Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Dick Gephardt Gephardt is the oldest of the old school. He ran as the first of the DLC candidates back in '88, and has conducted his career as a Rep. according to that playbook. While the right wing rose under Gingrich, Gephardt became a reactionary Clinton-style politician who sought to redefine the Democratic Party. With Gephardt you get a less fluid, more moral, and far less dynamic version of a Clinton Presidency. And, where Clinton was the ultimate free-trader, Gephardt will confront the Bush deficits with a strong nod to workers.
Policy Positions I have nothing but admiration for Gephardt's defense of labor. The Democrats took a bad wrong turn when they went with corporations over workers. Yet this issue is a great metaphor for the Gephardt model: his heart is in the right place, but his policies aren't. Gephardt's labor is the manufacturing sector--surely an important one. Yet most workers in America aren't building things; they're managing things from computer consoles, or working in the vast retail sectors stocking and selling and manning the cashier. Labor has languished because it hasn't replenished its base as the workforce has changed. We need to reorient toward workers, but we need to do so in the 2004 economy, not the 1950 economy.
You see this kind of antiquated orientation in Gephardt's policy positions. He advances policies that aren't innovative and don't take advantage of the changing global world.
Electability Gephardt remains a force in the primaries, if a waning one. His union support is strong and mobile, and even though he lacks broader national support, that kind of help is valuable in the primaries. But in the general election, he would be the least potent foe of Bush.
Standing as he does for the old Democrats, I'm afraid Gephardt represents the folks who have been getting beat since the "Contract with America" election. As a leader of the Democrats, he is the Democrats--the same saps who couldn't beat Bush in 2000, and who have rolled over in ever major fight since. In a battle with Bush, Karl Rove has an endless source of ammunition.
Leadership I imagine Gephardt is probably an honorable man and a generally good guy. But I feel betrayed by him. After the election of 2000, we got a preview of the kind of administration Bush would run, and we desperately needed an opposition party. Even from the very start, Daschle and Gephardt failed to oppose the weakened President. They passed his first package of enormous tax cuts before 9/11. And after that tragedy, they did not defend the nation's interest when Bush seized the vacuum to advance his radical agenda.
It's tough to question the President in time of national emergency, but it shows what kind of leader one will make. We needed someone to step up and challenge Bush in the face of his popularity, even with the knowledge of the consequences. Gephardt didn't do it, and I don't know he could stand the onslaught of an extremely disciplined GOP Congress. We need a courageous leader. Much as I hate to say it, I don't think Gep's the guy.
Honesty The crisis of politics has arisen from politicians who say one thing and do another. Clinton was pretty good at it, and Bush is an Orwellian master. If we elect another man who Americans don't feel is being square with them, it will be catastrophic to liberalism.
Gephardt won't sell out his base, but I worry that under relentless assault from the right, he may make unwise compromises. Whether these would be seen as dishonest is hard to guess. It's a risk.
Bottom Line Dick Gephardt isn't an innovative thinker, nor a strong leader. His politics are better than some Dems, but in 2004, a Gephardt candidacy would take us 180 degrees in the wrong direction.