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249th Meeting - Tuesday, June 8th 2004

 “Say What, Mr. President?” 

A talk by Gary Sue Merritt Suwannarat

Present: Sarah Antalis, Hans Bänziger, B. Lea Bethune, Mark Bleadon, Thomas Bowde, John Cadet, Michael M. Calavan, Jim Campion, Guy Cardinal, Chamnan Chanruang, Peter Dawson, Cathy DiSantis, David Engel, Mike Fallon, Peter Fraser, Louis Gabaude, Cees Den Hertog, Lesley Den Hertog, Reinhard Hohler, Pim Kemasingki, Martyn King, Mike Long, 
Richard Nelson-Jones, Alain Mounier, Susan Offner, Adrian Pieper, Guy Scandlen, Maria Scandlen, David Steane, Carina zur Strassen, Ricky Ward, Tim Wong. An audience of 32.    

Gary Suwannarat writes - Here's a little bit of my background regarding American politics. I have been a member of Democrats Abroad-Thailand for something like 15 years, served as the Vice-Chair in 1996, and then found myself Chair as the elected Chair moved to Great Britain. Between the 1996 and 200 general elections, I returned to my principal home in Thailand (Chiang Mai). The Thailand Committee of Democrats Abroad fell apart as my replacement tried to find a focus. I have since re-organized the group, with chapters in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and one in formation in Phuket, serve as the Chair of Dems Abroad-Thailand, and as a member of the global Democrat Party Abroad Committee, which provides leadership to the 50+ chapters in countries around the globe. I write occasionally on US politics; a recent item can be found at http://www.democratsabroad.org/od/articles/od-2004-march.pdf .

Gary Sue Merritt Suwannarat, 84/320 Chotana Road, Chiangmai, Thailand (Cheyenne County native) January 22, 2004  24-hour phone:  665 321-5788

The full text of Gary’s talk:


I would like to thank the Informal Northern Thai Group for its sustained contribution to life in Chiang Mai—and for asking me to speak this evening on a topic somewhat removed from the usual INTG fare.  I say somewhat removed because everything in this globalized world is related, and having an ultra-right wing administration in control of US policy has clear impacts on the rest of the world, from the big picture issues of international affairs, to the smaller ones, including the Bush administration preference for the so-called ABC approach to AIDS prevention.  Based on religious beliefs rather than evidence the Administration promotes Abstinence, Behavior change, and (as a last resort), Condoms.  As one AIDS analyst quips, the world needs CNN instead—Condoms and New Needles.

But my focus is not on the impacts of the Bush administration—you are all familiar with those.  After campaigning as a uniter, not a divider, George Bush has rolled back progressive domestic programs while cutting taxes for the rich—creating, indeed, two Americas—one rich, one poor.  He has pitted conservatives against liberals in a manner not seen in a century, eroding the spirit of compromise under which successive administrations have governed.  As the world this week marks the passing of Ronald Reagan, let me note that Reagan’s administration hailed the beginning of divisive rhetoric unsupported by evidence—the welfare queen image, never substantiated in fact, but rhetorically powerful.  The anti-gay policy push, the denial of AIDS, supply-side economics (never proven, but resurrected by Bush).

Bush has outdone Reagan, manufacturing evidence to suit his purposes and outdoing his dividing the US domestically only by the divisions he has created globally—Bush told the world “You are either for us or against us,” and an awful lot are against us, particularly among the public and irregardless of whether their governments have become members of the “coalition of the billing.”   He has created the perfect poster images for al Queda recruitment for a long time to come.

How did the country which has long been seen as leading in the effort to expand democracy and liberal values worldwide wind up pursuing such reactionary, divisive and counterproductive policies? 

Election shenanigans in Florida, Gore’s failure to press for a full and Constitutionally authorized state-wide recount, the intervention of the Supreme Court, an agenda for the Middle East which can generously be described as naive, the fragmentation and domination of the US electorate by passionate, single-issue interest groups—anti-abortionists, the National Rifle Association, fundamentalist Christians, and the marriage of conservative Republicans with those interests.

Significant in all this is the fact that conservatives, in fact the ultra-conservatives, have out-organized and out-worked liberals.  It is no accident that the President who leads the US backwards as fast as he can, emerged from Texas.  Texas has a long history of impacting school textbooks nationwide, because it is among the largest textbook markets in the nation—and that impact has for several decades been led by a group of Christians who reject evolutionary theory, and much of the scientific thought of the twentieth century—much less the twenty-first.

A group of conservative Christians emerged, centered in the American South, looking for ways to make an impact on national policy—they might reject the science of evolution, but not of marketing.  Their marketing relied on direct mail appeals to virtually every US address they could find, and on the televangelism of Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell.  And they have been extremely effective, getting

like-minded politicians elected across the country—most notably in the 1984 Congressional elections, which swept in the Republican majority which allowed Newt Gingrich and his ilk to dominate Congress. 

