Secretary of State John Kerry recently named a special coordinator for Tibetan issues, and China — surprise! — is displeased. The longtime standoff between these two cosmically mismatched powers provides the customary backdrop to minimalist composer Philip Glass’s 24th annual benefit for Tibet House, which packs a festival’s worth of dependably eclectic performers into Carnegie Hall for a night of intercultural consciousness raising. Following an invocation by Drepung Gomang monks, this year’s lineup includes New Order, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and members of the National; Tibetan traditionalist Techung; and Glass protégé Nico Muhly. While some of the evening’s more charming moments inevitably arise from Glass’s casual piano accompaniment, expect Smith to bring down the suitably opulent house.

Tue., March 11, 7:30 p.m., 2014


Last Night’s Debate: Nothing Is More Humiliating Than Getting Ditched by Hofstra’s College Republicans

College Republicans — at any college campus — are a unique breed; they tuck their shirts in, they (say they) don’t use drugs, and they’ve somehow managed to avoid the cliche brand of idealistic college-age liberalism that consumes so many young students who think they’re going to change the world.

Some call their Conservative leanings at such a young age heartless. Others call them nerds. I call them assholes — because at last night’s presidential debate at Hofstra University, I got straight-up ditched by a pack of college Republicans, and was forced to spend the rest of the evening listening to politicians (from both parties) explain why their candidate clearly won the debate.

I went to last night’s debate with no agenda. Armed with media credentials, I figured I’d just show up and try to find some quirky angle that would give our readers a different perspective on a story that’s getting told by every news outlet in the Western world.

After wandering around the campus for about an hour, I bumped into a bunch of kids, each of whom was wearing a suit. Then it dawned on me: these are college Republicans — and what would be funnier than watching a presidential debate with a bunch of college Republicans who are all wearing business suits for no apparent reason.

Without knowing for sure — admittedly basing my assumption that these kids were college Republicans on nothing more than their appearance — I asked one. Sure as shit, he told me “yes, yes we are Hofstra’s College Republicans.”

So, I asked if they’d mind if I watched the debate with them to get their reactions. They agreed — despite the perception of the publication for which I work as being somewhat left-leaning.

“We’re gonna watch it in one of the residence halls, if you’re OK with that,” one of the CRs told me.

“Even better,” I thought.

As we walked to the residence hall, the group of about 10 CRs discussed exactly what they’d say to the person at the front desk — it appeared as though they were hatching some sort of scheme to get people into the building who weren’t allowed to be there (the rascals!).

We chatted about their extra-curricular activities — one works for the state Republican Party, another for a congressman, etc.

When we got to the building, they again rehearsed what they’d say to the person at the desk. They all got in without a problem. Me, however, not so much.

Despite having undergone a Secret Service background check to obtain press credentials. campus security wouldn’t let me into the building.

As the CRs marched into the residence hall — each reciting the same line they’d rehearsed on the way over — the girl at the desk told me I wasn’t allowed.

One of the CRs told me they’d relocate to a place where I could gain access — a common viewing area
at one of the campus’ student centers. I just had to wait a minute at the door. Another CR even gave me his business card and told me to text him once he gathered the others who’d already gone upstairs unaware that I wasn’t granted access.

After about five minutes, I sent the text. I got no response.

I waited a few more minutes and sent another text: “Can I come meet you all when this is over?”


That’s when it occurred to me: I’d been ditched by a group of college Republicans…in business suits.

The crushing blow to my confidence was brutal, and my ego will never be the same.

So, I was forced to watch the debate with the rest of the Fourth Estate in the media filing center — a huge room with several rows of desks where reporters all watched the same regurgitation of political talking points we’ve all been enduring for months.

Here’s what happens in a media filing center at the conclusion of a debate: politicians — from both sides of the aisle — come rushing in to try and convince the media that they’re respective candidate not only won the debate, but mopped the floor with their opponent.

Clearly, that was not the case for either candidate last night. Regardless, below are some quotes we
gathered from various pols following the debate:

Senator John Kerry: “The president won overwhelmingly. He exposed Mitt Romney
tonight…tonight he just stripped it away. The president of the Untied States showed he was in command, showed he has a vision for the next four years…Mitt Romney was just wrong — wrong on the facts. I think tonight Mitt Romney’s campaign fell away.”

Obama adviser David Axelrod: “There were several instances here where Governor Romney was simply
dishonest…I think the president was taken aback last time by the audacity of Governor Romney — his willingness to back away from his proposals….and that’s what you saw tonight — Governor Romney
backpedaling all night.”

Former New York Governor George Pataki:”I don’t think Obama was able to explain how his vision as to how things would be different to fix a broken economy…it was another good night for Governor Romney.,,The key here is substance. I think the president failed to explain in detail how he would improve the economy and move the country forward.”

New York Congressman Pete King: “Governor Romney clearly won it.”

