The 2008 Presidential Election – Part IV: A Clarification on My Vote

Yesterday, January 30 2008, my endorsed candidate for President of the United States, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, announced he was ending his campaign for the Presidency.  It was a sad day for me, as Edwards was the candidate who forcefully advocated for fighting against special interests on behalf of ordinary Americans and restoring an active federal government that would work aggressively to promote the common good and the public interest.

 

With Edwards out of the race, some have asked, who will I support now?  Those who have asked will almost certainly be displeased by my answer, for I have made a commitment to support and vote for Edwards in the Democratic primary this year.  As I understand it, Edwards will still be on the ballot when I go vote next Tuesday in the California primary, and as such I will cast my vote for John Edwards.

 

I know it won’t make a difference and I know it could potentially be a vote for Hillary Clinton, whom I adamantly oppose for the nomination.  But for my very first vote in a presidential election, I’d like to cast it for someone I actually support and believe in.  I treat my vote very seriously; it is not something to be used in a political chess game.  My vote must be for someone, not against someone.  My vote is my declaration of who I am, where I stand and what I believe in.

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The 2008 Presidential Election – Part III: The Big Decision

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         The choice has been narrowed to Barack Obama and John Edwards.

·         Obama seemed to be the obvious choice as he has talked more about national community and active government than anyone else in the country.  But he seems to have abandoned those themes for a fuzzier, “let’s all work together and end vicious partisanship” message, one that will not work in an environment where there really is little if any common ground.  And he seems to have made a weak name for himself in the Senate, not showing any signs of being a strong liberal leader.

·         Edwards, on the other hand, has at least implicitly showed support for active government through his platform (though not explicitly in his campaign speeches) and most importantly he understands that politics is war.  He knows that there is a huge battle to be had in order for big change to become reality and he is ready and eager to fight that battle.

·         It is for these reasons that I endorse John Edwards for President of the United States.

 

It’s a new year and time to start picking a new president, and as I am now for the first time eligible to vote for a candidate for President of the United States, I have to make a big decision.  As I explained in The 2008 Presidential Election – Part II: The Democratic Field, I had narrowed my choices down to Barack Obama and John Edwards.  This actually occurred fairly early in the year – probably sometime before March.  But how to decide between the two?

 

In an August 2006 email to a political-minded friend I wrote:

 

As I’ve said before, I will support the candidate who will openly talk about the need for more

active government and thus shift the political center leftwards.

 

Judging solely on that criterion, the obvious choice would be Obama.  More than any other candidate – indeed, any other U.S. politician, period – Obama has talked about how all Americans are connected as one people, how what happens to one affects what happens to all, and how we need to have an active federal government that represents and reflects that connection and will work proactively and aggressively to confront common challenges and concerns.

 

The best example I can think of is an email sent by Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) to DSCC mailing list subscribers, one of whom was myself.  The April 17 2006 email was entitled “Had Enough?”.

 

I’ve had enough of so-called leaders who don’t think government should even try to solve the big, national problems.  In their clouded philosophy, government is the problem.  I’ve had enough of the attitude that we’d be better off if we just divvy it up into individual tax breaks and let everyone fend for themselves.  I think we’ve all had enough of being told to buy your own health care, your own retirement security, your own child care, your own schools, your own private security force, your own roads, and your own levees.

 

This idea of America can never actually work because it so fundamentally ignores our legacy as a people.  Our greatness as a nation has always depended on our sense of national community and mutual responsibility.  Everybody has a stake in America.  We’re all in this together and everybody gets a fair shot at opportunity.

 

As Democrats, we still believe in the idea of America.  We’re ready to compete in an increasingly interconnected world.  We’re ready to conduct a smart foreign policy that matches the might of our military with the power of our diplomacy.

 

As I was reading this, my thought was, “Wow, if he says this on a regular basis on the campaign trail when he runs for President, I’d support him in a heartbeat.”

 

So has he?  Well, not exactly, and not enough.  While he still mentions the twin themes of national community and active government, those themes don’t seem to be the main ones of his campaign.  His campaign seems to be more focused just on the idea of “hope”, and how we should feel optimistic about our ability to solve national problems again.  Well, okay, but that doesn’t tell us exactly what your part of the effort will look like.

 

In large part, he’s also campaigning on his ability to bring people of different parties and political persuasions together and work together for a common purpose.  It even says on his website:

 

Senator Obama has been able to develop innovative approaches to challenge the status quo and get results. Americans are tired of divisive ideological politics, which is why Senator Obama has reached out to Republicans to find areas of common ground. He has tried to break partisan logjams and take on seemingly intractable problems. During his tenure in Washington and in the Illinois State Senate, Barack Obama has accumulated a record of bipartisan success.

 

“Tired of divisive ideological politics”.  “Reached out to Republicans”.  “Break partisan logjams.”  “Bipartisan success.”  These are the terms that frequently show up in Obama speeches and get media attention.  Not things like “national community”, “we’re all in this together”, and “I’ve had enough of so-called leaders who don’t think government should even try”.

 

Not to say that Obama never mentions national community and government that tries.  I did an admittedly cursory search through Obama’s speeches page on his website and found references to the two themes in his speech to Take Back America 2007, “Taking Our Government Back”, and “Our Common Stake in America’s Prosperity”.  It’s heartening to see the communitarian/active government rhetoric in these speeches.  It makes me want to support him.  But I shouldn’t have to dig through his website to find out this stuff.  I should hear it and read about it in every news report there is about Obama.  I should hear about it from Obama at every debate.  And no, it’s not the media’s fault – if Obama talks about it enough times they’d cover it.  But he doesn’t; instead, what he devotes the lion’s share of his time to, and consequently what the media covers most, can be essentially boiled down to this simple message: We the American people should be hopeful and optimistic enough to believe that Obama can (magically) bring together Democrats and Republicans to solve our huge problems and concerns.

