The Progressive Choice

You can't blame progressives for getting nervous. Republicans have spent the summer trashing John Kerry's record -- not only his Senate voting record but also his heroic Vietnam war record. The GOP has enough money, not only with the official Bush-Cheney campaign but also with "independent" political action committees, to blanket the airwaves with their smear campaigns. And polls show that nearly half of the electorate buys their line of attack.

Nearly half. The important thing is that Bush isn't over the hump and Kerry has only begun to fight.

Republicans have done a masterful job of steering the debate away from the economy, health care and education. They don't want to talk about those issues because Bush has a record there and it's nothing to brag about. Just on the economy, Bush took a federal budget that was in the black for the first time in a generation and in three years he ran it to record deficits with irresponsible tax cuts. He lost more than a million jobs but promised in 2003 that those tax cuts he rammed through for the wealthy would stimulate the economy and create 306,000 jobs per month. So far he is 2.6 million jobs short of projections. Bush threatens to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to see a net loss of jobs during his term.

We have heard complaints that Kerry is not talking enough about domestic issues as well as blasting Bush's mishandling of the war on terror. Perhaps because we live in Austin, Texas, an outpost in Bush country, we don't see the ads that are running in the "swing states." That may be a blessing. A trip back to Iowa before the Republican convention exposed us to saturation political advertising -- mainly pro-Bush ads as Kerry was saving his money at that point -- and the commercials were more annoying than illuminating.

Kerry and John Edwards have been making the rounds of the swing states and, yes, they've been talking about the issues. The issues might not make the evening news, but voters who don't have access to C-SPAN can look at the Kerry-Edwards website (www.johnkerry.com) to check out Kerry's "Plan for America," which includes detailed plans on national security, economy and jobs, health care, energy independence, homeland security, education, the environment and other issues.

Briefly, Kerry's economic program would offer tax breaks for businesses that create jobs in the US instead of moving them overseas. He also would enforce labor and environment protections in trade agreements, which would be a marked departure from the Bush administration. Kerry would cut taxes for middle-class Americans while raising rates for the top 2% of individuals and the top 1% of businesses. He would invest in new technology to manufacture energy-efficient cars, high-grade steel, advanced plastics and other new products.

On health care, Kerry plans to offer every American access to the same range of affordable plans available to members of Congress and extend coverage to 95% of Americans, including every child. He would subsidize high-cost cases and would provide $177 billion in tax credits to make health care more affordable for people and businesses. These would include a tax credit of up to 50% for small businesses that cover low-to-moderate income workers.

Kerry also would overhaul the Medicare law to allow re-importation of prescription drugs to take advantage of discounts available in Canada; end artificial barriers to generic drug competition; and require the secretary of health and human services to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs, instead of paying whatever the drug companies demand.

On energy independence, Kerry proposes tax incentives to help automakers produce more fuel-efficient cars and help consumers buy them. He also would promote energy-efficient technologies in heating, lighting and manufacturing. Tax incentives would spur the retrofit and construction of energy-efficient buildings and homes. He would explore new ways to draw cleaner power from coal and expand natural gas production with effective market monitoring and enforcement to prevent abuses such as the Enron scandal.

On education, where Bush promoted "No Child Left Behind," then underfunded it, setting up public schools to fail and opening the door to privatization of school systems, Kerry would set up a National Education Trust Fund to ensure that public schools get the funding they need. He would support better training and pay for teachers and support after-school programs to give students extra help, keep them out of trouble and offer peace of mind to working parents. He would make college more affordable with a tax credit of up to $4,000 of tuition for every year of college and offer aid to states to keep tuition down.

There are also details on Kerry's proposals for children and families, civil rights, rural America, science and technology, stronger communities, veterans and women.

For rural America, Kerry would invest in value-added production that processes food where the crops are grown. He would boost small business assistance to rural entrepreneurs. Rural transportation initiatives would expand Amtrak's service to more rural cities and towns and support rural airports. He would support farmers with increased conservation funding, stronger nutrition provisions and support for renewable energy, including ethanol, biomass and biodiesel. He would support open markets for livestock producers, a ban on packer ownership of livestock, which drives small- and family-owned producers out of business. He has voted to limit the proliferation of animal confinements, which produce more pollution and put family operations at a disadvantage. He would expand rural health care and guarantee that Americans in rural areas get access to the same range of affordable, high-quality health care as those in cities and members of Congress.

Kerry has a solid progressive plan for America. It's not the plan that we would have drafted, but if he gets it through Congress it would represent real achievements. And if he got a Democratic Congress to work with, we believe he would be open to more progressive and populist bills that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle might send him. That's a far cry from what we have now and that's why electing Kerry and regaining control of the House and Senate is so important. Democratic members of the Progressive Caucus in line for House committee chairs include George Miller (Calif.) at Education, Barney Frank (Mass.) at Financial Services, Henry Waxman (Calif.) at Government Reform, Bennie Thompson (Miss.) at Intelligence, Tom Lantos (Calif.) at International Relations, John Conyers (Mich.) at Judiciary, Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.) at Small Business and Lane Evans (Ill.) at Veterans' Affairs.

If Democrats recapture the Senate, we can look forward to progressives and populists such as Tom Harkin leading Agriculture, Carl Levin at Armed Services, Paul Sarbanes at Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Kent Conrad at Budget, Daniel Inouye at Commerce, Science and Transportation, Jeff Bingaman at Energy and Natural Resources, Ted Kennedy at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Patrick Leahy at Judiciary. That Judiciary chair could be critical if, God forbid, Bush sneaks into a second term and sends up a new stream of right-wing nominees for federal courts.

Finally, Ralph Nader is on 36 state ballots so far, and could appear on the ballot in as many as 43 states, according to the Ballot Access newsletter (www.ballot-access.org). Some of our readers, as well as at least one columnist, will write in their vote for Nader, if necessary. That is their right. All we need to know about the wisdom of voting for Nader this year is that Republicans have been the driving force behind putting him on the ballot in many states.

Democrats shouldn't worry about Nader voters, who have made it clear they will not support Kerry. Democrats should focus on turning out those who will vote for Kerry, the most progressive candidate who can win the election. -- JMC

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