Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Great Taste, Less Filling
Another Tuesday, another set of primary wins for John Kerry. There's no stopping the train now. Wesley Clark got flattened by it and is quitting the race; John Edwards is being flattened by it and doesn't seem to notice; Howard Dean got flattened by it and doesn't care. We've hitched our hopes to Kerry's electability, and we'd damn well better be right. But even if we are, how much will it matter?

Last summer, long before Dean made any impact on anybody, I said in this blog that 2004 needed to be a throwdown between competing visions for the United States. Let's be clear--we're not going to have that with Kerry. He voted for the war in Iraq, for the Patriot Act, for No Child Left Behind. He voted against campaign finance reform and leads the field in taking money from lobbyists. (Despite his 92 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action, the ACLU says he voted with them only 47 percent of the time.) In Madison Monday, Dean imagined Bush and Kerry on the debate stage (never calling Kerry by name) and Bush saying, "You voted for all my stuff . . . why don't you just support me?" The corks pop in the suites of the Democratic Leadership Council every time Kerry wins a primary. Kerry is not Joe Lieberman, but he's as close to Joe Lieberman as we could get in this race without taking Mr. Pious himself. Ladies and gentlemen, we're nominating Bush Lite.

There are plenty of reasons to vote for Kerry regardless of all this: We'll see an end to the appointment of wingnuts to federal judgeships; we'll see sensible American involvement in international family planning programs; we'll get an attorney general who doesn't advocate witch hunts; we'll get some acknowledgement that there are energy sources other than oil; we'll stop pissing on the United Nations; we'll get environmental regulations that actually preserve the environment and protect the public. But almost any Democrat other than maybe Southern turncoats like Zell Miller or John Breaux would do these things. Far fewer Democrats have the vision (or the political courage) to try and change the foundations on which our government is built. Not just talk about it--Kerry does that--but to try and change it. Dean has it; Clark seemed to have it; Edwards may have it, but sometimes acts like he doesn't think it's very important. But Kerry is the guy we're choosing. So at the moment in history when there's a growing appetite for real, not cosmetic, change, we're blowing the chance.

All we will do with John Kerry is stick a finger in the leaky dam. Granted, given the leaks our republic has sprung (or, more precisely, given the holes that the Bush gang has blown in our republic), merely stemming the tide is no small thing. But are we postponing the reckoning to a moment when, contrary to 2004, the Democrats are seen to represent a failed set of programs and Republicans represent the forces of change?

Kerry may surprise us. He may turn into an inspiring candidate, display a vision, find the Reaganesque gift for political persuasion that disarms the opposition and builds coalitions. It could happen. People thought FDR was a lightweight, and he turned out OK. But they also thought Jimmy Carter was a lightweight, and he was. We're all saying, me included, that we have to beat Bush above all. But we also have to govern after we beat Bush, and make sure that what we've won isn't merely a four-year interregnum before the shitstorm starts up again.

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