Election 2004 and the Democrats
January 16, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7
ELIZABETH SCHULTE looks at the records of the nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.
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EVEN WITH the Democratic Party establishment nipping at his heels, the supposed "insurgent" Howard Dean looks to be holding onto his position as frontrunner for the party nomination. He has gotten the attention of liberal voters who appreciate his anti-Bush rhetoric as an alternative to the status quo that the party has to offer.
The likes of Joe Lieberman and John Kerry have lashed out at the former Vermont governor for being "too far left of mainstream." But Dean is far from that.
As governor, he was strictly in the mainstream. As Dean himself says, "I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator." He is fondly remembered by supporters for signing legislation that legalized civil unions for gays and lesbians.
What's less remembered is that, before Dean signed the legislation, which fell short of legalizing gay marriage, Dean said that same-sex marriage "makes me uncomfortable, the same as anybody else." After he signed the bill--behind closed doors, away from the media--he made a speech that made sure to reach out to opponents of gay rights as well.
Dean is thought of as an environmentalist, but many Vermont activists remember him for helping to gut environmental protections at the request of corporations doing business in the state. If he wins the party nomination, hold on to your seats. You can bet on more political somersaults from Dean.
DURING WARTIME, who better than a four-star general to stand up against Bush? At least that's what former Gen. Wesley Clark is thinking. And that's what liberal muckraker Michael Moore is thinking, too.
Among the "anybody but Bush" crowd surveying the alternatives for the Democratic nomination, Clark has gained some support because, as a former military man, he might be able to cut into Bush's wartime popularity. But what exactly are we getting with Clark?
While he likes to say that he opposed Bush's pre-emptive war in Iraq--calling Bush "all bully and no pulpit"--Clark is a bully himself. He served as U.S. military commander during the 1999 NATO war over Kosovo, an intervention that was supposed to stop ethnic cleansing.
Instead, the war accelerated the ethnic cleansing--including of Serb communities the oppressed ethnic Albanian minority, under the noses of NATO peacekeepers. Today, NATO forces still occupy the region. At the end of the war, when Clark ordered British forces to block Russian troops from carving out a Russian zone of occupation, a British commander said "no."
"I'm not going to start World War Three for you," British commander Michael Jackson reportedly told Clark. Clark says that he's for more multilateral solutions in Iraq and around the world, but ultimately, he really wants what Bush wants--for the U.S. to call the shots.
MISSOURI REP. Dick Gephardt is widely viewed as organized labor's candidate for the Democratic nomination. The loser for the 1988 nomination is the only contender who can boast that his father was in a trade union--even though his father was a Republican, and he was forced to join the Teamsters as a precondition for getting his job.
Gephardt has a reputation, however inconsistent, for voting with unions on trade issues, including the North American Free Trade Agreement pushed through by the Clinton administration. Gephardt's current proposal is for an "international minimum wage," which he says would prevent U.S. corporations from going overseas to take advantage of lower-paid workforces and raise the living standards of workers outside the U.S.
But Gephardt also says that this "international" wage would be "variable," depending on the level of development of the country. Minimum and variable?
A good part of Gephardt's reputation on trade issues revolves around his championing of anti-Asian, protectionist sentiment dating back to the 1980s--which blames Japan and South Korea (and more recently China) for "dumping" goods in the U.S.
Gephardt isn't pro-worker. He's the co-founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the conservative pro-business wing of the Democratic Party that was formed to prove that the Democrats weren't just the "party of labor."
And Gephardt in the White House would likely do little to improve the lives of U.S. workers being sent to occupy Iraq. Early on, Gephardt supported Bush's call to invade Iraq. While he criticizes how the war has gone, he's never reversed his support of it.
Let's call him the Great Pretender. When he wants to appeal to an antiwar audience, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry likes to pull out his activist credentials as a soldier who took part in protests after returning from Vietnam. At a 1971 demonstration, he threw soldiers' medals--not his own, incidentally; he kept his--over the fence in front of the Capital.
But that was a very long time ago. In October 2002, Kerry voted for Bush's Iraq war resolution--and against an alternative that would have made United Nations (UN) authorization a precondition for war. Only when it became obvious that the U.S. occupation was facing problems did Kerry discover that he really opposed the war after all.
Kerry also likes to pretend that he is just a "regular guy," aping what he considers to be a working-class persona at several campaign stops. Let's get real. While he's not the only millionaire in the race for the Democratic nomination, Kerry is the multimillionaire-iest.
His mother is from Boston's prominent Forbes family. He spent his childhood in Swiss schools before attending Yale. And if you include the assets of Kerry's wife--Teresa Heinz Kerry, who inherited money from her late husband, heir to the Heinz food company fortune--the couple is worth about $840 million.
IF THERE'S a candidate who's running on his "underdog" status, it's Dennis Kucinich. The Ohio congressman's stance against the war on Iraq has won him the support of many activists who believe that the Kucinich campaign can take the Democratic Party back to its more liberal roots.
