Progressive Pragmatism: Eight White Guys and Al Sharpton

The panoply of presidential candidates.

Yes, folks, it’s election year once again. It’s that special time in
the life of our nation when we sit back, kick off our shoes, and think
about the issues that affect our lives, like the price of cable or the
exact height from which one could spit and kill a man.

I know, nobody pays attention to politics in this country anymore,
except for diehard junkies like me and really old people in Florida
who are just fooling themselves anyway because Florida isn’t really a
state. Nevertheless, the fact remains that our lives will be greatly
shaped by who holds the White House for the next four years.

Our economy, our access to health care and education, our rights as
human beings, our image in the world, perhaps even our very lives are
at stake. And so, as the primary season begins to kick into gear, I
feel that it’s my responsibility as a distinguished Internet
journalist — I interviewed Chuck
D
… that’s got to count for something, right? — to give you
all a completely biased look at the eight major candidates seeking the
highest office in the land. So here it is, a progressive and pragmatic
look at Election 2004.

Let’s start with the Democrats, shall we? In alphabetical order…

Wesley Clark

Total campaign funds: $3,491,108

Largest contributors: Lawyers and law firms, Viacom, Citigroup, AOL
Time Warner, individual contributors and businesses

Political experience: None, zip, zero. Never even sat on a
school board (though possibly a PTA board, you never know). Claim to
fame is that he is a retired 4-star general and was NATO supreme
commander during the war in
Kosovo
that no one remembers happening because we were all too
obsessed with the shape of Clinton’s penis at the
time.

Social positions: pro-choice, lukewarm on campaign finance
reform, unknown on environmental and educational positions, pro-civil
unions and civil rights for LGBT but against gay
marriage, against decriminalization of marijuana, pro-death penalty,
pro-gun control, unknown on affirmative action and civil rights

Stance on war in Iraq: Consistently against the war, believes
though that now that we are there we have to make Iraq stable enough
to operate on its own before we leave it (unclear about the costs of
this, other than to insist it won’t cost $87 billion)

Clark may very well be the smartest person in the field, at least by
conventional means of assessment. He was first in his class at West Point and a Rhodes scholar. Beyond that,
however, I fail to see how this guy is qualified to be elected a city
alderman, let alone president of the United States. He has no
political experience at all.

Even Eisenhower had a small degree of political wheeling and dealing
under his belt before he took office. The last time we put a general
in office just because he’d been a general was Ulysses S Grant, and we
all know how
wonderfully successful
that turned out to be.

Clark is shady about his positions on so many issues that it’s hard to
tell if he’s campaigning or tap dancing. Worst of all, he’s being
supported by both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the king and queen of
electoral dysfunction.

Howard Dean

Total campaign funds: $25,385,265

Largest contributors: AOL Time Warner (by a massive margin),
Microsoft and IBM and Hewlett Packard (methinks a virus might be in
the works), individual donors giving less than $200 a piece through
Dean’s Web site, educational interests

Political experience: Governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2002,
various other roles in Vermont politics

Social positions: pro-choice, pro-campaign finance reform in
rhetoric but has opted out of federal spending limits, mixed but
mostly positive ratings by environmental and education advocacy
groups, pro-civil unions and civil rights for LGBT but unclear about
gay marriage, not currently on record with any position in regards to
decriminalization of marijuana, not on record with a position on the
death penalty but supported it as a governor, anti-gun control,
pro-affirmative action with mixed reviews from civil rights groups

Stance on war with Iraq: Consistently against the war, has been
unclear about what the US should do now though

Dean, anointed a front-runner by the media before a single vote was
cast, is quite the mixed bag. Hardly the liberal that the media and
other Democrats make him out to be, Dean has taken a hard pro-guns
stance and an ever-changing stance in relation to programs like
Medicare and Social Security. The amount of individual donor money
he’s taken in is impressive, but does not negate the fact that he has
accepted large contributions from the business sector as well —
not surprising since he was a heavily corporate-sponsored governor.

