For those who think this site has gone too easy on Howard Dean, this article fairly and comprehensively sets forth the episodes in Dean’s record which should leave progressives concerned:

Dean slashed millions of dollars from all sorts of social programs, from prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients and heating assistance for poorer Vermonters to housing assistance funds. In defending his cuts to social programs, Dean said, “I don’t think I have to shy away from that just because I’m supposed to be a liberal Democrat.”

Throughout the 1990s, Dean’s cuts in state aid to education ($6 million), retirement funds for teachers and state employees ($7 million), health care ($4 million), welfare programs earmarked for the aged, blind and disabled ($2 million), Medicaid benefits ($1.2 million) and more, amounted to roughly $30 million. Dean claimed that the cuts were necessary because the state had no money and was burdened by a $60 million deficit.

But during the same period, Dean found $7 million for a low-interest loan program for businesses, $30 million for a new prison in Springfield, VT, and he cut the income tax by 8 percent (equivalent to $30 million)–a move many in the legislature balked at because they didn’t feel comfortable “cutting taxes in a way that benefits the wealthiest taxpayers.” By 2002, state investments in prisons increased by nearly 150 percent while investments in state colleges increased by only 7 percent

Rosenthal takes particular pride in culling that

Dean admits that he recognized early on that the popular anger at Bush is “a raw energy, an energy that I know could be channeled.”

His suggestion is that this shows that Dean is

someone who is sure to repay our support by cutting our living standards and promoting American power abroad…

Alternatively, it could show exactly why Howard Dean might just not. Acknowledging that Howard Dean the candidate is descended more from the popular response to George Bush than from the record of Howard Dean – that he is, like any candidate, a vessel for the forces which have lifted him above the surface – should lead to more soul-searching among progressives than the conclusion either that therefore he’ll be loyal or that therefore he’ll abandon it.

This NY Times piece – “Mr. Inside Embraces Mr. Outside, and What a Surprise” is one of many analyses that will no doubt proliferate over the next few days trying to explain Gore’s endorsement.

I think Purdum is on the right track in noting Gore’s drastic shift to the left since the 2000 election, as well as his series of strident condemnations of Bush policy over the past months. These have been, by turns, gratifying and maddening, I think it’s safe to say, to those of us who were exasperated with Gore for leaving so little ideological distinction between himself and Bush during the actual campaign. Gore’s piece in the Times after the Enron scandal tying corporate malfeseance to Bush’s corporate politics made the right case – but it’s a case that, contrary to what that piece also said – Gore never made on the campaign trail. Those conservatives who think (occasionally rightly) that they can convince American voters that the main fault line in their politics is between civil and uncivil politicians have tried to use Gore’s move to the left as evidence that he’s bitter and angry at his personal loss. I think it’s much more that Gore, like Clinton and other New Democrats, recognize the appeal of Old Democrat values and so fall back on them once out of office both to bring nobility to their legacy and to convince themselves that they at least lost because they stood for something and not because they didn’t. Dean’s aggressive condemnations of the failings of this administration fit the message that Gore has claimed for himself since 2000. So it’s shouldn’t be surprising to see him endorsing someone who’s ready to carry that message forward – and to see him endorsing the candidate who’s running the kind of campaign now that many wanted him to run four years ago.

What Purdum’s analysis for the Times fails to mention, however, is what may really be the most compelling reason for Gore to endorse Dean now: he’s winning. Gore, in the same way as, say SEIU, gains power from picking late enough to choose the one who’ll win and early enough to be as formative in that victory as possible. Gore specifically, however, has the chance by endorsing Dean to merge their narratives – one populist fighter has the election narrowly stolen but four years later another arises to take it back – and drown out the alternative – the New Democrat establishment fouls up an election and it’s left to a populist outsider to ride in four years later to fix it.

Purdum asks whether this will hurt Gore’s credibility, and I think the answer is no more than Gore’s already hurt his credibility by governing and campaigning from the center and then moving to the left since. More importantly, he asks whether this will hurt Dean’s candidacy, and I don’t think it will measurably. Dean has successfully enough framed himself as an outside-the-beltway candidate, and campaigned that way long enough, that I think this will come off more as the beltway coming around to the Governor of Vermont than the other way around. More fundamentally, I think candidates can be effectively criticized, in extreme cases, for not repudiating deeply objectionable folks who endorse them, but that otherwise criticizing them for who endorses them is difficult to pull off. I think that Al Gore’s endorsement will give Dean’s critics on the left about as much ammunition as Jesse Jackson Jr.’s, Ted Rall’s, Molly Ivins’, William Greider’s, et al gave his critics on the right: not a whole lot, in the long term. Speaking as one of those critics on the left, that Dean got Gore’s endorsement says to me just that he’s an effective organizer. Gore endorsing Dean may give some added momentum and visibility to Sharpton and Kucinich’s campaigns, which could only be good for the Democratic party, but I don’t see any of the other candidates positioned at this point to use it to frame themselves as the independent choice.

