This week John Kerry picked John Edwards as his running mate and the run-up to the 2004 Presidential Election has officially begun. We have decided to devote all of our essays up until election day to issues directly pertaining to the candidates and their platforms. This week we begin with differing predictions on the outcome of the election and in the next few weeks we will go into more depth on the candidate’s specific economic and social policies, as well as their foreign policy proposals. We look forward to a lively discussion surrounding what will certainly be one of the most important elections of our lifetime.
VORA Kerry-Edwards Landslide
Everyone knows political predictions are even worse than economic predictions, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a big Kerry victory on November 2nd with the following (major) caveats: no major terrorist attack or unforeseen crisis occurs in the next four months and Bin Laden isn’t somehow killed or captured. Also, by landslide I refer to an electoral landslide, not a significant popular mandate. Here’s my reasoning:
1) John Edwards is going to help draw many Democrats in poor and rural areas who might not have voted and this will help shift the balance in Kerry’s favor in many swing states. Plus, his charm will work like magic among many suburban women who will also come to the polls in record numbers.
2) The economy is already cooling off and with high gasoline prices all summer long, Bush will not be able to claim economic victory as he had hoped for. In addition, although over the last few months the overall jobs situation has improved throughout much of the country, it has actually gotten worse in some of the key swing states such as Ohio.
3) Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq is unlikely to get much better any time soon and the probability of continued U.S. casualties is high. There are no more big events scheduled for Iraq between now and the election and people will quickly forget about Saddam’s trial and the transfer of sovereignty if there continues to be a steady stream of violence.
4) The vote on the Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage is scheduled for the Senate and will do little to help Bush since the religious right is already firmly in his camp, but it will remind millions of gays, many of them Republicans, that they have an enemy in the White House. In addition, even many conservatives are offended that Bush has suggested doing something as radical as amending the Constitution for an issue that is largely semantic.
5) After the first of Bush’s TV commercials, in which a random Arab-looking man was shown while the narrator discussed the threat of terrorism (I guess they didn’t want to remind people that Bin Laden is still on the loose), many American Muslims have become even more suspicious that the administration is not sensitive to their fears and they disproportionately live in swing states.
6) The Bush administration’s record on the environment is arguably the worst in the last 30 years and although not a major issue at the moment (while people are preoccupied with terrorism and pink slips), it might resonate with people as the election draws near.
7) Women’s rights groups are justifiably concerned that a Bush second term will lead to a further erosion of reproductive freedoms both at home and abroad and they are working tirelessly to make sure women get out to vote.
8) Although Bush made inroads with Hispanics in 2000, his immigration policy has gone nowhere and he has alienated many Mexicans-Americans by largely ignoring the Mexico-U.S. agenda after 9/11. In addition, many young Cubans have been angered at the recent moves by the Administration prohibiting travel and mail service to Cuba (in order to bolster the conservative base of older anti-Castro groups) and this political strategy may backfire in Florida.
9) Kerry is promising young people a great boost in financial aid and scholarships for colleges and has been campaigning a lot on college campuses. In addition, the Rap mogul Russell Simmons has so far registered almost two million of the Hip-Hop generation and they are much more likely to vote for Kerry than Bush.
10) Many "old-school" Republicans have been greatly disturbed by what they perceive as the damage Bush has done to established conservative ideals, such as running a record deficit and getting involved in a massive nation building exercise without the proper planning, and they may very well turn on Bush, or perhaps simply not vote.
11) There are a slew of reports scheduled to come out this summer with respect to intelligence failures and none of them are likely to reflect well on the Bush administration.
12) Kerry proposes to rescind the tax cuts for the top 3% of the population earning over $200,000 a year and use this money for a major expansion of public health care. If the public is clear on this issue there is no doubt that they will side with Kerry.
13) Last, but not least, from the moment Bush took office and refused to divulge the names of the people comprising his “energy task force” (I bet Ken Lay’s name is prominent among them) to the vindictive outing of the CIA operative to the continued misinformation about the links between Al Qaeda and Saddam, the Bush Administration has been continually associated with secrecy, evasion and deception. We’re not just talking about who someone had sex with, but issues of the most serious nature and Bush’s main advantage entering office, that he is a “straighter-talking” honest man, no longer holds with the majority of Americans. This will ultimately prove to be his Achilles Heel.
In summary, by any and all standards this election should’ve been a slam dunk for Bush. If he had actually acted more conservatively, both on the domestic and international front, I don’t think a Democrat would’ve had a chance. The fact that his approval rating is the lowest since he took office, way below 50%, seems to indicate that his days as President are numbered. The fact that Kerry’s approval ratings are not higher at this juncture is due to the fact that the public is first deciding whether they want four more years of Bush in office and the answer is no. With Edwards now on the ticket and his hands on the largest “war chest” for a challenger in U.S. Presidential history, Kerry has plenty of time and resources to make his case that he is the rightful successor.
On November 2nd we’ll see if I could make a living as a fortune teller or if I should consider a new hobby.