New York Senator Chuck Schumer: “Mitt Romney grew weaker and weaker and got more flummoxed as the debate went by.”

Regardless of who won the debate, both candidates can hold their heads high — neither was straight-up ditched by a bunch of college Republicans.


Theater Oobleck’s The Strangerer is Dubya’s Camus

A transcript of the 2004 presidential debate between President George Bush and Senator John Kerry, held in Coral Gables, Florida, contains a tetchy discussion of foreign policy. Kerry answered queries like “What colossal misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made?” Bush fielded “Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry [would increase the likelihood of] another 9/11-type terrorist attack?” But the record doesn’t report President Bush’s attempts to assassinate moderator Jim Lehrer via gun, flame, or ceremonial Indonesian dagger.

Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer does. This absurdist piece by Chicago’s Theater Oobleck takes place at the Coral Gables debate, but here, the candidates discuss the manner in which they should murder Lehrer. Bush has decided he inhabits a godless universe where Lehrer’s death won’t matter. He explains: “It’s no importance that we do away with you. The only thing of any possibility that could appear to be important is the style and method.” Maher takes his inspiration from a 2006 press release detailing Bush’s plans to read Camus’s The Stranger. Like the hero of that novel, Bush has apparently tasked himself with killing an Arab—Osama bin Laden—so perhaps Maher’s association of Bush and Camus isn’t so absurd.

The actors, including Maher as a zombified Kerry, give amusing impersonations. Watching Bush (Guy Massey) attempt to asphyxiate Lehrer (Colm O’Reilly) with a fluffy pillow provides no little delight. But the play fails to expand past its initial premise. Rather, like many an existentialist novel before it, it merely repeats the same ideas. As the show progresses, comedy cedes to tedium.

In The Strangerer, Bush’s final lines, spoken to Kerry, are: “You stay here. Take a nap. Uh, yeah. . . . ” But in the actual debate, Bush concluded: “I appreciate your listening tonight. I ask for your vote. And may God continue to bless our great land.” Bush asked, and he received. Now there’s material for a show. A tragedy.


Windsurfing Nation

Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli and John Kerry have a lot in common. Both men were once considered the lesser of two evils, and despite having seemingly earnest agendas, both have a tendency to come off like complete and utter bores. At least the eloquent if rhythmically challenged Talib wasn’t always so wearisome. In the late ’90s, the soft-spoken scribe, paired with rapper turned actor Mos Def in the short-lived Black Star, had a style that seemed artful, anxious, and urgent as a prayer. But on 2004’s lackluster solo disc The Beautiful Struggle, passionate prose gave way to an auditory baby-kissing campaign—in trying to please both backpackers and mainstream listeners, Talib was flip-flopping all over the damn place. (If stellar beats and rhymes are initiatives, then Talib voted for them before he voted against them.) Furthermore, his once- endearing, arhythmic brand of shy, boyish bleating suddenly sounded awkward, leaving his fans wondering: Was Talib ever really that nice in the first place, or was rap near the dawn of the millennium that fucking wack?

Nothing like a dispossessed fan base to light a proverbial fire under that ass.
Ear Drum
marks the self-proclaimed BK MC’s third full-length feature, and astoundingly, it’s a captivating, cocksure rejoinder to everyone who abandoned him. “They say I’m back, but I ain’t go nowhere though!” he declares on the blistering, “Say Something.” The claim, of course, is outrageous, but it’s cool to hear that kind of confidence, because Talib now raps like he believes it. On songs like the breezy, UGK-assisted “Country Cousins,” the lifelong New Yorker sports a Southern-tinged flow and doesn’t sound the least bit out of place, while the dub-inflected “The Perfect Beat” finds him dauntlessly trading barbs with the legendary KRS-One. And while cuts like the salacious, Kanye West–produced “In the Mood” might seem rather unbecoming of a so-called conscious MC, the vibe here never feels disingenuous or affected. On the contrary, he’s never sounded this ardent and sincere. Witness the sweeping opener “Everything Man,” wherein Talib, over a lush guitar, spits lines like: “I try to fit it in the same rhyme/But realize I can’t be everything to everyone at the same time.” John Kerry never figured that out.


Rudy Adopts New Shtick

Last week, Rudy Giuliani made a pilgrimage to Pat Robertson’s Regent University in Virginia to deliver his one-note anti-terrorism stump speech, and was welcomed by thousands of clapping Christians. Judy Woodruff said on Meet the Press that Robertson had endorsed Giuliani, but, in fact, when Robertson introduced him, the praise fell a few calculated phrases shy of a formal endorsement, apparently to protect the tax-exempt status of Robertson’s vast empire.

