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Thursday, 27 December 2007 01:24

Dr. J.'s Commentary: Iowa, Policy, and the Democrats

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In the Democratic primaries, there are two concerns: policy (if the nominee gets to be President) and electability. As they have done in the past, the center-right Democratic Leadership Council is running what in Standard-Breed (trotters and pacers) horse racing terminology is known as an "entry." In these races, one owner can enter two horses and bettors can bet on the "entry," so that if either one wins, places, or shows, the bettor collects. In 2004 their "entry" was John Edwards and Joe Lieberman. John Edwards was a rather different person and politician back then. I remember back in 2002 or so when he got a Sunday Times Magazine cover, and was hailed as the fair-haired boy of the Democratic "middle" (really center-right). Now, for better or for worse, he is the main hope of the Democratic Left and we all know where Lieberman went.

This time the DLC has an entry as well, yes indeed, Clinton and Obama. They don't like each other much, and each does indeed want to be President. But their central philosophy is much the same and many of their policies are rather similar, too. Obama better articulates the philosophy. But functionally, even though her rhetoric may be a bit harsher, Clinton is woven from the same fabric. And so, Obama talks about the "politics of hope," "bringing the country together," and "crossing the partisan divide." Hillary has talked in the past about "reaching out to the other side," on such issues as abortion rights. They both reflect the view of Ronald Brownstein, author of the misnamed "The Second Civil War," that the problems facing our nation today are the result of a "partisanship" for which both parties are responsible.

The partisanship seen in Washington and elsewhere is not equally the responsibility of the two major parties. It is the Republican Party that has, since the days of Goldwater, gradually abandoned the bipartisan agreement about the bedrocks of the New Deal that Dwight D. Eisenhower himself said would never disappear from American life. It is the Republicans who have lied us into war; saddled us with a national debt that we could conceivably never be able to pay off; who are well on their way to destroying Constitutional Democracy in the United Sates; who want to break down the barriers between church and state; who run on hate of gays and immigrants, the fictional "Islamofascists," and misogyny.

And so, Senators Obama and Clinton, one might ask how exactly does one reach "out" and "across the aisle" on such issues as: the war (you are either for withdrawal by a certain time or you are not); abortion rights (you are either for freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy based on your personal belief as to when life begins, or you are not); the preservation of Constitutional Democracy; a balanced budget for all governmental functions including war-making; a fair taxation system; a Federal government that works; fair elections and the expansion not the contraction of voting rights.

So, where do we go from here? "The pundits" are still primarily focused on Clinton and Obama who, increasingly, are focused on each other rather than either the Republicans or the other Democratic candidates. That is a good thing, for I think that neither would make a good president. The problems of the electability of either have been much discussed elsewhere. As for the presidency, Clinton does seem not to have a "core philosophy" as Sean Hannity screams out every day. (Be careful what you wish for, Sean. Clinton is the only Democratic candidate who could not win the general election against your favorite candidate, Rudy, and would have a hard time against any other Republican candidate, given the dirt any of them would dish.) Like her husband, she is poll-driven. But leadership is what we will need most if the Democratic Party somehow manages to capture the White House in 2008.

As for Obama, he might be able to win, despite the race issue. But how would "govern from the middle," were he to be elected. Just how would he "pull the country together" on issues such as ending the war and abortion rights, on which there is no middle ground? So, of the five remaining, who might one plump for? Edwards, who sees the clear differences, is running third and on politics and policy has a lot going for him, in my view. Richardson, who sees the clear differences, is running fourth and is by his extensive experience in many aspects of government is clearly the best-qualified of all of the candidates. However, from what I have seen of him (admittedly limited, to be sure) he is not good on the stump (at least on the TV stump).

What do we need in the Democratic candidate? One who recognizes that modern Republican Party policy really is antithetical to Constitutional Democracy and to the interests of the bulk of the American people. One who can Attack on Defense (see my column on The Political Junkies.net of Oct. 12, 2006, "Democratic Ideas, XIV: Attack On Defense Revisited"). One who can hang George Bush around the neck of whomever the Republicans nominate. One who has read the Preamble to the Constitution and believes that it, not Grover Norquist, Dick Cheney, and the Republican/Libertarians, set the parameters of the goals and functions of the Federal government. One who will pledge to investigate the criminality of the current administration and bring the perps to justice. One will get us out of Iraq in a constructive way.

My ticket, then? Edwards-Richardson. And if Clinton and Obama succeed in knocking each other off, we might just get it. As Bob Murphy, the late great radio voice of the New York Mets used to say, going into the bottom of the ninth of a tight game at home: "Fasten Your Seat Belts!"

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY), a weekly Contributing Author for the Web zine The Political Junkies.net; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; and an invited contributor to the Web log The Daily Scare.