I have not written about the presidential campaign yet in these weekly columns, mostly because I think it's wa-aa-aa-aay too early, and also because there's a good chance anything said about the race now will be utterly irrelevant in 18 months' time. I admit that I did go out on a limb last year and write about the 2008 congressional campaign right after election day, in a mostly tongue-in-cheek detailed look at the Democrats' chances in the Senate (which prompted one commenter to write: "Why stop there? Could you please handicap the 2040 senate races?"). But so far I have resisted the temptation, and stayed away from commenting on The Big Race.
I feel compelled to do so now because of recent reporting by the mainstream media on the "money primary." All the campaigns were supposed to announce their fundraising totals for the first quarter of the year last weekend, to much hullabaloo in the press. Which (of course) was all about the same six names (three from each side). It seems the news media has decided the American attention span can't concentrate on more than three candidates from each party (some stories even whittle this down to two "frontrunners" from each party).
So, in the hopes that their names don't completely disappear from the media's radar, I hereby present a rundown of the "second tier" of Democratic presidential candidates. The way I figure it (barring any huge surprises), this may be the last time any of these candidates are taken seriously by anybody, before they slowly disappear from the American voter's consciousness.
I think it's a shame (in general) that campaigns aren't run about ideas, but about money. So I am doing what I can to counteract that by examining ALL the Democratic candidates that the mainstream media are ignoring in the race. Of course, I have limited resources, so I have to rely on media reports and the candidates' own web pages in order to do so. I have tried to be fair, and present the campaigns as I see them after spending a bit of time looking at each one.
[Because giving each candidate a fair shake meant an extra-long article, this information will be presented in two parts. Today I examine (in alphabetical order) Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel. Tomorrow I will report on Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson.]
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware probably has the most impressive foreign policy credentials of the entire field of Democratic candidates (unless Al Gore runs, and even then they're comparable). He is currently Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is pretty tough to beat.
This shows in his stance on issues. The most thoughtful and detailed positions he takes on his website are about foreign policy issues. He co-wrote a plan to solve the Iraq problem by allowing for its partition into three federal states: Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi'ite. This plan has attracted much attention, and will likely do so again when the presidential candidates are asked: "Whenever we do get out of Iraq, what happens afterwards?" Biden, more than any other candidate, will have a solidly-thought-out answer to that sticky question. He also recently wrote an op-ed article in favor of ending the Iraq war by repealing and rewriting the Authorization of Military Use of Force which Congress initially passed giving President Bush the power to go to Iraq.
On other issues, he's not as forceful (or as detailed) in his stances. He did write the Violence Against Women Act and Clinton's 100,000 cops legislation, and is strongly for law and order. But he does not explicitly call for universal health care coverage. All around, his website looks excellent and is full of information, including speech transcripts and video links.
Washington Post stories mentioning Biden this year : 32
"Contribute" buttons on main web page : 4
Money raised in the first quarter of 2007 : $2 million
Biggest weakness : Tendency to run mouth without first engaging brain. Gaffes like his "clean and articulate" description of Barack Obama occasionally make the news, and they will be dug up by the opposition.
Interesting quotes from his web page :
Today Joe Biden often quotes poetry on the Senate floor. He picked up the skill as a way to stop a debilitating stutter he had as a child. He would stand in front of a mirror for hours reciting poems to relax his muscles and gain confidence to be able to speak.
. . .
"The next Democratic leader, and this is what the presidential election is all about, has to challenge the American people, tell them the truth, and trust them."
Joe Biden thinks the Democratic party has become too timid. Every time this nation has moved forward in a significant way, it has been in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or a national crisis.
He thinks there are practical answers, but Democrats have to trust and respect the American people more than we do now. As a Presidential candidate, count on him to say boldly how he will restore the middle class and America's standing in the world.
Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut (like Biden) comes to the race with a lot of experience. He is Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He has decades of experience in the Senate, as he followed his father into the Senate to became the youngest Senator ever elected from Connecticut. He spent some time in both the Peace Corps (in the Dominican Republic) and in the National Guard, which should have given him a rare and balanced viewpoint of American foreign policy. As a Senator, of course, he's very pro-submarine (since they're all made in Groton, Connecticut).
His position as chair of the Banking Committee means he has a lot of economic experience, but it also means he was expected to parlay that power into monstrous business campaign contributions. His actual reported number of $4 million for the first quarter was seen as a bit disappointing by pundits, who expected his numbers to be higher. Like Biden, he is seen as being on the edge of the "frontrunners" waiting for one or another of them to stumble, so Dodd can jump in as the "voice of experience" voters may be looking for late in the race.
