Wednesday, May 26, 2004

If Only . . .
My representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin, held a listening session in my suburb last night, and attracted an SRO crowd. Such an event is really where the rubber meets the road, democracy-wise. Absolutely anybody can come in, sign up, and speak to their representative about absolutely anything. (Attendees are not screened for the proper political allegiance, like they were at Bush's appearances in Wisconsin two weeks ago.) Health care was a big topic, which is not surprising, as it's Baldwin's signature issue. But Iraq also came up time and again, as citizens both eloquent and not expressed concern, confusion, and/or outrage at what our country has done over there. Now, Baldwin's a liberal Democrat (the only openly lesbian member of Congress), and because she represents mostly Madison, her district is more liberal than most--although this part of the suburbs is alleged to be more conservative than Madison proper. So you might expect her audience to be largely in tune with her politics. But the outrage against Iraq seemed to go deeper than partisan politics. It was the simple sense that something is desperately wrong, and that people want somebody, anybody, to do something, anything, to make it stop.

Whether that something is electing John Kerry is questionable. (Baldwin slipped and called him "President Kerry" once last night, to chuckles, including her own.) Many commentators have noted that Bush's Iraq plan unveiled Monday night is actually fairly close to what Kerry is suggesting we do over there. This isn't exactly the right prescription for Kerry to separate himself from Bush--which might help explain why Kerry's spending so much time on health care and jobs, where there are greater differences to highlight. But maybe it helps explain why the presidential race is still pretty much a dead heat despite Bush's approval ratings sinking into Carter country. And I gotta wonder: If the Democratic candidate represented a clearer contrast with Bush at this point, especially on Iraq, would the margin still be so close?

It would be a sad thing for the country if the Democrats nominated Kerry--who was not the best candidate in the field on the issues--because of his vaunted electability, only to find that they could have won the election with one of the stronger candidates. I wrote last winter as Howard Dean imploded that if he is unelectable, then Kerry is too, and for a lot of the same reasons. And the way things are going today, I am becoming convinced that if Kerry is electable, then Dean would have been, too--and the cakewalk that everybody was predicting for the GOP if Dean were the nominee would actually be the catfight we Deaniacs were thirsting to see all last summer and fall.

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