J.S.Why Bush Will Win in November
Sometimes, if you believe in something enough, you decide that it must be true. Such is the psyche of Democrats leading up to the November election. Democrats have long memorized and recited the many failures of the Bush administration, from the trumping up of flawed intelligence about WMD to the economic downturn, with under funded social programs and the Patriot Act not far behind. While Democratic critiques range from reasonable (tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the top 1% percent of taxpayers and lead to huge deficits may not be the right way to grow the economy) to the over dramatic (The Bush administration has destroyed our credibility around the world), the nature of their insistence that Bush not be re-elected has taken on an almost messianic air. After all, a breathless liberal told me the other day, “even people in those red states have to see what’s going on. I mean, don’t they know what’s going on?” What started out as a bold statement ended up as something weaker, as if she was questioning the very sanity of her fellow Americans. Since many Democrats argue over the very legitimacy of the Bush presidency they find it very hard to understand how anyone could ever support Bush, so they conclude that “they”(red state people) just don’t understand. Despite a virtual deadlock in the polls, Democrats remain confident that they are finally going give George Bush a “one-way ticket back to Crawford, Texas.” I’m not so sure. I predict a narrow Bush victory in November and here’s why:
1.Bush has endured the worst period of his Presidency and is still polling even with Kerry. Recent polls have showed a dead heat or a slight Kerry/Edwards advantage. But after the Iraq intelligence mess and daily death toll, the 9/11 hearings, Michael Moore’s movie, and several scathing books and newspaper exposes, aren’t Bush’s poll numbers surprisingly resilient? Learning from his dad’s losing re-election bid, the President has catered to his base and is reaping the rewards. Bush’s support among conservatives and Republicans is still very high and benefits from the contrast of the most liberal Senator in America, John Kerry. Absolutely nothing in the polls indicates a Kerry landslide, or any landslide at all for that matter.
2. Bush is an excellent campaigner and fundraiser who is just warming up. For all the vitriol Democrats spew about Bush, they forget about what a skilled and successful politician he is. He defeated a very formidable Ann Richards in his first try for Governor and won reelection easily after his first term. He “won” the debates against Al Gore and raised ungodly sums of money by effectively utilizing his “Pioneers” and “Rangers” who bundled large sums of cash for him. Kerry is also raising money well, but is less exciting to his base. After all, the euphoria surrounding Edwards this week told us as much about the Democrats’ concerns with John Kerry as anything else.
3. Iraq may have turned a corner. Liberals and anti-war critics underestimate the achievement of the handover on June 28th. By putting an Iraqi face on the new government, we have already taken an important step in the reconstruction of Iraq and perhaps even the entire Middle East. While Americans are still providing security, Iraqi forces are increasingly becoming involved in fighting the insurgents and maintaining law and order. For the first time since the war, Iraqis can look to their own leaders for accountability instead of the Americans. (The original Governing Council was a failure) This situation bodes well for American troops, who can now concentrate on more traditional missions rather than public works projects. The news out of Iraq will improve this fall and benefit Bush.
4. Swing state values will matter more than swing state job losses. While 3 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office, over 1 million have been restored (of course with less benefits and pay in some cases) The economy has been on the upswing the last few months, despite the disappointing jobs reports last month. The hearts and minds of voters in Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and other states will be up for grabs. When it comes down to it, I think these voters will be more comfortable with Bush than Kerry. Kerry’s eloquence and penchant for nuance will actually hurt him in some places, while Bush will come across as representing the values of Middle America on guns, abortion, and gays. While Democrats can hardly fathom it, some people actually like Bush’s speaking style and manner.
5. There is always a chance for a July surprise. As a recent New Republic article indicates, the Bush administration is turning up the heat on the Pakistani government to hunt down Bin Laden and his deputies. The instruments of power are clearly with Bush on this issue, as we can expect a high value terror arrest or foiled plot to come between now and November. In the unlikely event of another attack, the country will once again rally around Bush and the election will be a moot point. Remember the post 9/11 approval ratings? The uncertainty surrounding terrorism actually favors Bush.
6. There is still time for Kerry to be successfully labeled as a tax raiser and a social liberal. While Kerry’s policies are hardly radical, the Bush campaign has already attacked his votes for higher taxes and against the Defense of Marriage Act. Kerry’s record is very clear on social issues, as he is against the death penalty (possible exception for terrorists), pro-choice (but personally maybe pro-life), and against gay marriage (sort of, he takes awhile to explain it). By the way, he also voted for the Iraq War but against the 87 billion dollars to fund it. Did I mention that the Republicans have labeled him a flip-flopper? Even staunch Democrats have to admit that Kerry’s record can be confusing, so what will swing voters think? Bush has the time and money to define Kerry in minds of the most important voters, and he has a lot to work with.
In the end, this election will hinge on Iraq and the economy, and both bode well for the President based on my analysis. On secondary factors such as likeability and social issues, I see a slight Bush advantage as well. I didn’t criticize Kerry for his slow start because I actually think that he doing the right thing by waiting until after the convention to start talking more about policy. In addition, Kerry’s VP choice was excellent in timing and logic. He has done many things well and is a great candidate. I am afraid that it just won’t be enough.