The “embrace,” as Tim Russert described it, was bizarre for both. Having famously disparaged Congressman Ron Paul for falsely invoking 9/11, Giuliani now appears strangely untroubled by Robertson’s prior references to the attack, which have stirred a whirlwind of condemnation elsewhere. And having built a heavenly colossus on earth around a pro-life and anti-gay theology, Robertson suddenly seems comfortable with a candidate who hosted anniversary celebrations of Roe v. Wade at City Hall and enacted the most progressive domestic-partnership legislation in the country.

It was Robertson, after all, who had Jerry Falwell on his Christian Broadcasting Network show The 700 Club two days after 9/11, where the two spent about 10 trigger-happy minutes going after the people whom they held partly responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans that day. Feminists. Lesbians. The ACLU. Abortionists. Christ-haters. Gays.

God allowed “the enemies of America to give us what we deserve,” opined Falwell, to amens from Robertson. At the end of this litany of homegrown culprits, Falwell declared: “I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'” Robertson’s immediate response—”Well, I totally concur”—was supplemented by the invocation of his own personal bugaboo, federal judges. “The problem is, we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government,” he said, namely “the court system.” After nearly a week of hubbub, the duo apologized.

Then, in 2005, Robertson appeared on ABC’s
This Week
and baffled host George Stephanopoulos by saying that federal judges posed “a more serious threat” to America “than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.” Robertson subsequently explained this comment in a letter to a complaining U.S. senator: “Supreme Court decisions which have led to the wanton slaughter of 40 million unborn babies,” as well as the “assault on human sexuality” and “the potential destruction of marriage,” were, among others, “graver dangers than the terrorists.” The mother of one dead firefighter accused Robertson of marginalizing “the tragedy for the purpose of shock value.”

If Giuliani is willing to overlook Robertson’s 9/11 history, Robertson is just as eager to bypass Giuliani’s social-issue record. In 2004, when Robertson was on the stump against John Kerry, he assailed Kerry’s vote against a ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion, which, Robertson explained, meant Kerry was for infanticide. “I think Jesus would be against infanticide, don’t you?” he added. Well, Rudy Giuliani didn’t just oppose the ban—he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 1998 that, in New York, late-term abortion “certainly works.” While Giuliani was mayor, the city became a mecca for late terminations, with the Department of Health acknowledging that in 2000, nearly 1,700 women traveled here for one—more than six per working day. In Giuliani’s final two years as mayor, 2000 and 2001, 24,008 late-term abortions were performed in the city—more than 13 percent of all abortions here, well ahead of the national rate.

The city’s Health & Hospitals Corporation, which Giuliani directly controlled, did thousands of late-term abortions over his eight years in office—so much so that a National Abortions Rights Action League study in 2000 called HHC “the last resort for women with later abortions needs or complications.” And contrary to Giuliani’s 1998 assurances to Blitzer about the “very, very strict procedure” that the city followed in performing the abortions, some city facilities were nightmarishly out of date. Examining the Giuliani-era data alone, NARAL found that “several” city hospitals were employing “archaic second trimester methods,” with “ninety-eight percent of the large volume of second trimester abortions at Kings County Hospital” performed by methods “unnecessarily difficult for the patient.” On the other hand, NARAL said that another city hospital, Jacobi, was “relied upon by the city’s medical community for its physician skill in late term cases,” and was so busy that the “delays” in performing abortions could “span three to four weeks,” making difficult cases “even more medically challenging.” If a Democratic candidate for president had actually managed a hospital system that had become a regional magnet for those seeking late-term abortions, and had been using both antiquated and very modern methods for the procedure, Robertson might be adding him either to his list of 9/11 culprits, or to his more recent litany of people posing “graver threats” than the terrorists.

Twice during an interview last week on the Robertson-created and now Disney-owned Christian Broadcasting Network, Giuliani argued that he “reduced abortion” as mayor by “increasing adoptions.” Giuliani has been offering up this tantalizing equation for weeks, at both presidential debates and in the rare interviews he’s granted on national television, like Fox’s Hannity & Colmes. “What a president can do is reduce abortions, increase adoptions,” he told CBN. “We’ve already done that in New York City. That’s what I did—I saw abortions go down 16 percent, 18 percent, saw adoptions go up 135 percent.” His campaign manager, Michael DuHaime, said it even more directly: “Abortions went down while he was mayor because he cut through red tape, increased the availability of adoptions.”

But records show that Giuliani’s claims are bogus.

Adoptions only increased by 17 percent if you measure them the same way that Giuliani measured the 16 percent decline in abortions. But Giuliani is comparing something else: the adoption total for his eight years versus the total for the eight years that immediately preceded them, contrasting the very different historical epochs of 1986 and 2001—a statistical non sequitur.

