For his edge in experience and his stand on the key issues facing the nation today, Al Gore is the clear choice for president. For 24 years, Gore has held public office, with eight years in the House of Representatives, eight years in the Senate and eight years as Vice President. He was one of Congress's leading authorities on strategic defense, and he was an early champion of technologies that have fueled the new economy. As Vice President, he has been a full partner with Bill Clinton in tackling some of our toughest problems, like controlling the size of the bureaucracy, reforming welfare and balancing the budget.
For the past six years, George W. Bush has done a so-so job as governor of the state that gives its executive the least power of any in the union. Prior to that, Bush parlayed his father's status as president into a lucrative minority ownership position with the Texas Rangers baseball club. And before that, he ran a small oil business that failed.
While Gore's career is characterized by successes, innovation and public service, Bush's short political career is filled with missed opportunities and poor public policy decisions. For example, his decision to allow Texans to carry concealed handguns -- even into churches -- has resulted in hundreds of felons now packing pistols. And he has failed to significantly raise Texas from the bottom of the list of many measures by which state's are routinely judged.
But experience is only part of the equation when you make a hire, as the American people will do on Nov. 7. After reviewing a candidate's background and experience, you move on to how they would tackle the job at hand: What are their ideas? Again Gore is the clear choice, as he is on the right side of every important issue that has defined this race. Let's take a look at a few of those issues:
The Economy: The most significant accomplishment of the Clinton presidency has been in turning around a stagnant economy and spreading the wealth in a way that hadn't been happening for many years. The history is important, because there are plenty of revisionist stories out there. Back in the early '80s, Ronald Reagan bought into an economic plan that was actually written on the back of a cocktail napkin: supply side economics. Put another way, if the Democrats of the era were guilty of tax-and-spend policies, Reagan did them one better by pushing tax-cut-and-spend policies. These policies were implemented and resulted in the largest deficits in the history of humankind. The interest payments alone eventually made up the third biggest item in the federal budget.
Republicans like to say nobody is responsible for the recent good economy, but the truth is that smart public policy played a major role. Before even taking office, Clinton and Gore convened a meeting of 300 of the nation's top economists to figure out how to fix the economic mess they would inherit from Reagan and George Bush Sr. The next step was that they decided not to put party ideologues into cabinet positions related to the economy -- choosing people like Robert Rubin instead of the guy with the napkin. Finally the administration had a decision to make: tax cuts, as they had promised, or a balanced budget, as they had also promised. One of the key voices for a balanced budget was Gore. So in 1993, the Clinton/Gore budget plan was passed by one vote in both houses of Congress. People like Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm and John Kasich said it would cause a recession, and not a single Republican voted for the plan.
Well, the exact opposite has happened, and economists (honest ones, anyway) widely credit that single piece of legislation with turning around the nation's economy to the point where we've experienced the biggest economic boom in our history -- the stock market went from 3,000 in 1992 to over 10,000 today. But the key thing is that the prosperity is not just staying at the top: home ownership is up, unemployment is at record lows. Between 1993-98, income grew 10.3 percent for the poorest 20 percent of Americans, and by 11.7 percent for the richest 20 percent. Compare that to the period between 1981-93, when the lowest 20 percent's income was down 4.4 percent, while the top 20 percent was up 26.4 percent. While Reagan's "trickle down economics" term seemed like a cruel joke at the time, Clinton and Gore's policies have benefited all Americans.
Now Bush would like the nation to return to the past, to Reaganomics. The keystone of his plan is a huge tax cut weighted heavily toward the very wealthiest Americans. Most economists (again, the honest ones) will tell you that tax cuts are useful in times of recession to spur investment and kick start the economy. To push them now serves no real public purpose. Bush likes to say it's our money: Well, yes it is, and we don't want to give it all to rich people who are already rich and are the last people who need our help. Having an economically stratified society is not our idea of a strong society -- for a peek at where such economic stratification could take us, look at Mexico. Gore's plan is much wiser. While he, too, offers tax cuts (of the targeted kind), he focuses more on bolstering Social Security and Medicare -- the two entitlement programs that could, if nothing is done soon, bankrupt the nation when all the Baby Boomers retire.
