And then there were seven…

Finally the field of Democrats is slimming down a bit. And it is playing out about how I’d figured with Braun, who was never a viable candidate, as likeable as she is, and Gephardt bowing out within days of one another.

I never supported the Gephardt campaign in the slightest, but I do feel a bit sad to see Dick go. The 2004 campaign has seen the exit of the last traditional Democrat, and this may be the curtain call for last traditional Democrat any of us will ever see run for the White House. Personally I found Gephardt annoying back in 1988 when he first ran for the Presidential nomination. He struck me as a man almost utterly without charisma. He never came across as homey, something that many people said about him in 1988. He just seemed like a man who was vaguely perturbed with his audience perpetually. He grated on my nerves, and quite obviously I was not alone in this feeling.

That having been said he was a pretty effective civil servant, and a stalwart traditional New Deal Democrat, which is something I personally think we have too few of today. I could never fault Congressman Gephardt for his unwavering support of labor and his defense of the working person. I also admired the way he stood up to a very popular Bill Clinton and publicly disagreed with the direction Clinton was taking both his administration and the nation. That took quite a bit of courage, and it does speak volumes in his favor that after being hung out to dry by the Clintonians who dominate the Democratic Party that Gephardt was able to muster a credible run at the nomination at all.

Given my preference I’d have preferred to see Joe Lieberman out of the race before Gephardt. Lieberman is so out of sync with the rest of his party that one wonders why the Democrats allow him to call himself one of them at all. I won’t call him Bush-lite because I genuinely believe he is actually less interested in the world of the average person or anything resembling a reasonable foreign policy than Dubya is. Gephardt’s early exit essentially removes his key issues from the debate for the rest of the primary season. That means we’re going to hear very little about the working class, labor or many of the other issues Dick Gephardt featured as key points in his campaign. Instead we’ll be treated to a mostly pointless debate about healthcare.

I say it’s a pointless debate because regardless of who wins the White House in November the odds are against the Democrats gaining much, if any, ground in either congressional house. With the GOP controlling the legislative branch of government the views on healthcare and insurance reform of even a popular Democratic President will be largely irrelevant. Typically this is precisely the type of debate that campaign managers for candidates for President love to see – lots and lots of heated discussion on an issue that isn’t likely to result in any actual policy being made should one’s candidate actually win. It allows the candidates to make huge promises, knowing they will never be in danger of trying to actually honor them.

Sure, we’ll hear plenty about the economy and the war in Iraq. The fact that four of the remaining candidates have made their views on the war (or military and foreign policy in general, in the case of Kerry and Clark) central to their campaigns makes this a certainty. But indications are that most Americans have decided that even if the war is not entirely over it has ceased to hold much interest for them. The best evidence of this is the central place the war took in George W.’s state of the union speech tonight. If the subject of the war was likely to fire the emotions of the voters you can bet that Dubya’s advisors would have tooled his speech so that he spent more time talking domestic policy than middle east foreign policy.

So, Kerry, Dean, Clark and Kucinich will continue to talk about the war, albeit in vastly different ways. Dean and Kucinich will continue with their trademarks – Dean that he was against the war but now that it’s happened it’s time to clean up after ourselves properly, Kucinich that the war was utterly wrong, he was against it and wants to bring the troops home tomorrow. Clark and Kerry, meanwhile, have both been busy drafting elaborate plans for post-war Iraq and US military and foreign policy in general. My guess is that the Clark and Kerry campaigns are both betting that being against the current administration’s policies isn’t going to be good enough to fire up voters. They’re already positioning themselves to run against Bush by betting that voters are going to find their detailed plans for postwar Iraq and a foreign policy designed to heal divisions with our allies appealing and compelling.

One can only hope that Sharpton realized from the beginning that he had little chance of securing the nomination. We hope for this because if this was indeed his view then we can be secure in knowing that he intends to stay the course throughout all the primaries, leaving his hat in the ring and forcing the remaining candidates to address the issues he holds nearest and dearest to his heart. I personally hope that Al stays for the duration because it’s his issues – civil rights, women’s rights, full employment, corporate responsibility and governmental fiscal responsibility that are ultimately the most meaningful.

If this election becomes entirely a debate about Iraq (something that is effectively a done deal regardless of who occupies the White House), healthcare reform (which, as I mention above is largely an irrelevant issue with the GOP controlling the congress) and the economy (something any truly intelligent person recognizes has little or nothing to do with who the sitting President is) then we are left with a campaign that is once again going to be basically about choosing between the lesser of two evils.

I have no confidence in the Clintonian Democrats. The Patriot Act, plans for an invasion of Iraq, plans for bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, support for the WTO and expansion of so-called free trade zones as well as so-called welfare reform, privatization of Social Security and a host of other nasty, destructive crap that’s not in the interests of anyone by the very wealthy are as much a part of their agenda as they are of Dubya, Cheney and Karl Rove.

If this Presidential election becomes another contest between a Clintonian and a Bush, well then, I’ve said it before…

We’re doomed.

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