sure of it. And it’s come to fruition. That’s the reality: They’ve chosen a guy, Bob Casey Jr., who, is as contrary to Democratic core principles and values – at least the values that I think of when I associate myself with the Democratic Party… He’s as contrary to those principles and values as anyone they possibly could have scrounged up anywhere or any place within the boundaries of the Keystone State. They’ve tried to go with this person who can not beat Rick Santorum; I’m absolutely convinced of that. So, in that sense, the thinking of November 2003 has been competely validated by a party that does not know how to win.
ND: It seems to me from looking at the media, that even so-called progressive groups are lining up behind Casey. You’ve got MoveOn, you’ve got Progressive Democrats of America, you’ve got the Human Rights Campaign, for heaven’s sake… Why do you think they do that? Why do Pennsylvanian Democrats consistently pick candidates who just have no shot?
CP: We do need to make a correction here: Progressive Democrats of America – I’m actually a member of PDA and Tim Carpenter is their executive director – they’re not lining up behind Casey, they’re absolutely not.
ND: OK, I just read something that said otherwise.
CP: It was probably OpEdNews, which is written by Rob Kall. He wrote a piece where he lumped MoveOn in with PDA and DFA [Democracy for America]. And it’s not even true that DFA has supported Casey. We’re picking up more of the DFA and PDA support every day. But the point I think Rob was making is that these groups have been so slow to move. In the case of MoveOn, it’s actually is true. They’re willing to sell out just to secure a place at the table with the Democratic Party. That’s what it’s all about.
ND: Do you think there is a place for progressives, true progressives, in the Democratic Party? I think back to, uh, the last presidential election and the Dennis Kucinich campaign and how the progressive wing of the party was all but ignored, which is why so many moved out of the party and toward the Greens or to become Independent or to give up on the political process altogether. Is there a place for progressives in your party?
CP: Yes, there is. It might not be easy for people to figure that out, but there is definitely a place. In fact, look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus, those in the House of Representatives who consider themselves progressive. Three years ago, there were 24 members, and most were also members of the Black Caucus. Today that number has grown to at least 82 – that’s only three years later.
ND: But at the same time, a lot of people call themselves progressive when they consistently don’t support progressive principles. Even the late Paul Wellstone – and he was the progressive, god bless him – voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was not progressive, so…
CP: You’re right, and he voted in favor of the first Patriot Act.
ND: Exactly. Wellstone was a progressive who made a couple of horrible politicaly motivated votes, but many people call themselves progressive when they aren’t.
CP: That’s true. What’s really twisted is the term has been co-opted and bastardized by centrists, [former Pennsylvania Rep.] Joe Hoeffel among them. For a very long time, he was shilling for Casey and calling Casey a progressive. This went on for months on end until people started yelling at Joe – really, literally shouting him down. Finally, he let go of using that term, because he had so completely distorted it and turned it inside out. It’s not unlike George Orwell’s 1984 or even the French revolutionary Robespierre, who literally turned ideas on their heads and gave rise to modern revolutionary thinking. It’s a sham, a lot of people who present themselves as progressives… Joe Hoeffel still does; he still presents himself as a progressive and he still supports Bob Casey. It’s a sham and it’s a shame.
I guess the answer to your question is, Is there a place for progressives in the Democratic Party? Well, if the party is to have a future, there sure as hell better be a place for progressives. There has got to be a place.
I actually talk quite a bit – as a historian, but also because I think it’s a good reminder – about Harry Truman and how he ran for president in 1948. I think he was actually outflanked on the Left by Henry Wallace. But Harry Truman did run as a progressive Democrat in 1948: He ran on full employment and on living-wage legislation. He ran on single-payer health care. He was the first modern civil-rights president. And he ran on a foreign-policy strategy, alliance building, that ultimately enabled the United States to prevail in the Cold War. This is the [Democratic] party that won even when the country was conservative – because the country really was in a conservative mindset in 1948; the Republicans had come back to control the Congress, the country was trying to get back to normalcy and trying to put the world and World War II behind them. Still, Truman was able to tap into the base and he was able to keep the base of the party together by fighting on the very values and principles that tie us together today. Constitutinal rights, rights that people are going to be able to have a quality existence and quality education and housing and employment, a living wage and all those other principles he espoused. That’s who the Democratic Party is when it’s at its best.
