Four Days In Boston: Connecting Local to National Politics

Random Lengths News | August 5, 2004
Making Sense of Four Days In Boston–Conventional Wisdom—Or Just Common Sense

Boston Event Shows All Politics Is Local

Boston Event Shows National Politics leads Back Home

By Frank O’Brien, Harbor Correspondent to DNC

“We shouldn’t be letting ninety-five percent of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected.” – Senator John F. Kerry, Democratic Party Presidential Nominee, Acceptance Speech, July 29, 2004

Local Los Angeles Harbor Area concerns were front and center at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last week. Issues immediately familiar to Harbor Area residents were the focus of national Democratic political and policy leaders--from morning delegation breakfasts to afternoon forums to prime-time television speeches,

Would a John Kerry Presidency make any difference to the Harbor Area and if so, how?

After four days in Boston, the answer to the first question is “affirmative,” to use the military language now in vogue among many Democrats. But before explaining how, fair and balanced convention reporting requires a momentary shift in attention.

Bad Lieutenant: Iraq War “Exhibit A” of Case Against Bush

Framing domestic priorities, and providing Exhibit A in the Democrats case against President George W. Bush, is the Iraq war and related Bush administration anti-terrorism policies. Democrats assail Bush as dull-witted, weak, and in thrall to manipulative advisors and the servant of financial interests. The Howard Dean campaign and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” are the most prominent expressions of this stance. At bottom is a deeply serious rhetorical weight aimed at breaking the back of this Republican presidency: President Bush cannot be trusted to protect American lives.

In many military operations, the lieutenant is the ranking officer responsible for leading enlisted men and women. During drills or in combat, LTs get a reputation. A good lieutenant looks out for the troops at all costs; a bad lieutenant puts a squad in dangerous situations out of ego or ignorance.

The Vietnam war stories that the Kerry campaign has elevated to prominence have this subtext–directed at independent and moderate Republican voters who will help decide the election–Bush is a bad lieutenant, a shallow, deeply flawed, dishonest leader who cannot be trusted to make life or death decisions about American troops.

“As President, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war.” Kerry said in his acceptance speech, drawing one of many implicit contrasts with Bush. “Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say: ‘I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm’s way. But we had no choice. We had to protect the American people, fundamental American values from a threat that was real and imminent.’”

Kerry’s acceptance speech was designed to protect the Democrat’s flank against the Republican assertion that the party is “soft on terrorism.” Having planted a row of flags along what they hope is a strong political high ground, Democrats may now be well positioned for a fall campaign of relentlessly questioning Bush’s credibility as a war president. If this line of strategy succeeds, then what appears in August as an extremely close election may become a decisive Kerry victory in November.

Dean Played Critical Role–Remains a Force in Party

The convention was all about Kerry, but it is worth remembering the critical role Howard Dean played in transforming the dynamic of the Democratic primary on the war issue. On Tuesday of convention week, Howard Dean and Michael Moore headlined an afternoon event billed as “Standing Up to Take Back America,” sponsored by the Washington D.C.-based Campaign for America’s Future. One speaker described the rally as “the progressive’s real democratic convention”.

Addressing an audience of over 500 still deeply loyal supporters, Dean was extraordinarily effective making the case against Bush. Without a TelePrompTer, without notes, without any of the edge of anger or pressures of a competitive campaign or the constraint of Kerry handlers—“This is the speech they won’t let me give,” he joked—Dean punched and jabbed and scored point after point against the Bush administration as the crowd laughed and cheered and stood applauding in approval. It was easy to see why Dean generated such success on the campaign trail.

The threat to civil liberties posed by Republican policies, a threat personified by Attorney General John Ashcroft and embodied in provisions of the Patriot Act, was a constant theme during the afternoon sessions. Many active Democrats cast the 2004 presidential election as a referendum on Bush’s interpretation of the 1st Amendment. But aware of concern among moderate voters over homeland security, prime time podium speeches focused on measures to make America more secure.

Port Security: Now A National Issue

Containers are “cans” to those who work in the port. San Pedro and Wilmington deal with containers every day, but they are no longer just a local issue. Former President Clinton and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley called for inspection of shipping containers in their podium speeches. Kerry gave prominent mention of port security in his acceptance address, signaling its significance as a national issue. Saying “national security begins with homeland security” Kerry identified ports in the front line of the battle against terrorism: “We shouldn’t be letting ninety-five percent of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected.”