The economy is changing, and Gore understands that better than perhaps any elected leader today. While Bush is a defender of the old economy, Gore is the standard bearer for the new one.
Smaller government: While Bush suggests that Gore would increase the size of government, the fact is that Gore has overseen the most significant shrinking of the federal government in decades. Not only have his efforts led to a reduction by 300,000 employees in the total federal workforce, but he has led the way in implementing the Internet and other new technologies to make workers more efficient and allow government to offer services more effectively. The White House staff, which had ballooned under Reagan and Bush, has also been trimmed by 25 percent in the past eight years. Meanwhile, the Texas bureaucracy has grown under Bush.
The environment: Environmentalists have been disappointed during the Clinton years by the lack of action on key issues. This has fueled Ralph Nader's candidacy, but it is clear that Gore would be a better friend to the environment than Bush. When faced with the fact that Texas is the smoggiest state in the union at one of the debates, Bush could only answer that Houston was a big city and they have a lot of cars. Well, he's the one who appointed a lobbyist from the oil industry to run the state's environmental compliance department, making many regulations voluntary.
There are scary things happening to the world's weather, and if the United States is unwilling to lead by example on turning this situation around (and Congressional Republicans are not -- they don't even believe the ice caps are shrinking, as independent scientists say is the case), then there isn't much hope on this issue. Some want proof before we do anything, but the only final proof will be when the last mammal goes extinct. Gore has long been an advocate for the environment, and hopefully in stepping out of Clinton's shadow, he'll be able to fully become the man who wrote Earth in the Balance.
Bush suggests that environmental regulations will wreck the economy, but there's no proof of that. In fact, as Gore points out, doing things in a more environmentally sound manner could trigger whole new industries that could create good jobs at innovative American companies.
Campaign finance reform: The single issue that is twisting our Democracy from what it was intended to be into something more like a plutocracy, or rule by the rich, is big money in politics. Let's face it, the situation is totally out of control. Not only does the flood of campaign ads, many of them negative, turn off potential voters, but it also dumbs down the campaign, making it harder to get beyond who you'd rather go have a beer with. Candidates don't need your vote anymore -- they need the corporations' money. So it's not surprising that when politicians get back to D.C., they can lose track of their human constituents while their corporate constituents get all the attention.
Gore says the McCain/Feingold bill would be the first one he would send to the Congress. Meanwhile, Bush is silent. But it's not hard to figure out where his sympathies lie, after all, he didn't even accept matching federal funding early in the campaign so that his contributors could remain anonymous. And he has been able to badly outspend Gore.
Meanwhile, Gore has sounded a populist note ever since the convention. His campaign is sounding more and more like a turn-of-the-last-century race, and with good reason. Just as in the late-1890s, when huge corporations were imposing their will with impunity, we are seeing the same thing today. Corporations are not inherently bad, and they are an important part of the great fabric of the nation. It's just that letting them have more say in the affairs of the state than anyone else is not good public policy. That's why Theodore Roosevelt bucked his corporate backers and busted the trusts, setting the stage for a series of reforms that have served the nation very well. Today some of those same conditions have returned, and we need someone in the White House who will look at competing desires with an eye toward what's good for the people.
With Gore's clear edge in both experience and on the issues, why is the race so tight? Extremely clever packaging. Most people know that aside from bankrupting the USSR, Reaganomics was a disaster, yet here we have it again, dressed up a little differently. But the same attraction exists. When we are told we can have our tax cuts and balance the budget, too... yeah, we'll buy that. Trouble is it doesn't work, as we've already learned. The packaging of a president has never been so complete. The next piece of the Bush puzzle was borrowed from Ross Perot -- that down-home folksiness. Never mind that Perot was a lunatic, people liked him -- he seemed to talk straight. Bush, too, has benefited from such regular guy standards. Heck, we're told he won the second debate, and why? Because he was able to pronounce some Russian guy's name correctly. And he seems to get away with pure fantasy when he claims to support "affirmative access" instead of Affirmative Action. If Reagan wore a Teflon suit, this guy's dressed in pure mercury.
