has written a diary endorsing Hillary Clinton for President. After the loss of John Kerry in the election last year, Kertes, a far-left blogger, has taken a pragmatic approach to the extreme. But there is a problem with backing Hillary for the sake of being pragmatic: Why sacrifice your principles when you don't have to? Why sacrifice your principles when you can support a candidate like Russ Feingold who is both principled AND pragmatic?
The ability to Govern
The first argument Kertes makes is that Hillary is best equipped to govern this country. But I would respond that governing requires good judgement skills. I play chess online, and there are a number of times when I make a move and realize the second I release the mouse what a terrible mistake I have made.
It is, of course, better to admit mistakes than not to. But it is even better not to make those mistakes in the first place. Bill and Hillary Clinton have made several key bad decisions that have come back to haunt them. Feingold, on the other hand, showed his judgement skills by not making those mistakes in the first place. Here are some examples:
--Bill Clinton supported NAFTA and the China Agreement, which has caused the loss of high-quality jobs, environmental devastation, and the growth of low-quality jobs like Wal-Mart's. Hillary served on the board of Wal-Mart before Bill took office. Furthermore, that led directly to the loss of the election for Kerry, as people blamed Democrats and Republicans equally in places with many shut-down factories.
Furthermore, Hillary can tout the massive job growth under Bill all she wants. But much of that job growth was in low-quality jobs like Wal-Mart and exurban fast-food places like McDonalds.
Russ Feingold foresaw the harm that these free trade agreements would bring to this country, and voted against it.
--Hillary Clinton voted for the Patriot Act. She did not bother to read it to understand the ramifications. However, Russ Feingold takes pride in reading every bill that is proposed by the Senate. He foresaw the damage that it would cause to civil liberties and voted against it.
--Bill Clinton and Wesley Clark were the architects of the Kosovo War. However, that war, while bringing short-term success and well-run by Clark, was unnecessary in that Miloslovic would have been toppled anyway, it caused people like Hillary to overvalue the military as a way of solving problems, and it caused the right to frame the Iraq War as a logical extension of the Kosovo War.
Furthermore, what many people don't understand is that the Kosovo War almost triggered a major confrontation, if not war, with Russia. So, despite the fact that it only lasted 78 days, it was a near-disaster. The only reason it didn't trigger a confontation with Russia was because Clark, to his credit, worked the phones and got all the Eastern European countries to deny Russia the use of their airspace.
Feingold recognized such potential problems and voted against the Kosovo War.
--Hillary Clinton voted for No Child Left Behind, leading to major financial hardships for schools, unrealistic expectations, the treatment of students as assembly-line products instead of individual students, and the hardships for rural schools who must transport students to schools at least 20 miles away in many cases. Furthermore, the only real point for NCLB was the draconian provision requiring schools to open student records to the military and let military recruiters have the run of the school or lose federal funding.
Feingold, who reads through every bill that comes across his desk, saw through the hype and saw the only real point of NCLB. He was only one of 10 Senators to vote against it. He was proven right.
--Hillary voted for the Iraq War because she fell for the President's hype about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Now, she is doing an ostrich act and refusing to call for an exit plan or even try to develop a victory strategy for Iraq. She simply refuses to talk about it.
Feingold, on the other hand, voted against the war in the first place, and is now leading the discussion, along with General Clark, on how we can develop an exit strategy for Iraq. As Clark correctly pointed out, Kosovo had a viable exit strategy; Iraq doesn't. Hillary should know this. Yet she still pulls her ostrich act by refusing to talk about Iraq.
There are three different qualities that a person must have if they wish to govern. Russ Feingold has these qualities; Hillary doesn't. Feingold has superior judgement skills, as noted above. He has the ability to pay attention to detail, which Hillary doesn't, as evidenced by their different stances on the Patriot Act and NCLB. And Feingold has the courage to speak out on hot-button issues; Hillary doesn't.
A person who wishes to govern must show courage, exhibit superior judgement skills, and pay attention to detail. As documented above, Feingold is far superior in these areas than Hillary is.
The common-sense Center
Kertes next makes the argument that we need to elect Hillary because of the need to appeal to the common-sense center. Lets define that term and go from there: A centrist is someone who normally votes for the best person for the job, or who normally votes for the winner most of the time. Missouri is the very definition of a centrist state; it normally almost always votes for the winner in an election. Furthermore, the rural areas normally almost always tip the state one way or the other.
So, what do people around here want? They want people who can give straight answers whenever they ask you a question. They want to be treated as adults who can solve their own problems. They throw up their hands in horror if you show them a bill that is one inch thick and is really complicated. They want their fair share of government money to help them build their communities. They want people to be simple and to the point and not ramble like John Kerry frequently did.
People around here don't care about agreeing with you on every single issue. That is the trap that Hillary and the DLC is falling in to when they try to get socially conservative. They want you to present your opinions in a way that they can respect.
That is what Russ Feingold has succeeded in doing in Wisconsin. He won many rural counties that John Kerry lost. He won with 56% of the vote in a state that Kerry won by just a few thousand against a hand-picked Rove candidate. He got support from many Conservatives despite his Liberalism because they liked his candor and the fact that he valued their input.
