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EDITORIAL
Promising as little as possible

December 14, 2007 | Page 2

THE LONG countdown to the Democratic presidential primaries is almost over, and the months of debates and stump speeches have added up to...well, not much.

The crisis of the Bush administration and the Republicans is so severe that the way seems clear for a Democrat to take back the White House. The scenario couldn't be better for Democrats to get up off the mat they've resided on during the Bush years, and speak up for an alternative to the discredited right-wing agenda.

Instead, virtually every candidate is sticking to the cautious, stage-managed, triangulated scripts left over from past elections.

To be sure, there's a bit of a horse race. The daily media reports chew over state poll data and fundraising figures, while top-tier candidates snipe at each other over trivia. Maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton's political machine won't be able to deliver an "inevitable" nominee after all; maybe Barack Obama will win early in the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary.

Obama generated excitement among people fed up with politics as usual in the U.S., and he promotes himself as representing "generational change." But his campaign has been plagued--at least until recently--by the correct perception among most people that this is all style over substance. His proposals don't depart at all from the moderate-to-conservative ones pursued by mainstream Democrats over the last quarter century.

Like Hillary Clinton, Obama's health care reform proposals guarantee a continued central role for the insurance industry. And two years after Bush's plan to privatize Social Security fizzled, Obama has been the candidate to recycle Republican claptrap about a "crisis" in Social Security funding--that is, preparing the ground to raise the retirement age and cut benefits.

But at least Obama is still the antiwar candidate, right? Nope--in fact, he joined Clinton and John Edwards in refusing to commit to withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the next president's first term in 2013.

Like his rivals, Obama is out to prove that he'd be a responsible steward of U.S. imperial power, which means that the U.S. occupation of Iraq must continue indefinitely, if with a smaller contingent of troops. Whatever the differences on Iraq between Bush and the leading Democratic contenders, they share this consensus.

As for Edwards, he's tried to sound populist themes, railing at corporations and bragging about how many picket lines he's walked. A closer look, however, shows that he remains squarely within the conservative Democratic framework used by former President Bill Clinton--a package of charm and revved-up speeches wrapped around essentially pro-business policies.

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OF COURSE, the Democrats offer some incremental changes from the Bush years--pushing diplomacy instead of Bush's hyper-aggressive foreign policy abroad, and promising to roll back some of the tax breaks for the wealthy. But this won't even begin to undo the damage of eight years of George Bush, let alone the cumulative effects of the country's right turn that accelerated when Ronald Reagan won the 1980 elections.

And on the economic front, there is the threat of much worse to come--after an economic expansion of the early 2000s that did little to improve workers' lives, a recession, potentially severe, is in the cards. But the Democratic candidates are saying next to nothing about the issues this raises.

And no wonder, given their record--one of the second-tier candidates, Sen. Chris Dodd, was, in fact, a sponsor of the 2005 bankruptcy "reform" bill that will keep many victims of sub-prime mortgages or sky-high medical bills on the hook to creditors for the rest of their lives.

Among the candidates, Dennis Kucinich has been the voice of radical-liberals who want to keep hope alive in the Democratic Party as a progressive force. But his supporters received a shock recently when Kucinich declared that if he got the nomination, he'd choose as a running mate libertarian Republican Ron Paul--who is anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, for the elimination of income taxes, and for letting the free market replace virtually every government function.

As bad as the Democratic contest is, of course, the Republicans are far worse. With well-known party figures fleeing Congress for retirement and cushy lobbying jobs, the Republicans will have a hard time holding onto supposedly safe seats, let alone keeping control of the White House.

The Democrats may not deserve to win next November, but the Republicans appear locked into a death spiral, dragged down by the unpopular Bush, endless war and the economy.

The primary season will be unusually condensed, with nominees likely known by early February. Then will come the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history--with the Democrat promising as little as possible.

Under such circumstances, anyone hoping to advance an antiwar or progressive agenda through the electoral arena will be disappointed. Building an alternative to the status quo in Washington depends on political discussion, organizing and action at the grassroots.

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