Where's the proof that this is all a front? It's in the deafening silence from the right. As Bush sounded almost pro-choice at the first debate, you didn't hear Pat Robertson threaten to flee to the Pat Buchanan camp. And what about those Congressional Republicans? While Bush talks about improving education, you don't hear Tom Delay publicly reminding him that they want to eliminate the federal Department of Education. When Bush sounds almost reasonable on gun control, where's Wayne "Jack-Booted Thugs" LaPierre? This silence is allowing Bush's short-term amnesia trick to work on the American people. And the silence is proof positive that every one of these groups has full assurances that if they just bite their tongues and wait, they'll get what they want when Bush gets in the White House.
Right wing Republicans are also keeping quiet because they know they are out of step with the majority of Americans. Clinton and Gore remade the Democratic party by coopting some of the best ideas of the once reasonable GOP. They took welfare reform and made it compassionate. They took on the economy, once the Republicans' top issue, and did something the Republicans never could -- delivered on their promises.
What the Republicans have been left with isn't pretty. They're tied to social issues like abortion, guns and tax cuts we don't need for rich people who don't need them. But they have one other thing: their hatred. First they hated Clinton, and now they've seamlessly turned that antipathy to Gore. But the electorate is sick of all this, and that is why the Republicans need to copy the Democrats by remaking their own party into something that makes more sense. His unwillingness to confront his own party, as Clinton and Gore have done over and over, may be Bush's undoing. There once was a Republican candidate who was truly genuine where Bush is fully packaged. John McCain was willing to take on his own party, hoping to save it, but he was blindsided and vilified for having the audacity to challenge the coronation.
For all his good qualities, Clinton was, we know now, something of a head case. Problems in his personal life have overwhelmed his place in history, but perhaps the salvation is that Gore, clearly the better man of the two, now has the chance, with an eight-year running start, to carry on Clinton's momentum and keep our prosperity going. He has the willingness, like Teddy Roosevelt, to take on the trusts of our time, he has the experience to work with Congress, as he has walked those halls for years, and he has been at the side of the president for eight years, so he is the best choice to handle any crisis that will come up. For these reasons, when the history books are written 100 years from now, Bill Clinton will be a footnote to Al Gore, who has the potential to be one of our great presidents.
& & Senate & &
& & Maria cantwell & & & &
It's sad to say that it's come to this, but one of the main reasons we think Maria Cantwell is the best choice to be Washington's next senator is because she can't be bought. She has made campaign finance reform a central plank to her bid to unseat Slade Gorton, and it's just that kind of perspective the U.S. Senate needs more of. It's sad that the only way a sitting senator can even be challenged is by someone like Cantwell, who is smart and fortunate enough to be independently wealthy. Gorton's supporters may spend $10 million in defending his seat. Hopefully, if Cantwell succeeds in her mission, that threshold will eventually come down to a more human scale.
Cantwell offers stark contrasts to the incumbent in just about every way. While Gorton remains wedded to the old economy that is based in resource extraction and exploitation, Cantwell has firsthand knowledge of what the new economy requires. And she has made many trips to Eastern Washington, pledging to help spread the Puget Sound's technological boom to our side of the Cascades.
While Cantwell is pushing a new kind of politics, in which campaign finance reform and bipartisan solutions are the norm, Gorton remains stuck in the old way of getting things done. One of his favorite tricks is to tack items onto spending bills that come out of his Appropriations Committee. Known as riders, they receive no debate or other scrutiny that every other law must endure. And often these riders are little more than favors to those who fund his campaigns. Recent examples include the salvage timber rider that allowed timber sales in previously off-limits parts of our national forests and the overturning of a decision not to allow cyanide-leach mining in Okanogan County. Gorton also tried to use a rider to kill the idea of creating a national monument out of the Hanford Reach, the last decent stretch of the Columbia River for natural salmon spawning. That effort failed. Cantwell says she would fight backdoor practices like riders if elected.