They have been joined in that effort with a number of right-wing foundations and philanthropists, funding “research” and buying the US media—the names of Robert Mellon Scafie and the Rutherford Institute come immediately to mind, as does that of Rupert Murdoch.  As a Rutherford Institute publication states, “With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.”  Using this approach, Rutherford funded the initial Paula Jones scandal-mongering, and continued to play a role in digging dirt on Clinton during his Presidency.

That election and its Supreme Court decision which decided the Presidency came on the back of early sniping at Clinton and his moral turpitude.  The sniping came to full roar with the costly effort to bring down Clinton through the right-wing orchestrated Special Prosecutor’s work.  By elevating Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the Republicans created a radicalized climate.  (Lies which committed our nation to an optional war in Iraq, resulting in the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives and nearly 600 Americans, however, are accepted with little public outrage.)

Al Gore ran a poor campaign—and ran away from the successes of the Clinton-Gore administration.  Those successes include not only economic prosperity, but also a decline in crime, in teenage pregnancies, in people on welfare—as close as you can get to a perfect demonstration that liberal values work.  When people work, they are less likely to commit crimes, more likely to develop goals that lead them on to better things in life.

As Clinton’s former aide James Carville is quoted as saying, "Back in 2000 a Republican friend warned me that if I voted for Al Gore and he won, the stock market would tank, we'd lose millions of jobs, and our military would be totally overstretched. You know what? I did vote for Gore, he did win, and I'll be damned if all those things didn't come true!"

What does this have to do with my speaking to an international group sitting 10,000 miles away from Washington, DC? 

American voters are narrowly divided; as Florida demonstrated in 2000, a few votes can make an enormous difference.  (In fact, the Florida post-mortems indicate that Gore won the state by 500 votes.)  What to do? 

Get out the vote is one answer, and for the 2004 cycle that is the focus.  Where do we need to get out the vote?  Nationally, 25% of all adults are not registered to vote.  A number of states in America’s Deep South still carry the burden of the segregationist past as demonstrated by low voter registration in those states—over 1/3 in Georgia, for instance.  And Western states influenced by the Southern legacy morphed to apply to Hispanics the treatment given to blacks—Texas, Arizona, Nevada—where one third or more of adults are not registered.

As an overseas American, I am happy to leave others, including state units of the Democratic Party, to register voters in those states.  There is another constituency, however, where I live and hope to have some influence:  those like myself who live outside the borders of the US, believed by some as having the power to make or break this election.

The State Department estimates that some 6 million Americans live overseas—even with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are largely civilians—and largely do not vote.  Of some 3.7 million civilians who live overseas, an estimated 37% voted in 2000. 

Some 18,000 of those Americans live in Thailand.  Every one of them above the age of 18 on Election Day is eligible to vote, and Democrats Abroad is working hard to contact all of them, and to encourage them to vote.  I’ll talk a bit more about how to do that, but first I would like to take a few moments to describe Democrats Abroad.  It is the official international arm of the Democratic Party, and has over 22,000 members in some 72 countries around the globe.  An entirely voluntary group, we are accorded the status of a state, with 28 delegates sharing 9 votes at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.  We are represented on the Democratic National Committee and the party platform drafting committee, and focus not only on getting out the vote, but on pocketbook issues of concern to overseas Americans, such as taxation and social security, and the bigger issues of national policy and national security.  The Thailand country committee has been in existence for over 15 years, but was down to a handful of active members last November.  We now count over 300 members, and are working hard to contact all Americans in Thailand to urge them to register and vote.

The registration process is fairly simple:  forms are available this evening to Americans, or can be downloaded from several internet sites, appropriate postage affixed, and mailed to the election registrar of the last place of US residency.  In states where ballots have already been printed, within a couple of weeks, a ballot should arrive in the mail.  Mark your ballot, post it, and it will be counted on Election Day.  If you are not an American, then share these website addresses with your American friends: www.fvap.gov, www.overseasvote2004.com or www.overseasvote.com.  These websites make registering relatively simple and straightforward—although it still requires materials be printed out and physically mailed.

How do we know overseas ballots will be counted?  Federal law ensures it, and election observers will be out in droves around the country to ensure that the law is followed.

Contact every American you know, wherever they may live, and urge them to vote.  Tell them how Bush administration policies have destroyed the positive view of America formerly held by the rest of the world.  Tell them that Bush has sold an optional war to America on false pretenses.  Tell them that Donald Rumsfeld said “I have nothing to lose,” when Larry King asked shortly after the Bush Cabinet was formed why he would take on the Secretary of Defense role at this point in his life.  Over 900 Americans have lost their lives as a result of his devil-may-care attitude; their families have lost immeasurably.   

Will we succeed in unseating Bush?  November 2 is the date to watch. 

After the meeting, we adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Gary in more informal discussions whilst partaking of drinks and snacks.