On the positive side, as a medical doctor, Dean seems to have come up
with the sanest and most detailed plan to bring affordable health care
to all Americans. And his dedication to fiscal responsibility,
including his call to repeal the Bush tax cuts in favor of education
credits, gives him a leg up on some of the other Democrats who believe
that money falls from the sky so long as you do a rain dance every
couple months.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure I could take four to eight years of
that creepy smile. It’s like watching the Grinch fart.

John Edwards

Total campaign funds: $14,512,398

Largest contributors: Just about every trial lawyer in America
has given this guy money. Really.

Political experience: Senator from North Carolina (1998-present)

Social positions: pro-choice (but missed key votes on so-called
partial-birth abortion
twice in 2003), lukewarm on campaign
finance reform, highly rated by environmental and education advocacy
groups, pro-gay rights in rhetoric but has received poor ratings from
gay advocacy groups in the past and is unclear about his position on
civil unions and gay marriage, against decriminalization of marijuana,
pro-death penalty, pro-gun control, pro-affirmative action and highly
rated by the NAACP, but very poorly rated by advocacy groups for the
rights of Arab-Americans

Stance on war with Iraq: Consistently pro-war

Only in America can a politician in his early fifties who has held
office for close to six years be considered a fresh young face.
Edwards would probably do good things for education, and he probably
wouldn’t do bad things to the environment. But his foreign policy
experience is extremely limited. If his approach to war with Iraq is
any indication, Senator Edwards should probably be passed over. Not to
mention that tort reform will probably be stopped in its tracks by
this guy.

But the good news is his smile is the least creepy of all the
candidates. Trust me, I know a creepy smile when I see it. I voted for
Ralph Nader in 2000, after all. Edwards may not have much, but he has
nice teeth.

Dick Gephardt

Total campaign funds: $13,666,915

Largest contributors: Teamsters and other large unions,
Anheuser-Busch, lawyers and law firms, pharmaceutical companies, oil
and gas companies, various casinos

Political experience: Representative from Missouri (1976-present,
House minority leader until 2002), former city councilman and alderman
in Saint Louis

Social positions: pro-choice but with reservations (skipped
votes on partial-birth abortion, and in 2002, voted in favor of
allowing the federal government to withhold public funding of
hospitals and other health care facilities in which abortions are
performed), lukewarm on campaign finance reform, highly rated by
environmental advocacy groups and in the past has been highly regarded
by education advocacy groups but was given a poor rating for 2003
because he missed every significant vote on education issues,
pro-civil unions and civil rights for LGBT but against gay marriage
despite having a lesbian daughter, against decriminalization of
marijuana, unclear position on death penalty, bizarrely unclear about
gun control (the only candidate I’ve ever seen who gets bad ratings
from both the NRA and gun control advocates), pro-affirmative action
and receives reasonable ratings from the NAACP but abysmal ratings
from advocacy groups for the rights of Arab-Americans

Stance on war with Iraq: Inconsistent and unclear, stating
opposition to the war initially but then voted in favor of it, now
avoiding it almost entirely as a subject of debate

Gephardt seems to miss more votes than he manages to make. In 2003,
his excuse was that he was running for president. I don’t really know
what his excuse would have been in previous years. Mid-day snacking,
perhaps.

Whatever the excuse, the fact remains that Gephardt’s commitment to
issues of conscience seems less than sincere if he can’t even be
bothered to show up for votes on abortion, education, or civil
rights. Last year, he missed a vote on a bill which advocates a
constitutional amendment against flag burning. That bill passed and
could one day become law. Thanks, Representative Gephardt. I’ll
remember you fondly when my mouth is soldered shut in the impending
police state.

On the other hand, if Gephardt were to be elected, school children
would be able to say to their parents and teachers that “the president
is a Dick” without fear of reprisal. So there are wins and losses with
Gephardt as far as free speech goes.