Bright Lights and John Kerry
I recently saw John Kerry speak in San Jose, and it was a unique opportunity to view the Senator up close after only reading about him. Of particular interest to me was whether or not the classic description of Kerry constructed in the mainstream media would actually hold true to form. Oh, you didn’t know? The media knows everything about John Kerry, and even though polls suggest that most Americans still don’t know him, his profile has already been written as follows:
John Kerry is a decorated war hero and prominent anti-war activist (Democrats love that twist), who has wanted to be President since he realized his initials were JFK. (Note: such grandiose ambition is considered unseemly) He has been a Senator for almost 2 decades, facing a stiff and career defining challenge from William Weld in 1996. On the down side, he looks aristocratic and is known to be aloof. Most people who work with him do not get a warm fuzzy feeling when he is around, and he prefers lonely pursuits like playing the guitar or riding his motorcycle to hanging out with real people. He has not been known for any great legislative efforts during his tenure, but he was involved in a few high profile inquiries. He flip-flops on the issues. (The Republicans added that last part. They are advertising Kerry flip-flops for summer wear and I think it’s a cool idea.)
The sad thing is that as much as I try to remain open minded, it is impossible to read the same basic description over and over again and not let it influence how you view a man. As I stood two rows deep from the podium, trying to understand why Rob Reiner was introducing Kerry, people began to get impatient. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Kerry is known to be late to things. (See Clinton, Bill)
Upon first glance, the thing you notice about John Kerry is his height. He’s a very tall man but carries himself with a lot a grace. But if height were all it took, Bill Bradley would be President. He looks exactly like he does on TV, very presidential, but yes, a little snobbish. Even when he rides his motorcycle in that leather jacket, he still looks more French than George W. Bush ever will. Democrats need to accept this and move on.
I have never known Kerry to be a captivating speaker, but he was impressive in his delivery and substance. The largest applause lines were not what you might expect. The crowd cheered wildly when he spoke about how important “science” would be in his administration. Anything related to John Ashcroft is also golden in any Democratic stronghold. He does not have the empathy of Clinton or the feistiness of Dean, but on the bright side, he knows his own limitations.
Since he essentially voted to authorize the Iraq war, Kerry is careful around this issue and could not deliver an effective one-liner. Also absent were his very memorable primary stump lines like “I know something about aircraft carriers for real” and “I have three words for them (The Republicans): Bring it on!”
The new Kerry waxes poetically about returning America to its former greatness, quoting Langston Hughes by saying “Let America be America again.” I get the line but then again I really don’t get it. Its very Reaganesque in its intent and this type of rhetoric helped Reagan present a positive image to counter Carter’s “malaise”. Kerry is liberal enough in his voting record that the base of the Democratic Party seems content to let him drift towards the center. While this may not be a New Democrat campaign in name, it is closer to that spirit than any other. (Sorry Howard Dean)
Another interesting thing about Kerry is how uncomfortable he looks in the spotlight. During his speech, he paused for applause lines and squinted into the lights and flashbulbs, almost visibly counting the seconds until he could return to his point. At the end, he paused on stage for pictures, and any observer could tell how unnatural it was for him. Shy politicians are not as rare as one would think, and perhaps Kerry’s trademark “aloofness” is actually a sign of a thoughtful introvert. (This is at least how Democrats want to spin it)
In sum, Kerry will not be Al Gore from 2000, but he won’t be Al Gore from 2003 either. He will be John Kerry and Democrats are hoping that it will be good enough.A quick word on the Veepstakes: The decision, rumored to be coming this week, centers around three major candidates. If Kerry picks Gephardt, we’ll know that he intends to play it safe throughout this campaign. If he picks Edwards, we’ll know he’s smart and humble enough to realize that he needs the young upstart to compete in rural areas and the south. If he picks Vilsak, we’ll know that he couldn’t decide between the other two.
The Right Says “Yes” To Mel and “No” To Michael
Throughout the late winter and early spring many pundits on the right exhorted their readers and listeners to see Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the death of Jesus. This was a movie almost entirely devoid of spiritual or historical context: simply two hours of graphic torture and the not so subtle condemnation of Jews (the irony that many of these same groups continually rail against violence in the media and support increased censorship is a topic for another day).
During these months hundreds of U.S. soldiers were being slaughtered in Iraq and I couldn’t help but find the sense of collective “death worship” occurring in movie theaters across the country profoundly disturbing. It is a historical truth that people are quick to unleash brutal violence and risk their lives (or the lives of others) when they are convinced God is on their side and that their actions are sanctioned by some notion of divine sacrifice. However, as I am a firm believer in both free speech and the freedom for people to spend their money as they see fit, I had no fundamental problem with the masses who plunked down their dollars to see "The Passion of Christ."
Fast-forward to June of this year and many of the same voices on the right who couldn’t rave enough about Gibson’s movie are now urging people not to go see Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They are even going one step further and imploring movie theaters not to show it at all. Again, irony reigns supreme since these groups are providing massive free publicity for Moore, which will most certainly increase ticket sales for his film. At the same time, think about this: the same groups who reveled in the violent depiction of a death that occurred 2,000 years ago are doing everything in their power to prevent people from seeing the bloodshed in Iraq today, and exploring more closely the behavior of an Administration that has embarked on a global "war on terrorism.”
Fortunately, both free speech and the free market are still alive and well and I am optimistic that Moore’s movie, regardless of its partisan biases, will ultimately promote a dialogue that is much more pertinent to our current state of affairs. Thanks, in good part, to some unintentional help from the right.
