The “Take Back America” meeting in D.C., is expected to bring 1,000 people to Washington to work out a strategy to defeat George W. Bush and the ultra-right Republicans in the 2004 elections. Sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), the June 4-6 meeting will feature presidential candidates as well as progressive and liberal lawmakers, many of them members of the House Progressive Caucus.

Others participants will include AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition President Jesse Jackson, Service Employees International Union leader Eliseo Medina, and NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond.

The call to the meeting declares, “The right-wing politicians who now run Washington are out of control. They are weakening America in the service of a few. They are dividing us by class and race. Now unemployment is higher, wages are lower and stocks have tanked. Pensions are under attack. Health care is in crisis. Hard-won environmental laws are being rolled back. We are seeing a campaign of many cuts against women, against the rights of working people, against civil rights protections. And a foreign policy that isolates America rather than our enemies. It’s time to take back our country.”

CAF blames conservative elements like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) for pushing Democrats to the right, a path that has led the party to one election disaster after another. By contrast, CAF embraces the legacy of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) who defended the vital needs of labor and family farmers, while standing up against corporate America and the ultra-right.

Last November, in its post mortem on the 2002 elections, CAF declared that, while Republicans won control of all three branches of government, there was no basic shift to the right by the electorate. “With the country divided down the middle, a relatively minor shift – almost invisible to most analysts right up to election eve – gave the Republicans their crucial victory,” said CAF. Some estimate that a shift of as few as 50,000 votes in key races could have tipped the elections against the Republicans.

CAF founder Robert Borosage called it a “defeat by default.” He pointed out that the Democrats argued that the debate on Iraq was a diversion from the worsening economic crisis. “Yet when the Iraq vote took place and attention turned … to the economy, Democrats had literally nothing to say other than to remind Americans that the economy was in the pits – which most everyone already knew.”

Borosage assailed arguments that “voters moved to the right” and the Democratic Party should move to the right with them.

In the run-up to 2004, the question remains: Will the Democrats field candidates who present a coherent alternative to the corporate right-wing agenda of George W. Bush? If Democratic candidates make that shift, the grassroots forces aligned with CAF will be the engine that makes it happen. The influence of that movement rests on political independence – determination to push forward the life and death issues for working people without vacillation and compromise. The issues range from jobs to Social Security and Medicare, from defense of affirmative action to opposition to militarism and war.

To win in 2004, that movement must be even broader than it is now. For example, CAF statements imply that the war on Iraq was a “diversion.” In fact, the struggle to prevent that war and against Bush’s preemptive war doctrine galvanized millions of Americans. It became a mainstream movement, led by fighters like former Congressman Bob Edgar, now General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

The very lawmakers most strongly backed by CAF like Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) put their political careers on the line by speaking out against that war and voting against the Iraq war resolution, along with nearly half the Senate Democrats.

But this heroic struggle is reflected only tangentially in the CAF call to this conference. Nothing in the published agenda suggests a focus on the struggle for world peace. But Bush and the Republican ultra-right will run in 2004 as war candidates even as the disastrous results of this invasion of Iraq wreak havoc on our nation.

Another issue given short shrift is the struggle for affirmative action, a struggle brought to a head by the Bush administration’s racist position on the University of Michigan admissions program. An estimated 50,000 people, mostly students, turned out to defend affirmative action on the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case.

We cannot sidestep difficult issues like preemptive war and Bush administration racism. We must widen our outreach as the ultra-right widens its targets. Bush and the ultra-right can be defeated. CAF is providing a valuable forum for shaping a program that can turn out a big majority in 2004 to remove Bush and his ilk from office.

Tim Wheeler is editor of the People’s Weekly World. He can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com