On Native Ground
WHEN WILL A REAL DEMOCRAT RUN FOR PRESIDENT?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In talking to people around where I live, there's a distinct lack of enthusiasm for John Kerry.
Sure, most liberals in Vermont are going to vote for him on Nov. 2. But they will do so only because he's not George W. Bush.
That may be enough to make Kerry the next president, but it certainly isn't enough to inspire people to give him the kind of support that we saw our former governor, Howard Dean, receive last year when he was one of the few Democrats with enough guts to take on President Bush on his ill-fated choice to invade Iraq.
The Deaniacs are in Kerry's corner now, because there's nowhere else to go. To get rid of the worst president in our nation's history, Democrats have to support a man who was one of the founders of the Democratic Leadership Council who supported some of the worst policy ideas of the past decade.
Kerry voted to give President Bush the go-ahead to invade Iraq. He voted for the Patriot Act. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and voted for the disastrous "No Child Left Behind" education bill. During the Clinton years, Kerry voted for NAFTA and for the WTO. He voted for the Patriot Act's predecessor, the Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. He supports the death penalty and the "war on drugs." He even voted for the Communications Decency Act. Yet Kerry has been pilloried by the right-wing screech monkeys as being hopelessly, dangerously liberal, which speaks volumes about how far to the right the political spectrum has shifted in the last decade.
Even with this record, the so-called pros in the Democratic Party deemed Kerry to be more electable than Dean. But it was Dean who energized liberals and offered - if only for a little while - a real alternative to the same old centrist crap the Democrats have been serving up for the past decade or so.
For the most part, the Democrats haven't let the energy and new ideas that the Dean campaign brought to the party completely dissipate. The people that were holding meet-ups for Dean are now holding them for Kerry. The model of Internet fund-raising has been co-opted by the Kerry campaign. And there are enough people who want to get rid of Bush that they will not be tempted to vote for third-party candidates.
But I still feel an emptiness. I still see a Democratic Party that is too cautious and too afraid of bold ideas; a party that is trying too hard to repudiate liberalism despite the wreckage of past attempts to appeal to voters with tepid centrism.
Ralph Nader, the man the Democratic Party loves to hate, accurately pointed out this emptiness in a column that appeared in the July 25 edition of the Boston Sunday Globe.
He said there were 12 things that the Democrats wouldn't discuss at the convention in Boston: a crackdown on corporate crime, paying workers a living wage, withdrawal from GATT and NAFTA, revamping the income tax system, adoption of a single-payer health-care system, standing up to commercial energy interests, cutting the military budget, electoral reform, overhauling the criminal justice system, supporting a just two-state accord between Israel and the Palestinians, advocating a complete U.S. military and commercial withdrawal from Iraq and battling the so-called "tort reform" movement.
These are all issues I care about. I suspect many liberals who are reading this column support the 12 things that Nader talked about in the Globe. But we know, as Nader points out, that the problem is "power and avoidance: the power of big business and special interests and the avoidance of any issues that might draw a clear distinction between our two leading political parties."
The Democrats' fear of being bold and being seen as - gasp! - liberal is why Nader may yet be a factor in the election. Sure, the Republicans are helping Nader because they want him to be the spoiler. But the surest way to make Nader or any other third-party candidate a non-factor in the election is to get out of the middle of the road and support issues such as single-payer health-care, cutting the defense budget or turning the minimum wage into a living wage for workers.
Granted, this election is a perfect illustration of the old adage that if you find yourself stuck in a deep hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. Things will certainly get worse with another four years of Bush. But will things automatically get better if Kerry is in the White House? Based on what I've been seeing and hearing, I'm not counting on it.
I stopped voting for the Democratic Party when Bill Clinton and Al Gore decided to make it a kinder, gentler version of the Republican Party. I still want a choice, and not an echo. Here in Vermont, where Kerry will easily win no matter whom I vote for, I have the luxury of voting my hopes rather than my fears.
I would love to see other liberals around the country to have that same option, but what we're faced with is yet another lesser-of-two-evils election. I still want to see someone run for president who represents the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, but it looks as I'll be waiting a long time to see that happen.
Kerry is not George W. Bush. Will that be enough? In an age of diminished expectations and ideological timidity, it may be, and our political debate is the poorer for it.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.