If you want to know what’s wrong with the Democratic Party, compare the stories of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Kerry lost the national presidential race to George Bush by two percent, or about 3.5 million votes. In the state of Wisconsin, which pollsters say is gradually shifting color from blue to red, Kerry squeaked by with a narrow win, netting just over 50 percent of the vote to take the state’s 10 electoral votes.
Feingold, who himself only narrowly won re-election in Wisconsin six years ago, swept to victory on Tuesday against Republican Tim Michels, winning 55-44 percent.
What was different about Feingold and Kerry?
John Kerry voted for the Senate resolution that authorized President Bush to go to war in Iraq. During the Democratic primary, he joined several other contenders-Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman, in ganging up on anti-war candidate Howard Dean and running as the pro-war candidate. He equivocated later, during the campaign, trying to say that Bush has misled the Congress about Iraq, but throughout the campaign he always insisted that he planned, if elected, to “win the war” in Iraq. Kerry also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, an epic assault on the Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights. On the economy, Kerry, while decrying the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries, continued to endorse free-trade agreements like the World Trade Assn. and NAFTA.
In contrast, Feingold was the lone person in the Senate to vote against the war authorization and the Patriot Act. He also, in his re-election campaign, condemned NAFTA and other trade pacts as unfair to American workers.
According to the conservative pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council, of which candidate Kerry is a charter member, and to the candidate’s now discredited campaign staff, Feingold’s positions were “out of touch” with the American mainstream. The DLC is now trying to blame Kerry’s disastrous loss of the 2004 election on everything from Karl Rove’s success in making gay marriage a key issue in swing states to American’s having succumbed to Bush’s scare tactics.
Feingold’s strong win suggests another possibility: Kerry wasn’t progressive enough.
If Feingold, in the heartland state of Wisconsin, could make opposition to the war and the PATRIOT Act a campaign asset, if he could attract working class votes by condemning the trade pacts that allow American companies to shift not white collar jobs but entire plants overseas and then import the goods they use to make in America back in tax free, then Kerry could have done the same thing in Ohio, Florida, New Mexico and the other swing states he lost by running a timid Republican-lite campaign.
The lesson is clear. As long as the Democratic Party remains in the hands of the DLC party hacks, as long as Democratic primary voters allow themselves to fall for the argument that progressive politics are a losing proposition, the Republicans will keep winning more and more elections.
Russ Feingold for president!
PS Another bit of silver lining in those post Nov. 2 clouds: Cynthia McKinney, trashed and run out of Congress in 2002 by a right-wing/pro-Israel lobby jihad after raising legitimate questions about the 9-11 attacks, trounced her opponent in Georgia’s 4th District and will return triumphant and unbowed to Congress.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org