Vote For What You Believe In! That was the late Paul Wellstone's campaign slogan, and I am proudly adopting it for my campaign, which officially begins tomorrow, for the Democratic nomination for Senator from New York.
My campaign challenging incumbent Hillary Clinton is based on a simple -- yet, in our political world, utterly radical -- idea: It asks people to abandon the classic choice of lesser-of-two-evils and vote from the heart, gut and conscience. For progressive voters who do so, there is a clear choice, for the difference between the incumbent and myself could not be more stark. Senator Clinton has said she supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, and she continues to support the war, with a position that echoes that of George Bush (find a "winning" strategy and, then, withdraw troops on an uncertain timetable). In a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council, she praised NAFTA, which cost thousands of ordinary Americans their jobs. She dismissed the idea of pursuing universal health care because she didn't want to take on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. And she receives mountains of campaign cash from corporate donors, including Wal-Mart.
My positions, available on my website, offer a mirror opposite. I am a candidate who opposes the war, believes that real homeland security means bringing the troops home immediately, opposes anti-worker trade deals that send jobs abroad, believes that our economic future should not be determined by an authoritarian regime in China, and supports Medicare For All. Unlike the incumbent, I will draw my support from many thousands of people who will volunteer their energy and contribute small amounts.
But my campaign is meant to be broader than a challenge to the incumbent senator "from the left," as I'm sure the mainstream media will frame it. It is meant as a challenge to all of us to reject poll-tested politics driven by political machines funded by corporate cash, on behalf of shape-shifting politicians who may or may not have real core values that guide them as they chart the future of America. This campaign is meant to give voice to the disgust -- and desperate longing for something better -- that I hear from people wherever I go in the state.
It is also meant as a direct challenge to the entire Democratic Party, which has an opportunity to capture large swaths of the voting public -- if it has a spine, an authentic message and the courage to offer something besides an agenda that is Republican-lite. The growing numbers of people who oppose the war in Iraq and are calling for its end are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. They are people throughout New York State who don't want their loved ones killed, and their government throwing away hundreds of billions on an immoral war.
The 45 million people Americans who have no health insurance are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. They have a right to affordable health care for their families; they have the right to be free of the leeches who profit from our corrupt health insurance industry. That's why I am calling for extending Medicare to everyone. Now.
The working people of America are Democrats, Republicans and Independents who face a future of low-wage, dead end jobs, that effectively end any hope of fulfilling the American Dream. I am not anti-business -- I am against business as usual, business that has allowed large corporations to dominate our economic life. I am a patriot who thinks it is unpatriotic to pursue a pseudo religion of "free trade," an ideology of corporate protection that moves good-paying jobs to China and other countries that employ human beings in conditions that no person in the world should be forced to accept.
Can I win this race? I go into it with a clear understanding of the huge hill I have to climb, the advantages of my opponent's incumbency, and celebrity.
But I also believe in the power of morals, convictions, ideals -- qualities that have been shamefully absent from our nation's political life. Vote for what you believe in. If voters in New York do that, yes, I can win.
Whatever happens, I hope to leave behind a new network of activists in my state, people committed to taking back our country and electing politicians who don't lose their nerve whenever it is time to stand up to abusive corporate power or challenge those who would impose an American empire on the rest of the world.
One final bonus: Wouldn't it be nice, for once, to walk into the voting booth and not have to hold your nose?