Friday, September 01, 2006

It's Getting Harder to be a Democrat

When I was in Texas in the 1950s there was reference to something called "yellow dog Democrats." They were the Texans whose loyalty to the Democratic Party was so strong they would have even voted for a yellow dog if named and placed on the ballot in the Democrats' column.

I've campaigned for almost every Democratic candidate for president since 1948, received three presidential appointments from two of them, and run for U.S. Senate and House as a Democrat. But I've never considered myself a yellow dog Democrat.

I think there are lots of issues one needs to weigh when evaluating candidates. Any given two or three aren't necessarily decisive. But for a Democrat it is troubling to see Republicans seizing the lead on issues one thinks important.

Gambling.

As anyone following this blog knows, I've been writing about the Riverside casino recently. This began because of my interest in the proposed Iowa indoor rain forest, and the possibility of it being located near, and possibly partially funded by, the owners of the Riverside casino.

But I'm also interested in economic development generally, so I've been following the casino from that perspective as well.

My view, simply put, is that the negative social externalities from gambling more than offset any possible economic benefits -- even if it were possible for a state's citizens to gamble themselves into prosperity, a proposition I find problematical in the extreme.

So obviously I care about Democratic and Republican candidates' positions on gambling.

State29 has just taken Chet Culver (the Democrats' candidate for Iowa governor) to task for endorsing even more Iowa gambling casinos. See "Chet Culver Wants More Casinos," September 1, 2006 ("Fort Dodge and Ottumwa should be the first cities to receive casino licenses").

Of course, as State29 notes, Ed Fallon says, "I think gambling is a parasitic industry that will one day collapse under its own weight. But I would rather not get to that point."

"So," you say, "What's the problem? Ed Fallon's a Democrat." Right. But if you recall the primary, he's the one the Democratic Party leadership -- indeed virtually all Democratic legislators -- not only ignored but affirmatively campaigned against. Democratic voters ultimately rejected their "leadership's" choice, Mike Blouin, who is now back at his old job with the Iowa Values Fund, giving away Iowa taxpayers' money to wealthy business persons and corporations. But it wasn't enough to elect Fallon after the leadership's assault.

This morning's (September 1) Gazette reports on Republican Congressman Jim Leach's efforts to restrict online gambling, Steve Gravelle, "Frist to Back Gambling Curbs; Leach Holds C.R. Hearing on Internet Gambling Bill," The Gazette, September 1, 2006, p. 1B.

And for some reason I stumbled upon this entry from the Johnson County Republicans' Web site from last May:

"Riverside, the future home of the state's largest Casino and Resort, is just south of the Johnson County border in Washington County.

"I know that there is a good bit of difference of opinion within our party on the issue of gambling -- though I personally tend to come from the school of thought that our state legislators our addicted to gambling revenues just as badly as a compulsive gambler is addicted, and that we're making a terrible mistake when consider a casino positive economic development."

["Casino Coming to Neighbor Riverside," JCR Blog [Johnson County Republicans], May 7, 2006.]

Campaign finance.

I believe the role of big money in politics exceeds all other possible issues in importance.

So long as money plays the disproportionate role that it does in politics and governing at both the federal and state level, so long as legislation is for sale, any progressive legislation opposed by large business interests or the wealthy is doomed.

All too many Democrats are unwilling even to speak up about these evils, let alone do anything about them -- including setting a personal example. They say they take PAC money because they have to -- "And, after all, you wouldn't want that awful Republican to get elected would you?"

Republican Congressman Jim Leach (and Iowa's rejected Democrat, Ed Fallon) have taken the lead on campaign finance reform with legislation as well as rhetoric, and set an example by refusing to take PAC money.

(Although he's no longer with us politically, when Wisconsin's Senator Bill Proxmire was urging me to run for the U.S. Senate, and we talked about campaign finance, he explained how he found it possible to run, state-wide, for $30. What did he spend all that money on? The postage to send back the unsolicited campaign contributions.)

I've never felt that "winning is the only thing," whether in sports or politics. Some things are more important. Once the Democratic Party decided that its candidates would take money from the same sources as the Republicans the Democrats significantly undercut their uniqueness. And they've certainly distanced themselves from what was historically the Democratic Party's natural base of the poor, working poor, and working class -- lest they be charged with engaging in "class warfare" -- as if ignoring the needs of "the least of us" is not its own form of class warfare.

