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Commentary :: DNC
What you won't hear: 12 topics Democrats will duck at convention
25 Jul 2004
The Democratic National Convention that gathers in Boston this week to nominate John F. Kerry for president will be more like a coronation than a competition. Huzzahs, speeches, bands, balloons. These affairs have long lost any suspense or spontaneity, but somewhere amid the endless corporate schmoozing and lobbyist glad-handing, you'd expect an ounce of inspiration.
Instead, voters will watch (or, rather, not watch) as more than $13 million of their tax dollars (the amount allotted by the federal government for each convention) is spent on saying very little of substance.

Rather than ideas, this convention is about power and avoidance: the power of big business and special interests and the avoidance of any issues that might draw a clear distinction between our two leading political parties.

Here is a short list of what you won't hear this week, either on the convention floor or in the party's platform. Call them the 12 taboos.

You won't hear a call for a national crackdown on the corporate crime, fraud, and abuse that, in just the last four years, have robbed trillions of dollars from workers, investors, pension holders, taxpayers and consumers. Among the reforms that won't be suggested are resources to prosecute executive crooks and laws to democratize corporate governance so shareholders have real power. Democrats will not shout for a payback of ill-gotten gains, to rein in executive pay, or to demand corporate sunshine laws.

The convention will not demand that workers receive a living wage instead of a minimum wage. There will be no backing for a repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which has blocked more than 40 million workers from forming or joining trade unions to improve wages and benefits above Wal-Mart or McDonald's levels. One out of four US workers is now being paid less than $8.75 per hour.

John Kerry claims that he will call for a review of all existing trade agreements, but he will not call for a withdrawal from the WTO and NAFTA. Trade agreements should stick to trade while labor, environmental, and consumer rights are advanced by separate treaties without being subordinated to the dictates of international commerce.

Kerry may suggest that President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy be rolled back, but he will steer clear of any suggestion that our income tax system be substantially revamped. Workers should keep more of their wages while we tax the things we like least at the source, such as polluters, stock speculation, addictive industries, and energy guzzling technologies. Corporations should be required to pay their fair share; corporate tax contributions as a percent of the overall federal revenue stream have been declining for 50 years and now stand at 7.4 percent despite massive record profits.

There will be no call for a single payer health system. Fifty-five years after President Truman first proposed it, we still need health insurance for everyone, a program with quality and cost controls and an emphasis on prevention. Full Medicare for everyone will save thousands of lives while maintaining patient choice of doctors and hospitals within a competitive private health care delivery system.

There is no reason to believe that the Democrats will stand up to the commercial interests profiting from our current energy situation. We need a major environmental health agenda that challenges these entrenched interests with new initiatives in solar energy, efficiency in motor vehicles, and other sustainable and clean energy technologies. Nor will there be any recognition that current fossil fuels are producing global warming, cancer, respiratory diseases, and geopolitical entanglements. Finally, there will be no calls for ending environmental racism that leads to contaminated water and air in our cities, to toxic dumps in poorer neighborhoods, and to high toxicities in the workplace.

Democrats will not demand a reduction in the military budget that devours half the federal government's operating expenditures at a time when there is no Soviet Union or other major state enemy in the world. Studies by the General Accounting Office and internal Pentagon assessments support the judgment of many retired admirals and generals that a wasteful defense weakens our country and distorts priorities at home.

You won't hear a clarion call for electoral reform. Both parties have shamelessly engaged in gerrymandering, a process that guarantees reelection of their candidates at the expense of frustrated voters. Nor will there be any suggestion that law-abiding ex-felons be allowed to vote. Other electoral reforms should include reducing barriers to candidates, same day registration, a voter verified paper record for electronic voting, run-off voting to insure winners receive a majority vote, binding none-of-the-above choices and most important, full public financing to guarantee clean elections.

You will hear John Kerry speak about his "tough-on-crime" background as a federal prosecutor, but you will hear no calls for reform of the criminal justice system. Our nation now holds one out of four of the world's prisoners, half of them nonviolent. While they attempt to counter Republican charges that they favor criminals over victims, Democrats will say nothing about a failed war on drugs that costs nearly $50 billion annually. And they will not argue that addicts should be treated rather than imprisoned. Nor should observers hope for any call to repeal the "three strikes and you're out" laws that have filled our jails or to end mandatory sentencing that hamstrings our judges.

Democrats will ignore the Israeli peace movement whose members have developed accords for a two state solution with their Palestinian and American counterparts. It is time to replace the Washington puppet show with a Washington peace show for the security of the American, Palestinian, and Israeli people.

The Democrats will not call for the United States to begin a military and corporate withdrawal from Iraq. Such a withdrawal would result in mainstream Iraqis no longer supporting or joining the insurgency. Troops from neutral, Arab, and other Muslim countries would temporarily replace US forces as Iraqis get back their country through internationally supervised elections allowing for appropriate autonomy for the Kurdish, Sunni, and Shi'ite communities.

Seriously waging peace will be far cheaper than a permanent war economy which is generating huge deficits and distracting attention, talent, and resources from the American people.

Democrats will not stand up to business interests that have backed changes that close the courtroom to wrongfully injured and cheated individuals, but not to corporations. Where is the campaign against fraud and injury upon innocent patients, consumers, and workers? We should make it easier for consumers to band together and defend themselves against harmful practices in the marketplace.

To the voters I say: Don't hold your breath waiting for the Democrats to put people, not corporations, first. Watch as this convention abides by the 12 taboos.

- Ralph Nader is an independent candidate for president and author of the new book, "The Good Fight -- Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap."
See also:
http://www.boston.com/news/politics/conventions/articles/2004/07/25/what_you_wont_hear?pg=2

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