In fact, adoptions went up and abortions went down in only one of Giuliani’s eight years as mayor. Otherwise, they moved in unison, either up or down—clearly demonstrating that an increase in adoptions did not produce a decrease in abortions. In 1997, for example, the final year of Giuliani’s first term, adoptions peaked at 4,009. But that was also when abortions peaked in the Giuliani era, at 104,344 (adoptions are calculated on a fiscal-year basis and abortions on a calendar year). The only year that abortions declined and adoptions went up was 1995, which was the year before Giuliani created the Administration for Children Services, the agency he claims prompted the adoption-over-abortion revolution. Both abortions and adoptions then dropped for every year of his second term—as they have ever since, under the proudly pro-abortion Michael Bloomberg.

Neither Giuliani nor anyone in his administration ever claimed at the time to have a program designed to encourage adoption as an alternative to abortion. In 2001, for example, the Mayor’s Management Report stated that the purpose of ACS was “to expedite permanent families for children by reducing the length of time children remain in foster care prior to family reunification or adoption.” Fran Reiter, the Giuliani deputy mayor and campaign manager who was also his key adviser on abortion policy, says: “Nick Scoppetta, the ACS commissioner, was at the morning cabinet meetings. No one said that the policies had anything to do with abortion. He was trying to get kids out of foster care. It was never tied to the lessening of the number of abortions.” Lilliam Paoli, who was the Human Resources Administrator under Giuliani, adds: “The increase in adoptions had to do with all the kids backed up in the foster-care system. There was a huge push to move them out. It had absolutely nothing to do with choice.” Given an opportunity to support his friend of 40 years, Scoppetta declined to comment on Giuliani’s current claims.

The most telling rebuttal of Giuliani comes from a New York University professor, Trudy Festinger, who studied the children adopted in 1997 and 1998. The median age of the children was 8.1 years in 1997 and 8.4 years in 1998. Most had been in foster care for years, with only eight percent spending “three years or less in care prior to being adopted.” The kids were typically almost four years old before the city even formally decided that they should be targeted for adoption.

In other words, not exactly newborns.

Calendar Datebook Events NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Oh No, Not the L-Word: Reclaiming the Terms of Debate

Trading groupthink for group therapy, adherents of the embattled minority currently known by the L-word (no, not lesbians—liberals) gather in a downtown book bunker to strategize, prophesize, and commiserate. And there’s a lot of fortune reversal to consider during this panel discussion. In 1964, Barry Goldwater was called “too conservative,” and avowed liberal Lyndon Johnson trounced him in the presidential election. Exactly 40 years later, also-ran John Kerry fled the label as if it were a curse, even though, as JFK pointed out in 1960, liberal means “someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people.” Contributors to the new essay collection that shares its name with this event —cartoonist Ted Rall (whose work appears in the Voice), Democratic mayoral candidate and former Public Advocate Mark Green, and Get Your War On author David Rees—join editor Robert Lasner in determining what went wrong and exhorting progressives to band together and fix it, starting by embracing their identity. This type of boosterism may seem a little foreign to lefties, but hey, nobody ever changed the world by feeling insecure.


Indie Distributors Celebrate 15th Birthday With a New Milestone

Milestone Film and Video co-founders Dennis Doros and Amy Heller can thank the fragility of the Kerry campaign and the ferocity of the extreme right for helping launch their new politically minded company Milliarium Zero and its first release, Winter Soldier. After John Kerry won the Democratic nomination, Film Forum’s Karen Cooper considered showing the devastating 34-year-old documentary. But after worrying that it might do more harm than good for Kerry, Cooper lost interest, allowing Doros and Heller to pick it up. “We’re really glad it didn’t show last year, because it’s not about John Kerry—it’s about the horrors of war,” says Doros.

The New Jersey–based couple had always planned on distributing the film through their widely respected Milestone label. But, says Heller, “because the right is well funded and very litigious, it became clear that the best way to release it was to have a separate corporation that would protect the assets of Milestone just in case the Swift Boat Veterans want to make trouble.” Now under their new banner Milliarium Zero, Heller and Doros say they can take on riskier material. They’re currently looking to acquire Seasoned Veteran, a portrait of Winter Soldier and acquitted Gainesville Eight member Scott Camil.

The duo believe their new venture is just an extension of the type of cinema they’ve been delivering for the last 15 years. Doros likens
Winter Soldier to two Marcel Oph titles, The Sorrow and the Pity
and The Troubles We’ve Seen: “They’re about the truth and what people do in times of great horror.”

For the filmmakers and veterans who took part in Winter Soldier (many of whom will be present for an after-screening discussion on August 12), the movie remains eerily relevant. “It was a very powerful film to do at a very vulnerable age,” says docu-luminary Barbara Kopple. “It was hard to see guys of our age going through the most horrible experience of war. They were throwing people out of helicopters. Today, it’s Abu Ghraib.”


Campaign Hillary: Se Habla Español

If it’s true the Democratic Party is getting in touch with its Latin side, then Hillary Clinton is lining up to tango.

After the desastroso 2004 presidential election, when the Democratic ticket failed throughout the heavily Hispanic Southwest, New York’s junior senator seems determined to avoid a repeat. She has invited pollsters to speak privately with her staff about the nation’s newest power constituency, laying out the numbers, analyzing what went wrong. And she’s actively courting Latino voters, taking steps not just to retain her Hispanic base, but to expand it.

