A couple of weeks ago I knocked George Bush’s acceptance speech and got e-mails like these:
Kevin Clark: “I came back from vacation and among the alleged Andrew Tobias columns in my e-mail (yeah Quickbrowse!) was one clearly not written by the fair and balanced author I’ve been reading for years. It was the shrill hysterical one about George W.’s speech.”
Joe: “You are a journalist. If you’ve changed professions, then note that on AndrewTobias.com. You can’t possibly agree with everything the Democrats do. You are in way too deep to realize how you sound. Trust me on this one. You will gain more supporters if you admit that there are positions you don’t agree with.”
I’ve been promising you a response ever since. Here it is (finally).
The first thing to say, of course, although I don’t say it with every column I write (mainly because I assume you are all sick to death of hearing it) is that I am – full disclosure — treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. Although none of my comments in this space is “official” in any way, I assume most of you know my leanings.
But I would never consciously write something I didn’t believe. Trust me: the pay as treasurer ain’t that good.
I believe this is a hugely important election, with stark, stark differences between the two parties on many key issues – what must Ralph Nader be smoking not to see this? – and on virtually all of them, I actually do agree with the Democrats, especially the Democratic leadership. And I actually do find the Republican leadership to be off the right edge of the spectrum.
I also believe Al Gore is far better qualified to be President than George W. Bush. (Bush senior was impressively qualified — a war hero, successful businessman, ambassador to China, ambassador to the UN, long-time Congressman, head of the CIA, two terms as Vice President. But junior?)
One point of disagreement I’d likely have with the Democrats, if it were an issue in the campaign, is auto insurance reform — a subject on which I have bored many of you to tears. Given strong backing from the trial bar, Democrats tread very lightly in areas of tort reform. But even on auto insurance reform, at least a good chunk of the Party – namely, the chunk that identifies with the Democratic Leadership Council that Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman helped found – leans toward what I view as the correct side of the issue. The DLC endorsed the auto insurance reform we put on the California ballot four years ago.
On the other broad issues, even if it makes me seem less credible, I’ve got to admit I really do lean the way the Democratic Party leans. Consider:
Tobacco: Democrats lean toward the side of the health advocates, Republicans lean toward protecting the tobacco industry. You might actually say that under Clinton/Gore, all hell broke loose for the tobacco industry, for the first time, and that the tide finally turned. No sane person wants prohibition. But neither, in my view, is it sane to spend $5 billion a year promoting a highly addictive carcinogen that is the leading cause of preventable death.
Choice: The Democrats’ platform is solidly pro-choice; the Republicans’ platform solidly anti-choice. I can only begin to imagine the agony a woman has to go through in dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Having the government get into the act, and going back to the days of coat hangers and back-alley abortions cannot be the solution. (My own hope is that one day people will look closely at the solution the late Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druryan suggested in PARADE several years ago. In brief, it noted that the point at which human life becomes unique is the point at which there are human brave waves — around the sixth month. After that, they argued, abortion should be reserved for the most extraordinary circumstances. But before that, a woman should have an unrestricted right to choose.)
Minimum Wage: The Democrats managed to raise it from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour, over Republican opposition, and we hope to raise it again. Obviously, there are limits on how high it can prudently go. But I believe modest increases are both good social policy and good economic policy. (One is reminded of Henry Ford, wanting to pay his workers enough so they could afford to buy the cars they were making.) George W. Bush believes this issue should be left to the states. In his own state, the minimum wage (for jobs exempt from federal minimum wage) is $3.35 an hour. I know George W. thinks of himself as deeply compassionate, but I wonder how anyone can live on $3.35 an hour — $6,700 a year — or why he would not want to see them paid more.
Earned Income Credit: Democrats pushed for this; Republicans generally opposed it. Yay, Democrats.
Family and Medical Leave Act: Democrats pushed for this; Republicans generally opposed it. Yay, Democrats.
Guns: Democrats favor what I consider mild, sensible measures, like child safety locks, closing the gun-show loophole, and licensing handguns as we do automobiles. While Democrats have been pushing such notions, George W. has resisted them and signed a law to ease restrictions on bringing guns into Church.
The Environment: The Republicans basically scoff at Al Gore for having written Earth in the Balance. But I believe the delicate balance of nature can be affected by what 6 billion humans do, that the there is a hole in the ozone layer, and that a lot of attention should be focused on such things. I love the fact that our air and water are cleaner than they were.
Taxes: Bush has proposed a massive tax cut aimed primarily at those, like me, who need it least. It’s terrible economic policy — a booming economy is exactly when not to add massive stimulus — and it’s unfair. Even John McCain, a conservative Republican, said Bush’s plan is weighted too heavily toward the rich. Gore proposes more modest tax cuts, aimed mainly at the middle.
