The big news on the 2004 presidential election front this week was former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's splashy "announcement" that he's seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency, which, of course, is something we've all known for months.
Dean's campaign has gained momentum, thanks largely to energetic grassroots Internet and e-mail efforts by his volunteers across the country. If he does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the pundits are saying, he just may come out of nowhere and give better-known Dems a run for their money next year.
Mostly because of his critiques of George W. Bush's economic strategy and his staunch opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Dean's been positioned as the progressive Democratic candidate in the race. Conservatives are already having some fun painting Dean as an extreme leftist. Surveying the names of the other candidates-Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, John Edwards, Richard Gephardt-it's easy to understand why. Next to those rather conservative politicians, Dean looks an awful lot like Ralph Nader.
But Dean's not terribly liberal, and that's a quality that will serve him well if he gets the nomination over the likes of Lieberman and Kerry. Sure, he's well known for his support of civil unions in his home state of Vermont, and he's an outspoken advocate for getting health coverage to more Americans, but his tenure as governor was marked by mostly middle-of-the-road policies. On the whole, Vermonters-who know him best-regard Dean as a moderate Democrat, a centrist.
Progressives considering hopping aboard the Dean train should do so with caution. If they're looking for a litmus test, they might take a look at his record on medical marijuana. Just last year, when the Vermont Legislature was considering passing a law protecting legitimate users of medical marijuana from prosecution, Dean reportedly was instrumental in blocking a vote on the proposed legislation.
CityBeat desperately wants a president who will call off the marijuana dogs in the Drug Enforcement Administration and recognize the growing number of state laws allowing the herb's use as treatment for sick people. It's one of those issues-along with the death penalty (Dean supports it; CityBeat doesn't), access to health care and abortion rights that we use to assess candidates' progressive qualifications.
The real populist, progressive candidate for president is Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Sadly, he doesn't stand a chance-he's too much of a reformer-but that doesn't mean we can't try to rally the troops on his behalf.
Here's why we support him: He's in favor of affirmative action, single-payer health care coverage, abortion rights and greater equality for gays and lesbians. He's against the death penalty, the North American Free Trade Agreement (because it exploits cheap Mexican labor) and the U.S. Patriot Act.
He believes we're spending too much money on the military and the failed war on drugs and not enough on basic services for people who need them. He supports workers and small investors over corporate executives, small family farmers over big agribusiness conglomerates.
He wants to amend the Constitution in such a way that would, hopefully, put an end to the current corruption-riddled way election campaigns are financed.
He maintains that the invasion of Iraq was bad policy and justified by Bush under false pretenses. And he supports affirmation and ratification of a series of international environmental and weapons treaties, such as the Kyoto Treaty on Global Climate Change and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. More of his positions on the issues can be found at www.kucinich.net.
Dean needs to position himself as a progressive to stand out in the crowd of socially moderate, fiscally conservative Democrats, but he's not the best choice for progressive voters. Until Kucinich bails out of the race, those voters should get in his camp.