On Monday, the putative 2008 presidential candidate traveled to Philadelphia to speak at a conference of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights group in the country. There, Clinton shared the dais with President Bush’s education secretary, Margaret Spellings, whose remarks about the administration’s school initiatives received a polite yet lukewarm response. Clinton’s remarks, on the other hand, drew three standing ovations from the 2,000-strong crowd of Hispanic movers and shakers.

She played to her audience well, touching on hot issues for the Latino community. She delivered a 30-minute speech, without notes, that highlighted a “Washington agenda” for education, health care, and an economy where “everyone has a fair shake.” Announcing two new bills that would help deal with the high rates of asthma and lead poisoning among Hispanic children and backing a measure to let illegal immigrants attend college, she provided substance to go with her flash. She commended the audience for “doing your part” but added, “I don’t know if your government is doing its part.” At that, the crowd erupted in applause, and kept on cheering.

“You have made America stronger for all of us,” she concluded, “and together I believe we can build an America that is stronger for those who come after us.”

As Clinton left the stage, Monica Lozano, chair of the La Raza board, shook her head and told the crowd, “What an inspiration!”

Clinton and the Democrats could use more responses like that. The party has been losing ground among Latino voters just as more of them are turning out at the polls—7.6 million last year, up from 6.2 million in 2000. And because the Hispanic population keeps growing, the turnout should only increase. By 2020, pollsters estimate, 20 million Latinos will cast ballots.

As Arturo Vargas, of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Latino Officials, puts it: “The road to the White House goes through Latin neighborhoods.”

John Kerry might have made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if only he had done better among Latinos. Although Kerry won the Hispanic vote last year, he did so by a smaller fraction than any Democratic presidential candidate in recent history. He captured 59 percent of the vote, continuing a steady decline from Bill Clinton’s 73 percent in 1996 and Al Gore’s 62 percent four years earlier.

Why the setbacks? For starters, says Paul Rivera, a Democratic operative from the Bronx who served as senior political adviser on Kerry’s campaign, the leadership blew its Hispanic outreach. “Our party’s failure,” he explains, “had to do with a misappreciation of how the Hispanic population breaks down.”

Rather than plot a state-by-state strategy, the Kerry camp went national. The assumption, Rivera says, was that Latino voters would break as they did in 2000. Yet this ignored nuances—the ways immigrants might differ from native-born Hispanics, say. Among Cubans, the litmus test of politicians can be strategies for dealing with Fidel Castro. Among Mexicans, debate centers more on immigration policy. And then there are the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, many of whom live in the solidly blue Northeast and saw little of the Democratic message.

In battleground Southwestern states, the Hispanic team struggled for resources, and appearances by the multilingual Teresa Heinz Kerry weren’t enough. Kerry spent less on Spanish-language media—$2.9 million—than Gore, though his overall campaign was twice as expensive.

Over at Bush campaign headquarters, Republicans went after Latinos with gusto. They devised specific efforts for specific segments of the population, forking out $5.5 million on Spanish-language media. And their message resonated. Ads were big on symbols, with images of American flags, of parents hugging kids, of students graduating. They were built around a powerful theme: “Nos conocemos” (“We know each other”).

Outflanked, the Democrats learned the hard way that Hispanics have become more a swing vote than a base constituency. Sergio Bendixen, a pollster with the New Democrat Network who has briefed Senator Clinton’s staff on his analysis of ’04, views Latinos as “the most important swing vote” for the party these days. That’s especially true among immigrants. Native-born Hispanics voted 65 percent for Kerry, just as 64 percent had voted for Clinton in ’96. But immigrant support plummeted from 82 percent in ’96 to 52 percent last year.

“Hispanic voters have shown how available they are to being romanced by the Republican Party,” Bendixen says, even though “we’re talking about a group of voters who don’t benefit from Bush policies.”

Since President Bush assumed the Oval Office, in fact, 500,000 more Latino kids have fallen into poverty, 1.5 million more Hispanic families have lost health coverage, and Hispanic median income has dropped every year.

Rivera finds it so “incredibly frustrating” that Democrats are losing what should be a natural base that he has vowed to set his party straight. Calling themselves the Coronado Project, he and members of Kerry’s Hispanic team have critiqued the handling of minority outreach last year and offered recommendations. On May 22, they sent a 12-page memorandum to Democratic bigwigs and ’08 favorites, including Senator Clinton.

“If the Democratic Party does not improve its performance with Latinos,” they warned, “it’s doomed.”