Gorton has also become too divisive a figure for our state in his anti-Native American sovereignty stands and in his staunch opposition to issues that many believe are crucial to maintaining the natural environment of our state and region. After so many years in office, he seems to represent his campaign contributors more than the people of his state.
To quote Gorton's own campaign ads of 1980, when he defeated Warren Magnuson, it's time to return the favor and this time let the "winds of change" sweep Gorton out of the U.S. Senate.
& & Congress & &
& & Tom Keefe & & & &
While Congressman George Nethercutt would have us believe that the only people who care about his pledge of serving three terms are out-of-state special interest groups, the fact is there are plenty of people in his own party who are very troubled by his "change of heart." Former George Bush Sr., advisor and cultural warrior William Bennett criticized Nethercutt earlier this year, as did former Republican Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong, who contributed to Nethercutt's 1994 defeat of then-Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Meanwhile, highly regarded Republicans like Helen Chenoweth and Matt Salmon of Arizona have kept their three-term pledges, saying it allowed them to be better legislators. Now we don't care too much about term limits as an issue, but when our representative to Congress -- a man who knew full well the importance of seniority when he ran in 1994 -- has so clearly manipulated the district's good faith, we can only wonder how seriously he takes the job of representing his constituents.
And that's our big problem with Nethercutt. From the start, he seems to have been more beholden to the GOP party line than to his own district. He was a reliable Newt Gingrich foot soldier, and his loyalty has been repaid in this election as much of his nearly $2 million reelection war chest comes from Republican Congressional leadership PACs. But in supporting nutty ideas like getting rid of the Department of Education and in opposing an increase in the minimum wage even in historic good economic times, he has shown his priorities are not with his district but with his standing in the party. The biggest promise broken was that this was supposed to be a citizens' Congress -- that was the vision that fueled Nethercutt in '94. But now we know that heartfelt conviction had nothing to do with it: The pledge was nothing more than a convenient campaign ploy.
Fortunately for the 5th District, Tom Keefe came along. Yes, Keefe only recently moved here from Idaho, but Nethercutt has relocated his family to Washington, D.C., so that argument, to us, is a wash. In Keefe, however, we find just the kind of legislator we need back in the nation's Capitol. Let's face it, this Republican-controlled Congress does almost nothing except bide its time between presidential races in hopes of winning the White House. Keefe, who worked for Warren Magnuson, experienced politics in a different era, when elected officials were more interested in creating good laws than in getting good press. Keefe is steeped in a lost tradition of governance that we badly need to revive if we want to restore the institution to its original purpose.
And in the tradition of Foley, Keefe is about as conservative a Democrat as you'll find, with Republican-esque positions on a variety of issues, from guns to dam removal. While we don't necessarily agree with him on those issues, we think he offers a more balanced approach to all issues facing this district. Keefe is also especially well suited to representing a district with our set of challenges. He has a rare understanding of farm policy, again from his time with Magnuson, but he gets beyond the typical rhetoric of these campaigns to add rural communities to the discussion. He talks about the struggles of small town America, and that if the federal government doesn't shift its policies, we may lose an important part of the American landscape forever.
And finally, we know Keefe is honest -- an important quality any successful candidate needs to restore the district's trust. Keefe was widely criticized by his own party for writing a guest editorial for the Seattle Times (before he decided to run for office) in which he defended Slade Gorton against charges that he was a racist. To us, while these politically charged times usually call for giving no quarter to the other side, it's refreshing to see someone willing to transcend party politics to do what he believes in his heart to be right. That is the kind of congressman we can all be proud of.