(The exception, that in fairness deserves mention, is John Edwards who, far from trying to avoid the issues surrounding poverty is actually making them the focus of his talks.)

As for "practical politicians" who are willing to put aside issues of ethics and morality I would only note that the Party's current strategy hasn't been working all that well either.

Following the 2004 presidential election, I wrote that the Democrats:

"had an opportunity to do a little introspection after the results in 2000. What could they have done better? They chose, instead, to look for a scapegoat, and found it in Ralph Nader.

"Vice President Gore would have easily won had he held the support of Democrats. There were many multiples more Democrats who voted for Bush than there were Democrats who voted for Nader. And more than half of those who voted for Nader were either Republicans or indicated that, but for Nader, they would not have voted at all.

"Never mind that, said the party’s apologists, 'It’s all Nader’s fault.'

"This year [2004] the Democrats don’t have Nader, or anyone else, to scapegoat.

"Perhaps now we will, at long last, take a look in the mirror, finally devise our own 30-year strategy, and begin the long, hard walk down the dusty road to recovery."

Nicholas Johnson, "Democrats Recovery Begins by Looking in the Mirror," The Gazette, November 4, 2004.

It's two years later. Have the Democrats done it? I don't think so.

Taking a stand.

The Gazette editorialized the other day about Project Vote Smart's National Political Awareness Test. It's a non-partisan, "good government" effort to provide voters information about the positions of their candidates for public office. (The organization's page for Iowans is here.) Editorial, "Voters Want to Know," The Gazette, August 31, 2006.

The Gazette reports that "Both major political parties are advising candidates not to take the test. Party officials say the candidates will lose control of their campaign messages and they will be exposed to opposition research." That's one awful commentary about our major political parties -- both of them. What's worse, for a Democrat, is who did, and who did not, take "the test."

The Republican candidate for Iowa governor, Congressman Jim Nussle, did. The Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Chet Culver, did not. Moreover, apparently he has always refused to take it even as Secretary of State.

Republican incumbant Congressman Jim Leach not only takes the test, he was actually one of the founding board members for the organization. His Democratic Party challenger, Dave Loebsack, has so far refused to take it.

In Nicholas Johnson, "More on 'Open' Political Fundraisers," August 30, 2006, I had reason to refer to Iowa House candidate John Hulsizer, Jr. "
John Hulsizer, Jr., is the Republican candidate for Iowa Legislature, House District 27. His Democratic opponent is Pam Jochum. The 'Iowa Prosperity Project' has an interesting service, asking candidates for their positions on various issues. The page for the Hulsizer-Jochum race is here." He responded; she didn't. Not surprisingly, The Gazette, reports Hulsizer also took the National Political Awareness Test.

What is it about Democrats that makes them want to keep their positions on the issues a secret?

Pay to play.

I had occasion to write about John Hulsizer because of a follow up to my blog entry about Democrats who do, and do not, put a "ticket price" on campaign fundraising events -- a price that is on a constituent's ability to talk to his or her elected official. Nicholas Johnson, "Hat's Off to Senator Dvorsky," August 29, 2009, contrasting Dvorsky's "contributions welcome" to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin's graduated scale from $1000 to $300 to $25 that determines who does, and does not, get a picture taken or otherwise gets close to the Senator and his guest.

Out of a sense of fairness, I was obliged to report upon finding out, that while Democratic Senator Tom Harkin charges for proximity, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley does not.
Nicholas Johnson, "More on 'Open' Political Fundraisers," August 30, 2006. John Hulsizer was having a fund raiser with no minimum contribution required, and as a result Senator Grassley was willing to make one of his relatively rare appearances at a fund raiser.

I'm not abandoning the Democratic Party. The Republican U.S. Senate and House leadership have not, in my view, earned the right to continue running up astronomical debt for my great grandchildren with their tax cuts for the wealthy and their "earmarks" -- such as Senator Grassley's $50 million matching grant for his Republican friends who'd like to build an indoor rain forest in Iowa -- among other things.

No, I'm not abandoning the Party, but I'm darn sure not very happy with what's happened to it, either.



1 comment:

Bill Maron said...

How can you give the Democrats a shot at running Congress if they won't state their positions? I think the spending hawks in the Republican party are getting more of a voice and will have a better shot at controlling spending with bills like S.2590 that Bill Frist said would get to the floor for a vote. I don't want my taxes to go up which is what will happen if the Democrats get control of Congress. That's the only thing they seem clear on doing.