The Future Is Ours
I recently returned from Ghana, a developing nation in West Africa. As the first African nation to gain independence from colonial rule, Ghana was well positioned for economic growth during the 2nd half of the 20th century. Still, Ghana was largely unable to fulfill its initial promise due to political instability and poor economic policy. While there have been development success stories around the world, policymakers and pundits are always cautious when it comes to Africa. The rich nations of the world have not figured out how to solve the African puzzle, despite spending millions of dollars in foreign aid and spending years formulating new policies.
There is a temptation among some observers to throw up their hands and declare Africa lost for the next generation, whether due to interminable war, the scourge of HIV, or incompetent leadership. Even among the idealists, it is difficult to know where to begin in addressing Africa’s problems. I interviewed many people about these issues, and they returned to the same broad themes again and again. I hope to explore these ideas in greater detail in future posts.One Size Does Not Fit All
While it seems obvious that Africa is not monolithic with over 50 different nations, hundreds of languages and ethnic groups, and significant regional disparities in climate, economy, politics, and infrastructure, our media and our textbooks tend to lump all Africans together. If you are lucky enough to read a front-page article or watch a lead news story on Africa, when was the last time there was a report not having to do with war or HIV? Africa needs to be analyzed with its diversity in mind. The problems facing Ghana are much different from the troubles that plague Sudan or Nigeria. South Africa and Ethiopia have sharply different political, social, and economic histories and meaningful comparisons are hard to come by. Institutions Matter
How do you buy a house in Africa? How can an entrepreneur start her own business? How does a student get a college loan? The answers to these questions are not clear because the institutions that support these endeavors are poorly developed or non-existent in most nations. I personally met a dozen potential entrepreneurs during my time in Ghana, some with innovative ideas, who were unable to pursue their dreams because they were capital constrained and lacked access to credit. Information is hard to come by in Africa, whether it is information about a prospective borrower or an emerging business. Without institutions to facilitate the spread of information and the efficient distribution of capital, it will be impossible for Africa to develop.Technically Speaking, No
The Africans I met were surprisingly comfortable with new technologies. Even among poorer people, cell phones and Internet access were not foreign concepts. The problem is that technology alone, without complementary institutions like credit cards and venture capital markets, cannot inspire innovation, e-commerce, or other business applications. Technology is perhaps a necessary but not sufficient condition for development. While Africans are increasingly using technology to communicate within and between nations, the impact on economic and political development remains to be seen.Africans Can Do This Job
Few Africans I spoke with considered lack of foreign aid to be the primary issue facing their people. Rather, many of them expressed the notion that Africans could solve Africa’s problems, if we simply gave them the opportunity. The rich countries of the world can work together with Africans to formulate strategies to combat disease, improve economic growth, and enact political reform. In the end though, Africans will have to execute these initiatives themselves. Smarter, more targeted, assistance to responsible regimes is an idea that needs to be tested and this concept is at the center of Bush’s Africa policy. The Future Is Ours
When I walked into BusyInternet, Ghana’s best Internet café, I could not help but be awed by the number of young Africans using their services. As I looked around the room, surrounded by flat screen monitors, web cams, and streaming radio, I knew immediately that my future was inextricably linked to the future of Africans. As an American, I recognize that the nations of Africa represent trading partners, a developing market for our goods, and strategic allies in the War against Terror. As a human being, I know it would be tragic to let the potential of millions of young Africans be wasted on war, disease, and corruption. A stable, prosperous, Africa is in our interests as Americans and as citizens of the world.
The End Of Extreme Social Conservatism?
A few of months ago I heard a discussion which leads me to believe that America will eventually reject extreme social conservatism and fully embrace broad, socially liberal ideals.
The speakers were talking about the fact that most of the young, creative people who drive the continual innovations in our society are attracted to cosmopolitan centers: to places where tolerance and diversity are the primary moral values.
I thought for a moment and realized the obvious:
New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, even Austin deep in the heart of Texas – these are the primary drivers of our economy…and they’re the defining liberal cities of America.
As much as conservative ideologues like to berate these areas of the country, do you think for a minute that America could really get along without these engines of progress and productivity?
The majority of GDP growth in the U.S.A. doesn’t flow from Arkansas and Alabama, it comes from places like California and New York, two of the most democratic and liberal states in the union- this is not a coincidence. Because of this, despite all the anti-government talk you hear from the right, it is taxes from the left-leaning Democratic states that subsidize the Republican states to the tune of almost $100 billion a year.
I was greatly enthused when I heard that politicians in South Carolina were worried that the region’s religious conservatives were scaring away young entrepreneurs. Maybe common sense and dignity will never be enough to erase the remaining vestiges of social intolerance and religious extremism that flourish in many parts of the country, but I’m confident the pursuit of prosperity and creative expression ultimately will.
The Electoral College Is Undemocratic
Imagine if the headlines in November 2000 had read “12 million votes thrown out in the presidential election!” Essentially, that’s what happened, although not in such an attention grabbing fashion. Approximately 12 million ballots were cast above and beyond the number required for either Bush or Gore to win the electoral votes in any given state, and thus over 11% of all ballots cast were ultimately superfluous to the Presidential outcome. For example, the moment Gore’s total exceeded Bush’s in New York the additional one and a half million votes he gained meant nothing.
As we approach the 2004 election already we are witnessing the terribly deleterious effects of our electoral system as only 18 states have been identified as “swing states” and they are receiving the bulk of campaign stops and advertising. As a Californian I can’t help but feel slighted that neither candidate feels they need to earn my vote. It is time to scrap the electoral system in favor of direct democracy so that candidates have an incentive to put forth a broad message that attracts all of America and not just particular regions. The current system is not only unfair but undemocratic.