On the surface, Clinton doesn’t seem to lack for Hispanic support. In 2000, she defeated Republican Rick Lazio by a landslide among Latinos, winning 85 percent of the vote. And she’s made sure to woo these voters ever since, showing up at everything from the city’s Puerto Rican Day Parade to the Hispanic Caucus dinner in Albany. She also makes the rounds at summits held by Latino political groups like Somos el Futuro (“We Are the Future”) and the State Assembly’s Hispanic Caucus.

She comes and she stays,” says Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Hispanic Caucus. “It shows she has a genuine concern for our platform.”

Back in the ’90s, she hosted a White House conference on Hispanic women and children. As senator, she has fought to keep federal funding for Head Start, migrant education, and child-care initiatives, and has pushed a bill that would ensure immigrant pregnant women and their children receive health care. Until her two-year term ended last week, she co-chaired the Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force.

That her team includes Hispanics doesn’t hurt either—her chief political strategist, Patti Solis Doyle, is Mexican American. Both of Clinton’s Senate offices, in D.C. and Manhattan, have Hispanic staff. And with the launch of this month, she became one of the few pols to offer an entire website in both Spanish and English.

Yet in New York, Latinos have become anything but a guarantee for Democrats. In 2001, just a year after Clinton won the Hispanic vote, Republican Michael Bloomberg sailed into the mayor’s office after defeating Democrat Mark Green among the same Hispanic voters, 51 to 49 percent. That translates into 35 percent of the city’s Hispanic voters crossing over.

Factor in the changes last year and anything goes. “Every Democrat is going to have to earn the Hispanic vote now even more than ever before,” says Adolfo Carrion Jr., the Bronx borough president. And while Clinton has capital among Latinos nationwide—”It doesn’t hurt her one bit that Bill was so popular with Hispanics,” he explains—she’s still going to have to work it.

On Monday, she did as much, playing up her ties to La Raza, presenting herself as a champion of its causes. Her advisers, of course, are sticking to the script of talking only about ’06, but do acknowledge the appearance has some meaning.

“Clearly,” says Ann Lewis, the campaign spokesperson, “the senator saw this as an opportunity to speak with an organization that represents an important and growing group of New Yorkers and Latino voters generally.”

The approach seems to be working. La Raza president Janet Murguia, a former staffer for President Bill Clinton who introduced Hillary before her speech, says Latino advocates, business people, and politicians saw the senator’s July 18 appearance as “a commitment to the Hispanic community.”

And it’s working closer to the grassroots, too. Elba Montalvo, of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, who works in Manhattan and traveled to Philadelphia for the speech, calls the senator’s cameo “a wonderful thing.” She adds, “I guess she’s looking towards the future.”


Time for a Prayer Circle

A new bill co-sponsored by senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry would seem, on the surface, the perfect chance to carry out the Democratic Party’s fresh-minted strategy of getting religion. Supporters of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act say it would guarantee the right to religious expression on the job—whether that means a Sikh wearing a turban or an Orthodox Jew honoring the Sabbath. Its backers include a 40-strong coalition of leading clerics representing nearly every denomination—from Jewish to Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, and Seventh-Day Adventist.

Sounds straightforward, right?

The problem for Clinton and Kerry—two of the Democratic Party’s biggest names and its most likely presidential candidates—is that a broad swath of their left-wing base thinks the bill is a backdoor means to curb individual rights, and has come out hard against it. Heavyweights like the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign contend that, in practice, “workplace religious freedom” could allow a nurse to refuse to give the morning-after pill to a rape victim. Or it could allow a school counselor to proselytize on “sins of the homosexual lifestyle” to a gay teen.

“None of us say we don’t want religious freedom,” says Rachel Laser, of the National Women’s Law Center, which opposes the bill. “We just don’t want something that would harm women’s and gay people’s and, for that matter, anyone’s civil rights.”

Most other Democrats have shied away from signing on to the bill so far. Indeed, among Senate Democrats, Clinton and Kerry stand nearly alone. (Of the five Democratic backers, four, including Senator Charles Schumer, are from the tristate area—where the Catholic and Orthodox Jewish bases are important.)

Clinton’s office has been notably quiet about her involvement, perhaps indicating that any credit she hopes to get for pushing the bill would come not from the larger public, but from the kind of select religious interests she’s been courting lately as she lays the groundwork for a possible White House run in 2008 (see “God Is a Centrist Democrat,” March 2). Her office says the senator will work to fine-tune the bill as it moves to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where she sits.

“Senator Clinton has responded to the concerns raised by offering to work to make improvements that will satisfy all stakeholders,” says Philippe Reines, her spokesperson.

Kerry, by contrast, has positively crowed about the bill, perhaps because he learned the value of the values vote when his own presidential bid sank last year. On March 17, he stood shoulder to shoulder with one of his most hard-right colleagues, Rick Santorum, to introduce the act, hailing it as a defense of religious liberty. “Our nation was founded on freedom of religion,” Kerry said at a Capitol Hill press conference, “and it should be clear in our laws that no American should ever have to choose between keeping a job and keeping faith with their cherished religious beliefs.”