 

The most hyped-up Obama speech was his remarks to the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner.  This was the speech that supposedly revitalized his previously flagging campaign.  Were the communitarian and active government themes the major selling points?  No – they were barely mentioned.  Okay, you do see the communitarian aspect referenced here:

 

Because I will never forget that the only reason that I’m standing here today is because somebody, somewhere stood up for me when it was risky. Stood up when it was hard. Stood up when it wasn’t popular. And because that somebody stood up, a few more stood up. And then a few thousand stood up. And then a few million stood up. And standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world.

 

That’s why I’m running, Iowa – to give our children and grandchildren the same chances somebody gave me.

 

That’s why I’m running, Democrats – to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality.

 

That’s great.  But the key part that most people were focused on was not that, it was

 

I am running in this race because of what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.

 

Okay that’s great too.  But it’s not what I’m looking for in a President.

 

Like Hillary Clinton, Obama has been excessively careful to not make a liberal name for himself in the Senate.  While some of that is understandably due to not wanting to overshadow his more senior colleagues, the times that he does step out of the box still seem to be for overly centrist positions.  Similar to what The Nation did for Clinton, it lays out the case that Obama is too cautious and moderate in the piece “Mr. Obama Goes to Washington”.

 

“I don’t think in ideological terms. I never have,” Obama said […] Shifting back to how he sees himself in the Senate, Obama seemed to amend his previous statement about what kind of leadership progressives can expect from him. “I am agnostic in terms of the models that solve these problems,” he said. “If the only way to solve a problem is structural, institutional change, then I will be for structural, institutional change. If I think we can achieve those same goals within the existing institutions, then I am going to try to do that, because I think it’s going to be easier to do and less disruptive and less costly and less painful…. I think everybody in this country should have basic healthcare. And what I’m trying to figure out is how to get from here to there.” He went on to tell me about his support for other structural changes such as public financing of elections, forcing broadcasters to offer free airtime for candidates, adding strong labor protections to trade pacts and major efforts to create a more just tax system.

 

Obama is telling the truth–he’s not opposed to structural changes at all. However, he appears to be interested in fighting only for those changes that fit within the existing boundaries of what’s considered mainstream in Washington, instead of using his platform to redefine those boundaries. This posture comes even as polls consistently show that Washington’s definition of mainstream is divorced from the rest of the country’s (for example, politicians’ refusal to debate the war even as polls show that Americans want the troops home). [emphasis added]

 

Another thing I don’t like about Obama is that he seems to be maddeningly ambivalent and always overly careful to avoid ideological extremes, and thus tries to give himself a sort of aura of level-headedness and wisdom that really isn’t there.  His book The Audacity of Hope, while containing some great communitarian and active government rhetoric, consisted in large part of a sort of running debate, where the formula would basically be, “Some on the right will insist on [insert extreme conservative position], while those on the left will insist on [insert extreme liberal position].  Of course both are not what’s right for America… what is right is what I’m about to say…[insert some squeamish centrist viewpoint that tries to say so many things at once that in the end it says nothing at all]”  Obama doesn’t want to take tough stands and have a real message because he tries too hard to be everything to everyone, which of course in the end means he is really nothing.  It’s a shame because I know that when he is really honest and takes a tough stand, as he did in that DSCC email, he’s a great liberal and a great candidate.

 

I don’t think Obama is scared of losing an election, as Clinton is.  Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to take political risks.  Rather, I think his nods to centrism and bipartisanship are from the same school of thought that guided such moderate losers as Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and John Breaux (La.).  These are people that are so inculcated with the idea that “bipartisan is good” that they think that bipartisanship is an end rather than a mean, and that if it’s not bipartisan or centrist it’s bad.  I think Obama, to a lesser degree than Lieberman and Breaux, subscribes to this school of thought. (I will discuss this in further detail in an upcoming entry called “The Cult of Centrism”.) One of my favorite columnists, Paul Krugman, discusses this tendency in his column “Played for a Sucker”:

 

And on Social Security, as on many other issues, what Washington means by bipartisanship is mainly that everyone should come together to give conservatives what they want.

 

We all wish that American politics weren’t so bitter and partisan. But if you try to find common ground where none exists — which is the case for many issues today — you end up being played for a fool. And that’s what has just happened to Mr. Obama.

 

Obama used to talk a decidedly ideological message about national community and active government that would turn off most conservatives.  But now it seems that he has forsaken that strong message for a broader, more inclusive one that tries to soothe everyone at once with platitudes about working together to achieve common goals.  It’s a disappointing change that casts doubt on him in my mind as both a candidate and as a President.

 

And what of John Edwards?  Is he running on a platform of national community and active government?  No he is not, though he like Obama has mentioned elements of both in his speeches.  But what he is running on is a message very attractive to me: It’s time to get things done, and the way to do that is to beat down those who would stand in our way – the big corporations and special interests.  Not join with them or negotiate with them, as Clinton and Obama would do, but BEAT them.

 

From “Restoring Economic Fairness”:

 

There are powerful forces that will resist us. These are the same powerful forces I have fought against all my adult life. But I have defeated them before and we will defeat them together because no matter how powerful special interest America thinks it is, there is no one more powerful than the American people and together we can build One America and restore the American Dream we all believe in.

 

But let me tell you one thing – it’s not going to be easy and it’s going to take all of us together. Because the people with power aren’t going to give it up without a fight. And we can’t sit down with them and make a deal. We can’t triangulate our way to big change; we can’t compromise our way to big change – we need to lead the way to big change.

