Much of the campaigning for the Democratic nomination seems to be a race between Dean and the various not-Deans and the stronger contenders among the not-Deans have resorted to anti-Dean campaigning. This was inevitable given Dean's unmatched success so far in securing support among the potential primary voters. For all the negativity that this has generated, it is healthy for our democracy that the front-runner be thoroughly scrutinized before he is chosen to lead the party and potentially the country. However, there is a serious downside to this situation. While everyone is digging into Dean's record and challenging his qualifications, the rest of the candidates have escaped similar scrutiny and that is worrisome, particularly if something makes enough of those leaning towards Dean rethink their choice. There may not be enough opportunity to look beyond the rhetoric of the alternatives.
I have not yet found a reason to reconsider my support for Dean but I'm open to a better candidate should one become apparent. I cannot let off the hook those candidates who, for instance, voted to give Bush carte blanche on Iraq, supported the PATRIOT act or are supportive of the "war on drugs." Eliminating these and the ones that have no chance of getting elected in our current cultural state regardless of the Republican opponent, Clark was my only likely alternative to Dean. I was buoyed by his emphatic mention of civil liberties when he declared his candidacy and his strong criticism of the Bush administration's decision to unilaterally invade Iraq. I contributed the same amount to both the Dean and the Clark campaigns because I wanted their campaigns to gather enough steam in order to attract the attention that would lead to their scrutiny.
I was bummed, however, to find that Clark wasn't exactly sure about his opposition to the Iraq war. His public wavering about this is cause for serious concern considering that he was presenting his stand on this issue as a primary aspect of his campaign. He also touts his foreign policy experience so I'd like to learn more about his decision that might have "started World War III" in Kosovo if it weren't overruled from above. Then there's his stint on the board of Acxiom, during which he lobbied the U.S. government and secured a contract for Acxiom's participation in the development of the CAPS II system which "color-codes" the threat level of airline passengers based upon their personal data, the gathering of which quietly undermines our privacy rights.
Last Friday, on NOW with Bill Moyers, Chuck Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity had the following to say about Clark, which made me regret contributing to his campaign:
MOYERS: You report that when General Wesley Clark retired from the military, he earned over $800,000 lobbying former pals and peers for airline and homeland security contracts and that he didn't tell us that when he appeared on CNN as a commentator on the war on terrorism. Why would a man do that, thinking he's going to run for President? Because that's bound to be harmful when it is ultimately disclosed?
LEWIS: Well, that's sort of what I thought. It's the first time I know of a major Presidential candidate running who's also currently a lobbyist. When he announced, September 17th, he was still registered in Washington as a lobbyist.
MOYERS: Yet the new Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barber, was one of the most successful lobbyists in the history of Washington.
LEWIS: Well, we're getting a new phenomenon now, the new shamelessness where people don't care any more. It used to be that a lobbyist ran, people would laugh him out of the room, and it would be unacceptable. Now you have a guy who just got elected Governor of Mississippi and we have a Presidential candidate who not only was a lobbyist, but he was a commentator objectively commentating on the war while he was trying to get homeland security and defense contracts and meeting with the Vice President among others.
And I'm not sure CNN knew this, by the way. We talked to CNN. We're trying to get information about what did they know and when did they know it. But ... everyone should have disclosed that. No question.
This is the kind of stuff that we need to know before we pick our candidate. It behooves the honest supporters of individual candidates to seek out this information and have their candidates address them. What Chuck Lewis said about Dean in the same interview did reinforce my support for him...
MOYERS: Is Dean any cleaner because he raised so much money from small donors on the internet?
LEWIS: You know, I'm always reluctant to use words like "cleaner" just because I don't want to sound like I endorse anybody. But the numbers are� certainly he has smaller donor numbers. And even as governor for 11 years, Vermont has limits on their contributions of $400. So his numbers are� his third highest patron are his campaign staff members at $15,000. That tells you� compare that with 600,000 from Enron.
...but I also heard his cautionary note loud and clear:
The problem is when you get up around 40 million and you go past 40 million, Howard Dean has opted out of the matching fund system. He is gonna have to keep raising at that pace.
And what's happening is if he does get the nomination and every nominee since 1975 who raises the most money the year before the election gets the nomination without exception, history shows in recent years. The power elite, the financial elites will begin to coalesce around the Democratic person on the, in their minds, off chance that a Democrat beats the incumbent in 2004. And so my point is, the money, the texture of Howard Dean's money is gonna and probably already has begun to substantially change.
There will never be a White Knight running for President and there will never be a democracy without flaws, which makes citizen vigilance and diligent inquiry all the more important.