His web site is a little sparse. It's very nice looking, but lacks content. I only found one speech transcript on his site (on Iraq), which wasn't exactly easy to access. On issues, there is a lot of talk of his past accomplishments, but not as much about big ideas he would tackle as president. On Iraq, he seems generally in favor of getting out, but without hard specifics on what he would do to achieve that goal. On many other issues, he is equally as vague. No support for universal health care. One area he does discuss in detail is his ideas on economics (due to his Banking Committee chair experience, no doubt), but these specifics stand out amongst the vagueness of his other positions. The most interesting thing about his website is his blog entry on going to the "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
Washington Post mentions this year : 31
"Contribute" buttons on main web page : 1
Money raised in the first quarter of 2007 : $4 million
Biggest weakness : He's bland. Seems somewhat pro-business, which could be used against him in the primary. But his biggest weakness is definitely a lack of presence and charisma, compared to the current field of candidates.
Interesting quotes from his web page :
Dodd's commitment to public service and human rights was instilled at an early age by his parents, the late Senator Thomas J. Dodd and Grace Murphy Dodd. Thomas Dodd was one of the lead prosecutors during the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals before he was elected to the United States Senate.
. . .
In his view, American policy should encourage the export of American goods and services - not American jobs.
Senator Dodd has long supported measures to bring fiscal discipline into the federal budget-making process. More than 20 years ago, he introducing a "pay-as-you-go" budget proposal on the floor of the Senate, and he co-sponsored the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction legislation.
Mike Gravel is an interesting guy, and seems to be staking out a position to the left of Dennis Kucinich (which, it should be said, is not easy to do). When he first announced his campaign, almost a year ago (fun trivia: he was the very first Democrat to announce), Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote a snarky article about his campaign:
Gravel joins the proud tradition of dark-horse candidates, such as Dennis Kucinich, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. "And Al Sharpton," the former senator adds, helpfully.
He'll be using the same gadfly playbook. Try to get on a lot of ballots and in all the debates. If lightning strikes, which it never does, you win. At worst, you get free media attention for your pet causes, in Gravel's case, nationwide ballot initiatives and a federal sales tax. "That's about the size of it," the candidate admits with a smile. The goal: "to capitalize on the celebrity nature of the presidential campaign."
I must admit, in all honesty, I had never heard of him before. But although he hasn't been in Congress since 1981 (when he was a Senator from Alaska), he does indeed have a place in American history -- as both the man who successfully filibustered President Nixon into ending the draft, and the Senator who released the Pentagon Papers -- both badges of honor among leftists.
His website, on a whole, is very professional and seems to be up to date. He has been actively campaigning (at least in New Hampshire), and is running on a few key issues: a constitutional amendment to introduce national referenda (to decide contentious issues the way many states do -- by direct and pure democracy); the replacement of income taxes and the IRS with a national sales tax; a strongly anti-war policy towards Iraq; and a system of vouchers for universal, single-payer, non-profit health care. I found one interesting blog wrap-up of Gravel that gives a better bio in a nutshell, if you're interested.
Washington Post mentions this year : 15
"Contribute" buttons on main web page : 2
Money raised in the first quarter of 2007 : $??? [I tried to find this figure, really I did, but came up short. I saw an unconfirmed rumor that it was 0.5 -- 1.5 million, but cannot verify this. Anyone with better info, feel free to post a link.]
Biggest weakness : "Who? No... seriously, who?" Also, he will be 78 years old on election day.
Interesting quotes from his web page :
In 1971, he waged a successful one-man filibuster for five months that forced the Nixon administration to cut a deal, effectively ending the draft in the United States. He is most prominently known for his release of the Pentagon Papers, the secret official study that revealed the lies and manipulations of successive U.S. administrations that misled the country into the Vietnam War. After the New York Times published portions of the leaked study, the Nixon administration moved to block any further publication of information and to punish any newspaper publisher who revealed the contents.
From the floor of the senate, Gravel (a junior senator at the time) insisted that his constituents had a right to know the truth behind the war and proceeded to read 4,100 pages of the 7,000 page document into the senate record. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Senator Gravel did not have the right and responsibility to share official documents with his constituents.
He then published The Senator Gravel Edition, The Pentagon Papers, Beacon Press (1971). This publication resulted in litigation, Gravel v. U.S., resulting in a landmark Supreme Court decision (No. 71-1017-1026) relative to the Speech and Debate Clause (Article 1, Section 6) of the United States Constitution.
[Part 2 of this article will run tomorrow and will examine Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson's campaigns, as well as speculate on some others who have not yet thrown their hats in the ring.]
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