 

From his speech on the Middle Class Rising Agenda:

 

“None of this is going to be easy. I hear all these candidates talking about how we’re going to bring about the big, bold change that America needs. And I hear some people saying that they think we can sit at a table with drug companies, oil companies and insurance companies, and they will give their power away. That is a fantasy. We have a fight in front of us. We have a fight for the future of this country. And the change we need will not happen easily. We need someone who is going to step into that arena on your behalf, someone who is ready for that fight.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in this fight my whole life. From the time I was young, until when I was a lawyer. For twenty years, I walked into courtrooms representing families like yours against big corporations and their armies of lawyers. Every time, they looked at me and said, we can win. But they didn’t. Because I beat them. I beat them. And I beat them again. And I learned that it may not be easy to beat these powerful interests, but if you’re right, and you’re willing to stand up, you can win.

 

From the August 7 2007 AFL-CIO debate:

 

When are we going to actually stand up to these drug companies, these insurance companies? We’ve got to stop playing nice. We have to beat these people. There is too much at stake for America and too much at stake for people like James Lowe.

 

And while Edwards isn’t explicitly talking about active government, it’s very much implied in his platform, which calls for a raft of new federal programs, including an ambitious and well-designed health care plan that involves an expanded government health care program similar to Medicare available to every American who wants it.  The Edwards message that I’m getting is that the potential for active government is already very much there, but the obstacles are the corporate and special interests that stand to lose from active government and thus are blocking the way, and once Edwards gets into the White House and kicks the shit out of them the federal government will be free to finally do what is right and necessary for the security and welfare of the American people.

 

Now, my main concern about Edwards initially was that his lurch to the left was not authentic, and merely a ploy to gain support in the primary.  After all, in 2004 his campaign, while striking a similar populist chord concerning the “Two Americas”, was disgustingly moderate, with small potato proposals that in the end seemed to amount to just about nothing.  The jump from that to Edwards 2008, whose proposals, rhetoric, and vision for the country makes him look like a latter-day Lyndon B. Johnson, is huge, to the point that it raises very legitimate questions about which Edwards is actually the real deal.  It’s a viewpoint brought up in The New Republic piece “The Accidental Populist”:

 

Like the shirt, Edwards’s persona for the 2008 campaign–that of a combative champion of the working class–seems a strange fit. Although Edwards ran for president in 2004 as a populist, he did so as a sunny one–a disposition that appeared a natural extension of his congenitally cheerful personality. He dubbed his political organization the “New American Optimists” and presented himself as the “son of a millworker” whose later success as a lawyer and a senator was a hopeful story about American possibility. His stump speech, which called attention to the “Two Americas,” was less an airing of grievances than a buoyant pledge to bridge the divide between rich and poor. And his policy proposals–including incremental reform of health care and micro-initiatives to help the poor–were fiscally friendly as well, showing that his populist heart was governed by a New Democrat brain.

         

But now, Edwards is trying to turn that smile into a snarl, or at least a frown of concern. Since losing the vice presidential race in 2004–and subsequently leaving the Senate and Washington–he has spent his time focusing on the forgotten and neglected corners of the United States and, to a lesser extent, the world. Acting as a sort of latter-day Tom Joad, he has visited not just picket lines but homeless shelters, disaster zones, and refugee camps. And, in his current quest for the presidency, he intends to make the plight of the people he has encountered in those places his central issue. Accordingly, he has ditched his past commitment to fiscally restrained Rubinomics and now favors universal health coverage and an expensive raft of other policy initiatives to lift Americans–and even people in other countries–out of poverty. When he officially announced he was running for president in late December, he did so not sitting next to his wife in the comfort of their family home in a Raleigh neighborhood called Country Club Hills–as he had in the 2004 campaign–but standing by himself in the debris-strewn backyard of a hurricane-damaged house in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. “This campaign,” he declared, “will be a grassroots, ground-up campaign, where we ask people to take action.” [emphasis added]

 

Edwards’s explanation for the startling transformation is included in the same piece:

 

“I can tell you one thing that’s changed for me, and it’s very significant for me personally,” Edwards told me in one of several conversations we had in the weeks before he officially launched his campaign. “When I was running for president before, in 2003, 2004, I spent most of my time thinking about what I could do to be a better candidate.” He paused, as if to let this confession sink in. “That’s just not what I think about anymore,” he went on. “Now what I spend my time thinking about is what I want to do as president of the United States.” Often derided as “plastic” and “a lightweight” during his last national campaign, Edwards has, in other words, been searching for his own political essence, both as a source of gravitas and as a rationale for his continued presidential ambitions. And, in his role as a crusader for the working class, he seems to think he has found it.

 

My conversations with two other politically-minded friends came to the same conclusion.  Edwards of 2004 was still in the “traumatized Democrat” mode, always looking over his shoulder and carefully trying to avoid appearing too liberal.  But with the defeat of that careful moderate method, Edwards said “to hell with it” and just decided to campaign as who he really is and who he’s always been – the liberal activist who defended ordinary people in the courtroom as a trial lawyer and now seeks to defend ordinary people in the Oval Office as President.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the Edwards we’re seeing right now, the Edwards of 2008, is the real Edwards.

 

Edwards and Obama have sounded much of the same rhetoric on the campaign trail, and both offer a massive amount of new federal programs that will basically signal the return to big government.  Both are promising big change in Washington if they’re elected.  Where they differ is how change can be achieved.  Obama seems to be more of the mindset that change has to come on a bipartisan, cooperative basis, where everyone has a say and people of different parties, ideologies and persuasions come together to a big table and hash things out.  Edwards seems to think that certain people – namely, big corporate interests like drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, etc. – can’t be brought to the table because they’re like the Terminator: they can’t be bargained or reasoned with.  Anything they touch will just become corrupted, and if they’re in any way accommodated, rather than completely defeated and smashed into the ground, they’re going to prevent any change from happening.  There is a very good debate in the op-ed world over these two views, with Paul Krugman arguing for Edwards in “Big Table Fantasies”, and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek arguing the case for Obama in the bluntly-titled “Why Krugman Is Wrong: Why Obama’s approach to health care isn’t naïve.”