The 2000 election was peculiar because the man who ended up with the most electoral votes lost the popular vote for only the fourth time in U.S. history (the other three came in the 19th century). Bush’s legal team had in place a Constitutional challenge in the case that he had gained the popular vote and Gore the electoral victory (which was the prediction at the time) and therefore, we know that Constitutional arguments against the electoral college exist. Too bad Gore’s legal team didn’t have the nerve to pursue a similar challenge. Ironically, the arguments are likely premised on the Equal Protection Clause, which the Supreme court ultimately used in Bush’s favor in Bush v. Gore in such a perverse manner that they made sure it could only apply to Bush v. Gore 2000 and no subsequent cases.
You Can Vouch For This
Almost nothing engenders such controversy with regards to education as school vouchers. Most on the Left see them as little more than a ploy by the Right to undermine public schools, fund religious instruction, and subsidize the rich, while those on the Right see the Left as beholden to teachers unions who refuse to admit that public education has largely failed the poor. There is some truth to both of these positions. For example, there clearly are incentive problems in the public school system when the most qualified science and math teachers are given the same starting salaries as gym teachers (no disrespect to gym teachers). At the same time, the danger of vouchers being used to fund religious instruction is legitimate as this clearly violates the Constitution. Also, vouchers don’t make sense if even with them the poor aren’t able to afford private school tuition; in which case they do basically become subsidies for the well-to-do. So what would an ideal voucher program look like that could most effectively make use of competitive market forces to improve the quality of education, while at the same time allaying these legitimate concerns?
1) Schools that accept vouchers must be required to accept all students. A large proportion of public education funds go to helping students with learning disabilities and emotional problems and private schools that are able to ‘cherry pick’ the best students would have an unfair advantage. They would also increase the already heavy burden on public schools. The bar for expelling problem students must be high as well or this mandate would lack any teeth. Private schools must prove that they compete effectively with the same student pools as do public schools.
2) Schools accepting vouchers must not be allowed to have anything approaching mandatory religious education of any sort. There can be no compromise on this point as this is a bedrock Constitutional issue.
3) School vouchers should be progressive in an effort to ensure that lower income families will be able to put them to good use and truly improve the educational opportunities for their children.
A voucher program that incorporated these three elements should be amenable to those on both the Left and Right since the goal is excellent schools for all of the nation’s children, not the ascendancy of one ideological position or the other.
The biggest decision John Kerry will make in the next few months will not be related to Iraq or health care. Instead, Kerry’s most important choice will be the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. In an election this close, it could be all difference.
Who should John Kerry pick as his running mate? And who won’t he pick and why?
1. Bill Richardson: A popular choice who accentuates Kerry’s strengths. The New Mexico Governor has done it all, including stops at the Department of Energy and the U.N. Being Latino doesn’t hurt either. But he isn’t known as a charismatic speaker and he augments Kerry’s unfortunate image as the ulimate insider. A safe choice but not a sure thing. One of the few VP choices who can realistically deliver his home state.
2. Mary Landrieu: A personal favorite because who doesn’t like a telegenic southern Senator who just happens to be a woman? Short on experience and gravitas, she would be a controversial pick. But she could draw in married white woman who are worried about national security but dislike Bush’s domestic agenda. While the Democrats must avoid a huge mistake, some may argue that they cannot be too risk averse either.
3. John Edwards: Everyone’s 2nd favorite candidate should make a great VP choice right? Many Democrats were smitten with Edwards’s heartfelt stump speech and the personal connection he developed with primary voters. Edwards also assiduously avoided attacking Kerry until the last possible moment. Edwards’s more moderate posture could also balance out Kerry, but the rumor mill suggests that Kerry doesn’t think as much of Edwards as we do. Can Edwards carry his home state in the general election? I think so, but others disagree. Edwards needs desparately to get on the ticket to keep his national political career alive. Don’t expect Kerry to do him any favors.
4. Tom Vilsak: The popular governor of Iowa would be a fine choice, bringing Iowa into the “blue” column and perhaps affecting the vote tallies in other midwestern states. As a Catholic, some worry that the Kerry/Vilsak ticket would be unelectable in some parts of the country. I tend to think these worries are overblown. What is important is that Vilsak has a competent, understated style, combined with executive experience and fresh (read: Outside of the Beltway) appeal. Vilsak’s wife endorsed Kerry in the Iowa Caucuses while he remained neutral, demonstrating both his political adeptness and ambition.
5. Bob Kerrey: The former Nebraska senator has been one of the stars of the 9/11 commission. Anyone who watched C-SPAN’s coverage could not help but be awed by his aggressive, no nonense questioning of Republican and Democratic witnesses alike. Still, he’s been out of politics for awhile and the “Kerry Squared” campaign posters might be confusing.
6. Richard Clarke: Don’t even think about it. Kerry has been smart enough to stay away from Clarke and let the former bureaucrat do the heavy lifting. It will be news if you see these guys in the same room before November.
7. Bill Nelson: What if Kerry chose a born again Christian, former astronaut, and Senator from the most important swing state in the nation? Fantasy, you say? Bill Nelson, I say. While he has been overshadowed in the press by his colleague, Bob Graham, he might actually be the better choice. Untested on the national stage but could be a dark horse.
