In barely 18 months, the identity of the Democratic challenger to President
George W. Bush's 2004 re-election will have been determined. Democratic National
Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's front-loading of the nominating process all
but assures that the fight will be over before activists within the party and
on its fringes have a chance to consider the candidates.
Thus, Americans who believe that the Democratic Party ought to offer a choice
rather than an echo of the Bush administration's voodoo economics ought to begin
examining their options now. Fortunately, the recent congressional votes on granting
the Bush administration "fast track" authority to enter into secret negotiations
toward the development of a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas offer a good
place to begin the analysis.
This summer's fast track votes in the House and Senate presented congressional
Democrats - a staggering number of whom are pondering presidential candidacies
- with some stark choices. They could side with the Bush administration, multinational
business interests and the Washington "think tanks" that are willing to go to
war to defend American democracy and values - unless, of course, that democracy
and those values pose a hindrance to nation-hopping corporations. Or they could
side with the trade unions, environmental groups, farm organizations, consumer
groups, churches and international human rights campaigners that represent the
activist base not just of the Democratic Party but of the nation as a whole.
In the House, where fast track passed by an agonizingly narrow 215-212 margin,
Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., did not merely oppose fast track, he helped
coordinate the opposition. Of the 212 votes against fast track, 183 came from
the Democratic caucus.
Two other House members who are considering Democratic presidential runs, Dennis
Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, both of Ohio, were in the forefront of opposition to
Kucinich, the Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman who is perhaps best
known among progressives around the country for his outspoken criticism of the
Bush administration's military policies, combined hometown concern for factory
workers in the Cleveland area with a sophisticated analysis of international human
rights and development issues to offer some of the most thoughtful criticism of
the corporate free trade agenda. (Kucinich's "Action Center" on his congressional
home page at www.house.gov/kucinich/action/trade.htm explains fast track and related
issues and provides links to Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, Friends of the
Earth, the Economic Policy Institute and unions that have battled the corporate
agenda on trade policy.)
Kaptur delivered the best speech during the House's fast track debate. An expert
on trade policy who has battled the corporate agenda for two decades, Kaptur spoke
with the confidence of someone who knew that what the Bush administration was
asking for was wrong. Yes, of course, she said, passing fast track would begin
a process that would cost Americans jobs and farms. But the damage to the developing
world would be worse, she explained, describing a future for the poorest of the
poor that would be defined by "corporate slums and global plantations with penny-wage
What of the Senate, where fast track won a 64-34 endorsement? Though that chamber
is thick with Democratic presidential timber, few of Bush's prospective challengers
stood tall. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota conspired with
corporate Democrat Max Baucus of Montana to spring a surprise vote on the eve
of Congress' summer break. Daschle whipped Democrats to back the Bush agenda on
trade, voted for fast track and then joined in a grotesque celebration of the
victory with Baucus.
Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, was
an outspoken supporter of the legislation. Joining Lieberman and Daschle in backing
fast track was Massachusetts' John Kerry. Delaware's Joe Biden voted against fast
track, but cast procedural votes that aided Daschle's push for the legislation.
Indeed, of Senate Democrats who have been mentioned as potential presidential
contenders, only three stood consistently in opposition to the Bush trade agenda:
Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the Senate's most thoughtful foe of the corporate free-trade
agenda; Connecticut's Chris Dodd, a friend of labor with a long interest in human
rights issues; and, to the surprise of many who recall her role in a previous
administration that fought for fast track, New York's Hillary Clinton.
As for the likely front-runner for the 2004 nomination, Al Gore wrote an op-ed
in Sunday's New York Times in which he condemned the Bush administration's failings
and called for Democrats to stand tough against corporate power. Amazingly, however,
Gore's article made no mention of fast track or the trade debate.
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times