 

I vastly prefer Edwards’s view to Obama’s.  I’m tired of compromising with the enemy and being told that that’s the best way to do things or the only way things will get done because things haven’t gotten done.  And it’s not like we haven’t tried compromising – in fact, it feels like that’s pretty much all we’ve been doing the past seven years.  Plus there was that one guy who we sent to the White House to get things done- what was his name?  Cliffon?  Critton?  No wait- Clinton, Clinton.  Clinton went to the White House to get things done, but then he was told that he had to compromise, and in the end nothing got done.

 

Well I’m sick of it.  I want to send a fighter to the White House.  I want someone who will fight for big government, not just someone who will talk about it once in awhile and then forget about it and let special interests take over.  I want someone who will take on those who stand in our way head on and not worry about poll numbers or being nice or conciliatory or looking too angry or unrealistic.  I’m sick of compromise, and being realistic, and being told that certain things have to be this way.

 

Barack Obama is a great candidate and leader.  He has talked extensively on the all-important, overarching themes of national community and active government, and shows an understanding and empathy for the common causes that we liberals believe in.  But John Edwards is the one candidate who realizes the need for active government to make a difference in people’s lives and is ready and willing to fight for it, no matter the obstacles or the cost.  And that is why I endorse John Edwards for President of the United States in 2008.

 

JANUARY 2 2008 ADDENDUM: My political friend and Obama supporter pointed me to a recent Obama speech called “Our Moment Is Now”, the first key excerpt being:

 

It’s change that won’t just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans. There’s no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don’t need more heat. We need more light. I’ve learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That’s the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election. [emphasis added]

 

Okay first off, you can stand firm in your principles, and “reach out” to those who disagree.  But reaching out just means, “hey, I stand for X, wanna join me?”  And the other person will say no, and you can have as much discussion and debate as you like but in the end you’ll just have to agree to disagree.  And nothing gets done.  If you want to “reach out” and get something done, you’ll have to compromise, which means you won’t be standing firm in your principles.  So Obama’s “reaching out” really means nothing, and in the end he’ll have to either not stand firm in his principles or he’ll just have to beat back his opposition like Edwards will.

 

Second, Republican and independent voters may be interested in what Obama has to say, but they’d be interested in what Edwards has to say too.  After all, Edwards’s ire is directed almost entirely at big corporations, not Republican and independent voters.  Edwards’s message of taking government back for the common people is perfectly capable of appealing to ordinary Republicans and independents that aren’t dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, and I see nothing that says Obama is inherently more capable of appealing to Republicans in or out of Washington than anyone else, including Edwards.  Yes, Obama may not be as confrontational as Edwards and that might warm up Republicans initially.  But after all the small talk and banter, he’s going to have to come around to what he actually wants to get done, and it’s the same things that Edwards wants done.  Republicans aren’t that easily fooled or charmed – I don’t think you can dress up the same policies with personable appeal and expect a difference in reception from them.

 

Next excerpt:

 

But that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know – I’ve been on the streets, I’ve been in the courts. I’ve watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren’t fortified by political will, and I’ve watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.

 

Okay, that’s great!  Obama is addressing the concern I have with his approach.  So what’s the answer?

 

But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it’s what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it’s what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it’s what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it’s what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause. That’s the power of hope – to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.

 

That’s the change we seek. And that’s the change you can stand for in seven days.

 

Oh… well.  That’s just great – more platitudes.  Thanks for saying a whole lot of nothing.

 

My friend also pointed me to an insightful article from The American Prospect called “The ‘Theory of Change’ Primary”.  It’s a great article that explores the different approaches espoused by Clinton, Edwards, and Obama from an angle that I had never considered before.  As the article tells it, Clinton wants to “work hard” and try to convince people bit by bit through “superior knowledge and diligence”.  Edwards wants to ram things through and smash his opposition into the dirt.  Obama wants to “reach out” to conservatives, but not to meet them halfway, as a “principled centrist” like John Breaux or Joe Lieberman would.  Rather, he gets them to the table to expose their hypocrisy, shortcomings, lack of compassion, etc. and defeats them there.  Thus, hope and bipartisanship is a sort of “tactic”, not an end to itself.

 

If this is the case then I find it much more promising than what I’ve seen so far.  However, I see several problems with this.  First off, like I said earlier you can’t stand firm on your principles and reach out and get things done.  That’s too much like having your cake and eating it too.  You can reach out in the sense of, “I like and respect you, and here’s what I think” but in the end the other side won’t agree and then you’ll just be back at square one.  At that point you’ll have to choose between standing firm and overrunning your opposition (Edwards) or compromise and meet the other side halfway (Breaux, Clinton, Obama…?).  Given that Obama has rejected the Edwards approach and talks about how he can work with Republicans (remember, “record of bipartisan success”?), I have a feeling that he’ll choose the latter approach of working with Republicans.

 

Second off, this tactic assumes that Republicans will look like idiots because they supposedly have “nothing”, when they don’t have “nothing”, they just have something that we liberal Democrats disagree with.  Take health care for example, as it’s the marquee domestic issue this election.  Democrats have all put out great plans for the federal government to finally get involved and do something about the uninsured.  Republicans have not – but it’s not because they don’t care about the uninsured or think that they don’t deserve health care.  They do think so, but they think the federal government shouldn’t be involved.  And that’s not necessarily an evil or losing – or unpopular – viewpoint.  So you’ll bring them to the big table in hopes that they’ll humiliate themselves only to find that they make an argument that will resonate with at least some of the American population, and your tactic backfires.  Why not just take the debate to the road, to the American people, and argue explicitly for federal involvement (and thus, active government), and fight the conservative argument head on, instead of pretending like you’re negotiating in good faith only to give conservatives a voice at the President’s table?