It’s not simply that there needs to be a place for progressives in the party. I would turn that question around and say now is the time for progressives to lead the Democratic Party out of the woods and back into majority control in the House, in the Senate, in the presidency, the federal courts and the Supreme Court. The only way to get it back is for progressives to be bold, to be courageous, to stand up and fight like hell. Because the Republicans are taken over by radicals determined to consolidate not all power, but absolute power. That’s what they’re about, Republicans. They want to crush our democracy. And the only way to get it back is to fight like hell. And people are responding to that message wherever I travel around the state. People want that so bad: They want their party back. They want to be proud of their party. They want to know that their party is going to stand up and fight in Washington, DC, and is not going to hand over the keys to the kingdom to the Republicans, that we’re not going to engage in this process that I call appeasement. Because that’s what the Democrats are doing.
ND: Oh, absolutely. Since the Clinton years, the Democrats have bent over backward to paint themselves as being more centrist than people-focused even though people are supposed to be their focus. I call it a “go-along-to-get-along” mentality. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to get anyone mad at us.”
CP: That’s right, and the other part of the equation is that Democrats are afraid to stand up because of all the money they’re taking from Wall Street, and that money is literally buying up their voices and buying up their capacity to stand up and represent you. Harry Truman’s Democratic Party was a Main Street party. The party today of [New York Sen.] Chuck Schumer and [Illinois Rep.] Rahm Emanuel is a Wall Street party. And that’s tragic, really tragic.
ND: It’s a basic betrayal of everything the party is supposed to be about.
CP: That’s right. It’s become a money party and not, as you put it, a people party. That’s shameful and, frankly, the idea that somehow the Democrats are going to win back control espousing these pro-corporate interests in trade relations, the bankruptcy bill, and privatizing everything under the sun is crazy. The Democrats have absolutely no chance of regaining power because the people – the base of the party – are young and old, parents and singles in the middle, people who focus on questions of Social Security, student loans, environmental cleanup and good-quality job creation, protecting our constitutional rights. Those constituencies are being abandoned in droves, and that’s a license for permanent minority status – or token status, really, in our political system.
ND: Right now, on the ballot for the primary election in May, there are actually two progressive candidates, you and Alan Sandals. What makes you the best choice for the job?
CP: Actually, I see Alan more as a moderate liberal. The reason I say that is because I’m the only candidate in the race who is calling for an immediate military exit from Iraq. Alan has taken the approach of a year or more [to get US troops out of Iraq]. I think he’s recently said by the end of 2006, but he’s maintained that position since the fall of last year. In terms of other issues in the race, I’m the only candidate who calls for living-wage legislation; Alan does not. That’s a fact.
ND: How do you call yourself a people’s candidate if you don’t support a living wage for everyone?
CP: Right, right. Alan supports raising the minimum wage. He’s on record as supporting the governor’s proposal to raise it to $7.25 over the next couple of years. My position would amount to raising it to $9.30 an hour to bring people out of poverty. So I’m the only candidate in the race who is committed to ending poverty. Literally. There’s no hedging about that whatsoever. On trade legislation, and we touched on this before, I’m the only candidate who has a clear fair-trade strategy for restoring the strength of labor and for restoring the principle of environmental protection and for the purpose of protecting human rights around the world. Alan, so far, has said that he opposed NAFTA and CAFTA and the WTO, and I praise him for that, but he has not taken that next step, which is to push for what I call bilateral fair-trade relations with all 192 nations around the world – the US, of course, is number 193. What the United States needs to do is adopt a fair-trade strategy with the other 192 that addresses the unique relationship between ourselves and those other countries. Alan does not have a fair-trade strategy; I do. On substance, on issues, those are some very clear differences that show why I describe him as more of a moderate liberal.
CP: Oh, and there’s one other thing: I’m the only candidate in the race who is committed to not taking special-interest money. I don’t take PAC money of any stripe, none whatsoever.
ND: Only individual donations?
CP: Yes, yes. I don’t think you can call yourself a progressive and not be for campaign-finance reform. And I’m the only one pushing for public financing of all federal-level elections.
ND: Are you familiar with… There is a resolution before the House – number 4694, the Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act – which is ostensibly a campaign-finance reform measure. What it would do is exactly what you propose – set up public funding for all congressional campaigns, but only for candidates from the two major parties. Third parties would not be eligible for this funding unless they could amass signatures equalling 10 percent of the votes they received in their district in the previous election, which would get them partial funding, or 20 percent, which would get them full funding. Getting the signatures would be an extremely difficult task in and of itself, but there is another catch: Third parties won’t be allowed to pay anyone to collect the signatures.
CP: That doesn’t sound fair, that last part especially.
ND: Yeah, it seems to be an obvious attempt – and this is a Democratic-backed bill – to squeeze third parties out of the mix and to limit electoral choice.
CP: There are some aspects of it I would support, but others I question. I would have to read the whole legislation in order to give any concrete response.