8. Wes Clark: A disastrous Presidential bid was thought to have doomed Clark’s chances for VP. Could he have been running for it all along? His recent Op-Ed in the New York Times demonstrated his willingness to defend Kerry, but will it be enough? If Kerry really wants to go with the national security theme, Clark could be the answer.
9. Joe Biden: As charismatic and knowledgeable as anyone on the list with lots of experience on foreign affairs. Still, it would give the Democrats an all East Coast ticket. Sorry Joe.
10. Richard Gephardt: Been there. Done that. Generated too little excitement in the primary campaign to be helpful in the general election. An impressive public servant, but an uninspired choice.
11. Evan Bayh: The conservative Democrat from Indiana has been a Governor and now a Senator. As the son of former Indiana Senator, Birch Bayh, Bayh can deliver Indiana into the Democratic column under the right circumstances. In the past, Bayh has demurred due to family obligations but how much longer can he wait before he is enveloped in….
12. The Shadow of Hilary Clinton: Senator Clinton will not be on the ticket this year, but her Presidential aspriations in 2008 have to be of concern to every potential VP. For Edwards and Bayh especially, they need to get on the ticket this year to mount a realistic challenge to Clinton in the 2008 primary if Bush wins again. The question for this year is, how much will Senator Clinton help John Kerry?
13. John McCain: I’m not even going to go there. It will never happen but…
My Choice: Democrats need to take a risk here. Its time to put a woman on the ticket again, endure all the Ferraro comparisons, and go for the soccer mom vote. No, not Hilary. Mary Landrieu is the right pick and will generate the type of buzz Kerry needs to put the Democrats over the top. If Kerry times this choice right, the press will be doing positive puff pieces on Landrieu for a few weeks before the GOP can attack her. By then, she may have cultivated an image that can’t be tarnished. Can you see her debating Dick Cheney? If Landrieu isn’t the choice, Bill Nelson would be ideal.
Why The WTO Should Be Supported
There are few institutions that have been more maligned than the World Trade Organization. The WTO is commonly viewed by the Left, as well as the isolationists on the Right, as an institution that puts profit ahead of the needs of the poor and the environment, all while facilitating the dominance of multinational corporations at the expense of American workers. Virtually any instance in which trade, environmental degradation, and poverty coexist is seen as proof that the WTO (and “free-trade” more generally) is driving global inequity and harming workers. Unfortunately, there are few misperceptions that are more damaging to global progress or farther from the truth. Let me preface my arguments by saying that there are legitimate grievances with the WTO, particularly its lack of complete transparency, and there are vast inequities, which can and should be ameliorated, between the resources and expertise that developed and developing countries bring to the negotiating table. However, overall the WTO is largely a force for global good and here’s why:
1) Contrary to popular belief, the WTO is one of the most democratic international institutions in the world. Each country has one vote and unlike the UN, where a select powerful few have veto power, no such concentration of power exists in the WTO.
2) Also contrary to popular belief, the majority of WTO rulings have not pitted the interests of rich countries over poorer countries. In fact, the majority of WTO cases brought before the judicial body have been between poorer nations. In addition, last year’s rulings against U.S. steel tariffs and the recent ruling against U.S. cotton subsidies makes the WTO one of the only organizations that takes on the world’s most powerful countries and wins.
3) Regarding the recent ruling against U.S. cotton subsidies, the WTO has made a historic step towards the eventual elimination of all agricultural subsidies, which are some of the world’s most environmentally destructive, trade distorting, and unfair to the poor. Environmentalists and labor activist should be celebrating in the streets. (As an added note, the EU announced on 5/10/04 that it was willing to dismantle its agricultural export subsidies if other developed nations did the same in order to revive the latest round of global trade talks- I doubt it is a coincidence that this declaration follows so closely on the heels of the ruling against U.S. cotton subsidies)
4) The WTO is one of the few international bodies with real enforcement power that can back up its rulings. When the Bush administration contemplated maintaining the steel tariffs, despite the WTO’s ruling that they were in fact illegal, it was the targeted retaliations by the EU sanctioned by the WTO that were largely responsible for our ultimate compliance.
5) Membership in the WTO is entirely voluntary and although some may argue that opting out of the international trading system isn’t really an option for nations in our modern inter-connected world, this is exactly the point. Since international trade is essential for a nation’s economic growth and prosperity it is far better to be part of an enforceable system with uniform rules than one in which countries find themselves at the mercy of arbitrary and variable trade protectionism that makes for a highly unpredictable and inefficient economic environment.
6) Although there are many legitimate labor rights and environmental issues that the world community currently faces, these will not be helped by moving away from multilateralism, but by further embracing and expanding it. The WTO has established a strong institutional foundation with which to begin to address these larger issues; even if in many cases they are not directly linked to increased global trade (more on this in a later piece).
