On the eve of super tuesday, with the fates of the Democratic and Republican candidates still up in the air, I have decided to put it all out on the table and do endorsements (Obama, Paul). OK, now with that out of the way I can get to what I really want to discuss in this post. It involves meaty presidential politics after the Democratic and Republican nominations are sealed.
Monday, February 4, 2008
In the last long six months or so, we have heard a lot from our Repub-Democrat presidential wannabes. We have heard them address the tough issues, from caring for our veterans to faith. We have heard them tell us how they will change the culture in Washington, how they are the candidates of change, and why they are able to change things more than the next guy or girl. We also heard about change.
Even though it may not always be obvious, beneath all of this political showmanship and jousting, many of these candidates have staked out, more or less, positions on the tough issues facing our country other than whether they can be a change from Bush. Presenting "clear and coherent programs to voters" is what a responsible party government is all about, or at least that is what my political science textbook told me. A candidate telling an electorate that they have a secret plan to fix a problem, and that the electorate need just trust the candidate, vote for him, and then find out about the plan after the election (see Richard Nixon) is not fair, nor does it fit with the sort of democratic system we want to engender. So it is much better when candidates just tell us what they are thinking of doing when they win the election, and then let us decide who to vote for.
I have been lucky enough to have the time to check out each candidate's issues repository on their websites. This section is constantly being augmented and changed. For example, some months ago I went onto Barack Obama's website to check out where he stands on all the important issue and I wrote this - Not very friendly, huh. Fortunately, things have changed. He now has a hundred more words on the Iraq war than on Veterans, although both are dwarfed by his section on Family (over 2,000 more words).
All this is really beside the point though. What matters is the substance of the policy pronouncements. Quality not quantity. Now, I consider myself progressive, so I am personally particularly interested in the positions of the Democrats. Environment, tax equality, military expenditure, progressive foreign policy, corporate welfare, reinvigorating government regulation on business on behalf of the people, healthcare; all these issues and more are what I really want to hear about. I am really disheartened to say that the majority of these issues are almost completely ignored, passed over, or are illiberal. Barack Obama wants to expand the military by 92,000 troops. Hilary has a dubious past (see ABC report), an uninspiring senatorial stint (luckily we can still burn flags), and big support from corporate interests, especially Wall Street. Barack is really no better, and his relatively recent foray into politics gives the fact-checkers a lot less to check up on.
The issues that I outlined above are at best appeased, and at worst not even mentioned. Get this: both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do not have an issue section on their website devoted to the environment (I'm not talking energy security, I'm talking national parks, wetlands etc.). The only viable candidate with such a section is John McCain, the Republican. When it comes to healthcare, Clinton offers a plan to achieve universal coverage in an awful roundabout way which includes fining people if they don't pony up and pay for health insurance. She and Barack both do not address the real endemic tragedies of our healthcare misfire, including profiteering drug companies, profit demented and empathy anemic insurance providers, and massive administration costs.
If liberals were expecting to find a call for more regulation of Wall Street, a revamping of fundamental economic policy (monetary and trade), and more corporate oversight and consumer protection, we must have fooled ourselves into thinking that our vote mattered. In reality, the Democrats take liberals and progressives for granted, just as the Republicans pander to the religious right and then never deliver the goods.
And then there is the arena of foreign policy. Both Barack and Hillary have a completely vapid approach to foreign policy, and that is what, to me, is the most distressing. On the Israel/Palestine issue, both Democrats forgo liberalism and support the continuation of the same old disastrous policy against the Palestinians. Both Hillary and Barack do not renounce the jingoistic foreign policy of Bush. They continue to buy into the idea that the U.S. empire is both moral and justified, while being neither. Their Iraq policy can not be summed up better than by this quote from Noam Chomsky: The opposition to the war today in elite sectors, including every viable candidate, is pure cynicism, completely unprincipled: "If we can get away with it, it's fine. If it costs us too much, it's bad."
So, what do we do when we have been abandoned by the one party that claims to offer us a place in this democracy. First we wait until after the primary rigmarole is over. Then we look towards the oft-forgotten third-parties. Luckily this year, it looks as though we might have some choices.
The rumor mills have been churning over a possible Michael Bloomberg run. While some see such a candidate as being another assault by the business interests of this country on the underrepresented majority (see here), I think that a Bloomberg candidate could add an interesting element to the presidential race, and allow more issues to come to the fore.
The other possible candidate, and one who I am personally very excited about, is Ralph Nader. Mr. Nader has put up a presidential exploratory website (here) for the purpose of looking into a possible run, especially, he says, now that Edwards and Kucinich are gone, and Hillary may win.
Now the arguments against Nader are many, and I don't hope to convince everyone on the value of having Mr. Nader run again. He is very good at laying out his own case, which you can see on a recent Main Issue blog post (Nader '08). But let me just say that for one, Nader did not loose the election for Gore, Gore lost it for himself (he was an incumbent VP, running while the economy boomed, and still lost his home state). Secondly, having Nader in the race creates a presidential contest where voters may actually be able to be educated about issues rarely discussed. This, in a functioning democracy, is a good thing, and we need a lot more of it. Lastly, a Nader presidential run, more than anything else - especially more than winning, which he is unlikely to do seeing as the system is so rigged in favor of the Demo-Republicans - could build a framework with which to mobilize people who care about fixing our democracy, and to send them off to educate and inform our cynical and apathetic population, and, hopefully, to live on to fight the good fight in the political arenas of the future.
This is why my real endorsement goes to the to-be-announced Ralph Nader ticket. Happy voting!