No one can know for sure what Kerry and Clinton’s motivations are for putting their names on this bill. Maybe they’re true believers in the measure itself, or maybe they’re trying to win over churchgoing voters who’ve turned away from the party. Maybe each just can’t afford to be “out-religioned” by the other. Whatever the reason, it seems clear to political observers that the leading Democrats are looking to send some kind of message.

“They’re doing it to say, ‘Hey, look, I’m not an anti-religious person,’ ” says Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “By getting your name on the bill, you prove that you’re not like the rest of those dirty Democrats refusing to support religious liberty.”

Religious freedom in the workplace has long been an issue in Washington. There’s already a law on the books designed to prevent employees from suffering religious discrimination on the job—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But religious and civil rights advocates alike say three decades’ worth of court rulings have chipped away at its protections.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act, or WRFA, would restore teeth to the existing law. Currently, an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious practices only if doing so doesn’t cost much—financially or otherwise. The new bill would raise that threshold and protect such forms of religious expression as clothing, time off, and so-called “conscience” issues. That means that a Muslim receptionist could wear a head scarf, a Catholic supervisor could take off Good Friday, and an Orthodox Jewish saleswoman could defer from shaking the hands of male customers.

Nathan Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America’s Institute for Public Affairs, which has made the bill’s passage a top priority, says the religious community has tried for years to correct a real problem. “We’ve seen people of all faiths having to choose between their careers and their conscience.”


His organization is part of the Coalition for Religious Freedom in the Workplace, the comprehensive group pushing the bill. It includes avatars of the Christian right like the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition, as well as social-justice crusaders like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Richard Foltin, of the American Jewish Committee, a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights group backing the bill, says the debate over it has pitted traditional liberal allies against each other. “Our opponents are reading into this bill in a fashion that is unfair and overwrought.”

Foltin thinks the bill is carefully drafted to promote religious freedom without harming individual rights. It requires an employer to provide for religious beliefs only if it doesn’t create “undue hardship.” And it requires employees to do “essential functions” of a job. So if a nurse denied a rape victim emergency contraception, Foltin asks, wouldn’t the nurse be refusing to do a basic task? And if a counselor proselytized to a gay teen, wouldn’t that create a hardship?

To hear civil rights advocates, though, the bill’s language is so vague, so open-ended that it could infringe upon the rights of fellow employees and customers. They say the language not only leaves room for religious employees to disregard state and local laws banning sexual-orientation discrimination, but also enables them to deny access to women’s reproductive health care.

And they’re not dealing just with hypotheticals. Consider the religious-discrimination case involving a Chicago police officer who didn’t want to protect an abortion clinic. Or the Ohio pharmacist who refused to dispense birth control. Or the Idaho tech worker who hung a sign with violently anti-gay scripture above his cubicle.

In these cases, the employees lost their Title VII claims in court, according to the ACLU’s legislative counsel Christopher Anders. But they could have won under the current bill. That’s partly because its language is so cloudy—for example, it accommodates religious objections that affect only a person’s job in a “temporary and tangential way.” Does that mean a pharmacist could claim a request for birth control pills was the only one received that month, and thus “tangential”?

“All the language in WRFA is new,” Anders says. “So it’ll be thrown to the courts to interpret, and you can be sure that some courts will go the wrong way.”

Opponents find the bill especially dangerous given the pro-life agendas of some religious conservatives. The American Center for Law and Justice, Pat Robertson’s litigation outfit, has used the existing federal law as a proxy for curbing individual liberty; last May, the center filed a Title VII lawsuit for a Chicago EMT who objected to taking a patient to an abortion clinic. Meanwhile, the ACLU reports a rise in the number of calls it gets about nurses denying emergency contraception to rape victims. And Christian pharmacists nationwide—some of whom are represented by the Christian Legal Society, which supports this bill—are already refusing to dispense a range of birth control prescriptions.

“We’re not being paranoid,” says Laser, of the National Women’s Law Center. “A law like WRFA passed at a time like this is dangerous.”

It’s hard to argue that senators Clinton and Kerry jumped on a pro-religious bill just for show. Both senators have embraced it well before their party’s talk of getting religion—Clinton has co-sponsored it for three sessions, Kerry for nine. The Massachusetts senator first introduced the act in 1996 after two Catholic constituents lost their jobs for taking Christmas off.

“This bill wasn’t cooked up during the recent debate about faith and values,” says April Boyd, Kerry’s spokesperson. “This is an issue of conviction for John Kerry.”

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that politics played no role in Clinton and Kerry’s decisions to keep sponsoring the bill. Opposition to it surfaced only last June, when two years of negotiations between religious and civil rights advocates fizzled out over the particulars. Opponents have since written letters and paid visits to Democrats on the Hill, voicing their concerns, urging them not to back the bill. That lobbying may have worked on the party’s rank and file. As one source close to the Hill puts it, “There are other Democrats who’ve not felt the need to make a political call on this bill.”