The Surplus: Bush would direct much of it to lowered taxes for the rich. Gore would direct much of it, instead, to paying down the public debt. This helps to keep interest rates low, which helps to keep mortgage and car loan rates low (not an issue for the rich); it cuts the cost of carrying our debt; it keeps our prosperity going; it puts us in a stronger position to meet future challenges.
Campaign Finance Reform: We badly need it and will never get it under a Republican administration. Al Gore has said that the McCain-Feingold bill will be the first piece of legislation he submits to Congress. (It was killed last time by a Republican Senate.) McCain-Feingold won’t solve all problems, but it’s a start.
Diversity: Clinton/Gore have done a vastly better job of tapping the talents of all communities than Reagan/Bush ever did. And this does two great things. First, it makes for a more talented administration. (It just doesn’t compute that all the most talented people are white nonHispanic heterosexual able-bodied gentile males.) Second, it empowers those other communities and gives them a sense that they are at the table along with everyone else. It makes the country stronger.
Equal Rights: To what must be the horror of many Republicans — especially those from Texas who bowed their heads in prayerful protest when Congressman Jim Kolbe spoke to the Republican Convention on the subject of trade policy — there were 212 openly gay and lesbian delegates at the Democratic Convention. (Well, 211, and one transgender, a World War II veteran, now a woman, named Jane Fee.) Several of us spoke. The administration has appointed more than 150 open gays and lesbians to significant posts. In the last Bush administration there were . . . zero. Bush sides with the 39 states in which it remains legal to fire someone simply for being gay. And he favors retaining the Texas sodomy statute under which — right now — two adults are being prosecuted for having intimate relations in the privacy of their own bedroom.
Hate Crimes: After James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death and decapitated behind that Texas pickup truck, George W. agreed to sign a hate crimes bill — but only if the phrase “sexual orientation” were deleted. The Byrd family, perhaps thinking that their loss was no worse than that of Matthew Shepard’s family, said no: those words should stay in. So Bush had the bill killed in the Texas Senate.
Education: Democrats agree we need standards and competition and charter schools. Where we disagree with Republicans is vouchers. The first thing vouchers would do is take a ton of taxpayer money and give it to the millions of parents whose kids are already enrolled in private schools. Democrats would rather use that money, and more, to renovate and revitalize the public schools and shrink classroom size. Take a look at the aggressive changes and incentives Democratic California Governor Gray Davis pushed through immediately upon being elected.
Health Care: Though both parties believe everyone should have decent health care, Democrats seem more anxious than Republicans to find ways, and commit resources, to make it happen.
AIDS: Some find it shocking that Dick Cheney voted against funding AIDS research back in the Eighties, and that George W. has not, so far as we know, ever publicly uttered the word while governor of Texas. Naturally, neither man is “for” AIDS. But the level of concern with regard to this worldwide plague that may well kill a billion people by the time it runs its course seems significantly higher within the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.
Social Security: Both parties promise to keep it strong. But Republicans would siphon off $100 billion or so each year for private accounts — which weakens our ability to pay benefits — while Democrats would, instead, keep that money in the system and create additional incentives for people to save extra money to supplement Social Security.
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Democrats wanted to join most of the rest of the world and ratify it. Republicans killed it.
U.N. Dues: Democrats seem inclined to pay them. Jesse Helms says no.
Many of my best friends are Republicans — but they are not Jesse Helms Republicans. They are not Trent Lott or Dick Armey Republicans. Or Tom DeLay or Bob Barr Republicans.
As a result, many of them are voting Democrat this year.
When I wrote the column that Kevin, Joe, and others found too shrill, I was exasperated. The Bush speech — indeed, the entire Philadelphia convention — seemed designed to fool people. Ah, the diversity. Ah, the compassion.
I switched off the TV and — exasperated! — wrote my column. I assumed that tone would come through (and tried to signal it by saying, “Yes, I’m not being entirely fair.”).
But I do agree that, in general, a moderate, even-handed approach works best.
If I stray from this, it is because I believe this is the most important election of our lives. The specter of Trent Lott and Jesse Helms and Dick Armey, et al, “un-vetoed” scares me. The prospect of a Supreme Court in the mold of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia for the next 25 years — the two Justices George W. told “Meet the Press” he most admired — depresses me.
As one pundit put it (sorry I forget which), the other side’s slogan seems to be: “Out with the new, in with the old!” Were the Bush years that good?
I believe Al Gore will win. He is a much better man than most people realize. (The Convention seems to have opened people’s eyes to this possibility.) And with things going so well, why on Earth would anyone want to change course?
Thanks, one and all, for your feedback.
Coming Soon: What You Taught Me about the Second Amendment