Saturday, January 26, 2008

Crafting a Candidate

At this point in the presidential campaigns, I can easily predict that one of six or seven individuals will be President of the United States this time next year. In a few days, it may be down to one of four. Hardly a risky prediction, to say the least, but it does clarify for me what this nation will have by way of executive leadership in the next few years. It’s also good to remember that CheneyBush has less than a year left, even if future prospects are uncertain. Once he’s out of office, he may be liable for legal action for violating the Geneva Conventions. One can only hope.

In the here and now three Democrats–Clinton, Edwards and Obama–and three Republicans–Huckabee, McCain and Romney–are the field. Maybe Giuliani. The Unity 08 movement is offering itself as an alternative to the partisan sniping that passes for political discourse in America but an ad hoc coalition is not likely to break the established financial and political monopoly of the major parties in the ten months remaining before November.

That said, do any candidates offer me a real choice for policies that promote social and economic justice? None of the Republicans do, that’s for sure. Huckabee speaks some of the language, which may even be a sincere expression of his faith, but his insistence on the word of his God as public policy belies any limited sense of equity that may appear in his economic and domestic platforms, which are, after all, Republican platforms. The remaining two (or three) Republicans don’t even consider justice and equity to be important; McCain, Romney and Giuliani are all no-tax, limited government (except in support of the rich) American Exceptionalists still living the 20th century era of US economic and military hegemony. Except for a necessary bit of “greenwash” to assuage contemporary sensibilities, their economic and military policies are very much 19th century colonialism and wealth extraction. None of these men will be any better than the CheneyBush. Perhaps not as irritating but certainly no better.

My expectations for the Democrats are hardly better. None of the three candidates really champion policies to promote justice and equity throughout American life. They all talk parts of that dream and all have supported various programs but nothing I know about them suggests they would change the military-industrial corporate economy in ways that would strengthen the middle class and create opportunities for more Americans to become part of that middle class. Edwards is the only one of the three that speaks eloquently on this issue but his proposals are still just tinkering at the margins. Obama and Clinton’s proposals are even more cautious. None of the three will promise not to pursuse unilateral American military operations. How they differ from the Republicans is in their acknowledgment that other nations have legitimate interests and that the US should work with other nations to address mutual concerns and resolve conflicts before launching military action. But always the military option remains.

All of the Democrats say things I like. Obama envisions a nuclear free world. Edwards speaks movingly of “other Americans” who don’t participate in this nation’s prosperity. Clinton...well, I can’t think of anything comparable that she’s said but I’m sure that’s just me being ill-informed. I think all three are open to progressive ideas. My biggest question is whether they would advocate and promote those ideas in policy in the face of resistance by entrenched corporate interests. Think Harry and Louise. Would any of these three be likely to fight back against the lies and distortions?

Most of all, I want a Democrat who will fight for equity and justice. And that means clearly differentiating from Republican and neo-liberal faith in free markets dominated by a corporate elite. I want a Democrat who will make sure the system works for all Americans not the few, for individuals and small businesses. I want a Democrat who will insist that our public institutions offer a counterbalance to unfettered private interest, just as the Framers intended. If Obama wants to look to a Republican for ideas, he should look to Theodore Roosevelt who recognized the danger of monopoly control to America’s economy and vigorously pursued anti-trust cases. All three Democrats should look to Franklin Roosevelt for inspiration about ways to broaden economic democracy. Neither of these presidents was reluctant to expose himself to the opposition and vituperation occasioned by challenging the status quo; each delighted in the challenge. That’s the Democratic president I want to see. A fighter.

Bottom line: I’ll be voting Democratic in November. Unless, of course, a better alternative arises. So far, that alternative–a strong advocate for justice and equity backed by a broad coalition of Americans determined to create a New Deal–seems unlikely. I think any of the Democrats offers about an equal chance for some improvement. Maybe one will even fight for something. I know the Republicans will fight but all they offer is more of the same tired no-tax-no-government-no-surrender-no-quarter, fear-fear-fear, God-God-God rhetoric to hypnotize Americans into believing that their interests lie in corporate wealth, economic polarization and militarization.