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political-science professor, says it’s no accident that the party’s likely presidential candidates for 2008 have remained co-sponsors in the face of growing controversy. Clinton and Kerry’s support probably seemed simpler before the opposition developed, he explains. But unlike other Democrats, they had to stay the course. “To do otherwise would confirm their critics. It’d be proof positive they were responding to the viewpoints of secular organizations.”

Thinkers like Marshall Wittmann, of the super-centrist Democratic Leadership Council, agree, and point out that a potential presidential candidate has to cast a net beyond what he calls the party’s “special interest groups” in order to get elected. “Any Democrat who is serious about 2008 will look at concerns expressed by the ACLU and determine they’re not as significant as demonstrating to the general electorate that they’re sympathetic to religiously oriented voters.”


That may be the case. When asked about the bill’s opposition, Boyd, Kerry’s spokesperson, stresses that “the Senate has no stronger advocate for civil rights than John Kerry,” who enjoys a 100 percent rating from the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and most women’s groups. “That’s evidence that no one has anything to fear with this legislation,” she says. Pressed about complaints from civil libertarians, she replies, “The bill was very carefully written to guarantee it won’t infringe on civil rights or the delivery of health services.”

Clinton’s office sounds a more sympathetic note, offering to make improvements as the Senate committee considers the legislation. “We’ve heard the concerns raised, and we’ve responded,” says Reines, her spokesperson.

Civil rights advocates can only hope that both senators are listening. Already, they’ve begun circulating an alternative they think better balances the rights of religious employees and everyone else. One of those activists is Aaron Schuham, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He argues that Clinton and Kerry could please religious voters without selling out core principles: “The political gains in showing that people are friendly to the needs of religious people could be accomplished by a compromise bill that would not endanger civil and personal rights.”


Conservatives on Parade

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a few days, the unhappy news from South Asia will be forgotten as George W. Bush opens the inaugural festivities in what amounts to a Republican silver jubilee here. It’s been 25 years since Ronald Reagan stormed into Washington at the head of the New Right conservative movement, which in succeeding years laid the foundation for Bush Junior’s rule.

Meanwhile the tsunami catastrophe already is being muted by Indonesia’s announcement that its economy won’t be badly affected, and reports that tourists are returning to South Asian beaches. Doctors Without Borders is saying it does not need more money for its tsunami relief efforts—a sign that Americans are not stingy and that we don’t have to give anymore.

Washington is well prepared to meet tens of thousands of well-heeled Red Staters in an atmosphere that resembles a West Point ball. The nation is at war, and it makes for a fine theme. Revelers will be protected by thousands of police officers, undercover and uniformed federal and local cops overseen by the Secret Service. In past years the marching bands and units from the military academies were the highlight of the inaugural procession. This year, the military splendor is to be enhanced by a special ball designated to celebrate America’s fighting men and women.

As for the residents of Washington, the great number of them black or brown and overwhelmingly backers of John Kerry, they will be, as always, supporting actors. The less seen, the better.

The Bush revelers can celebrate not only victory over Kerry but a receptive atmosphere for institutionalizing a deepeningly conservative government.

With William Rehnquist near death, the president can look forward to appointing a new chief justice, with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia high on conservative lists. And with sure majorities in both houses of Congress, he can move toward filling the key lower federal bench with loyal right-wingers.

Already, plans are moving forward for key conservative legislation:

The demise of Social Security is just over the horizon. Bush wants to cut benefits and open individual accounts to management by Wall Street, whose executives, already ridiculously wealthy, are to become rich in a sense America has never before known.

Getting rid of the income tax, another GOP goal, will take more time. But an aim that conservatives could once only whisper longingly about is now a real prospect.

Breaking up and getting rid of the federal bureaucracy is another important step that’s now within much easier range. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has promised to eliminate thousands of union positions from his department, arguing that such things as janitorial help can be obtained with less expense in the private sector, e.g., hiring piecemeal from the lines of low-wage immigrants forming every morning all over the city.

Bush’s mandate pretty much ensures business as usual for Big Medicine. The most that could happen to that industry is the introduction of a system resembling the existing federal health care program, which offers employees a chance to shop from a wide range of insurance plans. And the president’s consistent attack on malpractice lawsuits might result in a cap on settlements, something the industry would be happy to see.

The opposition Democratic party has been quiet since the election. Obstacles to Bush rule lie not within the U.S. but beyond America’s borders—with the growing presence of China’s booming economy, the gathering force of the European Union, and the seemingly uneasy holders of American debt in Asia and other parts of the world. The U.S. economy makes many nervous—just consider the dollar’s continuing loss against the euro, our rising trade deficits, and the soaring deficits in our federal budget. Economic reality may well be the most powerful player when it comes to curbing the president’s conservative ambitions.