Editor’s note: When Voice writers and editors met to consider an endorsement in the March 2 Democratic primary, we were a house divided—and after a second intramural debate, we emerged just as splintered. We’ll offer no endorsement here, but rather an argument for each candidate who has support at the paper.
Kerry for President
Yes, He Can
It’s not easy for freethinkers to back the front-runner. There’s always a better candidate at the back of the pack, or a heroic populist who promises to kick out the jams of politics as usual. But this year we face a clear and present danger in George W. Bush, and the salient question is, Who can defeat him? A large majority of Voice writers and editors who convened to consider this question agree: That man, warts and all, is John Kerry. Nothing we have read about him—including the cover story in this week’s Voice—convinces us otherwise.
This wouldn’t be such a plausible choice if the front-runner were someone like Joe Lieberman, whose sanctimony hid a host of sins. But nothing in Kerry’s public life suggests that he would behave like a Republican. He represents something more subtly objectionable to progressives: Clintonism with a patrician face. Kerry walks and talks like a free-trade Democrat with a commitment to racial and sexual equality. Don’t count on him to abrogate NAFTA, but he will act to ease its traumatic impact on American workers. He won’t soak the rich, but he will pursue tax policies that strengthen the real backbone of our economy: people of modest means. He’ll pursue a foreign policy based on security rather than profiteering or paranoia. He’ll end the politics of coded racism and overt homophobia, preserve reproductive rights, stop schemes to despoil the environment, and end Bush’s crusade to turn America into a theocratic, authoritarian society. Kerry will give us plenty to complain about, but if politics is the art of the possible, this year it’s the art of the bearable—and he’s a good deal better than that.
We’re sick of hearing about Kerry’s horse face or his somnambulant effect on the stump. A fiery speaker with good cheekbones does not a great leader make. We wish it weren’t necessary for a presidential candidate to strut his macho stuff, but in the face of Karl Rove’s dream machine, apparently it is. We’re thankful that Kerry can carry that man thing off without looking like he’s out to destroy the world.
Polls show Kerry with a wide lead in New York, so why not go for Dennis Kucinich, the prog’s favorite son? Because voting from the heart can have disastrous consequences, as it did in 2000 when some of us were drawn to Ralph Nader. (Hopefully that won’t happen again.) There’s a more practical case to be made for Edwards, but not a persuasive one. On the crucial issue of experience, Bush will wipe the floor with him. There’s something unsettling about a 50-year-old candidate who strikes many people as a newbie. What’s more, voting for Edwards is less likely to stop Kerry than to prolong the nominating process, wasting resources on a rivalry between two men who basically agree. This is no time for a cliff-hanger—not when we’re already at the precipice.
Kerry’s lead in current polls is concentrated in the populous “blue states” that vote Democratic. But as the Zogby poll points out, Bush is leading in every state he won in 2000. This is a very steep uphill battle, though not a Sisyphean one. We can win, but only if we learn to move as the right wing has: with will, unity, and a full grasp of the danger that lies ahead if we fail. It’s no exaggeration to say that this election is a matter of life and death. So get your shit together and vote for Kerry.
Edwards the Performer
It’s the Sex Appeal, Stupid
Can we agree that this isn’t about “issues”? Can we admit we’ve never had a grip on NAFTA? Here American union members and non-union chattel are losing their jobs, which hurts all but the richest of us, and there oppressed third-world people are working under (what a surprise) hideously exploitative conditions, but still working, which is better than not working, a/k/a starving.
Out of this moral morass pokes the sharpest distinction between John Kerry and John Edwards, and we’re supposed to choose one or the other? If that’s what you think, go vote for Kucinich. Or Sharpton. Or Dean. We want you, but until November we can’t have you. Vote again then. We’re begging.
There is another substantive difference: whose pocket they’re in. Forget “lobbyists,” although they matter a little. Kerry owes telecommunications, Edwards owes torts lawyers. The lies told about “personal damages” are dwarfed by the lies of the information cartels. One point for Edwards. But that doesn’t matter much either. Because make no mistake—if a Democrat beats Bush, which is possible thanks in significant part to how the utterly unpresidential Dean riled his party, he will inherit an economic mess likely to leave him with the lowest approval ratings ever by early 2006. Issues and backers will mean next to nothing. He’ll be struggling to keep the government’s head above water with his hands tied.