CP: But absolutely, I believe in campaign-finance reform, because it creates a level playing field in the electoral process. But I don’t believe in shutting out third parties.
ND: Another issue – education: As you know, many, many children have been left behind in the past six years. What is your plan for dealing with education in the state of Pennsylvania?
CP: From the federal-level perspective, I would seek to overturn the No Child Left Behind legislation. Here, we should give kudos to Paul Wellstone for being the first to call the Bush Administration on using it as a ruse for dismantling public education. To this day, I see it as their intent. So, at the federal level, I would seek to overturn No Child Left Behind, an underfunded mandate that forces educators – and I’m an educator – to teach children nothing more than how to take standardized tests. It really is a sham. It’s a cruel attempt to destroy our public education system, which needs more support, not legislation that enacts retribution measures against schools that don’t pass or don’t have enough students who pass arbitrary exams.
ND: Ethics are, of course, a huge issue, what with the Plame investigation still going on, the National Security Agency wiretapping, Abramoff, etc. How do we go about cleaning up Congress?
CP: I think we have to revisit the entire question of the lobbying community and the role that they play on Capitol Hill. I think the original movement of special interests into Washington, DC, didn’t create problems, but it has rapidly become out of control. We need to enact extremely serious lobying reform that creates a transparent process of exchange between lobbyists and lawmakers, because lobbyists do play a positive role on Capitol Hill – when they’re held accountable in everything they do and are held to very tight scrutiny. We need sunshine laws; we need full campaign disclosure when lobbyists deal in any way with lawmakers. We need to stop the revolving door of government employees as well as members of Congress moving in and out of these special-interest lobbying circles. Not only are there more than 34,000 lobbyists in Washington, DC, right now, but among them are 272 former members of Congress who have literally cashed out their careers’ incomes. That can not be permitted to stand.
We’ve reached the point now where lobbyists are literally writing legislation for Congress. The Medicare bill is the latest or one of the latest examples of exactly that. That process can not be allowed to stand. I don’t know how far we’re going to have to go. We’re gonna have to really dig into this problem and understand it. It could be that there is going to have to be an entire temporary ban on lobbying in Washington, DC, not unlike the national bank holiday of 1933 that enabled this country to sort of correct its course economically. We’re in an equal crisis circumstance with regard to lobbyists who have literally hijacked our government. Not all of them – I really want to make that point and not broad-brush them…
ND: Sure, of course.
CP: …but something with real teeth has to be enacted. I will gladly, happily lead that fight in the Senate.
ND: You have stated that you are the only candidate in the race who has called for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You’ve gone so far as to call what they call a “war,” what others call an invasion and occupation “illegal.” Of course, if you get into the US Senate, you’re going to be up against a lot of people who are going to disagree with you on those issues. How are you going to make your case and convince them to do what you consider to be the right thing?
CP: That’s a great question, Natalie, and that’s really the “method” question of, “How do we enact change rather than standing in a corner yelling into a trash can?” That’s not what I’m about whatsoever. I stand up strong, don’t ask permission, and stand up to party bosses in defense of constitutional rights. One of these key constitutional provisions has to do with warmaking: Only Congress shall declare war. Well, we are in a state of war still, with Iraq, almost three years after the beginning of that conflict, and what had been a low-level sectarian war until a few days ago, has now raised the specter of becoming an all-out, full-fledged civil war between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The US military is on the ground, and its 140,000-plus soldiers are in immediate and grave danger. We need to get our troops off the ground and get them off the ground now. This should have begun a long time ago, this phasing-out process, but unfortunately, we’re living under one-party rule, and the president in power believes he has absolute authority, though he was given only a war resolution, which is not constitutional. This is not a constitutionally declared war, much like the Tonkin Gulf [resolution] did not provide a war declaration [for taking military action in Vietnam]; Johnson and Nixon took full flight, took full assumption of authority, by reading into that resolution. What we need to do is… What I will do personally is to lead the fight in the US Senate and I will grab my members, pull them into back rooms and explain the historic consequences of what we are in the process of doing. I am completely convinced that Democrats in the US Senate do not know their history. Not only do they not know their history, the only thing they can focus on is their next election.
There are exceptions – Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) are among them – but so long as Democrats focus only on the next elections and on those people who contribute to their campaigns, they’re never going to see the light together. We’re at a critical moment in our history where we truly have an opportunity to get this thing right. What that really requires is taking members of the US Senate and, if necessary, shaming them in public for their support of this illegal, unconstitutional war in Iraq. Swallow your pride, let’s get the troops off the ground, let’s look at American security itself, let’s re-focus on the 60-plus countries around the world that actually do harbor terrorists who mean ill-intent to the United States. Al Waeda is based in 60 countries around the world, so we really need to get our arms around the security question in a big way.
