When this presidential campaign started, I thought John Kerry would be a shoe-in. He had everything going for him: a Vietnam combat hero and then an articulate and courageous leader of the anti-war veterans' movement. He had a strong liberal record on the environment, on social issues, on labor. He was an early supporter of the clean money bill for publicly financed elections; he understood the corrosive effect that big money and special interests have on American politics. During the Iran Contra hearings, he exposed the folly of American foreign policy. His vote to support the Iraqi war was, as I saw it, an act of commonplace political cowardice, but in explaining his position, he ably articulated the flaws in the Bush administration's bully-boy foreign policy. I was ready to support him for President.
Building on his mistaken stance on Iraq, Kerry proceeded to run a textbook campaign on how to alienate his supporters. He was petty, arrogant, and seemingly more opposed to Howard Dean than he was to the Bush administration.
As a Vermonter, I was astonished by Dean's rise to frontrunner status. But Howard Dean, the governor, was a different politician than Howard Dean the candidate. History will be kind to our former governor, even if his support dwindles in the on-going primary season.
Whereas Kerry and the other Democrats tried to forge politically safe positions, Dean galvanized and articulated the disgust that most Democrats have toward the Bush administration. His boldness gave the other candidates the courage to go after the president. Dean took the heat from the media for standing up to Bush (something that the media itself, with a few notable exceptions, lacked the courage to do). And he also took heat from the other Democratic candidates. This made them seem petty and threatened to destroy the party. When, after Saddam Hussein was captured, Dean said that his capture would not make the war go better or the American people safer, he was right, as the evidence has shown. Shame on the press for attacking Dean for telling the truth! Shame on the other candidates for echoing the shallow and cowardly conventional wisdom!
Many Vermonters have suspected all along that Howard Dean lacks the temperament and gravitons to be a viable candidate. Let's give up our small state fantasy and admit that truth. But three big cheers for out ex-Gov. He gave the campaign its focus and excitement. He gave substance to Paul Wellstone's wonderful line, "I stand for the Democratic wing of the Democratic party". Now it's up to the other Democrats to represent that wing.
Forget how they voted on Iraq. The fact is, when Bush made his case to Congress, he lied. I wish John Kerry had seen through that lie, as Dean did, and as most rank-and-file Democrats did. It bothers me that he was so easily conned. I wish also that John Kerry would advertise his courageous anti-Vietnam activism as much as he advertises his combat heroism. But he's good on every issue, including now, Iraq.
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Once again it's Kerry's nomination to lose. If the party deadlocks, Wesley Clark, the General on the white horse, takes the prize. He is thoughtful and decent, a General who helped to administrate a racially and gender integrated military. I honor him for wanting to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Obviously he isn't a pacifist, but he is committed to international structures and humanitarian goals. If Clark doesn't become president, he is my first choice for Secretary of State.
John Edwards has shown himself to be an authentic populist with humane social values. He'd make a great Attorney General. Dick Gephardt for secretary of Labor, or, given his congressional experience, Vice President. Carole Mosely Braun is a smart and articulate woman. She belongs in the cabinet or back in the Senate. Dennis Kucinich, if he wants to move up, has also earned a place in the cabinet. Doctor Dean, a proven administrator can run Health, Education, and Welfare, or serve us all as an outspoken Surgeon General.
All Democratic candidates except Dick Gephardt are free traders. Globalization represents a technological revolution. There is no turning back. I believe all the Democrats can be moved to a more labor and environmentally friendly position on fair trade. Utopianism isn't on the table. In this election I'll settle for common sense.
A word to the Deaniacs: you pushed the Democrats into the 21st century. You served an historical purpose. You inspired young people to get into politics. Don't go away!
As my friends and readers know, I'm a Vermont progressive, left of center. I've never been a card carrying Democrat. But this year, until election day is past, I am a Democrat. To be a Democrat is not to hold one's nose in the voting booth or complain about the lesser of two evils. It's to do the right thing. It's to answer history's call, with enthusiasm and pride.
The day after election day, we can all go back into opposition. A basic fact of American politics is that Democrats have to heed the voters on their left. Right wing Republicans, by contrast, gain strength by bashing the left. Give us a candidate who will stand up to the Bush administration and we will do what has to be done to get out the vote and make sure that the ballots are counted right -- each and every one.