John Kerry

Total campaign funds: $20,043,631

Largest contributors: Lawyers and law firms, Goldman Sachs,
securities and investment firms

Political experience: Senator from Massachusetts (1984-present)

Social positions: pro-choice, voting record supports campaign
finance reform, highly-rated by environmental and education advocacy
groups, pro-civil unions and civil rights for LGBT but against gay
marriage, against decriminalization of marijuana, inconsistent on the
death penalty (against it in all cases except “terrorism”), pro-gun
control, pro-affirmative action

Stance on war with Iraq: Inconsistent, has criticized war
occasionally but also voted in support of it

As the “mainstream” candidates go, Kerry isn’t bad. His foreign policy
is a little hard to swallow, but his domestic record is decent,
particularly when it comes to education, the environment, and abortion
rights.

Dennis Kucinich

Total campaign funds: $3,399,709

Largest contributors: Independent contributions from those in
education and the healthcare industry, unions, the real estate
industry

Political experience: Representative from Ohio (1996-present),
mayor of Cleveland (1977-1979), various positions in Ohio politics

Social positions: pro-choice (though this is a change from his
position prior to entering the race), pro-campaign finance reform,
highly rated by environmental and education advocacy groups, pro-gay
rights (including marriage), for decriminalization of marijuana,
against the death penalty, pro-gun control, pro-affirmative action

Stance on war with Iraq: Consistently against the war,
advocates our immediate exit from the country

Clearly qualified and the most progressive candidate in the full sense
of the word. So why does he get absolutely zero attention? Party
insiders are afraid of the truth coming back to smack them in the
face, I suppose. And the media is just scared of anyone small enough
to sneak up on them in a crowd.

Joseph Lieberman

Total campaign funds: $11,779,353

Largest contributors: Lawyers and law firms, pharmaceutical
companies, village idiots

Political experience: Senator from Connecticut (1988-present),
Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, various roles in Connecticut state
politics

Social positions: pro-choice with reservations, inconsistent on
campaign finance reform, not high but relatively good ratings from
environmental and education advocacy groups, mostly silent on gay
rights and firmly against gay marriage, against decriminalization of
marijuana, pro-death penalty, inconsistent on gun control (for closing
the gun show loophole but also in favor of allowing concealed weapons
on all Americans at virtually all times), pro-affirmative action
unless the person being affirmed is a Palestinian

Stance on war with Iraq: Consistently pro-war

A pawn of corporate interests, Lieberman is also savagely pro-war (not
just in Iraq but in general), economically unsound, and a consistent
enemy of free expression. If the choice is this guy or Bush, I’m
writing in a vote for Paulie Shore.

Al Sharpton

Yeah, right. I mean, hell, I agree with two-thirds of the guy’s
platform, but still, come on.

Finally, just for fun, the Republican.

George W. Bush

Total campaign funds: $84,596,875

Largest contributors: Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft,
Citigroup, lawyers and law firms, investment firms

Political experience: Leader of successful coup (2000-present),
governor of Texas (1994-2000)

Social positions: anti-choice, against campaign finance reform,
miserably rated by environmental and education advocacy groups,
against gay rights, against decriminalization of marijuana, pro-death
penalty, anti-gun control, anti-affirmative action

Stance on war with Iraq: Consistently pro-war, recently asked
Congress for $87 billion more to sustain a war that we supposedly
already won

Almost anything is better than four more years of Tweedle Dumb. This
is the worst presidency since the 1920s by just about every measurable
standard.

The bottom line, my friends, is this: we have a voice in this country
that more than half of us don’t use. It’s easy to be cynical. It’s
also useless. The country will keep moving, whether we decide to get
involved in the process or not.

Get informed. Don’t just take my word for it with these candidates. Go
to Project Vote Smart and Open Secrets and see for
yourself. Register to
vote
. Hold this democracy accountable.

We’ll never be able to speak truth to power if the powers that be know
we don’t have the gumption to even show up on Election Day. Let’s
surprise the hell out of them this year.

Article © 2004 by Jonathan Ratican