When Barack Obama won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Illinois, progressives and minority Democrats rejoiced. Still, the considerable hype over his primary victory underscored the dearth of minority officeholders in either party. While there are several minorities in the U.S. House of Representatives (who are mostly Democrats), it may eventually be easier for minorities to win high profile offices as Republicans rather than Democrats. African American Reps. often win reelection handily, but still have no hope of winning a statewide office due to their gerrymandered minority districts. The problem with heavily minority districts is that their Congressional Representatives don’t need to build bridges with white voters to win elections. These districts do reliably produce minority Congressmen, but with what effect? Minority politicians spend their careers in the House, when they could represent the next generation of Senators, Governors, and Presidents. While Reps. like Bobby Scott, Harold Ford, and Shelia Jackson Lee represent a strong base for minority Democrats, will they ever get a chance at statewide office? Gary Locke of Washington is a notable exception and has had a career that other minority politicians may seek to emulate. While Democrats may boast Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman to make the national ticket, the Republicans may be the first of the two major parties to actually deliver a woman or minority to the White House. Here’s why:
The GOP is doing everything it can to attract minorities and progress is already being made. President Bush’s cabinet is arguably the most diverse in American history for a good reason. The Republicans know that they cannot continue to hold majorities in both chambers and the Presidency unless they increase the number of minorities in their party. Republican minorities cannot usually rely on their ethnic base to vote for them, so they instead spend more time reaching out to white voters. While this strategy often leads to “sell out” chants from the left, it is an arguably more successful strategy for winning statewide office. In most states, the minority vote is not large enough to win a statewide election. So minority politicians need to work extra hard to win white votes. And it is possible.
Take Bobby Jindal for example, the 30 something Indian American whiz kid who nearly won the Governor’s mansion in Louisiana in 2003 after receiving a large number of white votes and an embarrassingly low amount of black votes. After a narrow loss to Kathleen Blanco, Jindal didn’t miss a beat and is embarking on the second campaign of his short career. Now well positioned to be the second Indian American ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Jindal emphasized his conservative views along with his Christian faith to win an impressive share of the vote in a state that was more associated with David Duke’s Senate challenge than racial equality. While Jindal’s detractors decry his conversion to Christianity and his American nickname (his real name is Piyush), Jindal is exactly the type of politician the GOP wants to showcase. He is brown skinned, conservative, an impressive policy wonk, and a committed family man.
It may seem counterintuitive to argue that while the Democratic Party is the preferred home for most minority groups, the Party has been less than successful in promoting minorities for statewide office. This phenomenon can be partially explained by the Democratic Party’s strategy towards minority voters. By emphasizing affirmative action, hate crime laws, and other narrowly tailored “minority friendly” policies, the Democrats treat minority voters as a discrete bloc of voters that need to be pandered to, rather than integrating their concerns into broader themes that all voters can relate to. As a result, there is significant competition among minority groups for power in the Democratic Party rather than a coherent discussion about issues that impact poor, rural whites and urban minorities. The upshot is that many whites that would naturally vote Democrat instead support Republicans and Republican policies that are at odds with their economic interests. The Democrats are in the perfect position to articulate a new progressive vision for all Americans; whether they can do it remains to be seen.
This post has nothing to do with which party best represents the interests of minorities. It is clear that the Democrats have more minority office holders than the GOP at the national level. The question is which party offers the best chance for upward mobility? There are likely to be more Bobby Jindals coming up through the ranks of the Republican Party in the years to come. If I had to place my bets, I would look for a conservative Latino, perhaps from Texas or Florida, to lead the next generation of GOP politicians.
An Environmental Platform For The Future
Polls have consistently shown that Americans care deeply about the environment but this has not translated into sufficient action on the part of our leaders. It is time for a Presidential candidate to put forth a strong vision for environmental stewardship that favors conservation, the public interest, and long-term concerns over the whims of special-interest lobbyists, an over-reliance on free markets, and the overblown opposition of automakers and auto unions (remember, these are the same people who opposed seat-belt laws, didn’t believe Americans would buy compact cars in the 1980s, and are already falling behind the Japanese in the production of high-demand hybrids). Here’s what this new environment platform should emphasize:
1) Energy independence as the key to America’s long-term national security. Despite another major war in the Middle East and our growing awareness that a portion of the proceeds from oil revenue ends up in the hands of terrorists, Bush has proposed an energy bill which amounts to little more than a multi-billion dollar giveaway to the fossil fuel industries (a bill almost exclusively written by the companies in Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force- which by no coincidence are many of Bush’s largest campaign contributors). It would do little to nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and at a tremendous cost to society. We need to focus instead on moving toward an economy based on renewable energy and far greater energy efficiency. This would produce huge environmental benefits, and in addition could lead directly to millions of new jobs: a true win-win situation. It will also allow America to become competitive in the new energy technologies that will ultimately define the 21st century. Think of what the markets for these technologies are eventually going to be in places like India and China.
2) Environmental protection is a moral issue. All of us are stewards of the world we inhabit. No matter what God we believe in (or don’t believe in), it is our responsibility to protect Earth’s resources for future generations, and out of respect for the other forms of life with whom we share the planet. Environmental protection is the fundamental “pro-life” position.
3) Almost all natural resource subsidies are a lose-lose situation, and they must be stopped. Currently, U.S. taxpayers spend tens of billions a year paying farmers, ranchers, miners, and timber companies to exploit our environment, leading to large-scale pollution and destruction. Much of these are illegal under international trade agreements and often the subsidies are greater than the value of the resources on the open-market; signifying the height of inefficiency. The money saved by ending these subsidies could be used for environmental research, to support health care and education, or even for targeted tax cuts.
