The Gold Standard For Progressive Candidates
Last week, CommonDreams published an article I wrote, which was in part about a speech made by John Edwards. In the speech in question, Edwards set forth the rule by which I think all candidates for the presidency should be judged: Are they anti-corporate power or are they corporate owned?
I titled my piece, " Edwards, Does He Mean It?," but CommonDreams gave it a new title, which better suited the full scope of my discussion. Without its original title, however, many readers interpreted my discussion to be an endorsement of John Edwards. In fact, it was meant as a challenge: "You have spoken bold words, Mr. Edwards; now, show us that you really mean them."
Thanks to reader participation in CommonDreams-type forums, we all learn a tremendous amount about the process of public discourse. One thing the response to my column clearly revealed to me is the frustration and resentment many people feel over the media's neglect of candidates like Dennis Kucinich, Mike Ravel, and Ron Paul.
What I saw as an opportunity to challenge John Edwards to further commit himself to a truly progressive agenda, some supporters of Kucinich saw as yet another example of the media neglecting the candidate who truly possesses a solid record of progressive leadership.
Indeed, these readers have a point. When I exhorted Edwards to live up to his own gold standard, and when I urged the people to apply this standard to the candidates' policy positions and to the conduct and financing of their campaigns, I should have cited the fine example already set by Dennis Kucinich. Why should I perpetuate the neglect modeled by the mass media?
The Superior Record of Dennis Kucinich
I should have mentioned, for example, that Kucinich is the only candidate who has proposed a national, not-for-profit health care plan ( H.R. 676). I should have noted that of all the health care plans offered by any of the candidates, Kucinich's plan is the only one that removes for-profit insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies from controlling the system.
A plan to address the health care crisis by cutting out corporate profiteering and reaching out to our nation's 47 million uninsured people is definitely a plan that serves the interests of the people over the interests of corporate America. Kucinch's health care plan is anti-corporate power and therefore it meets Edwards' gold standard for evaluating presidential candidates. At least on the issue of health care, Kucinich stands out as superior to all the other candidates for president, regardless of any flaws his plan contains, simply because his plan cuts out Big Business.
I could also have mentioned that, unlike Edwards, Kucinich never had to apologize about voting for the unprovoked attack, invasion, and occupation of Iraq. Unlike Edwards, Kucinich was not misled into supporting the interests of Big Oil and the industrial-arms complex through devastating warfare. In the Iowa Democratic Debate, Kucinich went even further to attack the corporate agenda which keeps our troops entrenched in a country in which they were not wanted and did not belong.
"We cannot leave more troops there, we cannot privatize Iraq's oil, we cannot partition that country and expect there is going to be peace," Kucinich argued. "We need a president who understands that, one who has been right from the start, and one who has shown the judgment, the wisdom, and the maturity to take the right stand at the time when it counted most when the American people needed someone to stand up and I'm the one who did that."
On the issue of the war, Edward's "anti-corporate power" litmus test boils down to whether the candidates are willing to promise they will not allow the privatization of Iraqi oil. Any plan to privatize Iraqi oil is simply a way of allowing Big Oil's lawyers to craft sophisticated ways of stealing billions and billions of dollars of Iraqi wealth for the elite shareholders who will still set the price of gas as high as politically feasible.
By voting against the war, Kucinich stood up for the interests of the American people. By standing against privatization of Iraqi oil, Kucinich is taking a stand against corporate power. Therefore, Kucinich meets Edwards' gold standard for evaluating presidential candidates. Once again, he looks to be superior to all other presidential candidates.
A final example, I should have cited in discussing Edwards' gold standard is that Kucinich has stated that his first act as President of the United States will be to cancel NAFTA. NAFTA is a trade treaty that has allowed corporate America to reap billions of dollars of profits by shifting operations and jobs abroad where they can be performed by cheap labor and without the costs of socially responsible labor, health and safety and environmental regulations imposed through our democratic political process. In this policy position too, Kucinich passes the anti-corporate power test we ought to impose before giving any candidate our vote.
With all this said, I'd like to return to my point about Edwards' speech: Edwards defined the standard by which we, the people, ought to measure each candidate. Kucinich may meet that standard, but he is inadequately communicating the unifying theme of all his positions: they are all anti-corporate power.
Kucinich's campaign slogan is "Strength through Peace." Being pro-peace and anti-war is extremely important always, but especially in this moment in history. All the same, the war is not really the issue. An astute leader will distinguish that the source of the war is the real evil, not the war itself. The source of the war is the corporate power that profits from the war, the corporate power that placed Dick Cheney and George W. Bush in the Oval Office, the corporate power that profits from Cheney's secret energy task force, from Bush's prescription drug benefit, and from NAFTA.
Like Edwards, when Kucinich discusses these issues, he correctly notes that corporate-owned Democrats have played nearly as large a role in serving corporate power on these issues as have corporate owned Republicans. What Kucinich has not done, or perhaps not done well enough, is make his campaign an explicit challenge to the corporate powers that have destroyed our democracy and taken over our government. Edwards is now beginning to adopt this position. He may do so with a weaker record than Kucinich, but a more effectively communicated message.
Our Challenge to the Candidates
For you and me, the voters, our task is to challenge both Edwards and Kucinich to become better progressive candidates. Therefore, I challenge Edwards to prove the sincerity of his progressive posture by committing to a coherent progressive platform. I challenge Kucinich to make the primary focus of his campaign the need to overthrow the corporate power ruling our government. I challenge both Edwards and Kucinich to recognize that the single most important issue in a campaign dedicated to overthrowing corporate control of American government is the need to address the lack of integrity in our democratic political process.
On this issue, Kucinich, again, has been a leader, demanding careful recounts and denouncing the conduct of Ken Blackwell, Ohio's former Republican Secretary of State, who largely spearheaded the theft of the 2004 election. However, on this issue, Kucinich, again, has failed to properly frame the individual issue as another instance of a much larger problem: the control of our government by corporate power.
Building on Edwards' gold standard, I therefore repeat that any candidate for the presidency who wants the vote of progressive America should not only have to declare him or herself as anti-corporate power, but he or she should also have to make repairing our political process his or her number one priority. The plan a candidate offers for repairing our political process should be judged by its seriousness, its sophistication, and its potential effectiveness in protecting the interests of the American people against the anti-democratic agenda of corporate power.
Let me pose one final challenge to both Edwards and Kucinich: If you are both really anti-corporate power, anti-war, anti-NAFTA, pro-peace, pro-labor, pro-affordable health care for all, THEN TEAM UP! Put your individual campaigns to the side and focus on building strength, legitimacy, and media attention to your united vision. Praise each other, campaign together, build a movement by integrating your two communities both separately focused on the same values and intentions. There has been a lot of talk about a Clinton-Obama ticket. Maybe you both should start selling Edwards-Kucinich in 2008.
As strong as his message may be, Edwards has slim hopes right now of triangulating a nomination out of the struggle between Clinton and Obama. As legitimate as his progressive credentials are, Kucinich does not have the momentum to play coy to an Edwards overture. Election Day is a long way away, true. The two candidates don't have to declare themselves running-mates right now, but they both will need to do some innovative campaigning to stay in the race. A team-work approach could add a new dimension to the campaign season and both candidates have something valuable to offer the other's campaign.
In fact, the two candidates agreed in 2004 that if either failed to survive the first round of the Iowa Caucus that they would encourage their supporters to join the other's camp. Therefore, there already exists a foundation to build upon. Personally, the prospect of an Edwards/Kucinich campaign gets my attention. I say let's all think about it some more. Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog, "MP3—My Politics and Progressive Perspective," may be found at: http://hankedson.squarespace.com .