 

Third off, Obama has come this far by campaigning on how he’ll end partisan gridlock in Washington, not by smashing through it but by charming or soothingly negotiating his way through it.  That doesn’t sound like the hard-nosed tactics that this article is claiming it is.  I have never heard Obama say that his plan was to reach out to Republicans and special interests only to lure them into a political gladiator arena to be skewered.  If this is so, then Obama will have been elected on a false mandate – he’ll be sent to Washington in hopes that he can end the partisan bickering with his magnanimous personality, or whatever, and instead he’ll end up looking confrontational, like Edwards.  People are expecting Obama to be large-minded, pragmatic and willing to negotiate or compromise, and when Republicans find that he’s just as stubborn as, say, John Edwards, they’re gonna cry foul and betrayal and we’ll go back to good ol’ Washington gridlock again.

 

I also don’t think that reaching out to Republicans only to get them skewered at the big table really makes a difference.  What’s the difference between that and going on the air to make the case for your proposals and the arguments against the Republican rhetoric, as Edwards will probably do?  The difference is that Obama tried to be nice to Republicans, whereas Edwards skipped that step to go directly to battle.  Well, I don’t think it makes a difference if Obama tried to be nice.  Yes, perhaps he will be able to nail down support from moderate Republicans, but despite being more confrontational Edwards is too smart to let moderate Republicans who might support his plans slip away – his campaign rhetoric hasn’t been directed towards moderate Republicans in Congress, but rather big corporations and special interests that are mostly linked to the die-hard conservatives.

 

The problem with Obama’s “let’s be nice and have a fair shake” step is that then he’ll be lured into talks with conservatives and special interests who want to see his plans dead, and then Obama will be put into the aforementioned hard choice between agreeing to disagree and going to battle or feeling obligated to compromise.  My friend tells me Obama will not compromise, as he said in the speech mentioned above, but given that his message has been about working with everyone to get things done and end the hurtful partisan talk in Washington, and that most people, myself included, do NOT read that as meaning that he will reach out and be friendly to resistant Republicans before smashing them, the message he’s run his campaign on compels him to follow the road of compromise.  And we all know where that road leads to – a place where hope and progress do not go.

 

JANUARY 2 2008 ADDENDUM II: I realize the risk in supporting Edwards; that he may turn out to be a total phony and not a real liberal.  I understand that.  But for me, I think that in an election, you support a message as much as, if not more than, you support a candidate.  In other words, when I support someone I’m not just supporting who I think that candidate is as a person, I’m supporting what he or she has to say.  That’s in large part because what they have to say is more-or-less crystal clear, whereas it’s impossible for me to know if they’re really a good person or what they’re really thinking in their heads.  So if it does turn out that Edwards is a big phony, that’s fine, because my vote for him will have been for the message that Edwards was delivering, not the flawed vehicle that was delivering it.

 

I will also say that given the positive things I’ve felt about Obama, he is a strong second choice and I’d happily support him in the general election should he be the nominee, and if his “Theory of Change” is reinforced or proven correct.  I don’t know if I can say the same for Clinton.

The 2008 Presidential Election – Part II: The Democratic Field

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         I thought the Democratic race would have Hillary Clinton, who is herself a moderate and would run as a moderate, pitted against a number of anti-Hillarys who would all be running to her right, giving us a field completely dominated by “electable” moderates who wouldn’t be pushing or standing for anything.  The only foreseeable liberal contenders would be Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd.

·         Instead, Clinton turned out to be among the most conservative candidate, with Joe Biden and Bill Richardson the other moderates, Dodd being… well, probably about the same or a little to the left of Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich to the left, and the out-of-nowhere Mike Gravel being, well, Mike Gravel.

·         Gravel is too crazy and doesn’t seem to really have a positive message, and he’s pushing a national sales tax which I oppose.  Biden, Richardson, and Dodd are also running campaigns seemingly devoid of any central narrative or message, and Biden and Richardson are too moderate for me.

·         Although I supported him in 2004, Kucinich is too much a sure-fire loser, and more importantly, he has diverged from me on Iraq, and has made Iraq and a pacifist foreign policy the centerpiece of his campaign, to the exclusion of all the other issues.  He doesn’t seem to be talking much about the domestic agenda that drew me to him the last time around.  What’s more, he seems to have gone completely crazy and is talking about Ron Paul, an anti-Iraq war, anti-big government libertarian Republican, as a possible running mate, underscoring Kucinich’s overemphasis – one might say obsession – with Iraq and, by consequence, his compromised judgment.

·         Whatever she may have been in the past, Clinton is now a cowardly moderate who has been damaged by corporate corruption and past political defeats.  Everything with her is about what will win her election, reelection, or higher approval ratings, and for those goals she will do anything but call for big government.

 

Like the Republican race, the Democratic race for the nomination for the Presidency hasn’t quite turned out as I expected.  I last wrote about it in The Politics of 2005 – Part III: Looking Further Ahead and predicted that Senator Hillary D. Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) would be viewed as the default liberal, despite her actually being more of a moderate, and that a host of smaller-name moderate contenders – Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Wesley K. Clark, Birch E. “Evan” Bayh III, Mark R. Warner, and William B. Richardson – would run even more to her right.  So you’d have a bunch of boring moderates competing to be the alternative to a slightly less moderate moderate, and in the end the liberal wing of the party would lose out.  This, of course, would be a perfectly reasonable development for what I will call the “gutless wing of the Democratic Party”, which coincides largely though not entirely with the moderate wing, and thinks that we should nominate the most moderate Democrat out there because the whole country is conservative and we should play nice and give in to the Republicans.  Warner in particular was a favorite of the gutless Democrats – “he’s a moderate Southern Governor” was sounded so many times that you’d think that mixing two parts of moderate with one part Southern and one part Governor produces a tasty guarantee of victory on Election Day.

 

The large crowded field on the moderate side would leave a position wide open for someone to run on Clinton’s left flank, and I thought that the liberal contender would be Senator Russell D. Feingold (Wis.) or Senator Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.).  While I was tentatively supporting Feingold, I wasn’t sure how receptive I’d be to his candidacy, as he has a reputation for being a budget cutter and wants states to handle their own health care, albeit under a federal mandate.  There were also several “potential” candidates that are talked/hyped about but didn’t show much signs of activity – E. Benjamin Nelson, Thomas A. Daschle, John F. Kerry, and Johnny R. “John” Edwards.

