2008 Rising: Bracing for an American Election Year

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The Third Tier Candidates: Why Vote for Dennis Kucinich?
by Jack Random
The politics of pragmatism has become so prevalent in mainstream politics that the independent left has gone into overdrive to disown the concept. 
Spitting in the wind of conventional wisdom – historically, a noble endeavor – it has become a progressive badge of honor to have opposed Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 election.  

There are many reasons for progressives and independents to hold disdain for the Kerry campaign but few among us would argue that the nation is better off because Kerry was not elected – or rather that his electoral victory was undone by subterfuge in Ohio.  

We are understandably tired of the politics of pragmatism and we are sickened by the approach of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton:  You may not like what I stand for but I can win in the general election.  (No, Hillary, we do not like what you stand for and we do not believe that Republican light can defeat Republican heavy in the general election.)  

Nevertheless, it is futile and self-defeating to pretend that pragmatism has no role in politics and until we recognize that cold but simple reality, we will continue to be marginalized in the political process.  Politics without pragmatism is intellectual masturbation.  Like the deaf activist who desires a child without hearing, disdain for pragmatism can go too far.  

As an advocate of the independence movement, I have pleaded with the progressive community to engage the electoral battlefield with a realistic strategy.  Teaming with libertarians, I have proposed a national organization, pooling resources and targeting winnable elections at the local and congressional levels.  Successful candidates could then make legitimate runs at governorships and senate seats, culminating in a third party run at the White House.  

Unfortunately, with the exception of Cindy Sheehan’s challenge of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I see few signs that a practical independence movement is emerging.  Maybe none among us have the time and/or resources for such an all-consuming endeavor.  

In the absence of such a movement, we must offer pragmatic reasons to vote for candidates whose chances of winning are less than realistic.  No matter what your political persuasion, there may be compelling reasons to cast your vote for someone other than the leaders – particularly in the primary season.

In the current presidential campaign, why should anyone vote for a third tier candidate such as Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, Tony Tancredo or Duncan Hunter?

Fundamentally, the reason to vote for any of these candidates is to inform the upper tier candidates and the eventual nominees where their policies must be directed to pick up additional votes.  


The singular blessing of this primary season is that all voters will have an opportunity to register their opposition to the Iraq War and, of equal importance, the continuing occupation and possible expansion of the war to Iran and Syria.  

As much as progressives would like to imagine a Kucinich presidency, the greater truth is that the Ohio Congressman is not running for president.  He is using the presidential campaign as a platform of protest.  As a progressive, I support his positions on virtually all issues.  I would be even more supportive if he abandoned the party of complicity and ran as an independent but the fact is he would receive no media attention if he did.  

A vote for Kucinich is the purest progressive vote of protest against the war in Iraq and the Bush-Clinton foreign policy.  

Representative Ron Paul is the only remotely antiwar Republican.  Left leaning supporters will be stunned by some of Paul’s positions:  He is a radical proponent of Free Trade, objecting to NAFTA-CAFTA and the WTO as not free trade enough.  His particular brand of libertarianism advocates state’s rights on abortion, education, the death penalty, the drug war, medical care and environmental protection.  

Frankly, Ron Paul is not libertarian enough for my taste but he appeals to a wide range of Republicans that remember the libertarian ideal.  Paul is a potent antiwar, anti-government vote of protest whose ability to raise money has already shocked the political mainstream.  

As a former United States Senator, Mike Gravel is technically a more legitimate candidate for the White House than Kucinich or Paul.  His positions run parallel to Kucinich but his accusations of systematic corruption cut more to the core.  Moreover, Gravel is singularly outspoken in criticism of Israel on the Palestinian issue.  

The combined total of votes for Kucinich, Paul and Gravel will represent the leverage of the antiwar voter.  If the tally is less than five percent, the war will cease to be a major issue.  If the tally is greater than ten percent, the pressure will mount on leading Democrats to strengthen their stands against the war.  


