On March 2, registered Democrats in New YorkState will have an important duty: helping select their party's nominee for president. Voters' decision is a difficult one; the editorial staff on this newspaper, in fact, is divided on our endorsement.
The decision is also critically important. The Democrats must nominate the candidate best suited to replace one of the most dangerous administrations in American history.
The egomaniacal Ralph Nader to the contrary, there is a great difference between Bush and the remaining Democratic candidates: John Edwards, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton. (Actually, five people are still in the race. Lyndon LaRouche, a weird conspiracy theorist, is running for president for the eighth time.)
Sharpton has never held public office. His support is thin. And other than delicious, incisive barbs in the candidate debates, he has offered little beyond support for several proposals of Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (guaranteed access to health care and quality education and statehood for the District of Columbia).
Kucinich is another matter. A committed, passionate liberal, he has spoken the blunt truth about such things as health care and the war in Iraq when other candidates have ducked or endorsed limited reforms.
But at this stage, Kucinich can not win the nomination. He has been able to convince very few voters to support him. And nothing in his background indicates that he would be able to bring about the kind of change he wants. To vote for Kucinich would be to demonstrate support for his beliefs, encourage the grassroots movement that has supported him, and send a message to the Democratic Party and its nominee.
There are times when it is important to send a message. One member of our editorial staff, Jack Bradigan Spula, argues that we should endorse Kucinich. But most of us feel this is not the time for sending messages. If Kerry or Edwards is elected, he will need public support to fight the neocons in Congress, to counter the push of lobbyists for major corporate interests, to overcome the activism of the far right. And that support needs to be building now.
Come January, if there's a Democrat in the White House, it will be time for the rest of us to write letters, send e-mails, and insist on face-to-face discussions with our representatives in Congress. It will be time to pressure the president to fulfill his campaign promises about the economy, foreign policy, civil liberties, the environment; to insist on more backbone as he drafts budgets and works on health-care reform. It will be time to support environmental groups, civil-rights activists, unions, and others who will push for change.
For this paper, then, the decision is between Kerry and Edwards.
In their positions and their record, the two agree on many issues. In the campaign, voters haven't seen much of them, and what we've seen --- even if we've watched news interviews and candidate debates --- has given us little beyond sound bites. There has been no time to explore with the candidates their stand on controversial but highly complex issues.
Neither Edwards nor Kerry is the perfect candidate. Both voted to give Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. Both voted for the Patriot Act. Neither is recommending measures that would truly reform health care.
But by no means is either of them a lesser of two evils. Both would try to wrest control of the country from the corporate special interests of the Bush administration. Both would try to reverse the Bush attack on the environment. Both are concerned about the country's labor and economic problems. Both would try to repair the damage Bush has done to US relations with other nations. Both would try to take foreign policy out of the hands of zealots like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz. Both want to stop the drastic cuts in foreign aid and domestic programs.
Neither Edwards nor Kerry would be able to work miracles. A Democratic president would almost certainly face a Senate and House dominated by Republicans, many of them as ideological as Bush. And thanks to disgraceful gerrymandering, the Republican stranglehold on Congress is likely to continue for years.
A Democratic president, however, would still have the power of the veto. He could rally the public behind sensible domestic and international policies and programs. He, not George Bush, would make nominations to the Supreme Court. And he could reach out to the remaining moderate Republicans in Congress and try, with the public's support, to undo the damage done by Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Perle-Wolfowitz.
Which of the two, then, should be nominated?
Our recommendation: John Kerry. His experience and his depth on issues are greater than John Edwards' and we believe he would make a stronger president. It's possible, of course, for a president to compensate for limited experience in government by surrounding himself with bright, experienced advisors. Sometimes that works well. Sometimes it has horrifying results: under Kennedy, the escalation into the Vietnam War; under Bush, a horrifyingly aggressive push for world domination.
Edwards may have more substance than we have been able to see at this point. He is certainly bright. And his charisma, his passion, his Southern-gentleman-toughness, and, yes, his trial-lawyer background would be important in a campaign against a heavily funded incumbent.
But at this point, Kerry seems better qualified, deeper, stronger, more able to stare down Bush, more able to convince voters to trust him in a time of great stress at home and abroad.
We would have preferred a closer look at the candidates. We would have preferred to have a longer selection process, driven by the need to let voters get to know all the candidates rather than by the need to get the primary over with and start raising money for the fight against Bush. We would have preferred to have a campaign not driven by money at all.
But voters, and the candidates, must deal with reality. The reality is that George Bush has begun the fight. So, too, must the Democrats.
Next week, New Yorkers will join other Super Tuesday voters in expressing their opinion on the Final Four. It's an important moment. Get to the polls.