Some on the Left are not happy with John Kerry as the Democratic nominee. They complain that the onetime war protester now wants to be a war president. He's too close to Wall Street. His statements tend to be equivocal. And, for conspiracy buffs, he's a member of the same Yale secret society, Skull and Bones, as George W. Bush!
Well, progressives and populists need to get over it. They had their options in the Democratic primary. The choices ranged from our own favorite, Dennis Kucinich, left of center, to Joe Lieberman on the right. The candidates -- including Kucinich -- were included in a series of debates around the country. Any voter who was paying attention could figure out that Kucinich and Dick Gephardt were promoting progressive populist agendas -- with Kucinich opposing the war and Gephardt embracing it.
And remember that Howard Dean appeared to be in good position to win the nomination last January. His progressive reform agenda promised to check the corporate influence on the media. He proposed to protect communities from corporate excesses. He also was among the first to criticize Bush's foreign policy mistakes when centrist Dems, including Kerry and John Edwards, were falling in line behind the invasion of Iraq.
It is also true that the national media ganged up against Dean when the former Vermont governor heated up his populist rhetoric. If Dean's rise displayed how the Internet could be used to organize a national populist campaign, his sudden fall exposed the limitations of such a campaign. Voters could have stuck with Dean despite the corporate media barrage, but it required a leap of faith they were not prepared to take. Instead they decided Kerry was a safer choice to put up against Bush this fall. So Kerry overtook Dean in Iowa and New Hampshire. After that, nobody was able to catch up with the Massachusetts senator. The race was over by the second week of March.
At some point in a democracy you have to respect the will of the people. In the Democratic primaries the people chose Kerry. To say progressives should not support Kerry because he is not progressive enough is arrogant -- and a losing strategy.
There are significant differences between Kerry's Democrats and Bush's Republicans. While the differences in some areas, such as trade and foreign policy, might seem subtle, in other areas, such as labor and the environment, they are stark. That is why progressive activists in Boston were falling into line behind Kerry, who at least is willing to talk with them. They simply have no access under Bush, whose administration, along with Republican allies in Congress and the courts, are systematically closing doors in Washington to liberal as well as centrist Democrats.
With Kerry you get expansion of health care with incentives for employers to provide coverage. He also would preserve Social Security. With Bush you get privatization of Medicare and Social Security. You already got a Medicare drug bill that does little more than preserve pharmaceutical companies' profits.
Even in trade, Kerry is open to "fair trade" considerations such as labor and environmental standards that the Republicans pointedly exclude from trade agreements.
When it comes to foreign policy, those expecting Kerry to embrace Kucinich's proposal for a Department of Peace are bound to be disappointed, but Kerry is willing to talk about withdrawing troops from Iraq. He would rejoin the community of nations and address the root causes of terrorism. Bush and his neocon mentors want to expand US military forces with a draft, if necessary, so they can take after Iran and North Korea and anyplace else they decide "needs invading."
If nothing else, the politicization of national security under Bush should make a vote for Kerry a no-brainer.
Dean and Kucinich have the right idea in supporting the formation of Progressive Democrats of America, an organization to promote progressive values within the party. Other groups, such as Campaign for America's Future and the Center for American Progress, are seeking to elbow the progressive point of view into the national conversation. But their efforts will come to naught as long as Rupert Murdoch, Disney, General Electric, Viacom and their buddies on Wall Street get to decide who's on TV and who gets slimed.
It is a disgrace that the three major networks only provided three hours of coverage of the Democratic National Convention -- and snubbed the convention almost entirely on Tuesday night, when rising star Barack Obama gave a rousing keynote speech (see page 10). Network viewers also missed Ron Reagan Jr., potential first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Even on the cable news channels commentators talked through many of the speeches. Thank goodness for C-SPAN, which provided gavel to gavel coverage, and PBS, which at least covered the prime-time speeches.
The commercial broadcast networks proved they have no sense of civic responsibility. The Democrats on network-free Tuesday adopted a platform that, among other things, recognizes the media reform movement. "Because our democracy thrives on public access to diverse sources of information from multiple sources, we support measures to ensure diversity, competition and localism in media ownership," it states.
In an interview with our colleague, John Nichols, Kerry said he shared the disappointment with the nation's broadcast networks' decision to air only three hours of Democratic convention coverage. "We're a democracy, and the strength of our democracy is in the ability of citizens to be informed. If the major media are unwilling to inform -- and simply because there is not a clash or a conflict or something doesn't mean it (a convention) is not informative -- I personally think it's a derogation of their responsibility" that goes with using the broadcast airwaves.
Kerry voted in the Senate against further consolidation of broadcast media and he told Nichols he would appoint FCC commissioners who are more sympathetic to diversity of ownership, competition and local control. Kerry amplified the point later when he told a gathering of minority journalists, "I will appoint people to the FCC, and I will pursue a policy, that tries to have as diverse and broad an ownership as possible."
We'd prefer a more direct statement that he would restore the Fairness Doctrine, as he has suggested in the past, but we'll take what we can get, after the damage Bush's FCC already has done.
There were more charismatic candidates in the race and there were better liberals in the race and they all fell by the wayside. But as Jesse Jackson said, the afternoon before Kerry's acceptance speech: "If Kerry came out tonight and lost his voice -- and his two front teeth -- and said 'I will appoint a civilized Supreme Court,' that's enough for me!" We're there, Jesse.
Bush's refusal to denounce Republican Vietnam veterans who claim John Kerry did not deserve his Purple Hearts or his Silver Star for heroism as a Swift Boat commander in the Mekong Delta shows how debased the Republican campaign has become.
It must have grated on Republicans to watch Kerry at the Democratic convention surround himself with his "Band of Brothers" from the Swift Boat, as well as the Green Beret officer Kerry saved from the river while under fire. Bush's backers know that Dubya, who enjoyed the high life stateside during the Vietnam era, never even showed up for his flight physical, much less learned the names of his comrades at the Alabama Air National Guard. So they had to drag Kerry's Silver Star through the mud, and set up the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" to misrepresent Kerry's war record. Shame on them.
Shame also on Sen. John McCain for having any more to do with the Bush campaign. The taste of bile must have been heavy in his throat after some of the same Bush backers had slandered McCain in 2000, but he bucked up to endorse Bush. Now they're after his "brother," Kerry. And McCain knows as well as we do that a word from the White House could shut down the lies of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." -- JMC