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Wednesday, 23 January 2008 22:00

NBC Debate Needed Kucinich

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Lackluster NBC Debate Needed Kucinich

This week?s NBC Democratic Presidential debate lacked something - maybe it was energy, or an edge.  It was pleasant enough, and the word family was mentioned several times; that was nice.  There was general agreement that the Democratic candidates differ far more from the Republicans than from each other, which is true, and which brings me to my problem:  in the discussions on issues, I found the candidates hard to distinguish.  The debate needed something more, like Dennis Kucinich*, who could have helped to deepen and focus the debate.  NBC weakened their program considerably by barring Kucinich from the forum.  If nothing else, Kucinich would have provided a challenge to the other candidates and might have helped them to step up their game.  But most importantly, Kucinich?s position on major issues matches the progressive mindset far better than any of the other three, and without him in the conversation, this primary campaign will not have the depth and substance that we want and need.

Clinton, Edwards and Obama could hardly be told apart Tuesday evening.  Of course we can distinguish based on race and gender, but how do we choose among them concerning the issues that affect our lives?  And how confident can we be that the campaign trail claims will translate into the promised actions?  Let?s see where they stand on a few major issues.

Iraq.  All three candidates promised to quickly reduce our presence in Iraq.  Edwards tried to distinguish himself by claiming to immediately end combat operations, but this distinction wilted under the first follow-up question.  Probing beyond the rhetoric, we find that none of these candidates will commit to removing our combat presence entirely, not for many years.  If they promise so little during the campaign, then we may be in for a serious long term disappointment starting in 2009.

Finance industry. Clinton, Obama and Edwards all show a proper sense of outrage at the recent bank system cash flow problems, the sub-prime mortgage disaster, and the resulting need for an influx of foreign money. Each lays the blame at Bush?s feet, and all promise to fix the problems. But Clinton, Obama and Edwards have all accepted large donations from the financial industry, which also contributes very heavily to congressional campaigns.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics** (CRP), Clinton has received $6.7M to date for this election cycle. Obama has received $6.4M, and Edwards $1.2M, out of a total industry contribution to date of $68M.  Based on recent election cycles we can expect these numbers to double before November. This year the contributions are shifting heavily from Republican to Democratic beneficiaries.

Healthcare. There was not much discussion about healthcare Tuesday evening, but all of the candidates claim to have a plan to get to some form of universal healthcare.  Unfortunately, we don't have from them a clear definition of  ?universal?.  Descriptions of plans tend to be vague and to quickly drift off into bewildering details.  All plans involve insurance industry management of the benefits, raising the the specter of another system like the Medicare drug plan ?the legislation that prohibits the government from negotiating with drug companies to get good prices for its clients, and requires a spreadsheet expert to identify the optimum plan from among dozens of options.  Our top Democratic hopefuls have also been well financed from this quarter**: total contributions of $45.4M to all takers, with $2.5M to Clinton, $2.0M to Obama, and $0.6M to Edwards.  As with the finance industry, the contributions from the overall healthcare segment are shifting from heavily Republican to heavily Democratic recipients**.

So we see that the Democratic candidates promise to make major changes, and we also see that they are taking big money from the very people who will fight against the changes.  History tells us not to get our hopes up, if one of the three gets elected.  The shift of contributions from Republicans to Democrats is important to note:  the party power shift is in the wind, and special interest money is catching the wave.

Progressives will say that, regardless, these are far better candidates than the GOP has to offer, and that the country will be improved by electing Clinton, Obama or Edwards.  All true, but it would be a good idea to manage your expectations concerning Iraq, Healthcare and financial sector reform.
 
These elections will once again be the property of the special interests who spend half a billion dollars to purchase them, and the legislation and regulations that we get from our government in the next term will be designed to their specifications.  The solution is Clean Elections.  If we had it today it would free these candidates - all of them clearly brilliant and dedicated people - from the burdensome and demeaning chore of raising millions to finance their election campaigns, so they could apply their considerable powers to solving the serious problems facing the nation today.
 
Fred Markham
18 January 2007
 
*- Visit www.democracynow.org to see Amy Goodman add Dennis Kucinich to the NBC debate.
** - Financial information used with permission from the CRP web site: www.opensecrets.org, whose source data is provided by the Federal Election Commission.
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