The Republicans are in disarray. The conservative movement is losing steam. Americans seem to be turning Left. Carpe diem, one might say. But are we Progressives seizing the day?
A smart new blog posting by _The Nation_ editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel suggests that we are not. She astutely critiques the leading Democratic candidates for not seizing the moment to articulate an even bolder agenda, going so far as to present an impressive list of issues. In chastizing the Democratic candidates, Vanden Heuvel uses the carefully-selected phrase "leading contender," thus neatly avoiding any discussion of lesser-known candidates such as Dennis Kucinich--who, of course, are advocating just about everything on her list. But I will forgive her for that, since it seems unlikely that Kucinich will ever get the serious consideration of the traditional media (or even much of the leading Progressive alternative media, for that matter!) Kucinich has become, in a way, the "prophet" of the Democratic Party: visionary and wise on just about every issue, but divergent enough from the political Zeitgeist that too many people misperceive his unorthodox views as "crazy". So, though Vanden Heuvel's list reads almost exactly like Kucinich's platform, I will set that aside for the sake of discussion, since I, too, have concluded that our best realistic Progressive hopes lie in choosing the best of the front runners.
Vanden Heuvel's list provides a great list of what we should demand from our candidates, and I intend here to go through her items, one by one, to assess how my favorite "leading contender"--John Edwards--is doing in his "talk" about them. Now, admittedly, I don't live in Iowa or New Hampshire, and I haven't been privy to most of the candidates' campaign "talk". (I do encourage open debate about where I might adjust these evaluations, based on what others have heard or seen.) I think it is essential to get away from the star worship that has characterized so much of the intra-party bickering over Clinton vs. Obama vs. Edwards. I have noticed a somewhat disturbing tendency, especially among Clinton and Obama supporters who post on-line, to defend every ridiculous warmongering or otherwise disturbing statement of their preferred candidate, and here I want to show a different approach, which is to use Vanden Heuvel's list to critique my own preferred candidate. In thinking through all the items listed, I judge that Edwards is better than C or O in pretty much all categories--in some cases they are only marginally worse or equal, and in other cases, they are far worse. But I leave it to those candidates' partisans who have been listening more intently to their messages to measure them up more closely.
Anyhow, here is the list, with my grades for my favorite candidate, John Edwards, given my somewhat impressionistic reading of his public utterances, declared platform, and commitments:
"Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined."
As I've posted before on this website, this may be my single greatest complaint about all the Democratic leaders today. At least Edwards doesn't prattle on about INCREASING military spending, as many Democrats do, but he could clearly be much bolder on this key issue (though the media would probably crucify him for it): C+
"No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale."
Edwards does talk about all these things, but his program could be more ambitious in scale: B-
"No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program."
Edwards's plan at least, in theory, could take us there, but why not just go all the way? This is perhaps my clearest-cut area needing improvement: C-
"No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy."
Hmmm...I think Edwards has done some of the former, only a bit of the latter: B
"No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure."
I have to challenge Vanden Heuvel on this one: Edwards has been forthright and bold, much more than other leading candidates, about challenging the "war on terror" frame: A
"Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality?"
See my previous answer, though Edwards could do more on some of these things: A-
"Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation?"
Haven't heard much about that from Edwards, or any other leading candidate for that matter: D
"Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits?"Actually, Edwards has been pretty strong about restoring union rights: A-
"Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures?" Yes, we can push him for more specifics on this sort of thing: C+
"And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009."
Edwards seems to want just embassy protection forces, which frankly is better than what other leading candidates are calling for. And he is calling for the troops to be simply brought home. But he could be more specific about just how little--and I hope it is EXTREMELY little, just for standard embassy protection--of a force he intends to leave there: B
"Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs?"
Haven't heard too much from Edwards, or any leading contender, on that ("crime" seems so disappointingly untouchable for even the boldest of Democrats): D-
Edwards has actually talked quite a bit about the mortgage default situation and other housing issues: B+
"A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties?"Other than Kucinich, Dodd has been the clear leader on this one, but Edwards hasn't been too bad either: B
"Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?"
They all seem to forget this between elections (and sometimes even during them!): C-
As you can see, my impressions are all over the map. Thinking through all the issues listed, I don't think Vanden Heuvel has been completely fair to Edwards by implying that he (along with C & O) is ignoring them. But I do thank her for reminding me of where a more ambitious Progressive agenda might go--and giving us some ideas about how to push our own favored candidates to become even better.