Unlike Bush—whose program continues to be the transfer of wealth to the wealthy and the transformation of welfare state into police state, and who looks forward to shrinking federal services to nothing—both Edwards and Kerry will want the government to survive. Nothing in the record suggests that either man will enjoy any significant edge in mitigating a hellish situation. The only question is who has the better chance of trying. Had he gulled the electorate, Joe Lieberman himself would have been an acceptable alternative, so thank Yahweh he’s gone and consider your options.
John Edwards is from the South and, unlike Al Gore, of the South, where trial lawyers are popular heroes. Like most courtroom stars, Edwards is an inspired performer, a quick-witted natural rapper with a Clinton-esque touch. Early on he made class his identity marker, and class is what the election will be about if our side wins. Republicans and, lately, independents have decisively preferred him to Kerry. He has kept his sights on Bush, not other Democrats—even now he’s attacking Kerry only on NAFTA and electability itself. Give him more chance than Kerry in North Carolina, Tennessee, and conceivably Arkansas or Georgia as well as Florida, and at least an equal chance in the Midwest. He deserves the opportunity to duke it out with the front-runner on Super Tuesday. Should he win, he’s the best candidate, and the party should nominate him, hopefully with minimal bloodshed. Because our eyes should stay on November. Kerry has proven much less of a stiff than he once appeared, and should his fighting style prevail March 2, Edwards should, and likely will, withdraw. If vice-presidential candidates mean anything, he’d make a dandy. Pray he despises Bush enough to put pride aside and give it a shot.
photo: Cary Conover
The Strategic Vote for Progressives
After July, when the Democrats will likely name John Kerry as their presidential candidate, we all have to work with every ounce of our strength to get him elected. The doctrine of preemptive war, the erosion of civil liberties, the abandonment of the poor, the evangelical sway over social issues, the contempt for international law and community, the devastation of the environment, and on and on and on—Bush simply cannot be allowed to continue. The horrors that have avalanched out of the White House in three brutal years give the lie to those catastrophic Naderite claims that there are no significant differences between the two parties. In November, vote for the Democratic candidate. Early and often.
In the primary, however, New Yorkers have an opportunity to widen the differences between the two parties by using their votes strategically. To keep Kerry from drifting rightward, progressives must make themselves heard as an indispensable constituency demanding universal health care, immigrant rights, an end to the war on the poor, international collaboration in bringing stability and real democracy to Iraq.
There is one way to do that: Vote for Dennis Kucinich. A strong showing by Kucinich not only sends a message, it sends delegates to the convention, where they can fight for progressive planks in the party platform.
Along with Howard Dean, who made an enormous contribution by galvanizing a disaffected segment of the electorate, Kucinich has brought forward arguments that other candidates would otherwise not have engaged. Despite the almost universal media blackout on his campaign, Kucinich has used the debates effectively to pound such issues as the war in Iraq and the imbalances of NAFTA, helping to push Kerry and Edwards into stronger positions.
But unlike Dean, Kucinich is genuinely progressive. As a Congress member from Ohio, Kucinich opposed the war in Iraq and calls for a cabinet-level Department of Peace. He has sponsored legislation advancing rights for people with disabilities, stands up for gay marriage, demands a national living wage, and as he told the Voice in a phone interview last week, he’s the only candidate who supports “universal health care, not universal health insurance.”
He proposes a WPA-like jobs program that would rebuild infrastructure and “whole new industries” in solar and wind-generated energy and he wants to expand funding for the arts—which, he said, waxing rapturous over Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, and Keats, “put us on the path of human evolution.”
In Congress, he bravely took a pass on a lopsided symbolic resolution of “solidarity with Israel,” asserting, “The same humanity that requires us to acknowledge with profound concerns the pain and suffering of the people of Israel requires a similar expression for the pain and suffering of the Palestinians.”
That doesn’t make him perfect. Kucinich came late to supporting abortion rights and his delegate deal with John Edwards in Iowa was both dumb and unprincipled. He has failed to build any real grassroots base that can remain mobilized on the causes he champions.
The beauty of the strategic vote for Kucinich, though, is that you don’t need to have any illusions about him, or even like the guy, to vote your conscience on the issues. Let’s elect Kerry in November. But let’s tell him now that we won’t fall for Clintonian centrism again.