Here's Ezra Klein expressing a fairly common sentiment among both Democratic base voters and Democratic elites.
As a result of my post defending Obama this morning, I'm getting a bunch of links along the lines of "Ezra Klein, no fan of Obama..."
This is, to be sure, my failure as a writer, so just to be clear: I'm impressed with all three of the major Democrats, and, for that matters, most of the other Democrats not named "Bill Richardson."
Ezra is happy with the Democratic candidates; most Democratic voters share Ezra's views. I don't (and neither do a few others). The issues we are dealing with today - health care, jobs, even a war in Iraq - are literally the same issues we dealt with in 1992. How can that possibly be considered progress? A real progressive candidate would take an apolitical problem and turn it into a mainstream political subject. None of our candidates have done that. Here are five easily mainstreamable problems ripe for the picking. There are more of these, I'm just picking at five that touch on the national security state, secrecy, economic injustice, and attacks on our civil liberties.
Subject: End the War on Drugs
Factoid: There are 1 million people put in jail for doing what Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George Bush have done.
Marijuana is America's largest cash crop, and it is responsible for around 225,000 arrests a year. Overall, the war on drugs incarcerates around 1 million people a year. Direct spending on the war on drugs this year is $50 billion dollars, about $600 a second. Around half of high school seniors have consumed marijuana (pdf). Simply put, why do some people go to jail for marijuana and cocaine, and others run for President?
Subject: End corporate media ownership:
Factoid: General Electric, a major defense contractor and conglomerate, owns NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.
Our media is owned and controlled by a few major companies. One of them, GE, has major defense contracts, and strong incentives for war. It also has huge interests in the financial industry. Why is this company controlling our news content again, while we are in two wars? And why did the FCC just relax ownership requirements in local areas, again?
Subject: End American empire
Factoid: As of 1998, America had troops stationed in 144 countries around the world.
There are any number of ways to talk about this issue, from disparities of foreign aid to complaints about the IMF to the war in Iraq to the CIA and blowback. The bottom line is that America has troops everywhere in the world, it's expensive, the way it is done now is a bad idea, and we need to bring them home and return to being a republic. That or we need to figure out how to be a responsible international power again and get rid of the Blackwater-style military we are building and the gunrunning vigilante CIA-style Cold War and post-Cold War nonsense.
Subject: End the war economy:
Factoid: Money for Iraq keeps passing in 'emergency' legislation to avoid being subject to budget rules.
For some reason, Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans argue that they are fiscally responsible while ignoring their votes to spend 700-800B a year on war. Libertarian charlatans like energy expert Amory Lovins think that the corporate sector and the military sector are legitimate parts of the state, but that other spending is wasteful. The whole notion of the military not being a part of the overall government is crazy, and reflective of a huge, corrupt, and Soviet-style misallocation of capital through secret budgets and fear.
Subject: End the cradle-to-prison superhighway
Factoid: 2 million people are in prison in America, by far the highest total of any other country in the world.
Think slavery has ended? Think torture is 'new'? Think again. With two million people in prison, and tens of thousands of sexual assaults every year, prison is a huge industry and a horrendous abridgment of the idea that is America.
Touching on any of these massive injustices in our economic infrastructure is something no candidate has systematically done. Only John Edwards has remotely addressed the concept of the war on terror, in a somewhat half-hearted way, and he has made 'poverty' a somewhat commonly repeated theme, though not in any meaningful sense. Clinton and Obama are disgracefully absent on these topics. Ironically, Bill Richardson, aside from his great work on residual forces, has also said that the 'war on drugs is not working', which reflects perhaps a more executive oriented and confident worldview. Chris Dodd has also advocated for marijuana decriminalization, which is a less aggressive but still laudable sentiment, especially in light of his work on core constitutional issues.
So anyway, while the insider wonk community is happy that their issues seem to be taken care of, and Democratic base voters like the different candidates we have, I find that actual progressive reframing of our political system is appearing only at the margins of our secondary candidates like Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, and among crazy white supremacist types like Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Each of the five hinges I've discussed starts with the verb 'end', and that was not planned when I started this post. I think it means that we must end a chapter in American history, and begin a new one.
Restoring healthy communities, healthy citizens, a healthy global order, healthy local media, and a healthy sustainable economy are the key drivers of where need to go as a country. The cancerous symptoms are all around us, and leading Democratic Presidential candidates are too corrupt and morally crippled to even begin talking about them. But we'll get there.