I’m the only Senate candidate in the country who has a national-security background. I’ve been teaching national-security studies off and on for the last 17 years. I have a Ph.D. in diplomatic history. And I have a very good understanding of what it’s going to take to restore American respect among the other 192 countries in the world. Again, so long as senators are afraid of the next election cycle, afraid to stand up strong for American security, we are going to be ceding this territory to the Republicans as the vast majority of Democrats have done. We’re not going to provide security to the United States and they’re not going to win their elections or change the control of the House, the Senate, the presidency and the courts. It’s just not gonna happen.
You know, I really see myself on a mission. I want to take this message to the US Senate and then start knocking some sense into my colleagues and to work with likeminded progressives in the Senate, plus the 82 in the House.
ND: I know what you’re talking about. The fear among lawmakers is so obvious and so pervasive, covering so many areas, from marriage equality to reproductive choice – as we can see from what’s going on in South Dakota. Basic American values of equality and liberty are in real danger, especially now that we have Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court. You’re setting up a monumental task for yourself.
CP: Yeah, but I see that it’s going to take nothing less than that to get our democracy back. We have to take on a monumental task. And frankly, Thomas Jefferson said it before I did: Thomas Jefferson was the one who said that each generation of Americans has to fight to reclaim their constitutional rights. We have become a society that is far too complacent about fundamental freedoms that we take for granted. Because we’ve not been standing up for those principles or activiely pushing out to expand rights. We’re left on the defensive because Republicans are seeking to write discrimination into the Constitution and now we’re in a defensive posture because Democrats are out of power, but more to the point, the Democrats who are in power don’t know how to regain power or to fight for the core principles and values that we believe in.
ND: And as such, they fall into appeasement, bending over and acceding to the will of the majority, even though they know in their deepest, darkest hearts that what they’re doing – and not doing – is a betrayal of what they’re supposed to be doing.
CP: Right. You know, when Paul Wellstone was in the US Senate, he was the Democratic Party’s biggest pain in the you-know-what. Only after he died in that tragic plane accident did the Democratic Party and his Senate colleagues finally recognize that he was the conscience of the party. But while he was alive, he did not make himself extremely popular in Democratic circles. And yet, what he did was lay the groundwork. He laid the groundwork for our current opposition to the War on Iraq. He laid the groundwork for our current opposition and my current opposition to No Child Left Behind. What he did while he was alive was he laid the groundwork for pushing out on universal health care and pushing out on living-wage legislation and really restoring the respectful role of America in foreign policymaking. That is the legacy of Paul Wellstone. It is the legacy that I seek to continue.
ND: Well, as Sen. Wellstone discovered while doing all of this, the system will only let you go so far. In your mind, when you visualize yourself beating Rick Santorum and representing Pennsylvania in the Senate, do you envision the possibility that there are going to be walls against what you are trying to do?
CP: Oh, of course. Naturally. Absolutely. There are many entrenched interests that I present an immediate threat to. But the threat I present is promoting democracy. The walls of resistance are fundamentally anti-democratic. Democracy is not easy; it requires sacrifices. And I’ll go to a conservative for one of the most famous quotes about democracy: It was Winston Churchill who said that democracy is the worst political system in the world – except for all the rest. I think that’s a profound statement. Democracy really requires a lot of work; it’s not a spectator sport. It’s a process that is as American as any process in the world, but it requires Americans to stand up and to demand more of ourselves and demand more of our government and more accountability on the part of private and corporate interests and to demand more rights so that all Americans are able to enjoy the full fruits of our liberty – every citizen.
ND: That’s great; that’s all true. However. As you’ve said, the system has a lot of people who are invested in keeping things the way they are and enshrining into law the beliefs and values of one group: the Bush Administration and those who support it. I mean, seriously, do you think the Senate can handle having in its midst an honest, principled person dedicated to the truly American values of equality and liberty for all?
CP: Sure, absolutely. Not only are they gonna get used to me, they’re going to wake up and they’re going to follow me. Eventually, they’re going to follow what’s right, we’re going to turn the corner and work to restore majority control based on those core Democratic values that have always been central to the American promise.
ND: You have a lot of faith.
CP: I have to. I teach this stuff. I’ve been teaching American history and I’ve been living it for 33 years as a political organizer and community leader. This is our challenge. It’s our responsibility. It’s our duty, in my judgment, as Americans to fight to the very last to make sure that the American promise is available for each and every American. I don’t think anything short of that will allow us to become a great nation once again, nothing short of that.