 

Then with the 2006 elections over, the 2008 election really began and everything was topsy-turvy.  Even prior to the elections, Jesus- excuse me, Mark Warner took himself out of the running.  There goes our messianic moderate Southern Governor.  Then after the elections, Feingold said he was out.  What?!  Who’s going to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?

 

Moderates Bayh and Clark took themselves out of the running, and now back fellow moderate Clinton.  Nelson, Daschle, and Kerry also got out of the race.  Biden and Richardson stayed in and Dodd and Edwards jumped in as well.  That left us with a group of five – Clinton, Biden, Richardson, Dodd, and Edwards.  Now it’s time for the four candidates that I didn’t predict.

 

I’ll say this now and I’ll say it again – sometimes I’m wrong in politics.  In this case I’m hugely wrong.  Look what I wrote in “Politics of 2005”:

 

Same with Sen. Barack H. Obama (D-Ill.) who was talked about as a presidential candidate even before he was elected to the Senate… last year.  I know Robert F. Kennedy probably could’ve done it, but c’mon, who gets elected President after barely four years of service in the Senate?  This is not like a hundred years ago when Theodore Roosevelt got into the Vice Presidency after less than two years of being Governor of New York.  Leave Obama alone.  He’s said “definitively” that he’s not running for President in 2008, and I’m sure he wants to enjoy his career in the Senate.  So quit bothering him.

 

Oops.

 

In my defense, there’s no way anyone who was actually looking at the facts in 2005 could’ve predicted that Obama would run in 2008.  Obama himself stated repeatedly that he would not be a candidate in 2008.  To say that he would run would be calling him a liar.  Do you really want to call Obama a liar?  That’s a dangerous path to take, what with the screaming Obama idols who flock to him like he’s the second coming of the Beatles.  You knock Obama and you’re dead.

 

Then there’s former Iowa Governor and DLC shill Thomas J. Vilsack, who got into the race, realized that there was already a moderate with way more name recognition than he had (Clinton), and got the hell out.

 

And of course, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (OH-10).  I had really hoped that he’d stay out of this race for his own good, and if he wants higher office he should aim for George Voinovich’s Senate seat in 2010.  But no, he had to run for President, again, because he thought that with the Iraq war going to shit people would respond to his “clarion call” to get the hell out.  Trouble is, not many have really flocked to his clarion call.  Kucinich is unfortunately a candidate who generates a lot of applause in debates but not many votes.  It’s really sad, actually.

 

But the most where-the-fuck-did-you-come-from candidate to emerge is… former Alaska Senator Maurice R. “Mike” Gravel (pronounced, I discovered, as “grah-VELL”).  He hasn’t been in politics since 1981, yet he somehow decided to emerge from obscurity and run for President… couldn’t he have done this earlier?  Like, before he turned 70?  My goodness.

 

So the race pretty much boiled down to eight candidates – Clinton, Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Edwards, Obama, Kucinich, and Gravel.  It was time for me to decide which candidate to support, and at first it was mostly a process of elimination that weeded out some of the candidates that would obviously not have my support.

 

Gravel: Too crazy, way past his time and his prime, had little if anything positive or constructive to offer during the debates (he’s like our version of Alan Keyes), supports a national sales tax.  Plus, in his first election to the U.S. Senate he ousted incumbent Ernest Gruening (D) who was just one of two Senators to have voted against the resolution authorizing carte blanche the Vietnam War (i.e. the Vietnam War equivalent to the 2002 Iraq War resolution).

 

Biden: Too moderate, too associated with foreign policy and has no substantive domestic agenda.

 

Richardson: Too moderate during his time as governor, didn’t seem to really stand strongly for any one position or another during the debates, too hard to figure out because he doesn’t seem to have any campaign theme or narrative other than “I’m the candidate of change and experience”.

 

Dodd: Doesn’t really have anything special to offer, no real detectable campaign theme or narrative either.

 

So that leaves Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and Kucinich.

 

I supported Kucinich in the 2004 primaries but there are several reasons why I cannot support him this time around.  First, we’ve just diverged too much on Iraq.  In 2004 he was attractive as the only candidate who voted against the 2002 Iraq war resolution that just about the rest of the field had voted for.  This time he’s campaigning as the strongest candidate against the war and for immediately withdrawing our troops, which I do not support. (I will definitely write about my position on Iraq in a future entry.)  Second, Iraq has completely consumed his campaign message.  In 2004, Iraq was the reason he got into the race and probably the issue he was most passionate about, but at the same time he was running on a strong, well-rounded domestic agenda as well, one that embraced the idea of active government helping the country and its people.  This time, Iraq, and pacifism in international relations in general, is pretty much the only reason he wants to be President, and the thing that he talks about the most.  Sure, he’ll still mention implementing a single-payer health care system and withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO which are appealing positions, but it seems like Iraq/pacifism is really the whole and only focus of his single-minded campaign, to the point that his campaign logo even has a peace sign in it.  I may have opposed the Iraq war at the beginning, but I am not a pacifist, and I will not support this one for President.  Third, I’m tired of supporting sure-fire losers.  Fourth, he seems to have become just plain batshit crazy.  The nail in the coffin of my support for Kucinich was when he announced in late November that he would consider picking Ron Paul as his vice presidential running mate.  Ron Paul?  As in the libertarian Ron Paul?  The guy who would oppose your plan for single-payer health care and, well, your entire domestic agenda, period?  It seems that Kucinich, like some other liberals I suspect, is entirely focused on Paul’s position on Iraq and foreign policy and is totally ignoring his domestic politics, which not only shows that Kucinich is stupid or crazy (or both), but also reinforces my point that Iraq has become the one and only concern of his campaign.

