Victory in 2004--and Beyond
2. The Democratic Contrast
Across the country, progressives are rightfully muttering about the uncertain trumpet represented by John Kerry. Since winning the nomination, Kerry has surrounded himself with former Clinton policy advisers, reaching out to the money wing of the party, represented by the Democratic Leadership Council. He's tempered the populist language on corporations and trade that helped him fend off the Howard Dean challenge. Kerry had to be pushed to open his Wonder Bread campaign staff to minorities. And he has seemed content to practice rope-a-dope politics, letting Bush self-destruct without offering a clear choice or challenge.
But as even Ralph Nader sometimes acknowledges, for all Kerry's temporizing and backsliding, Bush's extremist agenda insures that the differences between Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards are stark--and for progressives, compelling. Though Kerry voted to give Bush the authority to make war in Iraq, and has failed to call for an end to the US occupation, he challenges the pre-emptive war doctrine of the Bush Administration and promises a foreign policy that will be tempered by alliances, international cooperation and the rule of law. He offers Americans an administration that surely would be more effective in isolating and pursuing terrorists abroad, more able to revive America's influence and enlist its allies, and more willing to address the broader threats to US security--from catastrophic climate change to the trade in loose nukes.
Kerry assails the Bush tax cuts, and vows to roll back the top-end cuts and close egregious corporate loopholes. Despite his embrace of former Treasury Secretary and Citigroup strategist Robert Rubin's finance economics, Kerry pledges to use that money to invest in healthcare, education and energy independence. He vows to bring the budget deficit under control but depends largely on growth to achieve that rather than deferring needed social investments. He supports holding corporations accountable and empowering labor. He has pledged to push for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the right to create unions when a majority of the workplace signs up. He favors expensing corporate stock options and cracking down on corporate corruption. He rails against offshore tax havens. And in choosing Edwards as his running mate, he has selected, as Nader noted, the candidate most ardently standing up for work rather than wealth, and holding corporations accountable to a greater good.
On social policy, Kerry is a lifelong liberal, defending the advances made by the civilizing movements of recent decades--on civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, the environment. On his watch, the courts won't be packed with zealots of the right-wing Federalist Society, intent on resuscitating states' rights and limiting the power of the government to protect citizens, consumers and the environment. A Kerry victory would mean a repudiation of the right. It would enable progressives to go from defense to offense. Instead of fending off a concerted assault on their very existence, unions would be able to push for federal measures that could revive the right to organize and strike. Women and civil rights leaders could mobilize to extend rights, not simply defend the ones they have. Without a solid Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Kerry and Congressional Democrats will have to force issues that expose how extreme the right-wing leadership is. The corporate looting of Iraq and the blatant corruption of the GOP Congress can be targeted for investigation. There will be stark limits to what Kerry can accomplish, but the difference between facing a constant assault organized out of the White House and having an administration with no choice but to be responsive to the progressive base will transform political possibilities.