ND: Then we’re talking about waking up not only those in office, but also waking up the people. You’re a grassroots candidate, and I know that when people hear what you have to say, your ideas, they respond. That’s evident in the poll that OpEdNews did through Zogby that as soon as people knew what you stood for, what Casey stood for, what Santorum stood for, a majority of the people supported you. So, how do you get your message to the people – and then, how do you push them to actually take action, to be proactive in improving their government? How do we get the people to take more responsibility and become better informed when they do cast their ballots?
CP: Well, it requires challenging people. It requires challenging them to take up the mantel, to take on the responsibility that is ours as American citizens. We have to motivate them. The one thing that the Republicans have taught anybody who is paying attention is that the way they’ve been able to establish so much power is by engaging in perpetual political activity. [Their activities are] highly cynical, highly self-serving, highly greedy [and] highly secretive, but nonetheless, that’s the level of political engagement that’s required of Democratic Party members as well as non-members in order to win back, in order to take back, our government. In other words, what American citizens have got to realize is that it’s not simply about an election in Pennsylvania on May 16 where I have to beat Bob Casey or an election on Nov. 7 where I beat Rick Santorum – it’s about pushing a movement. It’s about people power, about people writing letters and blogs. It’s about people calling their neighbors and hosting house parties. It’s about people digging for the truth. It’s about people demanding of their government day in and day out and calling 202-224-3121 [the Congressional switchboard] to reach Capitol Hill and demand that your senators and House members do the work that they were elected to do, which is to represent the people’s interests.
It isn’t easy. You know, it was 20 years ago a couple days from now that a people’s revolution overthrew Ferdinand Marcos of the Phillipines and restored, at least temporarily, their democracy. It’s been a rough road since then for the Phillipines…
ND: And right now, we see Corazon Aquino still at it.
CP: That’s right. There’s a lesson in that. And the same thing is true in Berlin, where people had just had enough and demanded that that wall that artificially split the city come down. In the end, it’s really the force of the people that will or will not win the day. And that’s a choice that individuals have to make. But for many people who look at the world as one dominated by the United States, I would argue that there is a more formidable superpower in the world: It’s the collective will of the people, and specifically, the collective will of the American people demanding that they – we – get back our Constitution, demanding that we get accountability back in our government, demanding that we get back a sane foreign policy that enables the US to play a respected leadership role in the world once again. All of those outcomes are based on the assumption that people will re-engage their politics and that Americans will take on those responsibilities to fulfill what is our great promise.
ND: And you trust that the American people will step up, that your assumption will prove true?
CP: I have to. I have to have faith in the people.
ND: Let’s hope they prove worthy of your faith. One last question, Chuck: There is a lot of talk about impeaching Bush and Cheney. What is your take on this?
CP: It seems to me that there are several impeachable offenses that the Bush Administration has engaged in during its years in office. The impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives and then carries over for trial in the US Senate, which decides whether the president stays or goes. I can see several articles of impeachment including selling the US on a war in Iraq in which the government knowingly lied about conditions that did not exist. I can see impeachment offenses around the question of secrecy in the way in which the government conducts its affairs, whether it be developing energy policy with executives of energy companies behind closed doors, and in other things. These are high crimes and misdemeanors.
This government, as far as I can see, is the most corrupt government that we’ve had in our long history. It’s a government that has got to be called to account, because there is no telling what they will do to preserve and extend the power that is now in the hands of the neo-conservatives for creating a new and corporate global empire, to consolidate the power of the religious right – which is wrong – to replace our democracy with a theocracy and [to entrench the power of] the corporate interests that finance allh of these elections and serve themselves by developing and, in many cases, writing much of the legislation that benefits them financially. Those are the elements of the plutocracy reigning over us.
On the one hand, we’re in big trouble. There are many, many crises facing us. But the flip side of crisis is opportunity. All great societies recognize that in the fluidity of crisis, you also have the chance to make things right. You also have a chance to stabilize the direction in which we’re going. You also have a chance to get back to your politics. This Republican-controlled administration, as much as they have all power over all the branches of government, is really floundering. They’re also unstable. And they’re also groping from crisis to crisis. But the only way to topple this government is for the Democratic Party – and progressive Democrats in particular – to stand up and give [the Republicans in power] a big hard shove. But that shove needs to take the form of a clear vision and a direction in which we will take the government when we return to governing status and become the majority party once again. It has to take some bold strokes. It has to take some courage. It has to take admitting some mistakes. It has to take the form of reaching out to the American people and asking for their trust based on in honest dialogue in discussing the opportunities that lay before us.
ND: Well, it seems you are perfectly placed to spread that message. I wish you all good luck in doing it.
CP: You bet, Natalie, thanks. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you today.