Time to Get Real

John Kerry bowed to the inevitable July 6 when he announced John Edwards as his running mate. If Kerry had any reservations about the one-term North Carolina senator, he didn't show them when he brought Edwards to Pittsburgh to show off his new best friend in his wife's home town, which just happens to be in a swing state.

Democrats seemed relieved at the choice of the charisma-tic trial lawyer to complement the wonkish former prosecutor. Edwards' populist campaign theme also complements Kerry's liberal credentials and foreign policy/national security experience. The two other known VP finalists, US Rep. Dick Gephardt and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, are both solid Democrats and likely choices for a Kerry Cabinet. But neither possesses the appeal -- the Elvis, as Molly Ivins would say -- that Edwards brings to the ticket. As the son of a millworker who worked his way through school, Edwards knows the concerns and aspirations of working-class voters. And as a trial lawyer he knows how to relate those concerns in terms voters can understand.

In speaking of the two Americas that exist under George W. Bush, Edwards turns the GOP's faux populism on its head. As Edwards said during his campaign, "Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America -- middle-class America -- whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America -- narrow-interest America -- whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president."

Readers will remember that we recommended Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean in the primary season as the populists and reformers in the race, but we also found much to recommend in Kerry and Edwards. As a team they are focusing on providing health care for all, expanding higher education opportunities, fulfilling promises to veterans, promoting small businesses and rural communities and protecting the environment. We can embrace that Democratic agenda whole-heartedly.

This is not to say that we agree with every point of the Kerry campaign. We think he is too cautious in criticizing Bush's disastrous Iraq occupation. Kerry has said he would repair America's international alliances and build a genuine multinational coalition to secure Iraq. He adds that it might require more US troops in the short term. The Democratic platform committee on July 10 adopted language brokered by the Kerry campaign that says, "The US will be able to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and we intend to do this when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence." Kucinich supporters, who pressed for more explicit criticism of Bush's war and a quicker exit strategy, claimed a victory with the commitment to at least begin talking about bringing the troops home.

We have confidence in Kerry's intention to resolve the Iraqi mess with the cooperation of the United Nations and Iraqi interests. We have no confidence in the Bush administration. If given a second term the Bushites are likely to push for a new military draft to provide the new divisions of American soldiers needed for their planned invasions of Syria and Iran.

Kerry's pragmatic view on Iraq will not satisfy some anti-war activists. Their antipathy towards Kerry reminds us of those leftists who could not bring themselves to vote for the liberal Hubert Humphrey in 1968 because, as vice president, he supported Lyndon Johnson's war in Vietnam. So Richard Nixon, who sabotaged peace talks on the eve of the election, won the White House by a little more than 500,000 votes. The war continued for five more years, and 20,000 more Americans were killed, along with perhaps a million Vietnamese. In addition, the Nixon administration supported the right-wing military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende's elected government in Chile, resulting in the killing or disappearance of more than 3,000 leftists. The Nixon administration also supported Operation Condor, a campaign of assassination and abduction of thousands of South American leftists and trade unionists in the 1970s. Those anti-war protesters who sat out the 1968 election really showed Humphrey what for!

This election figures to be as important as 1968. The Bush administration already has shown that it will lie, cheat and steal to achieve its aims. You will recall the Bushites were put in power by partisans on the Supreme Court after brother Jeb Bush was unable to produce an honest win in Florida. Now they are discussing the possibility of canceling the elections if there is a terrorist attack on the eve of the election.

As we have said before, Ralph Nader has the right to run for president -- but we also have the responsibility to tell him his campaign is reckless. Our readers can make up their own minds, but the only groundswell of support Nader seems to have is from Republican political operatives who would like to see him on the ballot to split the liberal vote in key states.

Even at that Nader is having trouble getting bona-fide signatures to put him on ballots. The Greens passed up on Nader, choosing to nominate organizer David Cobb. The Natural Law Party also snubbed Nader. Remnants of the Reform Party endorsed Nader in a May 11 teleconference call. The Reform line is on seven state ballots, including battleground states Florida and Michigan, but the Ballot Access News (ballot-access.org) noted that some Reform state units are independent of the national organization, so it is unclear how many states Nader will gain via the Reform nomination. (The Michigan and Florida lines are among those up for dispute.)

People who vote for Nader thinking that they will help the situation in the Middle East, much less advance progressive causes stateside, are fooling themselves and ignoring history.

David Cobb, the Texan now living in California who will head the Green ticket this year, said he plans to pursue a "safe states" strategy and use the campaign to build the party at the local level. The Green Party is currently on 23 state ballots and he expects to be on 30 to 35 this fall, but he does not plan to campaign against Kerry in the "battleground" states.

"It's important not to alienate progressive Democrats," Cobb said in an interview, "but the question is whether progressive Democrats will differentiate between the Green Party and Nader."

He understands the "Anybody But Bush" movement, but he said the Greens still need to build their own progressive movement to address their agenda. "Because George Bush has been such a nightmare this is a special case. But if the Democrats think this means the Greens are going away they're making a serious mistake."

Cobb plans to continue to advance the principles of peace, racial and social justice, real democracy and environmental protection. He also will challenge the corporate drift of the two major parties and work for alternative voting systems, such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation that would let minor parties run in elections without playing a spoiler role.

He added that instant runoff voting is starting to catch on at the local level. "We're finding that local Democrats will work with us because they're infinitely more progressive than the [pro-big-business Democratic Leadership Council] and the [Democratic National Committee]."

Reality cuts both ways. Progressives must realize that either Bush or Kerry will be president and a Democratic Congress is needed to get things done under Kerry or to block Bush. But Democrats also need to enact instant runoff voting and proportional representation where they can. -- JMC

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