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Democratic presidential hopefuls are a sorry bunch
Return of GOP Lite

By Alan Maass | May 16, 2003 | Page 2

HOW CAN the Democrats beat George W. Bush in the 2004 election? Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) thinks that the answer is to sound more like Republicans than the Republicans. And the sad truth is that most leading Democrats seem to agree with him.

Lieberman and eight other candidates already in the race for the party's 2004 presidential nomination met in South Carolina in early May for a televised debate.

According to the corporate media's conventional wisdom, Lieberman won hands down. Why? Because he distinguished himself as the loudest supporter of Bush's war on Iraq, the toughest critic of proposals to reform the U.S. health care system and the most enthusiastic cheerleader for a balanced government budget.

"We're not going to solve these problems with the kind of big-spending Democratic ideas of the past," Lieberman declared in response to Rep. Richard Gephardt's (D-Mo.) proposal for repealing Bush's tax cut giveaway to the rich to pay for universal health insurance coverage. These, of course, are the very words used by George Bush--both Junior and Senior, as well as Ronald Reagan, for that matter.

On the Iraq war, Lieberman was in good company. All of the candidates given a serious chance of getting the nomination supported the war--including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), anointed by the media as the "liberal frontrunner," though it's not clear why on either count.

Gephardt's proposal to take back the Bush tax cut to pay for universal health care was a main topic at the debate. The plan is fairly conservative--reserving most of its hundreds of billions of dollars in outlays for tax breaks to corporations to pay for employee health insurance, even those that already provide health care.

Nevertheless, Gephardt is the first of the leading candidates to talk about repealing the Bush tax cut--an issue where the Republicans are wide open to a Democratic attack. So naturally, most of the other Democrats at the debate...attacked Gephardt for proposing a "big government" program.

The candidate getting the most press as the supposed liberal maverick is Howard Dean, a former governor of Vermont. Dean insists that Democrats will have to challenge Bush if they want to win. He opposed the Iraq war--though mainly because it took place without United Nations approval--and he, too, has called for repealing the Bush tax cut.

But Dean isn't very far removed from the Democratic Party mainstream. "It's a pathetic thing that I'm the most progressive candidate," he says, and he's absolutely right, considering his record as Vermont's governor.

There are other more liberal candidates who are given even less of a chance of winning the nomination--Rev. Al Sharpton, for example, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), though he has yet to really answer for his years of supporting the anti-abortionists.

But these "dark horse" candidates play an important role for the Democrats--in mobilizing the party's liberal base during the primaries, and then delivering that vote to whichever more conservative candidate wins the nomination.

There are still many months to go before the election--and plenty of time for these or other candidates to come up with a tougher challenge to Bush. But right now, the most conservative Democrats are setting the tone. Anyone pinning their hopes on the "party of working people" needs to take a long, hard look at this sorry bunch.

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