The Kerry shocker
Here's my latest column. Damn, it sucks being an undecided voter:
No one was surprised more than I was by the results from the Iowa Caucuses on Monday night.
In a late surge, John Kerry stunned everyone with a come-from-behind win. John Edwards who was mired in single digits in the polls for most of the campaign season spoke positively on the trail and - with the help of Dennis Kucinich - vaulted into the second place. Howard Dean, the volatile former-governor of Vermont, collapsed, way behind in third.
But the other revelation of the night was the disappointing results of Dick Gephardt, who came in fourth and dropped out of the race. Gephardt had one of the best platforms of all the candidates. He had the backing of 21 unions and a long career of standing up for working folks in Congress. But it didn't help him in the end. In fact, it was a hindrance, as candidates like Dean attacked Gephardt for being "a Washington insider."
The Gephardt exit, however, leaves the Democrats with a hole in their nomination race.
None of the top tier candidates has a good record on international trade issues, one of the major problems with the economy. Whole industries are being shipped overseas where the labor is cheaper, much to the detriment of the ordinary Americans who used to fill those jobs. At the same time, the Democrats and the president want to naturalize millions of illegal aliens currently in the United States doing the other low wage jobs. The new jobs that were supposed to replace the manufacturing jobs - the technology, software, computer, and service sector jobs - are also being shipped overseas. It should be a bigger issue than it is.
But now, with Gephardt out of the race and Kucinich in the cellar, the free trade issue will all but be ignored even if it should be a galvanizing issue against President George W. Bush. Of course, it isn't all Bush's fault. The hemorrhaging of the manufacturing sector started under Ronald Reagan, continued under George H. W. Bush and was made even worse by Bill Clinton's free trade deals.
During the Clinton years, there was growth in other sectors, which offset some of the damage. But when those jobs were lost in the dot-con collapse and after the Sept. 11 attacks, what was left? Very little. Millions of jobs have been lost. People are hanging by a thread. Last month alone, over 300,000 people fell off the unemployment rolls. Millions more stopped looking for work because there isn't any. The corporate sector only created 1,000 new jobs in December, the holiday season. That's a recovery?
However, I can understand what some voters might be going through right now.
For the first time in a long time, I have no idea who to vote for. Like millions of other people, I'm an undecided independent - the modern voting bloc - even after spending so much time watching the campaigns. It is an unusual position to be in. But there are some intriguing candidates left in the race.
Kucinich is truly inspiring, with an amazing story about growing up in poverty. Sometimes, when his large Catholic family didn't have a home, they lived in a car. But this didn't stop him from attaining success. He got himself elected to the Cleveland City Council, and later, Mayor, only to be driven out of power when he refused to sell the city's main asset - the municipal power plant. In the end, it was the right thing to do and years later, the city's voters thanked Kucinich by electing him to Congress. Despite what the mainstream press says, Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton are the only true "anti-war" candidates. They've attended the anti-war rallies. Heck, Kucinich wants to create a Department of Peace and cut the defense budget to fund domestic needs. With towns like Winchester millions of dollars in the hole, who couldn't like that? In a perfect world, he would be the president.
I am also impressed with Sen. John Edwards, although the southern charm leaves me with that queasy feeling I always felt with Clinton. However, Edwards seems to have a bit more class. As a trial lawyer, he did a lot to help people who didn't have anything. Edwards has also been nailing home the fact that we do live in two Americas - one of the haves, one of the have-nots. If he is elected, there is a good chance Edwards won't be able to do much about bringing the two Americas together. But at least you know he might try.
Former NATO Gen. Wesley Clark has some moving biographical ads talking about his childhood and military background. But like Dean and Kerry, when you look into his background, there is a lot to worry about. To start, there are Clark's seven different positions on the invasion of Iraq, conveniently forwarded to the media by Joe Lieberman's campaign. Clark makes Dean's flip-flopping look reasonable. Then, there is the fact that he wasn't even a Democrat three months ago. Just 18 months ago, Clark was commending Bush and his administration for their "war on terror." Then, he admitted voting for Richard Nixon and Reagan - twice. I could forgive him for voting for Nixon. Compared to Clinton, Nixon was a liberal. So why are the Democrats falling all over themselves to nominate Clark?
The race for the Democratic nomination is far from over, no matter what the pundits say about Dean's third place finish in Iowa and his caucus night antics.
Yet, I'm still undecided. Deep down, I believe Gephardt - with his trade position, support for the invasion, and Midwest background - was in the best position to challenge the president. The question now becomes, Can any of the guys leftover beat Bush? Call me a cynic, but I doubt it.