What this endorsement does, as I see it, is move a slew of voters to consider Dean – or to consider him seriously – who hadn’t before, and deflate much of the criticism from DLCers and others of Dean as unelectable or out of the mainstream. Much as Jackson’s hashkachah (certification, roughly translated) marks Dean kosher for some to his left, Gore’s will mark him kosher for some to his right. And it may mean that the Democratic establishment is learning not only the lesson of 2002 – what happens when you offer no viable alternative – but also the lesson of 1972 – what happens when the party leadership abandons the party’s candidate.

The New York Times has a piece today about the Free State Project, the brainchild of some libertarian Yalies (not surprising, given the tendency of an Ivy League college environment to inculcate – rightly – social freedom and – wrongly – a false faith in economic meritocracy), to move as many libertarians as possible to New Hampshire and achieve a critical mass so to swing elections and eventually build the kind of libertarian state which neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want to see realized:

“Having so many people move into a state means we can really raise issues,” Mr. Somma said. “Once we start to elect people to the Statehouse, I think the low-hanging fruit will be issues like educational reform and medical marijuana.”

Like many on the left, I’d argue that libertarians are right to embrace civil liberties but that the substantive ability of the individual to live a full and self-determined life depends much more on freedom from want than property rights. I have little sympathy for folks like Jackie Casey, who wants a machine gun for Christmas, hopes to destroy the government safety net entirley, and says:

“I want to be a billionaire in my lifetime…and I don’t want to live among people who think that’s bad…I radically oppose public education. It’s demeaning and it creates criminals…The thing that hurts poor people is they don’t know how to think of themselves as rich.””

That said, I think these libertarians are right to recognize that their voices – like those of Catholic workers, socialists, anarchists, nativists, and a slew of other ideological groups (some more savory than others), as well as those of most sexual, religious, or ethnic minorities – are underrepresented in a two-party, winner-takes-all, regionally-based system. That underrepresentation is a vital culprit in the narrowing of political discourse in this country. So what I as left-of-Democrat and Jackie Casey as a libertarian have in common is a shared interest in a political system that really represents us – even without asking us to pack up and leave our state.

Arnold on campaign donations:

Speaking on the “Eric Hogue Show” on radio station KTKZ in Sacramento, the Republican movie actor drew a distinction between contributions from organized labor and Indian gambling tribes — traditionally Democratic givers he called “real big, powerful special interests” — and corporate donors. “Any of those kinds of real big, powerful special interests, if you take money from them, you owe them something,” he said. Any corporate money he takes is irrelevant, Schwarzenegger said, because he wouldn’t be influenced by it.

“There are maybe corporations and companies that maybe the press identifies and says, ‘Well that is a big company, they want certain things,’ ” he said, adding, “I don’t promise anyone anything. There’s no strings attached to anything.”
The simplest of many refutations of this silly and self-serving argument: Unions and tribes, unlike corporations, donate money to only one candidate per race. On a related note, it’s interesting how having worked for non-profit organizations devoted to, say, advancing economic justice or civil liberties is tainting in an election, while having worked for corporations, that, say named the oil tanker Condoleeza Rice after you is not.

Two weeks ago I suggested that the number and variety of candidates in the California recall made a dramatic case for instant run-off voting. I suggested how IRV might play out in a race between eight of the 100+ gubernatorial candidates (a hundred year old woman from Long Beach, a busty porno star, a cross-dresser in pink, a soul food restaurateur, an angry car salesman, a techno geek, a student too young for whiskers, and a structural engineer worried about earthquakes, as described in a piece in the Times). I was gunning for the cross-dresser, a real radical with a progressive vision for California’s future, who lasted four rounds before being eliminated. My second choice, the unreconstructed liberal Democrat with the soul food restaurant (let’s note for those following along at home that these politics are only my projections onto the candidates based on the aforementioned NYT sentence – wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s chances by endorsing them), made it all the way to the last round, where he lost to the busty pornographic film star – one assumes it was because of the breadth of her policy platform.

Now it turns out someone else – several someone elses actually – had the same idea, and the patience and talent to follow through with it. Go visit the folks at RecallSanity and vote for Governor the way it should be done here here. Yeah – you can rank all the candidate’s from 1st through 135th choice. And who said the internet wasn’t any fun? And yes, the eight described in my little demo are on the list – but since the Times didn’t list their names, your guess is as good as mine as to who’s who. After you try it (or, better yet – there are 135 names to get through), e-mail or call CA Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and show him what democracy looks like. And if you go through with the on-line vote, e-mail me to let me know how you ranked them. Or, Dad, just to say hi…

From the Times:

A federal appeals court has upheld Alaska’s curbs on soft-money political donations to candidates for state office, holding that the State Legislature had a right to enact the restrictions in 1996 to restore the public’s faith in government.

The 3-to-0 ruling on Tuesday by a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting in Seattle, overturned a federal district court that had found the curbs unconstitutional. The latest ruling comes as the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on Sept. 8 on the McCain-Feingold law barring political parties from raising soft money for federal candidates.

