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Weighing the Field

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Dennis Kucinich is a lightweight -- at most, maybe not even a featherweight. This does not necessarily reflect his worth as a human being. The best fighter of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson started out as a lightweight and arguably the second best fighter of all time, Benny Leonard, was undefeated as a lightweight before moving up in weight class after a seven year lay off.

But Dennis ain't them. After watching Kucinich in the Howard University Democratic debate last month, my teenage son and I both concurred that if Kucinich would take some steroids, hit the weights and build himself up to at least a welterweight, he might have a chance.

"You'd fear Kucinich then,"my son said. "He'd be a beast."

This is not superfluous. Fear is a tool Kucinich would need to run the Huey Long type, dignity of the common man campaign he clearly envisions. Rather than talking, absurdly, about "texting Peace," Kucinich would need to talk about empowering unions and rebuilding a mixed economy that doesn't only work for big corporations. He would need to make himself a lightening rod for attacks from the corporate and right wing media, to become a credible attack dog for the working class and draw the class lines in America so indelibly that the rich and the powerful would hate him, and yes, fear him. For the present, the rich and powerful don't fear Dennis so much as sneer at him.

Ironically, the one female candidate and current front runner in the Democratic field, Hillary Clinton, does not have this problem. We fear Hillary.

The great fight trainer, Angelo Dundee, famously said that "anyone over two hundred pounds can hurt you, even a dame," but of course, it's not Hillary's size that scares us, though that eight hundred pound gorilla on her back does have to be reckoned with. What scares us about Hillary is that cold blooded look in her eye. As the Scottish singer/songwriter Angus McKie once bitterly said of his girlfriend, "butter wouldn't melt on her lips."

Programmatically speaking, it also must be said that it seems a little late in the ontological game for Hillary's mix of liberal bromides sprinkled over a main course of elite flavored Rubinomics.

It's a good sound bite when Hillary describes new climate change technologies that not only address climate change, but also create new jobs as "a potential win-win for America." But with Hillary, there's always the uncomfortable feeling that her policy proposals are all good sound bites and not much else. We'll never hear Hillary say, for example, that fighting climate change -- and impending ecological disaster -- will require major sacrifice from all of us, not to mention a radical shake-up of corporate America.

For Hillary, sacrifice and social transformation are definitely off the table.

What we will get from her is more of the reasonable, Republican lite, neo-liberal formula her husband lucked onto in the 1990's.

For Hillary, Bill's always going to be a burden. However Hillary's biggest problem is that even if she were right on the issues -- and she's not -- she's also not electable. People might fear and even admire Hillary, but fairly or unfairly, they don't like her. And given a choice, they're not going to vote for her.

That leaves the rest of the field.

Forget Dodd, a reliable liberal, but "a suit." He comes across as generic. Biden can be ludicrous while at the same time taking himself too seriously, a fatal combination. Gravel has style -- my son especially likes those khaki pants he wore to the Howard debate -- but he's a big old wild swinger, like George Foreman in his last comeback. His stance on the war is winning, he needs to work on his universal sales tax proposal so he doesn't sound like an idiot.

Bill Richardson is all right but there is the sense that he's got a little bit of Mitt in him. That is: Richardson might say anything, and in fairness, that's also as opposed to Mitt Romney, who will absolutely say anything that any audience wants to hear. Like some Mormon Zelig, Mitt's got a mania. The scary part is I think the Republicans are going to nominate him. As for Richardson, he's got the resume and -- at Howard at least --a helluva tan. Like everyone else, I figure him for the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee. Whether Richardson wants the job or not, it's the best deal he's going to get right now.

That leaves Obama, Edwards­­ -- and the other eight hundred pound gorilla in the room, Al Gore. I don't think Al is going to run unless it looks like Hillary's going to sweep the field in the early primaries. Nonetheless, we can be sure he's paying close attention.

Obama's got a problem. He could use the old Barry Goldwater line "in your heart, you know he's right," because that's what he seems to be counting on. Obama can't, or won't, tell us what he really thinks about anything, perhaps because if it turns out that he's actually a dangerous Alinskyite black radical -- and frankly what could be better -- he's going to have a hard time winning the nomination. But if, on the other hand, Obama is as ideologically bland as he pretends to be, that's even worse.

Obama keeps talking about "getting beyond partisanship," this despite the fact that for the past twenty five years the Republic has been hijacked by a permanent floating right wing coup. If after the past six and half years of creeping fascism, Democrats are not yet willing to fight back, the question is, will they ever? But we can see already with Obama: there will be no big, dangerous ideas, no fiery rhetoric, nothing straight from the heart, we're just going to have to trust we know what's there. It's business as usual except for the nice wrinkle that Barack is not only black, but "so fresh and so clean."

It all might work for Obama if he were a Republican, but for a Democrat, it's a flawed campaign premise. Enigmatic gets old after the first year and a half or so if you're supposed to be an agent of change.

That leaves Edwards. As opposed to the happy (class) warrior of the last election, John Edwards this time has recast himself as the voice of the voiceless. Poverty, rather than class, is his issue now in an apparent bid for the political authenticity that comes from speaking as an advocate for an unpopular cause.

Personally, I think Edwards is trying too hard. Edwards' universal health care proposal and his stand on the War were decent first steps. Now he has to go beyond that to challenge some of the corporate redlines that define the boundaries of safe discourse in American political campaigns. One two-part idea he might try would be, first, for the Federal Government to assume the health care and legacy retirement costs of US auto workers. This would help the Big 3 auto companies get back on their feet and stabilize job loss in the upper Mid West. In other words, your basic corporate bailout.

However at the same time the government could also underwrite the creation of a new Public Automobile company based in the Detroit -- utilizing closed and abandoned GM and Ford plants -- and dedicated to building stripped down, low cost, hybrid vehicles at eight to ten thousand dollars a pop. Sort of like a green version of the original Model-T. Thus while the government was bailing out Detroit, it would also be competing with it -- not to mention kicking the collective crap out of Honda and Toyota.

Taken together these two proposals would not only address the collapse of manufacturing in the country, but also climate change and the taboo against public ownership of industry. It would also point the way for Detroit to once again achieve profitability.

The problem with Edwards's anti-poverty campaign is that it stinks of liberal altruism, which -- thankfully -- is not coming back into fashion any time soon. When Robert Kennedy made his famous trips to Appalachia and Mississippi forty years ago, Kennedy's profile in the culture was so much higher than Edwards it gave RFK's pilgrimage a kind of spiritual patina. Exposing poverty wasn't about politics for Robert Kennedy, it was about healing the soul of America, and we as Americans felt that.

For John Edwards' part, he should let Class and the class self-interest of working and poor people be his guide. It'll work a lot better than his conscience.

The best thing about John Edwards is that one senses he really wants to be a transformational candidate. The worst thing is that being a lawyer and a politician, Edwards is not going to go out on a limb and actually say how he would transform America unless he absolutely has to. If Edwards wants to be President, starting say, by Labor Day, he absolutely has to.

Anyway that's the view of the Democratic field from here. No sure things, and really, only two serious contenders to take on Hillary. Edwards is in decent shape, but is still a little light in the butt. He needs to put on about ten pounds of muscle to be a real heavyweight. Al Gore needs to take a good look at himself, without his shirt on, in the mirror.

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