Democratic partisans are nervous, which is probably healthy. Their man, John Kerry, stands literally head and shoulders above George W. Bush in personal and political stature. Kerry was a war hero when Bush was a slacker. Kerry's Vietnam experience led him into a career in public service, first as a prosecutor and later in Congress. Bush was involved in one failed business after another but he has been blessed with friends of the family who were willing to bail him out. Selected as president by friends on the Supreme Court, Bush made a hash of the economy, failed to follow up warnings about al Qaeda and then botched the war on terror when he disregarded the rest of the world and invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.
But somehow Kerry's advantage in the polls remains within the margin of error and Bush still leads in several states.
It should be noted that Kerry is still on his feet after an unprecented vicious first round of ads by the Bush-Cheney campaign and is starting to define himself with his own ads in 20 or so "battleground states." Also, it is just June and Bush's re-elect numbers are abysmal for an incumbent.
Still, there are only two ways to run a campaign -- scared or unopposed. And with a corporate media that is willing to accept any Bush statement with a minimum of skepticism, Dems need to get back to grassroots organizing.
There is help on the Internet, where sites such as Meetup.org and Moveon.com help like-minded groups get together. Howard Dean at democracyforamerica.com hopes to transform his presidential campaign into a permanent organization to build a grassroots network and support progressive candidates. (See links at populist.com for more good groups.)
If progressives want to elect Kerry, and perhaps even more importantly a Democratic Congress, they need to work at the neighborhood level to get people interested in politics again. They need to convince their neighbors that Dems can help.
The first principle is that people vote their self-interest. My family is Democratic because somebody met my great-grandfathers off the boats in Boston and New York and helped them find jobs. Eventually they found their way out to Iowa, where they prospered -- but never quite enough to become Republicans. During the Great Depression Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal showed how the government could help farmers and working people survive when markets collapsed. The GI Bill under Roosevelt and Harry Truman helped soldiers returning from World War II further their education and join the middle class.
The US prospered but its wealthiest citizens were dissatisfied. Never comfortable sharing power with the common people, conservative Republicans found common cause with Southern Democrats after World War II. They raised the specter of the Communist threat to splinter the Left and they passed the Taft Hartley Act to hobble the unions that threatened to move into the South.
Remembering that coalitions of poor whites and blacks in the Populist movement threatened the Southern establishment in the 1890s, Dixiecrats stymied efforts to provide equal opportunities for blacks and other minorities after the war. By the time the civil rights and voting rights acts were passed in the 1960s, race relations were poisoned for a generation. The Republicans were poised to scoop up Southern whites who were told that equal rights for blacks would threaten what little entitlements the working-class whites had.
That set the stage for Ronald Reagan, the B-movie actor who had been groomed by General Electric since the 1950s to be a spokesman for corporate interests. The long-term investment paid off in the 1980s when Reagan demonized government and those who depended on government assistance. He became the figurehead for corporatized government. Top corporate and personal income tax rates were slashed and regulations were eased. Domestic spending programs were targeted as "wasteful government spending" while a military buildup enriched defense industries. The "Reagan Democrats" were convinced that their self-interest coincided with the interests of the Fortune 500.
Since then, corporate media conglomerates have taken over radio and TV stations as well as newspapers, magazines and book publishers. So-called liberal journalists must report to corporate managers who are not interested in upsetting the agenda of the Corporate Cosa Nostra controlling Washington.
That Cosa Nostra co-opted much of the Democratic leadership. They pass good bills when they can, or at least they prevent bad bills from getting passed. But Wall Street wins all the big ones as we have seen the expanded authority of the World Trade Organization and "free trade" deals that give multinational corporations rights that supercede those of governments as well as individuals.
It has taken more than 20 years but the Reagan Democrats are starting to see that they were had by the Republicans. It's apparent that George W. Bush's tax cuts are financing the transfer of factory jobs to China. When contracts come up for renewal, unions find themselves negotiating to keep health coverage and other benefits that they thought were settled years ago. Even software engineers, who thought their futures were secure in the boom days of the 1990s, are seeing their jobs exported to India. It looks like the only jobs that are left are at burger joints and Wal-Marts -- part-time, minimum wage, no benefits. If you don't like them apples, there's always the Army and a free trip to Iraq.
Kerry will still deliver for Wall Street, as Clinton did, but Democrats can make a mark with health care. Republicans drew a target on their backs with passage of the Medicare "reform" bill that provides measly savings on drugs for seniors in return for protecting pharmaceutical companies' profits.
Kerry would provide small business relief by letting them buy into the same health plan as members of Congress, so businesses can get better prices and reduce administrative costs. He also would give businesses tax credits up to 50% for coverage for low- and moderate-income employees, with a similar deal for families. Finally, Kerry would help small businesses cover catastrophic medical care. He also would cut drug costs by allowing prescription drug reimportation
It's a good start, but Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has a better plan -- universal health care. Under his plan, patients and doctors would making their health care decisions, instead of HMOs and private insurance companies. Phased in over 10 years, "Enhanced Medicare for All" would address everyone's needs, including the 45 million Americans without coverage and those paying exorbitant rates for health insurance. It would encourage prevention and cover prescription drugs, dental, mental health and alternative and complementary medicine.
Funding would come primarily from existing government health care spending (more than $1 trillion) and a phased-in tax on employers of 7.7% (another $1 trillion). Employers who provide coverage already pay an average of 8.5% of their payroll, Kucinich noted. Those who responsibly provide health care for their employees must compete with the one-third of businesses that don't offer health benefits. Adopting a national health plan would put everybody on a level playing field and take health benefits out of contract negotiations.
The National Federation of Independent Business has been leading the effort to prevent health-care requirements from being imposed on small businesses, but the NFIB counts health costs as the No. 1 problem for small businesses. Businesses should support a national health care system.
If any institution deserves our contempt more than government, it's the insurance industry. "Health Insurance for All" could give Reagan Democrats a reason to come home for John Kerry and congressional Democrats this November. -- JMC