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It’s only February and already seems like this election campaign has been with us forever. The Republican field of White men in dark suits has been winnowed to one: Senator John McCain. On the Democratic side, two remain standing, with a fierce battle that will continue, possibly all the way to the convention. Yet already the stark choice this nation will face in November is clear.
We are headed into the most ideological and most fateful election in memory, since 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected. Americans will face a clear choice of two very different paths.
McCain describes himself as a “foot soldier” in the Reagan revolution, even if he seems more like a throwback to the Eisenhower years. A Vietnam War hero, adored by the press as a “maverick,” he’ll make the appeal to independents a centerpiece of his campaign.
But his policies are anything but independent. He pledges to sustain Bush’s war in Iraq to the end. His definition of victory appears to be an Iraq so stable that US forces can stay there for a 100 years, without worrying about casualties. That is a promise of at least another four years of occupation, another $1 trillion in resources squandered, another 30,000 casualties.
Although McCain originally voted against Bush’s tax cuts, he now calls for making them permanent. That is a promise of another $3 trillion in debt, but the continued starvation of investments vital to our future. Our schools will grow more crowded; our bridges and levees less secure; our communications more dated. Millionaires will pocket over $120,000 a year in tax breaks, but our economy will grow less competitive, and the already threadbare programs for the most vulnerable will be cut. We’ll have more children raised in poverty without adequate health care and nutrition.
McCain vows to appoint judges in the mode of Scalia and Thomas to the courts, cementing the hold of reactionary activists on the federal judiciary. That is a promise to eviscerate our Civil Rights laws, while new ways are invented to limit the accountability of private corporations.
Both Clinton and Obama call for a dramatic change of course. Each is pledged to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end and to use the $15 billion a month squandered there to reinvest in America. Each would roll back the top end of Bush tax cuts and use that money to pay for affordable health care for all. Each has called for rebuilding America, beginning with a concerted drive for energy independence, creating millions of new green-collar jobs while capturing the green growth industries of the future. Each has questioned the corporate trade strategies that have left us the world’s largest debtor, and has made poverty part of his or her concerns. Each will appoint judges committed to defending our constitutional rights and the accountability of corporations under the law.
The differences in platform are mirrored in the differences in party. McCain comes from Barry Goldwater’s Arizona, but his Republican party is the party of the South and the party of white men. The Democratic Party is the party of the Rainbow, hard hats and professionals, young and old, minorities and women.
Pundits suggest that both nominees will “move to the center” to try to attract independent voters. McCain will emphasize his support of bipartisan efforts on global warming, on immigration, on political finance reform. Obama or Hillary will pledge to sustain middle class tax cuts, to balance the budget, to add more money to a military budget already as big as the rest of the world’s combined. McCain will try to look a little softer; they’ll try to look a little tougher.
But these lines won’t blur. McCain, who admits he knows little about the economy, will focus on war and peddle fear. Clinton and Obama will focus on our challenges here at home, and offer hope.
It won’t be an easy election. McCain offers the shimmering illusion of victory in Iraq, at whatever price necessary. Obama and Clinton offer only a hard realism, to bring the misbegotten occupation to an end, arguing that the costs of staying are far greater than those of leaving. McCain offers a continuation of the ruinous priorities of the last eight years; the Democratic nominee will detail a different course. McCain offers the certainty of more of the same; Obama or Clinton offers the uncertainties of change. And Americans now will have nine months to wrestle with that fateful choice.
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. n can be contacted by e-mail at