 

And then there’s Senator Clinton, the crazy far-left socialist Communist fascist feminist ice queen bitch that conservatives love to hate.  Now given that I generally happen to like the liberals that tend to be caricatured by conservatives, I originally thought Clinton might be a good person for me to support.  But far before 2007, it became clear that Clinton would be running as a spineless moderate who gives in when the poll numbers don’t look good, in the same mold as her husband.  The article that encapsulated my argument against Clinton was a piece in The Nation entitled “Brand Hillary”, in which the key paragraph was this:

 

To critics on the left, however, the real Hillary is far from reliably liberal–and to them, that’s the problem. Someone of her stature might have moved the national dialogue to the left on many fronts. Indeed, many progressives wholeheartedly backed her 2000 Senate run, expecting her to carry the banner for liberal causes in, say, the manner of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. But they’ve been disappointed. Clinton has studiously avoided becoming the ideological warrior on big issues many supporters hoped for. “She certainly hasn’t been a liberal trumpet like Kennedy, even though she’s the Senator from New York and has all the freedom she needs,” says Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “Kennedy has been a leading opponent of the GOP’s militarism. He’s called for large investments in education, Medicare for all. Hillary hasn’t been out front on any of those issues.”

 

Indeed, if anything Clinton seems to have staked a cautious path in approaching big issues in politics that call for anything but caution.  It’s a pattern dating back to her 2000 run for the U.S. Senate, when she echoed the same kind of careful rhetoric that characterized her husband’s in the late 1990s.

 

Actually, the pattern of caution goes back even further than that.  She was seen as a sort of coequal partner to her husband when he ran for President and won on a populist, active government platform.  Once in office, Bill Clinton prepared to tackle huge issues head-on, the biggest of which was universal health care, the Holy Grail for liberal politics for the past six decades.  Hillary was put in charge of Bill’s health care task force and produced an ambitious plan that called for mandating employers to provide insurance through the same health care companies, but under a new regime of government regulations.  It was pilloried as too “big government” that would “control your life” and was defeated by insurance companies, small businesses and their conservative Republican allies in Congress.

 

Now in my opinion, the Clinton plan wasn’t perfect and was overly complicated – in large part because it was too moderate, and tried too hard to provide health care through private interests rather than through government, a short-sighted tendency that continues to plague the offerings from Democratic candidates this election cycle.  But the point was, it was big and bold and would have involved a lot more federal government in the health care industry than ever before.  And so the fight over health care turned into a fight over the role of government, and conservatives as well as liberals had a lot of stake riding on the outcome.  As the brilliant writer E.J. Dionne, Jr. explains in his excellent book Stand Up Fight Back:

 

Shrewd Republicans always understood the political danger if Clinton managed to pass a system guaranteeing health coverage to virtually all Americans.  “It will relegitimize middle class ‘security’ on government spending,” wrote conservative intellectual and strategist William Kristol in a memo to Republicans.  “It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.  And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.”

 

Liberals lost the fight.  Bill Clinton spent the rest of his presidency talking about school uniforms and bad television and that woman.  Hillary, that big government liberal, disappeared, going into a political cocoon of sorts, from which she emerged in 2000 as a beautiful moderate centrist “I won’t touch this issue unless it helps me win the election” butterfly.

 

Hillary Clinton has been described by some as a member of the “traumatized” generation of Democrats, the Democrats that came of political age between the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush (both Texans, coincidentally).  This was a dark time when few Democrats won presidential elections, and the two that did were both Southern moderates who didn’t espouse big government action, whereas the others were big government liberals.  Actually, I guess you could say that there were three Democratic presidents during this time: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton 1993-1995, and Bill Clinton 1995-2001.  Clinton originally was a traumatized Democrat but after he became the first Democrat to win an election in almost twenty years, he was inspired and Clinton 1993-1995 was a big government liberal.  After his sound defeat in 1994, he became Clinton 1995-2001, who, by comparison, was a pansy.  He returned to his traumatized roots.

 

Traumatized Democrats may or may not believe in the power and righteousness of active/big government.  I happen to think that Bill Clinton does actually believe in active government.  Maybe Hillary does too.   But whatever the case it’s irrelevant.  Traumatized Democrats are characterized by a refusal to believe that active/big government agendas and campaigns are politically viable, even when polls say they are.  Polling in the past few years has consistently showed that most Americans want the federal government to be more involved in helping the poor, taking care of the environment, strengthening Social Security and Medicare, providing health care and education, building up our infrastructure, funding a wide variety of public goods, etc. (I talk more about this in my entry “Drinking Liberal Water and Eating Big Government Pork”)  But it doesn’t matter.  For traumatized Democrats like Hillary Clinton, you can’t run on a big government message because you won’t be elected, and in office you can’t do big government things because then you won’t be reelected or (if you’re in your second term of your presidency) you’ll hurt Congressional candidates.

 

There’s another excellent article from The Nation called “Hillary Inc” that sums up my argument against her.  It first goes through a detailed chronicle of the key players in the Clinton campaign, and how they’re all rich big business types.  It then says:

 

There’s no evidence that [Clinton] has taken a position specifically to benefit one of her advisers’ clients or a top supporter.  More likely, the ties to corporate America, along with the bruises of past defeats, have limited what she believes is possible and will fight to achieve.  “If you surround yourself by people who live off of big corporations, that’s going to affect the advice they give you and your own worldview,” says a former Clinton adviser. [emphasis added]

 

That’s precisely what I’m getting at – the limitations that Clinton has come to believe in.  If you’re going to be a big agent of leftward change, an advocate for larger role of the federal government, you’re going to have to be willing to think and demand big.  You have to start at 200 percent or else you will get nowhere and nothing.  Clinton won’t think big and she won’t start at 200 percent; as it is she’s only asking for 50 percent, at best.  And there’s a reason for that – she has surrounded herself with corporate stooges, and she’s already limited herself in the amount of big government she thinks she can feasibly campaign on – that amount probably being somewhere close to zero.  And it’s no coincidence that Fortune magazine declared her to be their favorite candidate and corporate mogul Rupert Murdoch, despite being the financier of the most anti-Hillary tabloid TV network out there (FOX News), hosted a fundraiser for her reelection in 2006 (one anonymous source saying that Murdoch “has respect for the work she has done on behalf of New York”).  Bottom line: Clinton is already a compromised candidate.

