By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In short, there’s still a good deal of that old Republican abject lunacy left in McCain. He’s made a positive contribution to American politics — but not so positive that liberals or even moderates should feel at all comfortable supporting him.
When the presidential campaign got under way a year ago, the chief difference between Bill Bradley and Al Gore was that Bradley was the phlegmatic one, Gore the robotic. Both were centrist Democrats — liberal on social issues, modest to a fault on economic. Over the course of the past year, though, Bradley has surprised the Bradleyologists by proposing to reinvent activist government now that there’s a surplus. For his part, Gore has remained fixed in the triangulated center.
The case for Al Gore is the case for continuity. Alone among the candidates, Gore can claim some credit for the Clinton-administration policies responsible in some degree for America’s prosperity. (How much credit is rightly Gore’s and how much responsibility is rightly the administration’s, we’ll never know.) The vision of the Gore candidacy is the vision of the post-1994 Clinton administration: a feel-good centrism. Gore unabashedly supports tolerance of and equality for all Americans, and, Bradley’s charges to the contrary, he’s an unequivocal supporter of a woman’s right to an abortion. On matters economic, Gore opposes Republican tax cuts by defending Medicare and Social Security and reducing the deficit (or now, paying down the debt). He proposes incremental augmentations of government social programs, while maintaining fiscal discipline to keep interest rates low. Today’s America is a much wealthier nation than the one Clinton and Gore took over in 1992. But it’s also a land of stunning and growing economic inequality, about which Gore says very little.
Gore’s not entirely silent about our transformation into two Americas, though. On one key issue, he’s actually terrific. Gore decries the ease with which employers violate the nation’s labor laws to thwart their employees’ unionization efforts. He proposes to amend the labor law to impose tough penalties on law-breaking businesses.
Gore argues that while he can be trusted to manage the economy, W. puts our prosperity at risk with his tax cuts — an argument that’s out the window if the Republican nomination goes to McCain, whose proposed tax cuts are smaller than Gore’s. Gore has embraced Clinton’s tactic of forestalling the Republicans’ supply-side silliness by advocating using the surplus for things even Republicans can’t object to, namely, Social Security and debt reduction. But he’s taken that strategy and turned it into a weapon against Democratic demand-side decency. Over the past couple of months, he’s repeatedly contended that such proposals as Bradley’s plan for universal health care are a profligate use of the surplus, that the funds should instead be directed to debt repayment. Problem is, with the single exception of his support for union rights, none of Gore’s proposals would substantially reduce the inequality that’s the underside of our prosperity. In fact, by thwarting any significant social programs that could get in the way of debt retirement, his plan for the surplus could actually exacerbate the division between haves and have-nots.
Gore’s health-care proposal, for instance, is to expand incrementally the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which the administration funds in conjunction with the states. But CHIP is a demonstrable failure, especially in California. The cumbersome outreach program has enrolled fewer than 25 percent of the eligible children in this state.
Where Gore proposes tinkering with a failure, Bill Bradley wants to scrap it in favor of an entirely new edifice. Bradley’s health-care proposal calls on the government to subsidize the health insurance of the medically uninsured poor, with payments that would insure children in families with incomes up to three times the poverty level, and adults in families with incomes up to twice that level. It’s an ambitious and costly plan. But it’s also a socially necessary and politically shrewd plan. (Because it places the burden on neither the insurance industry nor small business, it would escape much of the special-interest lobbying that brought down the 1994 Clinton initiative.) Studies by the Urban Institute and Consumer Reports, as well as assessments of such public-health experts as UCLA’s E. Richard Brown, have concluded that Bradley’s proposal is vastly superior to Gore’s.
Gore complains Bradley’s plan will leave Medicaid recipients in the lurch (which it won’t) and that it costs a helluva lot (which it does). Bradley, however, proposes to fund it not just out of the surplus, but by closing oil- industry tax loopholes and by holding defense spending to its current level — very commendable proposals in themselves. (Gore says he’ll swell the Pentagon’s kitty by $127 billion over the next decade.)
Bradley’s campaign proposals are rooted in what Catholic doctrine calls a “preferential option for the poor.” Even when he was in the Senate, Bradley was a quiet but key force behind the creation and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a subsidy to the working poor. He also voted against welfare reform (for which Gore campaigned long and loud), fearing it would prove calamitous during the next economic downturn. On this year’s campaign trail, he’s joined Gore in proposing steeper penalties for labor-law violators and in calling for a hike in the minimum wage. Unlike Gore, he wants to link the minimum wage to the median wage, so it will rise automatically, free from the whims of Congress, as prosperity increases.