Howard Dean stunned the D.C. media corps when he reported $7.5 million in contributions during the second quarter, with $3.6 million coming from the Internet. The former Vermont governor also got 44% of the 317,000 votes cast in an online poll of Democratic activists. Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland congressman, placed second with 24% in the MoveOn.org poll and finished June with more than $1 million in contributions, which will let him carry on his campaign to raise progressive issues.
The Beltway pundits are pounding Dean because his middle-class populist insurgency does not follow their script. They are simply ignoring Kucinich's working-class populism. Dean's rivals played down his plurality in the MoveOn.org poll, since he didn't reach the 50% needed to gain the group's endorsement. But Dean and Kucinich showed their campaigns have national grassroots bases and both deserve to be taken seriously. John Kerry, who finished third with 15.7%, John Edwards, fourth with 3.2%, and the other putative heavy hitters have to wonder why their organizations could not manage a better showing.
Operatives of the other Democratic candidates already are whispering that Dean is too liberal to win the nomination. That gets a laugh from Vermont liberals who were frustrated with Dean's fiscal conservatism. Critics say he's arrogant and has a short temper. Compared to whom? You don't get to be a governor, much less serve six terms, by being a wallflower. And you certainly don't commit two or more years to running for president without a substantial, if not occasionally grating, ego.
Dean has good labor relations, receiving the AFL-CIO's new "Paul Wellstone" award this past January for service to the labor movement. He might not draw many union leaders away from US Rep. Dick Gephardt, who likely will get considerable labor support next year, but Dean would be very acceptable to union members with his support for universal health insurance and his commitment not to sign trade agreements without environmental or labor protections. And his opposition to new federal gun controls, in deference to the states' rights to regulate guns, might help win back rural voters. He is convinced he can speak to the Bubbas in the pickup trucks who are worried about their jobs and providing health insurance for their families like everybody else. His 59,000 contributors so far show he is striking a chord.
Dean at least has gotten onto the media's "A Team," with Gephardt, Kerry, Edwards, Joe Lieberman and Bob Graham. Most political reporters still consider Kucinich a novelty act and put him in the "also running" category with former Sen. Carole Braun and New York preacher/activist Al Sharpton. In fact Kucinich is a longtime progressive populist, leader of the Progressive Caucus in the House and advocate of such radical ideas as the rights of unions to organize and health care for all. He would repeal NAFTA and base any future trade deals on "fair trade" principles. He would repeal the USA PATRIOT Act and respect civil liberties. He would restore rural communities and family farms. If you believe in these and other issues, support him now, if for no other reason than to get the other candidates to address some of these issues. (The same goes for the other candidates, for that matter. Find campaign websites at www.populist.com/prezruns.html.)
Some Democrats are afraid George W. Bush would run over a populist Democrat next year like a Mack truck running over a tricycle. Well, Bush is on his way to raising $200 million from his coalition of the willing millionaires who benefitted from his tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. That sort of money will allow him to fully slander all the Democratic candidates next year before they even get to the nominating convention. If that doesn't work, he probably figures he can always start another war. But if the jobless rate keeps rising -- and tax cuts designed to prop up corporate profits do little to encourage job creation -- the coalition of the perturbed will hand Dubya the same job performance critique that his father got in 1992.
In that case we think populism will sell. We advise readers to support the candidate whose views come closest to theirs, for the sake of the debate. Worry about whether they're electable next year. If Bush gets the unemployment rate back below 6%, the Democrats won't be able to touch him anyway. But if he continues to botch the economy and Iraqi militants continue to pick off a couple GIs a day while Dubya taunts, "Bring 'em on," Krusty the Klown will be electable next year.
You will recall that Bush promised that his 2003 tax cut would generate 1.4 million new jobs by the end of 2004, on top of the jobs his economists said would arise from the 2001 tax cut. Economic Policy Institute President Larry Mishel figures Bush needs 344,000 jobs per month to keep his promise. Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the numbers for June, and they don't look good. Instead of gaining 344,000 new jobs, we lost 30,000 old ones since Bush signed the latest tax breaks for the rich. Unemployment soared officially to 6.4%. The number of people looking for work but unable to find it surged past the 9 million mark for the first time in 10 years. When the BLS figures in the "discouraged" long-time unemployed and those who are just working a few hours per week, the real unemployment rate is 10.4%.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is not hopeful that the situation would turn around any time soon. "America has yet to see the economy that President George Bush promised when he signed his first $1.6 trillion tax cut two years ago. In fact, the economy has worsened. In June, we lost another 56,000 manufacturing jobs, marking the 35th straight month of losses. Since manufacturing employment last peaked in July 2000, 2.6 million industrial jobs have been eliminated, nearly all of those -- 2.4 million -- since President Bush took office. During the Bush term, the economy has shrunk by 3.1 million private sector jobs. A hundred thousand people lost jobs just in the last 60 days."
With the start of his re-election campaign, Bush has revived his pastime of blaming Bill Clinton for the economic recession. "Two-and-a-half years ago, we inherited an economy in recession," Bush told donors at a Bush-Cheney '04 reception June 30 in Miami. He has made the same accusation in fundraising appearances since mid-June in Washington, Georgia, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"It's a good applause line for a crowd of red-meat political supporters," Dana Milbank wrote in the July 1 Washington Post. "The trouble is it's a case of what the president has called, in another context, revisionist history. The recession officially began in March of 2001 -- two months after Bush was sworn in -- according to the universally acknowledged arbiter of such things, the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the president, at other times, has said so himself. ... Then, last summer, Bush revised his history of when the recession began. Beginning in August 2002, he began to say that 'we did, in fact, inherit an economic recession.'"
So the economy rises or falls on Bush's watch. And his strength since 9/11 -- national security -- might yet come back to bite him. The American people still don't want to believe Bush lied to us and played the war on terror for political gain. They still believe the US was right to invade Iraq. They believed Bush when he suggested that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, despite the fact that there is no such evidence and Osama bin Laden was Saddam's enemy. Some even still believe that Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against US troops when it looks increasingly like the UN inspectors had, in fact, cleared out Saddam's arsenal and he was not a threat to the US. But the truth is slowly getting out. And Americans can get testy when they find out they've been lied to, repeatedly, and not about sex but about going to war and alienating our allies at a time when we need a maximum of cooperation against international terrorism.
The 2004 election will test Abraham Lincoln's maxim that you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Of course, Lincoln didn't have to deal with Fox News ... -- JMC