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.

2 thoughts on “The 2008 Presidential Election – Part II: The Democratic Field

  1. Pingback: I Endorse Bernie Sanders for President in 2016 | maverickjh

  2. Pingback: I Endorse Bernie Sanders for President in 2016 (Version II) | maverickjh

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