Keep the Scream Alive

Howard Dean was knocked out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination but his supporters are not mourning. They are continuing to organize.

The pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council won this round but the plain-spoken former governor from Vermont gave the pros a scare as he raised millions of dollars from real grassroots people and energized more than 600,000 supporters with his talk about taking on corporate and wealthy interests and re-establishing the sovereignty of the people over corporate-sponsored politicians.

But when Dean talked about breaking up media conglomerates and requiring free airtime for campaign ads, paid for by a "spectrum fee" charged to broadcasters for the use of public airwaves, the establishment media turned on him, declared him unelectable and portrayed his innocent pep rally cheer in Iowa as the rant of a madman.

Now the choice for Democrats has narrowed to John Kerry and John Edwards. Either of them would be acceptable Democratic nominees. Of those two, Edwards combines the virtues of electability and a vision that agrees with much of what we stand for, with his talk of two Americas, one that does the work and pays the taxes and the other that reaps the benefits and gets the tax breaks.

A vote for Edwards keeps him in the race and forces frontrunner Kerry to address trade and economic issues. If nothing else, Kerry must hone his campaign skills as he prepares to face Bush and his surrogates in the fall.

Although Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton remain in the race, neither of them is positioned to win. Kucinich, the candidate with whom we agree most closely, has been travelling the country, participating in Democratic debates and fighting the good fight to repeal NAFTA, bring back US troops from Iraq and install a single-payer national health care program, among other good populist issues, but he hasn't yet inspired a groundswell of public support.

Democrats should vote for the most progressive populist candidate who can win in November. That's Edwards.

Republicans entered this election season smug that they could replay the 2002 war scare to keep Bush in the White House and retain control of Congress. But public doubts are building about the economy, continuing occupation of Iraq and the right-wing agenda. Republicans look increasingly vulnerable.

Democrats hope to regain control of the Senate, where the GOP now has a 51-48 lead, with one independent who votes with the Democrats on organization. The Democrats have three solid Senate pickup opportunities -- Illinois, Alaska and Oklahoma. A Democratic field is vying for the opportunity to take on a weakened Illinois GOP. In Alaska, former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles benefits from a backlash over new Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointment of his daughter, Lisa, to succeed him as senator. In Oklahoma, US Rep. Brad Carson (D) is leading in the race to succeed Sen. Don Nickles (R). Republicans figure to pick up Georgia, where retiring Sen. Zell Miller has been trashing his own Dems and the party has been unable to field a well-known candidate. Also, Democrats' retirements in South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana place those seats at risk and the GOP is targeting Sen. Tom Daschle in South Dakota. But polls show Dems leading in all but the Georgia race.

Democrats still face long odds in regaining control of the House but former state attorney general Ben Chandler gave the party some momentum Feb. 17 as, aided by supporters on the Internet, he beat state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R) by 55% to 43% in a special election for the 6th District in central Kentucky. It was the first special election win by a Democrat in a Republican-held district since 1991 and leaves the GOP with a 228-205 House majority, with 1 vacancy and 1 independent.

The election rebuked George W. Bush, who made a commercial for Kerr, while House Speaker Dennis Hastert stumped for her and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave her $10,000 and loaned top aides to her campaign.

Conventional wisdom still says that the Democrats won't be able to regain the House, particularly with gerrymandering in Texas that is expected to transfer six or seven Democratic seats to the Republicans. But the Dean campaign showed that insurgents can get the word out with the Internet, raise money from citizens and shake things up. Longtime journalist William Greider wrote in The Nation [March 8]: "In my Washington experience, nothing alters voting behavior in Congress like seeing a few of their colleagues taken down by surprise -- defeated by an outsider whose ideas they did not take seriously."

We can't expect democratic renewal to come from the top. The establishment won't give up its power without a fight -- it never has. But progressive populists can build upon the Dean campaign's organizing model.

What About Ralph?

Ralph Nader had only been a presidential candidate for a few hours Sunday, Feb. 22, when The Progressive Populist got its first threat to cancel a subscription if we didn't stop running Nader's column. We expressed our doubts about another Nader candidacy when he was still officially in an exploratory stage [Editorial, 2/15/04 TPP]. At a time when progressives need to unite to get rid of what is arguably the worst federal administration in more than a century, we still think Nader's proposal to run an independent campaign is a bad idea that will damage his reputation more than it will impact the election. Since he has ruled out a Green Party affiliation, he faces a daunting task in getting on the ballot in each state, figuring it will take more than one million petition signatures, with little organization to pull it off; the first deadline is May 13 in Texas, which requires 65,000 signatures.

But ultimately Nader has a right to run for president. And the rest of us have a right not to support him.

John Nichols, writing on Nader's potential impact on the presidential race for The Nation's website (thenation.com), noted that Nader might perform the role Socialist candidate Norman Thomas played in the Great Depression election of 1932 -- forcing the Democrats to strengthen their platform, leading to a sweep by Franklin D. Roosevelt, while Thomas's 900,000 voters also helped Democrats sweep local, state and congressional elections down the ballot. Or, as many Democrats fear, he could throw a couple key states to Bush. More likely, Nichols wrote, is that Nader will not matter much, without the assistance of either the Green Party or many long-time friends and backers who have joined the "Anybody But Bush" movement.

As Nichols notes, it has gotten harder for Nader to argue that there are no differences between the two parties. The best way to marginalize Nader is the same as FDR's strategy: Steal his issues rather than demonizing him.

We agree with Nichols that Nader is unlikely to quit the race. Energy devoted by Democrats trying to get him out of the competition is wasted. We add that demonization is more likely to drive marginal Democrats to Nader's cause if they think he is being treated unfairly.

As for Nader's column, we occasionally hear from people who either won't subscribe or won't renew because we carry one or another columnist (and Nader is frequently mentioned). Nader was a charter columnist when we started this paper in 1995. He writes a good column and he raises important issues on matters of public interest. For what it's worth, his modest fee for writing that column goes to Public Interest Research Groups, not Nader himself, so no part of your subscription goes to support Nader's political campaign. As long as he writes a cogent column that isn't plugging his own political ambitions we'll keep running it. In short: We won't fire him for his political activity. If you can't stand him, please pass by page 19. -- JMC

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