First off, let me say that I have no problems whatsoever with incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. She’s a great liberal Democrat, one of the few true liberals in the Senate, with a virtually perfect progressive voting record, and I value her being there. That said, I’m always looking to vote for the left-most candidates, especially if they won’t win (so I can get away with it without endangering an already-good candidate), so when I learned there were two challengers to Boxer in the June 8 primary, I decided to investigate and see if either were running against her from the left.
The first challenger, Brian Quintana, was easily ruled out by his weak ass Issues page. The second challenger, Robert M. “Mickey” Kaus, was a different story. His website is incredibly detailed and pleasantly frank, straightforward and detailed – which is what I would expect from a professional blogger. He doesn’t beat around the bush or dumb down his positions – he states exactly what he believed in, and expresses admiration for others who do. And believe me, I greatly appreciate that. That said, I do need to evaluate what he says and judge him on those merits.
On the positive side, Kaus actually talks ideologically about the role of government: “What Reagan didn’t admit–and as a Republican, couldn’t admit–was that in order to achieve this American type of equality, we need an active and effective government. (emphasis his!)” He relishes being open about defying orthodoxy, which as a principle I always appreciate. He clearly states why he’s running, as so few candidates do. Many of his issue positions are wonderfully simple and liberal: for the public option and open to Medicare Buy-in (though also for Obamacare and silent on Medicare for All), for a WPA-style jobs/public works program, for a simple carbon tax instead of cap-and-trade, for marriage equality, and against offshore drilling.
That said, unfortunately it doesn’t seem like Kaus, a self-described neoliberal, is running on Boxer’s left so much as on her right. His much-vaunted rebellions against Democratic Party orthodoxy are all on the right. His two biggest issues are reducing the influence of labor unions and preventing any kind of immigration amnesty until the borders are secured.
While I’m sympathetic to Kaus’s arguments for border security and against amnesty (I’ll write about that in a future entry), what makes me uncomfortable about Kaus is that he’s taken it to extremes such as downplaying the recent Arizona immigration law and taking a wait-and-see position on it, which I think goes too far. As for the unions, I think if anything they don’t have enough power, and have been in decline for the last several decades. What percentage of the workforce is unionized now compared to back in the 1960s and 1970s? And I don’t see how Kaus, as a Senator, could immediately act on his beliefs about unions aside from opposing the Employee Free Choice Act (which he does oppose, and I support).
Much to his credit, Kaus went on Huffington Post to try to woo liberal support by defending his positions and couching them in liberal, pro-government terms. I appreciate the effort, assuming he wasn’t just pandering, but I didn’t find his reasoning on the unions thing to be terribly convincing. As for immigration I’m already mostly on his side.
There are other things too. He’s for means-testing Social Security (here and here) because he thinks it’s too expensive. While I do think we should make Social Security more financially sustainable, I don’t think means-testing is the way to go. He voted for Jane Harman in 2006, saying he “like[d] her” and that Harman was “moderate and responsible”. Which part of Harman is “moderate and responsible”, the part where she voted for the Iraq war or the part where she approved of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping?
The worst strike for me, though, is Kaus’s support for the 1996 welfare reform law. Not only am I strongly against that law, I see that law as a defining one for how liberal you are: mainstream, DLC/neoliberal-ified Democrats were for it, and true leftist liberals were against it. For that reason, I celebrate the 21 Democrats who voted against it, which included Boxer. On this very important issue Boxer was clearly on the right side, and Kaus is clearly on the wrong side.
All in all, I appreciate and praise Kaus’s strongly pro-government rhetoric (something I’m always looking for in campaigns), his willingness to defy orthodoxy (something I always appreciate, but won’t reward unless it’s in the right direction, and it’s not in Kaus’s case) and his honest, transparent discussion of his positions on the issues (which is always good). However, simply put Kaus is too conservative for me, and Boxer has always been a strong liberal who’s right on the issues. I strongly endorse Barbara Boxer for the June 8 2010 Democratic Senate primary.
Barbara Boxer. Source: Wikimedia Commons
I tried digging around Boxer’s website to find pro-government rhetoric to match Kaus’s, and sadly I couldn’t find any (let me know if you can find any!). She does have strong positions on jobs and the economy, though.
General Election: For the general election this fall, while I normally would be fine with voting for Boxer on the merits, I feel that I have to lodge a protest vote against Boxer (and all Democratic Senators, in fairness) for not filibustering the public option-less health care bill, as I would have. So unless the election between Boxer and Republican nominee Carly Fiorina is particularly close, I will most likely vote for a liberal, Medicare for All-supporting minor party candidate in November 2010.