January 13, 2008

What Do The Voters Want?

I have been trying to ignore the 2008 Presidential election since 2004. I kept muttering to myself that presidential politics is just a huge distraction from the big issues we should be working on, like ending the war and universal healthcare. But at this point, ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. In fact, the nominees will probably be decided within the next few weeks. Or it might take a little longer. In any case, your state will be voting sooner or later, and with everybody scrambling for early primaries, it will probably be sooner. So I guess it is time to think about it.

I am more interested in actual results than in rhetoric. There is plenty of rhetoric to go around. My number one problem is believing that the candidates will do what they say. Breaking campaign promises is as American as waving the flag and making them vague enough that the candidate can deny actually breaking them is even more so.

In 2006 the voters swept the Democrats into their first Congressional majority since 1994 on the basis of they weren’t President Bush. Specifically, every post election poll cited a desire to end the war. During the past year, constituents have been pressuring their Representatives and Senators to take a stronger position against the war. In response, Democrats have stepped up their criticism of the President and have proposed linking war funding to a withdrawal plan. However, they have consistently backed down in the face of Republican opposition.

Most of the Democratic candidates for President have followed a similar pattern of behavior. All of the candidates who are in Congress, except Dennis Kucinich, voted to authorize the war and have voted to continue funding it (Barak Obama wasn’t in Congress in 2002 when the war was authorized but since he was elected to the Senate, he has voted for the funding.) To be fair, most of them have also made opposition to the war important parts of their campaigns. But again, they tend to hedge when pressed for specifics. They may say they want withdrawal, but further questioning reveals that they will leave some troops in Iraq, or ready to go back at a moments notice, to deal with “terrorism”. NEWS FLASH! That is actually continuing the occupation with inadequate troop levels. It’s the worst of both worlds.

The number one message to emerge from Iowa in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses was “Change”. That slogan brought Obama victory, along with the perception that among the Democratic candidates, he was the furthest removed from Washington politics as usual. Huckabee’s Republican victory appears to run along the same lines.

So, in the 5 days between Iowa and New Hampshire, every candidate in both parties incorporated the word “Change” into their campaign. The news media reported the new slogans at face value, with hardly a comment on the opportunism this change in rhetoric represented.

Hillary Clinton parlayed this new attitude, and a misty eyed moment, into a narrow victory in New Hampshire, earning her the “comeback” label. Expectations change so fast it makes my head spin. Before Iowa, she had been expected to win New Hampshire handily and to have the nomination all but wrapped up. For five days after Iowa, Obama was in the same position.

And, just as I had feared, all this horse race talk has pretty much driven the issues off the table. How are we who care about the issues going to get them back? I think that we have to fight the trend and concentrate on fighting for the end of the war, and the other issues we care about. One way to do that and still participate in the Presidential campaign is to support Dennis Kucinich. Rep. Kucinich has been consistently marginalized in the media and has consequently not gotten a lot of votes so far. However, he is the one candidate who is clear on the issues, and clearly progressive. He is for bringing all of our troops home, now. He is for truly universal healthcare. And he introduced a resolution to impeach Vice President Cheney. As a result of these stands and disgust with the waffling of the other candidates, Kucinich has placed first in a string of straw polls among progressives. The list includes Democracy for America, a spin-off of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, Progressive Democrats of America, and The Nation magazine. He also won the Washington State Democratic Party straw poll.

The way I figure it, the more votes Kucinich gets, the more likely it will be that the other candidates will start to pay more attention to the issues in response. I may earn demerits with Kucinich loyalists, but I don’t expect him to win, no matter how much his positions agree with the stated opinions of the majority of the voters. I just hope that supporting him will help promote the issues I believe in. Besides, I just don’t see any other viable candidates that I can trust to stand up for me.

I happen to live in Washington, whose caucuses are coming up on February 9. We will have a primary too, but the Democrats will ignore those results in choosing delegates and rely on the caucus results. Republicans will use the primary to choose some delegates. I happen to like caucuses because they allow activists like me more influence than in a primary. With fewer people turning out, caucus results show who is more effective in organizing on a grassroots level, which can be crucial in the general election. Of course, primaries show the effectiveness in reaching the general voters, which is also important.

The other reason I like caucuses is that they escape the one vote, winner take all mentality that pervades the rest of our election system. If your candidate doesn’t have the votes to get a delegate, you can switch to a second choice who does. This allows you to vote for who you really like the first time around. That is why I like instant runoff voting and other systems that allow you to rank your choices, rather than having to vote strategically for a second choice, because you think they will do better.

I am going into the caucus for Kucinich. I am also bringing some resolutions for consideration to highlight my focus on the issues. I think that my precinct will be able to send a Kucinich delegate to the county convention, but if not, then I can choose which other candidate will be almost as good. The same goes for the county, state and national conventions. I would rather have a Kucinich supporter there pushing for the most progressive candidate possible and for the best platform we can get.

The voters want change, but will they get it? I am reminded of a story about FDR. Somebody came to the President asking him to take some action. Roosevelt agreed that it would be a good thing, but added, “I’d like to see that happen but now you have to make me do it. That is the reality of politics.”

We will get change if we make the politicians do it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan
Glad to see you doing this blog. Dennis is the only who supports my views, and is also alone in questioning Diebold voting machines or even mentioning the subject. Except for one piece on NPR and a few remarks by Bill Maher, I have not seen any coverage. I am surprised that none of the candidates have even touched on this issue.
I do, however, want Obama to win the nomination, so I feel I need to support him in the Washington caucus.
Do you see anyone listening to Dennis? Unfortunately, I don't. The numbers he is getting just don't reach critical mass, and the media has no interest in helping him.
In spite of that, I do hope Dennis will continue to speak out through this election cycle for the issues we care about, and I think he will!!

Bethel said...

The voters do indeed get the politicians they deserve. Voters want a lot. Unfortunately most folks aren't voters. More unfortunately, most voters are under-informed and under-active about the issues that they say matter.