By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
I. Your Mission
I have here an invite from the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, the venerable liberal organization, that says you’ll be the main speaker at their annual dinner next Wednesday night at the Beverly Hilton. It‘s going to be your first major public pronouncement since Arianna Huffington floated the Beatty-for-President trial balloon last month -- which is to say, either the first (if you decide to run) or the only (if you don’t) unabashedly liberal manifesto of campaign 2000. Either way, I‘d be a sad excuse for a liberal pundit if I didn’t take this opportunity to do a little pre-speech kibbitzing.
I‘m glad, by the way, that you’ve kiboshed the idea of running in the Reform Party. I‘ve been to a couple of Reform Party conventions, and just between us, these are not your people. The last movie they saw was How a Bill Becomes a Law in their 12th-grade government class; they’ve brooded darkly on it ever since. Good you‘re staying away. (Besides, the battle that’s shaping up between Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan for the Reform Party nomination looks to be the closest thing to class conflict we‘re going to see in this year’s presidential race. It has a certain insane purity I wouldn‘t want anyone to mar.)
So it’s back to the Democrats -- ”that foul rag and bone shop of the heart,“ as Yeats put it. Well, actually, Yeats wasn‘t referring to the Democrats at all, but that bit about foul rags and bones isn’t a half-bad description, and by the evidence of Bulworth, the memory of the party, if nothing else, still has some claim on your heart, as it does on mine. It is all but memory now, the New Deal order, the notion of a government that promotes not just wealth but greater economic and political equality. Former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley was merely voicing the new conventional wisdom when he told the crowd at his own Beverly Hilton fund-raising dinner a few months ago that ”There is no alternative“ to the policies of reduced social protections and wage restraints that the financial markets impose upon governments. This is now the governing doctrine not just among Bill Clinton‘s Democrats, but also among Tony Blair’s Laborites and Gerhard Schroeder‘s Social Democrats.
So your mission, should you choose to accept it, isn’t simply to decry the way in which big money has fouled our politics, or to insist that full public funding of elections is required to restore us to some semblance of democracy. It isn‘t simply to put forth policies that ensure that the vast numbers of Americans who work at poverty wages, or who have no insurance when they or their children get sick, can actually make a fair day’s pay and see a doctor without fear of bankruptcy. It isn‘t simply to advocate real environmental cleanup, or pro-choice Supreme Court justices, or, Lord save us, teaching evolution in the schools. Not that there’s anything simple about any of that, but a left standard-bearer in the year 2000 has to do more. After all, Bill Bradley and Al Gore both support some modest forms of campaign-finance reform, some expansion of health coverage, some enhancement of workers‘ incomes. On these issues, you differ with them in degree but not in kind.
But on the global economy, they are both ”No Alternative“ guys to the core. What a left candidate in the current election has to demonstrate is that there is an alternative to a global economic order built by and for the financial community. So far, the only candidate pushing an alternative is Buchanan, whose alternative is a national economic order -- a cause that’s not just wrong but already lost. The reason we need a left voice in the 2000 field is to make the case that while the global economy is here to stay, it doesn‘t have to be rigged to favor investment houses; that all those fuzz-faced financial fuglemen moving millions with a keystroke need not remain the unacknowledged legislators of the world; that a new economic order that takes into account the needs of the majority of people is actually possible. And better.
II. Your Dilemma
Nonetheless, the decision before you -- whether or not to run -- is more complicated today than it was when La Huffington first suggested it, and blame for that lies largely with the former senator from New Jersey. Bill Bradley understood from the start that the only room to run was on Gore’s left, and in the past two months he‘s begun to translate that strategy into policies. He’s come out for banning cheap handguns, for extending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to gays and lesbians and for allowing them to serve openly in the armed forces. He‘s called not just for banning soft money but for mandatory public financing of campaigns and free television time for candidates. He’s pledged to make it easier for workers to form unions, details to follow. And the day before your speech, he‘ll be in L.A. unveiling his plan for universal health insurance.
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