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It's Not Which Candidate Can Win, But Which Policies
Nicholas Johnson
Des Moines Register, Opinion: "Iowa View"
December 12, 2003

NOTE: You'll also want to see Nicholas Johnson's "Another Iowan for Kucinich" page,

Iowa Democrats searching for presidential "winners" may suffer a self-inflicted double loss.

The search is understandable. Democrats aren't just lemmings, mindlessly following the media's focus on polls and candidates' fund-raising. Politics does, after all, have something to do with winning.

But notwithstanding Vince Lombardi's belief that in sports "winning is the only thing," it's not the only thing in politics.

If I may be forgiven a biblical paraphrase, "What is a party profited, if it shall gain the whole White House, and lose its own soul?" The double loss comes from the party losing the White House because it lost its soul.

The Iowa caucuses are a year-long preparation for a one-day media event: what's on Page 1 of the nation's newspapers Jan. 20, 2004. Who came in first, second and third -- in county (or "state-equivalent") delegates?

A candidate must have a minimum of 15 percent of a precinct's attendees to be "viable" in county delegate selection. They could have 14 percent (or more) of the state's 1997 precincts' attendees and never get a single delegate.

Yes, an Iowa "win" is a boost into New Hampshire. But it's not the nomination.

The primaries after Iowa are a mathematically more accurate reflection of candidate popularity. They create the emerging consensus and national delegates that produce the nominee.

What Iowa Democrats can contribute to their party are a program focus and recaptured soul. But that contribution becomes watery gruel when it's a mere byproduct of the search for "winners."

Voters registered as Democrats have declined from 50 percent of the electorate to 32 percent over the past few years. Democrats in the U.S. House have declined from 300 to 200. A major reason is the apathy, alienation and anger produced when congressional Democrats take money from, and then serve, the same corporate interests as the Republicans.

It's as if Democrats never listened to Aaron Tippin's country song, "You've got to stand for something/ or you'll fall for anything/ You've got to be your own man/ not a puppet on a string."

We've watched those congressional puppet Democrats recently, supporting President Bush's pro-corporate energy and prescription-drug bills. The party's presidential candidates aren't much better.

The Register's Iowa Poll indicates 32 percent of Iowa's Democrats say they're "conservative." They have a full choice of presidential candidates who support pro-corporate, conservative positions. A leading one supported the war in Iraq after a 60-day delay, wants increased defense spending, has an A rating from the NRA, favors the death penalty, and supports a profit-driven system for delivery of health care -- among other things. Conservative Democrats should be true to their beliefs and support him.

Iowans who don't hold those beliefs, yet support that candidate anyway, are doing themselves and their party no favor.

Progressive Democrats have less choice than conservative Democrats. On Nov. 23, the Register reported its editorial board meeting with Dennis Kucinich. For true liberals, it looks like he's pretty much it.

He organized the House opposition to the war, would repeal NAFTA, opposes the death penalty, would cut defense spending, supports non-profit single-payer health care for all (as do 62 percent of Americans), public funding of education from age 3 through college, and has plans to get the "U.S. out and U.N. in" to Iraq.

There are dozens of examples of Kucinich taking courageous positions favored by millions of Americans, urging creative policies that stand in stark contrast to those of President Bush and the other candidates.

Thus, the question Iowa Democrats need to answer is not which candidate can win but which policies can win -- win back the soul of the party, its natural constituency, and the White House.

Iowa Democrats confront the best of all possible political worlds. At caucus they can support the candidate who best reflects their heartfelt beliefs -- secure in the knowledge that the subsequent primaries and national convention will ultimately select for them the nominee who can best present Iowans' winning policies to the nation.