Glad to see this court reject the twisted conception of political bribery as protected speech. I once had a classmate suggest to me that a laissez-faire campaign finance system was democratic because the winner was the candidate who the most people wanted in office – this echoes Ari Fleischer’s take on Bush’s fundraising a few months back. Someone should remind the Bush administration that we already have – in theory – a system for figuring out whom the most people would like to see elected: the vote. And ideally, everyone gets the same number of those. There are some troubling provisions in McCain-Feingold regulating speech (i.e., not money) in the period before elections, deserving of critical review, but I’m yet to understand on what grounds my donating money to every viable candidate in understood exchange for largesse in office is protected symbolic speech but my paying money to a prostitute for sex or a dealer for drugs is not. That said, McCain-Feingold remains a largely ineffective (and sometimes – as in the case of the doubled individual contribution limit – dangerously counterproductive) stab at the problem. Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres suggest one alternative here.

The Times on the scene of the election building on the deadline to file to run in the CA recall:

There was the 100-year-old woman from Long Beach who was sponsored by the 99-cent store chain; the busty pornographic film star; the cross-dresser in pink; the soul food restaurateur; the angry car salesman; the techno geek; the student too young for whiskers; and the structural engineer worried about earthquakes.

It’s strange how many anti-populist conservatives have had a convenient change of heart just in time to herald the recall as the epitomy of the democratic process. This election is, in many ways, the strongest case for instant run-off voting. For those who don’t know, instant run-off voting essentially allows each voter to rank their preferences among several candidates. In the first round, every voter’s vote is counted towards his/her first choice. The candidate receiving the lowest votes is eliminated, and in the second round, everyone who voted for him/her has their vote counted for their second choice. The process continues, eliminating one candidate each round and counting each voter’s vote for their preferred candidate of those remaining each round, until only two candidates remain, and the one of the two who’s preferred by the majority of the voters wins.

Let’s say, for example, that the eight candidates above are the only ones on the ballot, and my preferences are:

1st: Cross-dresser in pink
2nd: Soul food restaurateur
3rd: 100-year-old woman from Long Beach
4th: Student too young for whiskers
5th: Busty pornographic film star
6th: Structural engineer worried about earthquakes
7th: Techno geek
8th: Angry car salesman

In the first round, my vote is counted towards the cross-dresser, and the angry car salesman (apologies to any angry car salesmen who are reading this site…), who was the first preference of the fewest voters, is eliminated. In the second and third rounds, my vote is still counted for the cross-dresser, and the student too young for whiskers and the 100 year-old woman are eliminated for being the favorite (out of the remaining candidates) of the fewest voters in the second and third rounds respectively. In the fourth round, the votes that had been going to the angry car salesman (in the 1st round), the student too young for whiskers (in the 2nd), and/or the 100 year-old woman (in the 3rd), spread mostly between the structural engineer, the techno geek, and the busty pornographic film star, and the soul food restaurateur has a strong base because of his outstanding corn bread, but the cross-dresser, who automatically receives my vote as long as he’s in the race, is the preference of the fewest voters and is eliminated. In the fifth round, my vote goes automatically to the soul food restaurateur because he was my second choice, and the techno geek receives the fewest votes and is eliminated. The sixth round thus pits the soul food restaurateur, the busty pornographic film star, and the structural engineer against each other. Most of the voters whose votes had been going to the techno geek had marked the porn star as their next choice (thought it would be the structural engineer, didn’t you?), and the soul food restaurateur has a strong enough base to come in second, eliminating the structural engineer, who hopefully will continue to worry about earthquakes in some not-gubernatorial capacity. In the last round, thus, every voter’s vote is counted either towards the restaurateur or towards the porn star. Someone who rated the restaurateur 7th and the porn star 6th, for example, is now automatically voting for the porn star. In this final round, while my vote goes to the restaurateur – an unreconstructed liberal Democrat whose politics are my favorite second only to the more radical cross-dresser – more people are drawn to the, well, platform of the busty pornographic film star, and she emerges the winner of the gubernatorial race.

The advantages of this system are clear. It demonstrates the actual level of support for various candidates by allowing everyone to rank them based purely on how much they’d like to see them in office. It eliminates the fear of hurting your second – (or maybe eleventh-) choice candidate’s chances by supporting your first-choice. Unlike the California recall, instant run-off voting is a sustainable, viable measure which would increase the democracy of our republic – and, not coincidentally, rock the casbah that is the two-party system. That’s why it’s been part of the platform of the Green party for years, and is part of the platform of its candidate in the recall, Peter Camoje, who I would likely vote for first in an instant run-off election, followed by Arianna Huffington, then likely Cruz Bustamante. That’s why you don’t hear a lot about it from the Democrats – who came up with progressive reforms like the recall election and now are suing to to have it stopped – or the Republicans – who become populists overnight when it means embarassing the Democrats.