 

The results can be seen quite plainly.  Beyond her dismally anemic Senate record, she hasn’t been pushing big themes or ideas in this election campaign.  Rather, she’s been campaigning on her alleged strength and her supposedly extensive experience, which by my count is all of six (now seven I guess) years in the U.S. Senate.  By hers she includes her years as First Lady – but I thought she disappeared from serious political activity after failing to pass universal health care (and thus, losing the fight over the role of government) in 1994.  And no, shaking hands with x number of foreign heads of state does not count as “experience”, nor does the fact that said heads of state have met you or even “know you”.  Plus, her claim to be experienced is laughable given that she shares a race with Biden (35 years in the Senate), Dodd (27 years in the Senate) and Richardson (14 years in the House, a little less than 2 years as Ambassador to the U.N., a little over 2 years as Secretary of Energy, 5 years as Governor).

 

At a 2004 fundraising speech in San Francisco, Clinton said, “Many of you are well enough off that … the tax cuts may have helped you. We’re saying that for America to get back on track, we’re probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.”  This was quite a statement for any politician in the USA to make, and it was exactly what my idea of the ideal liberal candidate would say regularly on the campaign trail as part of their central message.  Conservatives went hysterical and she hasn’t said anything like that since.

 

In September she proposed an eye-opener: a program where everyone born in the USA would automatically receive a $5 000 account that they would not be able to touch until they turn eighteen.  In the meantime, it would accumulate interest, and by the time the person grew up they could use that money for college or a new house.  It’s a great idea, one I first read about in Had Enough? by James Carville, a Democratic strategist close to the Clintons and undoubtedly the source of the idea.  I was amazed and surprised that Clinton would be bold enough to propose such a program.  A month and many conservative Republican denouncements later, she retreated from the political hot rock, saying it was just a harmless idea and not a serious proposal.  And thus my skepticism was reinforced.

 

Then there’s health care, Clinton’s Achilles heel.  Clinton loves to say something along the lines of “I tried to get universal health care passed, and I have the scars to prove it”, then go on to talk at length about how much she’s learned from that experience, etc. etc.  What she’s learned, though, is that when it comes to health care or, really, any other issue, don’t even come close to anything that looks, sounds or smells like big government.  Big government is like her kryptonite – she avoids it at all costs.  Instead, just give in to big business.  And that’s precisely what she’s done and plans to do once she’s in the White House – do nothing on health care that offends big business.  Which means we won’t get anything close to universal health care out of a Clinton presidency.

 

The “scars” she refers to is the same thing as what I talked about earlier about how Clinton is a “traumatized” Democrat.  Having gone through the health care debacle of 1994, which certainly must have been traumatizing in every possible sense, Clinton will never want to go through that again.  And that means she won’t ever want to push any big ideas or proposals again.  She wants to do everything piecemeal, bit by bit, and ask the big businesses politely at every step of the way.  We saw that with her record from 1995 to 2007.  During this time, between her health care failure and the beginning of her presidential campaign, we saw nothing out of her regarding universal health care. (It’s interesting because during one debate in late fall she accused John Edwards of being inconsistent, saying that he wasn’t for universal health care in 2004.  The thing is, neither was she.) The only thing she would talk about concerning health care was about how we should save money by doing such things as keeping records in computers, rhetoric that led to alliances with such liberal heroes as… Newt Gingrich (who apparently loves computers and the Internet).  Even as her campaign began in early 2007 that’s all she talked about when it came to health care – trimming a few dollars of the costs here and there that in the end would make little if any difference in who has health care in this country and who doesn’t.  And for a long time I thought that was all we would ever see out of her on health care.  Then, as her rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama came out with their own universal health care plans, she must have decided that she had no choice but to release her own universal health care plan, and so she copied and pasted Edwards’s plan and put her name on it.

 

It’s clear that her heart wasn’t really in it though, since she had for so long been talking about how we should achieve universal health care piece by piece, one step at a time, in a typically Clintonian politically-safe incremental fashion.  Then, after waiting forever, she comes out with a plan that is anything BUT incremental or step-by-step.  The Edwards/Clinton plan is far more big government and ambitious than the plan that she proposed during her husband’s presidency, in large part because not only is there a mandate for employers to provide insurance (in addition to a mandate for individuals to have it) but there is a call for an expanded Medicare (or, a government plan similar to Medicare) to cover individuals who choose it as their health care plan.  In other words, more government.

 

I have a feeling that Clinton will dramatically revise this plan to be far less ambitious, if not for the general election then once she’s in office.  The Medicare-like government plan option will probably be among the first things to get axed.  What’s more, I think Clinton won’t really fight beyond her comfort zone (i.e. the comfort zone of her corporate partners) and will allow private interests to once again defeat any plan she offers.  Then she can once again play the victim while promising to continue fighting for universal health care, so give her four more years in the White House!  By the end of her second term nothing will have been accomplished, besides all the records now being on Excel spreadsheets.

 

To sum it up, Clinton’s political experience can be roughly drawn as

 

Liberal idealist — 1994 heath care failure –à Traumatized liberal who won’t think big anymore — cozies up with big business –à Compromised politician now running for President

 

With Clinton, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd, Richardson and Gravel out of the question, that leaves Obama and Edwards.  Choosing between the two has proven to be one of the most difficult political decisions I’ve had to make yet.