With acceleration of the presidential nominating process and front-loaded caucuses and primaries starting in early January, progressive populists need to get their act together now. It looks like Iowa will hold its caucuses as early as Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary will be toward the end of January. Nominations could be all but wrapped up Feb. 5, leaving us nine months to complain about the general election choices.
If you want the Democratic presidential candidates to move left, you can support Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democratic congressman who is the most progressive populist in the race. He opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start, showing judgment that Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd and even John Edwards lacked when they voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002. Kucinich also supports a single-payer national health insurance program and he supports repeal of free trade agreements that have undercut US industry. He recently said on the PBS NewsHour, "What's happened is the Democratic Party, we're forgetting who we're supposed to be. We're supposed to be the party of the people. We've become the party of the insurance companies. We've become the party of the oil companies. We've become the party of the arms merchants. And somebody has to stand up and say, 'Hey, where are the Democrats? Where are the real Democrats?' And I'm a real Democrat running for president."
Pundits say Kucinich cannot get elected, but their conventional wisdom is only true if people don't vote for the pesky little feller. In the meantime, it's good that he is on the campaign trail. If the frontrunners note that Kucinich is starting to pick up support with his populist positions, perhaps his grassroots success will cause the anointed candidates to tack left to steal his thunder.
If, as expected, the race narrows to the top three -- Clinton, Barack Obama and Edwards -- our choice is Edwards. He comes from a working-class background and made his bones as a trial lawyer challenging reckless corporations to bring them to account for their abuses. If he made a fortune along the way, that means he made more money for his working-class clients who were injured by those corporations.
Since the 2004 campaign, Edwards has pursued a progressive populist agenda, working with labor unions and grassroots organizations such as ACORN to address the growing divide between the working class and the wealthy. Edwards has proposed a plan for universal health care that takes on the insurance and drug companies, and promises to cover every man, woman, and child in America with better care at lower cost. It isn't single-payer national health care, but it would be a good start if he could get any traction with it. His plan requires businesses and other employers to either cover their employees or help finance their workers' health insurance. It makes insurance affordable by creating new tax credits, reforms insurance laws to stop insurance companies from "cherry picking" healthy customers and it creates regional "health care markets" to create competition and help Americans find affordable health care.
And I bet if congressional Democrats sent Edwards a national health care bill, he'd sign it.
Edwards has outlined an ambitious agenda of economic justice and fairness. He has proposed a rural recovery plan and he will reverse Bush's tax and trade policies that have given multinational corporations and investors advantages at the expense of American industry and working people.
Edwards has been mocked by the D.C. pundits for paying a lot for hair styling -- as if Maureen Dowd or Tucker Carlson ever darkened the doorway of a SuperCuts. He's also been criticized by the D.C. Dems for not showing deference to the party establishment. More admirable, as David Mizner noted at MyDD.com, Edwards has "little discernible support" on K Street in Washington, and his moves in recent months have done nothing to change that. "Edwards has never taken money from federal lobbyists, and this summer he went one better, calling on all Democrats, including Hillary, the national party, and the congressional committees to join him in rejecting K-Street cash. If you're trying to anger the establishment, this is a good way to do it."
Edwards has all the right enemies, but he is still within striking distance of the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton. Obama is an appealing progressive candidate but for all his rhetoric about change we don't hear him taking on the vested interests that control both the major parties the way Edwards has.
Edwards has described the choice facing the country as "the establishment elites versus the American people." He points out that the system is "controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed."
Make no mistake: Wall Street is not worried about Dennis Kucinich reaching the White House. However, if John Edwards starts moving toward the nomination, expect the corporate media to repeat the character assassination that sidelined Howard Dean in 2004. Jim Cramer, a former hedge fund manager, hit the nail on the head on MSNBC's Hardball when he called Edwards Wall Street's "Public Enemy No. 1."
That's a ranking Edwards can be proud of.
Once again, congressional Democrats appear to be playing chicken with the Bush administration on national security wiretaps vs. the Fourth Amendment. Senate Democratic leaders reportedly are nearing a deal with the White House to extend authority for the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless wiretaps.
A better bill prepared by House Intelligence and Judiciary Dems would put more controls over the security agency, including quarterly audits by the Justice Department inspector general and a role for the foreign intelligence court in approving, in advance, warrants for bundles of overseas communications.
Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer writing at Salon.com, noted that the House bill also would compel the administration "to reveal to Congress the details of all electronic surveillance conducted without court orders since Sept. 11, 2001, including the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program." It would require the maintenance of a database to record the identities of all Americans whose conversations are surveilled. And it provides no amnesty or immunity for lawbreaking telecoms or administration officials. "The bill introduced by House leadership is a bill the White House will never accept and would certainly veto, and it is vastly better -- in important ways -- than the atrocity they enacted in August," Greenwald wrote. But the problem will be the "wretched, principle-free, administration-revering Democratic faction on the Senate Intelligence Committee," led by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Their version is expected to conform much closer to the administration's demands for unchecked warrantless eavesdropping powers and amnesty for lawbreaking telecoms.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the Ed Schultz radio show that she is confident that Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), have protected civil liberties in the House bill. But the Bush administration repeatedly has disregarded existing law and refused to disclose its surveillance activities to congressional oversight committees, as clearly required by law. Congress has no reason to trust him or his spymasters.
Encourage Democratic Congress members to hold the line on the Fourth Amendment and the rule of law, even if Republicans call them soft on terrorists. -- JMC
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