But don't take my word for it; see for yourself. Here and here are the videos from his first two debates against Tim Michaels and see for yourself how he can appeal to centrist "common-sense voters."
Kertes' approach to pragmatism illustrates the trap that many people in this community fall into -- the belief that pragmatism and idealism are either-or. They are not. Let me give a simple example:
You may be an idealist who believes in universal health care for your state, but the Republicans, who control the majority, will only support it for 5-year-olds and under. The idealistic approach would be to rant and rave about it and never get anything done about it. The pragmatic approach would be to go along with the Republican plan and drop the rest of your plan. But there is a third way which combines both -- going along with the Republican plan for now, and bringing up the need for universal health care 2-4 years from now.
And it is possible to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans with issues you both agree on without compromising your principles. Here are some examples of bills that Russ Feingold has worked across the aisle with GOP Senators on:
--The campaign finance reform law with John McCain;
From his Senate Campaign:
--Recieved the endorsement of a group of 100 well-known Wisconsin Republicans for his willingness to work with them in areas of common interest;
--Sponsored a bill with Susan Collins to bring defibrillators to small communities; there is one in my home school;
--Supports pay-as-you-go legislation which was widely touted by fiscal conservatives;
--Cited by Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-government waste group, for his championing of fiscal responsibility.
But you have to know when to be bipartisan and when not to. Clinton does not seem to understand this point; Feingold does. Here is his widely-quoted statement slamming the deal of the Group of 14:
This is not a good deal for the U.S. Senate or for the American people. Democrats should have stood together firmly against the bullying tactics of the Republican leadership abusing their power as they control both houses of Congress and the White House. Confirming unacceptable judicial nominations is simply a green light for the Bush administration to send more nominees who lack the judicial temperament or record to serve in these lifetime positions. I value the many traditions of the Senate, including the tradition of bipartisanship to forge consensus.
I do not, however, value threatening to disregard an important Senate tradition, like occasional unlimited debate, when necessary. I respect all my colleagues very much who thought to end this playground squabble over judges, but I am disappointed in this deal.
Some of Hillary's defenders will say that she has the tough image necessary to win people over. However, that is a weak argument. First of all, we tried to run a tough-guy against George Bush in John Kerry. We thought he's be immune from Rove's attacks because of his tough-guy image from serving in Vietnam. He wasn't; we lost.
Besides, Bush has taken his tough-guy image to an extreme. Showing the world how tough you are will not help show people how well-qualified you are.
The thing I noticed about Feingold in the debates with Michaels is his level-headed image. He projects an image of always being in control, never needing to go SBVT on Michaels, always responding clearly and forcefully to Michaels' attacks.
I agree with Kertes that toughness is good. It is necessary because a candidate who cannot defend themselves against attacks will be perceived to be weak on defense. However, a candidate who is good at deflecting attacks will be perceived as being touch on defense. But we can't have candidates who sacrifice their principles for the sake of toughness or candidates who are tough to the point of being bullheaded like Bush. Feingold shows the right kind of toughness by being so without compromising principles or being bullheaded.
Can an anti-war candidate win?
Kertes operates under the faulty premise that they can't. But the facts and data show otherwise; here is how candidates who voted against the Iraq War did:
--Feingold: Got 56% of the Wisconsin vote, his highest total ever, and 11 points better than John Kerry.
--Boxer: Won with almost 60% of the vote in California, compared to 55% for John Kerry.
--Durbin: Got 60% of the vote in 2002, compared to 54% in 1996.
--Wellstone: Was 10 points up in Minnesota before his plane crash.
--Obama was against the war from the beginning and got 72% of the vote.
In addition, no candidate who opposed the Patriot Act has ever lost an election.
--Daschle voted for the Iraq War and lost;
--Max Clelland voted for the war and lost;
--Jean Carnahan, the wife of a popular governor, voted for the war and lost;
--Martin Frost voted for the war and lost.
Although it would not be fair to say the Iraq War vote was a direct cause of all of these people's defeats, it was a contributing factor. And it did not help shield them against attacks from Rove.
Kertes' last argument is that Clinton is able to withstand Rove's attacks better than anyone. But he forgets something: Tim Michaels, Feingold's opponent, was Karl Rove's hand-picked candidate. He launched all sorts of unfounded attacks against Senator Feingold. Not only did Feingold do a masterful job of parrying the attacks, they boomeranged on Michaels. Feingold, as noted above, got his largest share of the vote ever.
So, once again, you get the best of both worlds with Feingold: You get a person who is excellent at parrying the vicious attacks of Karl Rove, and you don't even have to sacrifice principles to do so.
Tom Kertes' diary has not convinced me to change my support to Hillary. I don't mind being pragmatic, but what I do mind is sacrificing principles just for the sake of winning when it is clear that you can win without having to do so.
And Kertes totally ignores the worst-case scenario -- that of Chuck Hagel running as a third-party candidate and stealing millions of antiwar votes from Clinton, as Sam Brownback, George Allen, Newt Gingrich, or Tom Tancredo win with 40% of the vote.
Pragmatism and principle are not mutually exclusive. They can be combined, and Russ Feingold has done a masterful job of combining them. For that reason, I fail to be swayed by arguments demanding that I support Hillary for the sake of winning.