Listen to Julia Carson 

This is weird. Last

This is weird. Last week, on the day after elections, people living in Indianapolis awoke to find themselves living in one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country. Indianapolis? Liberal? That"s right: Though Republicans were gloating over capturing both the House and Senate, not to mention every Indiana state office of consequence, voters in Indianapolis showed that, given a real choice, another kind of politics isn"t just possible, it"s preferable. Of course, this being Indianapolis, very few people in the Democratic Party, or in the national media, appear to be paying attention to what happened here. On election night you didn"t see any national pundits talking about how Julia Carson was trouncing Brose McVey in what everyone thought was a race too close to call. Carson"s significance seems to have taken even so-called "progressives" by surprise. In the two weeks before the election, a left-leaning Web site conducted a feverish fund-raising campaign in support of Democratic candidates in hotly contested races across the country. They didn"t deign to list Julia Carson among their list of endangered congresspeople until the last days before the election. This, in spite of the fact that Carson was targeted by the Republican National Committee, who, early last summer, boasted about the disproportionate size of McVey"s war chest. But if Democrats want to prevail in future elections - no, strike that - if Democrats want to regain the public credibility this election proves they have squandered, they should beat a path to Julia Carson"s door. Many of Carson"s most loyal supporters thought her chances of winning this election were close to zero. This, after all, was supposed to be George Bush"s year - a year, that is, of war fever. Voters, it"s been said, have been so distracted by the War on Terror and the coming War on Iraq that they haven"t been able to focus on the hit to their savings, cutbacks in state and federal services, an erosion in environmental programs, government corruption or, for that matter, the fact that both Osama bin Laden and the Anthrax killer are still at large. What"s more, most Democrats have been conspicuously unwilling to help voters distinguish between the patriotism they felt after the attacks of Sept. 11 and the policies Bush has implemented since. So when Carson stood her ground in the House of Representatives and voted against giving Bush unprecedented powers to make war without the consent of Congress, people hailed her courage but feared the political consequences. A majority of her Democrat colleagues winced and gave the president what he wanted. Then, in the week before the election, Carson walked out of a debate with her competitors as protest against attack ads McVey was running in an attempt to impugn her character. On the one hand, people feared Carson"s refusal made her look cranky and weak. But Carson, always known for running clean campaigns, was also making a statement about her unwillingness to play along with the prevailing political culture. To feel as she did - that she was unjustly treated - and still perpetuate an illusion of collegiality with McVey would have been dishonest. By acting as she did, Carson actually gave voters what politicians always offer but rarely deliver: a real choice. Carson"s organizing powers are, by now, legendary. She is undefeated in 24 elections. There is a temptation, on the part of Republicans and many Democrats, to attribute this to some kind of inner city voodoo. Julia, you hear people say, really knows how to talk to "her people." As if her extraordinary voting record in support of worker"s rights, health care, education and the environment speaks to some kind of special interest. The fact is Carson speaks to the same constituency as the late Paul Wellstone, who once said he wasn"t interested in courting corporations because they already have plenty of representation in Congress. Herein lies the lesson in Carson"s victory. If Democrats want to regain their validity as the other party in what is supposed to be a two-party political system, they need to give voters the kind of choice Carson has always stood for. This is especially true in Indiana, where last week"s statewide races suggest that voters are primed to hand the governor"s office to the Republicans in 2004. This is a dismal, if predictable, prospect. Dismal because, based on our last legislative session, Republicans have nothing creative to say about how to fix our ailing schools, degraded environment or flaccid economy. Predictable because Democrats will have presided over this mess for 16 years. Indiana Democrats, like Democrats all across the nation, need to ask themselves who"s benefiting from their by now obvious willingness to accommodate the interests of big business and corporate power. Fewer than 40 percent of those who could vote went to the polls last week. Nationally, Julia Carson not withstanding, Democrats even failed to get out the minority vote. Carson demonstrates that in a city that"s hardly associated with progressive politics, a progressive agenda can succeed when it is based not just on polling data, but a principled philosophy about what government owes the people it is meant to serve. This is probably music to the ears of Republicans, who are convinced that liberalism is dead - or, at least, the worst thing you can call a competitor without fear of a libel suit. To Democrats who worry about such things, I say, so what? Bush is in the White House. Trent Lott owns the Senate now and the House is beginning to look like a Promise Keepers convention. Here in Indiana, it"s not as if our business-loving leaders have created some kind of economic miracle. What - or who - are you trying to protect? The only thing you have to lose is the next election - and if you listen to Julia Carson, maybe not even that.

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David Hoppe

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