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Flotsam & Jetsam: On Finding A Candidate

Flotsam & Jetsam: On Finding A Candidate

By Editor Sam Smith

As always happens, as soon as I say something nice about a political candidate, I find myself in trouble.

Part of the problem may be that I think about political candidates differently than a lot of people. Unlike many, I don't see myself as part of some great collective of St. Peters at the gate deciding who should get into heaven and then, in a strange twist of metaphor, come back to earth and save us. Rather I think of politicians as one more tool in social and political change and the first question that jumps to my mind is: what can they do for us?

I expect them to fail, con, double-cross and desert, but before they betray us too much I would like to get a civil liberties bill or universal healthcare passed.

Before television turned candidates into pseudo saviors, people took this for granted about politics. It was almost a feudal arrangement: politicians paid for their corruption with public service. If you wanted perfection you went to church; you didn't go to the ward office.

Every once in a while a real reformer would come along but like one of those sunny days in February such campaigns were a reminder of the possible rather than of the probable.

Today politicians don't even have to tithe to their constituents. They just concoct a nice fairy tale for the campaign and upon election perform their services by, as Mayor Daley once said, dancing "with the one that brung you" - which ain't us. We just applauded at the right time.

One alternative, of course, is to take the high road. Ignore the Democrats and support a Green for president or stay with the Democrats but support Kucinich. There's nothing wrong with this except that the game is completely rigged against you and it may not be the best game to be playing anyway.

Some of us tried it with Nader in 2000. It worked about as well as can be expected for third parties and, despite the whining of Democratic spoiled children, did not cause Gore's loss - as any fair statistical analysis will show.

But it was also clear after that election that it wasn't a particularly useful route to continue. History shows that third parties - given America's biased election system - only get one shot at having an effect in a presidential campaign. Further, given the Democrats' deep denial over their collapsing role in American politics, it meant there would be little but endless and pointless arguments in sight. I urged that Nader not run, arguing that standing in the middle of a freeway to make his point might not be the most productive use of his time. And I urged that Greens concentrate on local and state races which is where they continue to show their real strength and potential.

Lots of Greens disagreed with me and that's fine and I still admire them. It's just that I think of some of them more as monks and nuns of a righteous order than as political activists.

There is one other purpose to such moral campaigns besides the final tally and that is to use the effort as part of organizing efforts for some greater and longer purpose. Campaigns are good ways to get people active, but too often the campaign is both the beginning and the end of that activity.

With that in mind, for example, I invited some Greens over to my house to meet with Dennis Kucinich in 2004. The meeting went well, but then I asked the wrong question. What, I inquired of Kucinich, do you plan to do when you lose? Kucinich clearly didn't like it but it is a the key question when you enter a campaign for mainly moral reasons. How do you make sure the cause continues after the election?

We should look at this Democratic primary season in the same way: not as an end in itself but as part of an organizing effort that has many miles to travel.

The minute you do this, iconic candidates without significant positive programs are easily eliminated. Obama is certainly a better fall-back position than Hillary Clinton but neither have anything to offer advocates of the changes this country needs.

Three candidates do: Kucinich for peace, Gore for the environment and Edwards for economic fairness.

I don't think Kucinich can pull it off, I fear Gore has waited too late if, indeed, he intends to join the fray, which leaves us - at least for now - with Edwards.

No, I'm not thrilled about Edwards and, yes, I know that he, like every candidate running save Kucinich, has a lousy position on the occupation of Palestine, but he's saying things that haven't been heard in a campaign in a long time and he's already making a lot of the powers that be nervous - which is one reason why the big media is trying to pretend he's not in the race.

If Edwards stops being useful to the causes in which I believe, I'll ditch him.

And if you don't like the answer I came up then come up with your own.

Just do me one favor: don't ask which candidate best fits your paradigm of what a president should be and says the things that make you feel most comfortable, but rather which candidate stands the best chance of advancing the things in which you believe. That's a practical, not a moral, question.

Instead of being just the candidate's supporter, make the candidate your tool.



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