Representative Tom Tancredo and, to a lesser degree, Representative Duncan Hunter are both one-tune Charlies.  Just as Kucinich, Paul and Gravel serve as a barometer of the antiwar vote, Tancredo and Hunter are the dipsticks that will measure the depth of the new Republican signature issue:  Immigration Reform.  

If you believe that immigration is the defining issue of our times and that illegal immigrants are tearing at the fabric of society and destroying the middle-class economy, then these are your boys and Lou Dobbs is your man.  

The relative success of Tancredo and Hunter will determine how hard the Republican anti-immigrant line will be.  Their success at exploiting this gut level scapegoating will also have implications for the opposition.  Those candidates on record as supporters of Free Trade will have no meaningful response to the charge that immigration is to blame for the decline of American working class.


What drives an individual to seek the highest office in the land at a critical time in history?  Some run to satisfy personal ambition.  Some seek a platform for important issues or political philosophies.  Some run because they believe they can change the world for the better and some run as a means to other offices.  Some run because they can.  

In the tortured process of presidential primaries, the greatest certainty is that the unexpected will happen.  A frontrunner will stumble and fall.  A little known, third tier candidate will emerge with widespread support as a threat to the established order.  

In the current campaign, two presumptive heavyweights (McCain, Thompson) have fallen from the upper tier and another (Huckabee) has sprung from the marginal to contender status before a single vote has been cast.  

Perhaps that explains why the second tier candidates throw in for the chase.  In the media driven blood sport of presidential politics, anything can happen.  We remember too well that Howard Dean was the Democratic frontrunner going into the 2004 Iowa caucus.  

From a voter’s perspective, there are many reasons to vote for a second tier candidate.  First, to register a protest or shape the policies of the eventual nominee while holding out for the possibility that lightning will strike.  Second, to lend support for a candidate as a vice presidential nominee or member of the cabinet.  Third, to inform the party and the candidates where you stand on the issues.  


The dirty little secret is that many of the candidates are running with the possibility of another terrorist attack securely in hand.  If the unspeakable happens, the country will be looking for a hard line leader.  

The closest thing to General George Patton in either party is Senator John McCain.  Someday the gritty McCain may finally accept that the war is over – not the Iraq War, not Iran, and not the Global War on Terror but Vietnam.  No one wants to say it because the man was tortured, he’s a war hero and the country owes him a debt of gratitude but the fact is he has been fighting the same war all these years.  

We may have great empathy for McCain’s pain but when he lectures Congressman Ron Paul about appeasing the Third Reich and not having the guts to win in Vietnam (as if 60,000 American and 2-3 million Vietnamese lives were not enough), we have a right to be frightened.  In fact, if we are not frightened, the nation is in grave danger.  

Senator McCain may best be considered the likely vice presidential selection of Mayor Rudy Giuliani with his contingent of Neocon advisers.  McCain would become the Dick Cheney of a Giuliani administration.  

The Democratic equivalent to John McCain is Senator Joe Biden.  Like McCain, he is tough as nails though not half as fanatic.  His federalist solution to the Iraqi civil divide sets him apart and a sizable majority of Senators voted with him.  He calls for a measured withdrawal but wishes to maintain a sizeable occupation force indefinitely.  Biden is willing to deal on all major issues, including Free Trade, environmental policy and civil liberties.  

Biden will never gain the support of the left or the antiwar movement but in the event of a terrorist attack, he is the policy alternative to Hillary Clinton and his tough guy image is far more convincing.  


The Actor-Senator from good old Rocky Top should have been a front-runner from the start but he showed up looking like he forgot to set his alarm clock.  Like the current president, Thompson too often seems uninformed and out of touch.  While invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, he appears to have taken his cues from Reagan’s second term when the darling of all conservatives consistently feigned deafness to avoid interaction with the press.  

By the time he awakens, the race should be over but someone may consider him for the vice presidency if the operatives believe he can deliver the NASCAR vote.  