But Kucinich is hardly the "outsider" to U.S. politics that he claims to be. His political career began in 1969, when he was voted on to Cleveland's city council at the age of 23.
During his long political career, he's made quite a few twists and turns. In 1998, Kucinich voted for the Iraq Liberation Act, Bill Clinton's call for regime change in Iraq.
During his 1996 run for Congress, he opposed same-sex unions. Now he supports them. He made a similar switcheroo on affirmative action.
But perhaps Kucinich's most extreme turnaround is on abortion rights. While he now says that his position has "evolved" and he is for a woman's right to choose abortion, he has a much longer record of voting to restrict abortion rights.
"People want to make sure that their president has a capacity to grow and a capacity to evolve," Kucinich explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. The danger is the he will evolve again--back the other way.
Rev. Al Sharpton
UNLIKE THE other contenders for the Democratic nomination, Rev. Al Sharpton can boast activist credentials. He has been arrested during protests against the U.S. Navy's target range in Vieques, and he played a leading role in protests against high-profile cases of police brutality in New York City, including the murder of African immigrant Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 cop bullets.
Sharpton also took the stage at recent demonstrations against the war in Iraq. But while he claims the mantle of the movement for civil rights, he hasn't always earned it.
Sharpton was once an FBI informant. In 1988, New York's Newsday reported accusations that Sharpton tried to set up a meeting with fugitive Black Panther Assata Shakur five years earlier.
Newsday based its story on reports from activists who said they were approached by Sharpton. Sharpton denied helping the Feds go after Black activists, but he admitted that he had assisted the government in drug and organized crime cases by accompanying undercover federal agents wearing body recorders to meetings with various subjects of federal investigations.
Sharpton stands out as one of the only contenders to oppose Bush's war unconditionally. But he's also joined in the mainstream Democrat complaint that the invasion of Iraq was an ineffective way to fight the "war on terror."
Carol Moseley Braun
FORMER SEN. Carol Moseley Braun--the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate--seems an obvious choice for many liberal Democrats. She won the early endorsement of the National Organization for Women.
She was staunchly opposed Bush's war in Iraq. But now that the troops are there, Moseley Braun says that "Americans don't cut and run" and was in favor of Congress approving Bush's request for $87 billion to fund the occupation.
She opposes the USA PATRIOT Act and the death penalty, and she is also well-known for her outspoken opposition to the flying of the racist Confederate flag.
But Moseley Braun's career has had some ugly moments. As a senator, she took a six-day trip to visit brutal Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha in 1996, just months after he executed nine local activists, including renown playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, for opposing Shell Oil's destruction of Nigerian land. Moseley Braun praised Abacha's role "in the support and promotion of family values."
Moseley Braun may pretend to be a political outsider, but she's not. She's held public office since 1973, from a Chicago federal prosecutor to senator to ambassador. And when push comes to shove, she will funnel her support to whatever Democrat wins the nomination.
LOOK BENEATH North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' blown-dried good looks, and you'll find a head full of frightening ideas. Among the contenders for the presidential nomination, Edwards is second only to Lieberman in hawkishness.
He voted for Bush's pre-emptive war on Iraq. He also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act--and even has ideas for stronger homeland security. On social issues, Edwards likes to play it down the middle--in other words, leaning to the right.
A member of the DLC, Edwards supports the death penalty, but says it should be administered fairly. He skirted taking a stand on the question of gay marriage by arguing that it was for "states to decide." And he avoided the issue of abortion rights by skipping last year's Senate votes on the ban on late-term abortions.
ONE LOOK at Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's record would lead you to ask: If he becomes the Democratic nominee, why not just vote for Bush? Lieberman has long favored "regime change" in Iraq--even before Bush Jr. turned his attention to it.
He voted in favor of Bush Sr.'s first Gulf War in 1991, and he cosponsored the Iraq "Liberation" Act of 1998 that made "regime change" the goal of U.S. policy. He also supports the insane "Star Wars" missile defense system, along with plenty of spending for the Pentagon.
Lieberman also stands toe to toe with Republicans on the issue of "family values." With his former running mate's wife, Tipper Gore, Lieberman led a crusade to rid Hollywood of sex and violence, and put religion at the center of American society. He rushed to condemn Bill Clinton's "immoral" behavior with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
But he agreed with his fellow DLCer on a pro-business approach to social issues. On the issue of abortion, Lieberman has voted for parental consent laws and a ban on the late term procedure that abortion opponents call "partial birth."
He flip-flopped on his stance on affirmative action--claiming in 1995 that affirmative action was "dividing" America. Lieberman was an enthusiastic backer of Clinton's 1996 welfare "reform" law, which cut millions of poor women and children off the welfare rolls.
While he supports same-sex unions, he opposes gay marriage, and in 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. "Marriage has a special status in our culture, our heritage, our history," Lieberman said recently.