I can’t even say that one Democrat appeals to me more than another. None of them make me want to be part of their campaign, to convince others of a candidate’s worth, to say this person represents me. I worked for John Kerry in 2004, partly out of respect for him as a veteran and partly because I could not sit by and not actively oppose CheneyBush. But I’ve not felt truly enthusiastic about a candidate since George McGovern, who I am proud to say received my first ever presidential vote. I knew when I voted in November 1972 that Nixon would win but the experience was still pristine, the signal act in what had been a most amazing year of change. McGovern lost the election but the broad movement of which he was part did, in fact, force Nixon to draw down the American presence in Vietnam.

Those were crusading times. In the three years preceding, Virginia politics were shaken by the collapse of the Byrd Organization, which had controlled the state since the 1920's and was itself a successor to an economic elite that had dominated Virginia since Reconstruction. My first ever ballot was in the 1969 governor’s race. My candidate then was Henry Howell, a fiery populist who opened up Virginia politics and government even though he lost both campaigns for governor. Over the course of about five years, Howell mobilized a progressive coalition in three elections that appealed to common sense and fairness. The sweetheart deals, secrecy and good old boy networking of Virginia’s corporate and political elites became glaringly apparent to the point of embarrassment, leading to reform and openness in government. It was hardly a complete revolution or vindication of our ideals but the change was dramatic and noticeable.

This contrasts with my 2006 experience where I campaigned very hard for a Democratic congressional candidate against one of the most odious Republicans in the House. Harry Mitchell was a well-respected former mayor, state senator and secondary school government teacher. His opponent was J.D. Hayworth (less), a five term Representative swept into office with the Republican Revolution Class of 94, a blowhard ex-sportcaster and BushBot vote. Defeating him was sweet for many reasons but our new congressman voted to support continued war funding. He’s been good in other respects, especially in not being his odious predecessor, but his unwillingness to challenge CheneyBush on the whole range of national security issues is disappointing. Maybe it’s too much to expect a freshman congressman from a swing district to stick his neck out but the result is disappointing.

The moral of this tale: Elections are only one part of the public discourse: community forums, public hearings, referenda, letters to the editor are the ongoing discourse between elections. What’s important to me is holding that discourse and creating a society were all prosper. I learned long ago that victory or defeat in an election is merely an event. What counts is how those events shape our lives and society. I look back at Henry Howell and George McGovern and I see positive results. I look at the current candidates for national office and see a few sparks and wonder if any will actually ignite.

I hope so. My country needs a conflagration of ideas and energy.


Even though Kucinich has dropped out of the presidential race, I'll attend the February caucus as a Kucinich supporter and see what happens. I can easily see myself becoming an uncommitted delegate. It should be easier than skiing.



OpenID cdupree said...

I buy a lot of your arguments. I particularly relate to your ideas about connecting to the two Roosevelts. Both parties, and more importantly both remaining Democrats, are running from the heritage of both Roosevelts as fast as they can.

Like you I proudly cast my first Presidential vote for George McGovern, a good person who would have been a fine President. Unlike you, I gave up on the Democratic party several elections ago. I didn't vote for Clinton either time, or Gore or Kerry. I expect I won't vote for a Democrat this time either, now that Edwards is out. That part of your argument I don't really get; as far as I can see, the Edwards campaign was all about fighting for the poor and middle class, which is why the party dumped on him.

Last cycle, I switched from Green to Democrat to vote for Kucinich. In what has become the signature Democratic style, he gave up without a fight. He didn't even get a decent slot for a TV speech in return for supporting a candidate who advocated everything he opposed. This is what passes for progressivism today.

I would claim that the Edwards campaign was really about the ideals you eloquently describe. The good things, to the extent there are such, in the Clinton and Obama campaigns are there because Edwards forced them to take those positions, partly through embarrassing them and partly by proving the popularity of the positions. His problem was that his campaign was about ideas, which are easy to co-opt, rather than money, which depends on the party establishment and requires buy-in from the very folks who are the problem, the super-delegate types.

I think we need people inside the Democratic party threatening to desert the party because it ignores the poor and working-class in favor of the educated elite. We also need people who've already left the party, to prove we're willing to bolt if you don't give us what we want. Sounds like you're in the first group; I'm steadfastly in the second.

The question now, from my point of view, is whether together we can reverse the trend of the Democratic party toward corporatism and away from helping people, or whether, as Nader says, we don't need a third party in the US, we need a second one. I'm not optimistic about the Democratic party, though I stubbornly maintain optimism about the country. As Bill Greider says, it's what I choose to believe.

P.S. I blogrolled you at Bad Attitudes.

5:35 AM  

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