Senator Dodd has quietly emerged as the frontline candidate with the strongest progressive positions on the Iraq War, Fair Trade, Green America and civil liberties.  With his principled opposition to the restructured FISA bill that offers immunity to telecommunication giants for betraying their customers, Dodd gained the accolades of libertarians and progressives alike.  

Positioned between Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards, if the war takes a dramatic turn for the worse (for example, if Muqtada al Sadr declares an end to the ceasefire), Dodd becomes a stronger antiwar alternative to Edwards.  More likely, Edwards may offer Dodd the VP slot if he prevails.  The Senator from Connecticut is well spoken, well informed and eminently qualified.  It is a shame that his candidacy has not gained more traction.  

A vote for Dodd is a vote against the war.


Governor Richardson is probably the most qualified individual in either party to step into the Oval Office and begin the job of rebuilding the nation’s international prestige.  He is a diplomat with impressive credentials.  Nevertheless, he is on the wrong side of the progressive ledger on the death penalty and gun rights.  He has compromised positions on Free Trade and health care.  Finally, while his stand on the war is reasonably strong, he was for it before he was against it.  

When Richardson sacrificed valuable airtime defending frontrunner Hillary Clinton against the legitimate attacks of Obama and Edwards in a televised debate, he took himself out of the running for the top job.  

His cards are on the table:  He wants a job in the next Clinton White House.  


It has become a cliché:  The next election will be the most critical in the nation’s history.  Traditionally, that designation is reserved for elections in which the winning candidate rises to greatness:  The elections of Jefferson in 1800, Lincoln in 1860 and 1864, and Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.  

If not for an assassin’s bullet, the elections of 1960 and 1968 may have risen to a level of greatness and the election of 2000 may have qualified if the winner had taken office.  

When one looks at the critical problems facing the American nation – global climate change, a world at war, an economy imperiled – the opportunities for greatness are abundant.  

When one looks at the leading candidates for the 2008 election, however, it is difficult to envision a great leader emerging yet that is the challenge facing the electorate.  

It is instructive to recall that before Lincoln, the nation elected Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.  Before Roosevelt, we elected Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.  The consequences of choosing poorly at critical times are as profound as the consequences of choosing wisely.  

For those who limit their choice to candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency, theirs is the solemn responsibility of plucking greatness from the few who have risen to the top of the presidential field.  


No one goes to greater lengths to avoid taking a hard stand than the junior senator from New York.  She is a tried and true Free Trader who talks a populist line.  She promises to end the war but continue the occupation.  She manages to seem pro business to her corporate sponsors and pro environment to the Democratic base.  Her twists and turns on the Iraq War are painfully well chronicled and her vote on the Kyle-Lieberman amendment branding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization shortly before the intelligence community debunked the Iranian threat was astonishing for its poor timing.  

Hillary stands accused of being a closet Neocon.  

If you want mandatory health insurance, indefinite occupation and an oil friendly green policy then Hillary is your candidate.  If you believe she is the best candidate to defeat the Republicans, you have not read the poll numbers.  If you want to bring back the good old days, have a nice dream.  

Hillary remains the Democratic frontrunner but her strategy of surrogate mudslinging runs the risk of blowback.  She has already alienated the progressive antiwar left and the damage is irreparable.  She is a divider, not a uniter.  

The great shame is that the first woman with a realistic chance at the White House is so fundamentally compromised that progressive women cannot support her cause.  


Not since Bogie has there been such a prominent tough guy with a lisp.  Rudy will forever be known for his “spontaneous like” comment after September 11, 2001:  “Thank God George Bush is our president.”  He was just as glad that friend Bernie Kerik was going to Washington as head of Homeland Security before he came under indictment.  Democratic

Senator Joe Biden is right:  America’s mayor knows very little about foreign policy yet he is willing to pretend he does.  Rudy still believes that Iraq is the frontline in the Global War on Terror, Saddam Hussein was connected to 9-11, Iran has nuclear weapons and Hugo Chavez is a communist dictator.  If Rudy is elected, the Neocons can keep their apartments in Georgetown, Halliburton stock continues to rise and Blackwater is still in business.  