4) The Federal government should support the work of conservation groups who have identified biodiversity "hotspots" in their efforts to protect these areas before they are lost forever. These regions represent our evolutionary heritage and they are being lost at an alarming rate. It is not imperative that we save every square inch of natural habitat or that we reject economic development, but allowing the earth’s most biologically richest areas to be despoiled is bad for our own future as well as the species that are lost.
5) More than half of the nation lives in areas with poor air quality and addressing this situation should be a top priority. Many of these people are young children and the poor, who suffer from respiratory diseases at disproportionate rates, so this is an issue of basic fairness and justice. We are the richest nation on earth and this situation is more than an embarrassment, it’s a disgrace. Much of the improvements in air quality could be achieved within the larger issue of renewable energy technology and greater automobile efficiency.
6) Bush reneged on his campaign promise to regulate CO2 emissions as a pollutant but this is essential for seriously addressing global warming. Although there is still a degree of scientific uncertainty surrounding the “greenhouse effect”, the overwhelming majority of the world’s top scientists believe it merits serious concern and it is something we need to address sooner rather than later. Science will never give us exact answers nor perfect predictive power but uncertainty is no excuse for inaction.
Mend it or End it? How To Tackle Affirmative Action
One of the issues that has not been talked about much in the 2004 Presidential election is affirmative action in college admissions. This issue is so ideologically charged that there is a dearth of reasonable debate. Still, a bold and politically adept politician could outline the following platform with electoral success and a clear conscience.
1. Call for an End to Legacy Preferences
While a complete end to legacy preferences is unlikely to happen, there is no harm in coming out strongly against them. Is there anything more unfair than under-qualified legacy kids getting into Stanford or Harvard because their father went there, while a first generation immigrant is denied admission despite a perfect SAT score? Politicians should highlight the lack of transparency in college admissions by talking about legacy preferences. Legacy admissions are not just unfair, they are truly un-American.
2. Push for Greater Transparency in College Admissions
One problem for Democratic constituencies will be that greater transparency will give college admissions officials less discretion to admit underrepresented minorities with lower test scores. Still, an honest discussion needs to be started about the impact of affirmative action and other methods on college admissions. Is race the only factor that makes a campus diverse? Even when schools reach the “right” percentages, what is done after students get to campus to make sure that students from different backgrounds actually interact instead of separating themselves into fraternities and ethnic organizations? These questions will lead to hysterical debate on both sides, but this should not deter us from having an honest discussion about affirmative action.
3. Explore a shift to affirmative action based on socioeconomic status
A controversial proposal to be sure, but a willingness to entertain this common sense solution could win moderate votes. First, the focus of affirmative action will remain the same: target disadvantaged students who don’t have the right scores to get into elite universities and give them an extra boost for life experience, etc. Most of them certainly deserve it. But there is no reason that this cannot be applied to rural poor white students or first generation Asian Americans as well as African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. By including other groups, affirmative action can gain a wider political consensus to achieve a socially desirable goal. In addition, the new program will help the poorest, most disadvantaged kids, which was the point of affirmative action in the first place.
4. Call for historic increases in student loan and aid programs:
This part has got to be more than lip service. Pick a large state university in a swing state, I would suggest Ohio State or LSU, and call for the highest percentage increase in student loan and aid programs in history. This should be a huge event with student testimonials and as much coverage as any other policy speech. Young voters are sensitive to this issue even if they are out of college, because many are still paying off college loans. Given abysmal turnout among young people, politicians should give them a good reason to vote and this is one way.
Free Trade's Greatest Ally
If free trade benefited everyone all the time there would be no controversy. Unfortunately, along with the gains from free trade -- higher productivity, lower costs to consumers, the creation of new industries, and the chance for poorer countries to earn foreign currency and develop economically -- come large costs for the industries and workers that get caught in the transition as economies adjust.
In order to get everyone to support free trade, workers who lose their jobs or have their pay cut deserve to get help from the government. Workers who are displaced need to feel that society takes their pain to heart, and that they are not simply cogs in the larger economic machine who can be sacrificed for the greater good. In effect, free trade presents a political paradox: it calls for hands-off government with respect to tariffs and quotas, but hands-on government with respect to increased worker benefits in times of economic transition. For example, wage insurance can be an effective way to protect the stability and quality of life for displaced workers at a reasonable expense. Workers in industries harmed by trade liberalization are paid a portion of the difference between their old salaries and those in any new job they get (if the salary is lower) for a set period of years.
The gains from free trade are too large to be squandered due to protectionist fears and xenophobia, but this is bound to happen if the current Administration refuses to accept the expanded government role that free trade requires. Republicans are so instinctively committed to a ‘less-government’ stance that they seem incapable of promoting the types of policies that will insure a long-term commitment to free trade within the United States. A case in point is the GOP’s continual stalling over the last three years on extending unemployment benefits. Traditional Democrats, on the other hand, are too quick to use government policy to protect inefficient industries (which Bush did as well with steel tariffs) that they lose sight of the bigger picture.
This short-sightedness presents a courageous leader with a huge opportunity. By extolling the virtues of free trade and at the same time emphasizing the need for government intervention to ameliorate the suffering of displaced workers, he or she can become free trade’s greatest ally. Free trade gives America a potential win-win situation, but only with the proper leadership that is not afraid to expand government policies where they are needed.