A vote for Rudy is a vote for war.  


Senator Obama appeared on the national scene with a bold message of unity and idealism.  Though his policies appear to mirror Hillary Clinton’s in large measure, he strikes a chord when he decries mandatory health insurance as a policy of the insurance companies.  On the war in Iraq, Obama’s virtue is that opposed the invasion from the start.  

For all the criticisms of his experience, the Senator from Illinois appears every bit as knowledgeable, as well informed and polished as the Clintons.  If a vote for Obama is a gamble, as former president Bill Clinton insinuated, at least there is an upside.  Obama looks like a statesman, talks like a visionary and inspires as few politicians can but he drafts policy like the negotiator.  Ironically, it may be the shadow of Hillary Clinton that holds him back.  

A vote for Obama is a vote of faith for those who perceive in his character the seed of greatness.  Will he end the war and the occupation?  Will he secure universal health care?  Will he stand up for international labor and fair trade?  Will he seize the initiative of green technology?  Will he take on the corporate interests?  

If you believe he will rise to the challenge, he is a worthy alternative to the Clinton mandate.  If you do not, he is just another opportunistic politician.  


President Huckabee?  Never say never.  The Governor of Arkansas defines the Christian right and the support he is building is a perfect measure of fundamentalist discontent with the phony and opportunistic policy turnarounds of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.  

Huckabee is a feel good Christian who is completely unfit to be the commander of a faltering super power at war.  Do we really want a president who believes the Lord Almighty is behind his rise in the polls?  Do we really want another president who believes he is the chosen one?  Do we want a president who is not certain how Jesus would stand on capital punishment, torture or aggressive war?  

Governor Huckabee has pushed Governor Romney to the religious right.  As an individual who believes that spiritual beliefs are a private matter and that the separation of church and state is a fundamental tenet of democracy, there is no place for me in either Huckabee’s or Romney’s America.  

Do we really want a Christian leader in command of an imperialist crusade?  I pray that we do not.  


Senator Edwards began his quest for the White House four years ago as the only candidate in memory to address the problem of poverty.  The poor did not and do not vote yet here was a man staking his claim to champion the disenfranchised.  

Edwards began as the rhetorical populist and is evolving into the real deal.  Some may rightly question whether his evolution is sincere yet we would do well to remember that FDR did not embrace the principles of the New Deal until Huey Long and the Great Depression pushed him to it.  We should recall as well that Ralph Nader’s rationale for running a third party campaign was to apply pressure to shape mainstream politics.  At this juncture, only Edwards has responded.  He stands alone on the leader board as the best candidate for the issues that matter most:  Iraq, Iran, New Orleans, Fair Trade, global climate change, corporate dominance and universal health care.  We can only hope that the process of evolution continues.  

Ironically, Edwards’ handicap in the primary season is that he is a white male but if the economy stumbles badly (as it inevitably will), the common people will begin to envision poverty and will turn to the populist message.  Edwards will capitalize.  

Barring the unspeakable, Edwards would defeat any Republican in the general election.  


We have seen this act from a Massachusetts politician before:  He was pro choice before he was anti abortion.  He was for gun control before he was against it.  As a governor, he was tolerant of homosexuals and undocumented workers.  He claims to have evolved but these are not policy positions but principles of moral founding.  As such, his evolution appears less guided by principle and more by poll numbers and focus groups.  

Mitt Romney is the Republican equivalent to Hillary Clinton but he faces the competition of Rudy Giuliani.  Both have shaped their policies to the majority position of the party on every issue from immigration and abortion to war and taxes.  

Oh yes, Romney is a Mormon but we will have to wait for someone other than the former governor to explain exactly what that means.  As the surge of support for Huckabee attests, it likely means the Christian fundamentalist base will abandon him.  

Like all the Republican contenders, success in the general election would require an unspeakable event.  

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