The 2004 party platform lists general objectives: strengthened container security rules, better detection equipment, requirements for private companies to provide adequate information on goods and increased cargo inspection levels abroad. Baltimore’s Mayor O’Malley stated that federal homeland security funds should be allocated by need rather than political influence—which would substantially increase funding for Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Convention interviews suggest that additional port security efforts measures may be underway without publicity. Former California Governor Gray Davis indicated that over 25 percent of his time after 9/11 was dedicated to homeland security issues—a huge proportion of executive effort. Yet, there is today no highly visible, organized group or movement advocating nationally for domestic port security measures, monitoring progress and flagging deficiencies.

Nevertheless, based on evidence presented at the convention, Kerry and his advisors have considered the consequences of a terrorist incident at the nation’s harbors and established port security as high priority for a Kerry administration.

Improving Public Education Foundation Of Domestic Agenda

Having addressed the Iraq war and security issues, Kerry offered a straightforward alternative to Republican domestic policies. His acceptance speech, focusing on health care, education, taxes and jobs, was the final expression of Democratic priorities, presented with remarkable unanimity throughout the convention.

Kerry’s acceptance address included a recitation of basic campaign positions aimed at reassuring the middle class– “we will not increase your taxes, but we will address declining real incomes, outsourcing, health care costs and retirement concerns.” But the core proposition is that improving public education is the nation’s essential domestic economic security program.

The Democrat’s list of domestic economic priorities is the distillation of extensively poll-tested campaign issues. But supporting the prime-time speeches is a comprehensive analysis of long-range economic trends carried out by think tanks, academics and a number of former Clinton administration officials.

In a series of sober presentations, these experts laid out a persuasive case that the nation is in a fundamental economic transition–a transition expressed locally in the container cargo projections forecast over the next 20 years. Through technology and globalization, the American economy has fundamentally changed. With a permanent long-term decline in high-wage manufacturing related to the outsourcing of jobs overseas and increasing division of wealth globally (especially within the United States), American workers will be at an ever more serious competitive disadvantage.

As evidence, specialists point to declining real wages, reduced job security and retirement benefits, and the shifting of health care costs from employers to employees. The recent grocery workers strike in Southern California provides a vivid local example of these developments.

Senator Ted Kennedy took up these issues before the California delegation Thursday morning, declaring the 2004 presidential election as the most important election for working families in his lifetime.

He offered a powerful exposition of the importance of the minimum wage in this context: “These are men and women of dignity . . . who work in hospitals and nursing homes . . . 65 percent are women, so this is a women’s issue; these women have children, so this is a children’s issue; many are African-American and Latino, so this is a civil rights issue. And underlying all this is the basic principle that people who work should not have to live in poverty.”

Democratic solutions start with support for labor unions and the right to organize. Labor remains a core Democratic constituency. But with major expansion of union membership uncertain in the emerging new economy, Democrats propose a set of government measures to stabilize and improve the labor market—highlighted by repealing the Bush tax cut on the wealthiest Americans, increasing the minimum wage, and shifting incentives away from companies that export jobs.

According to Democrats, lasting, measurable improvements in education and especially public schools, is the most meaningful long-term solution to the country’s economic challenge. Many specific proposals were identified: early childhood programs such as Head Start, increased financial allocations for local school districts and charter schools, improved teacher quality, steps to make senior year of high school productive (for example begin earning college credit in high school), encouraging women and minorities to enter the sciences, improvements in community colleges and much stronger support for adult and continuing education.

Kerry Would Likely Make Major Changes In

Environmental Policy

Finally, a Kerry administration would likely make major changes in environmental policy and enforcement. Such changes would have direct impacts on San Pedro and Wilmington.

At an environmental policy event Tuesday at a downtown Boston law firm high rise, California Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte), provided an earnest crowd of white suburban Massachusetts liberals an inventory of issues familiar to Harbor Area.

In city neighborhoods in Southern California, Rep. Solis said, asthma and other illnesses caused by air pollution are a huge public health issue. She listed land contaminated by industrial uses, lead paint in old homes, and the need by local families for “self-relief and retreat in city parks… for a people, who, by the way, send their kids to fight and die for the country.”

Asked about the nominee, Solis said that, “Kerry has an excellent record on the environment,” but cautioned that there needs to be continued outreach and communication to ensure that urban neighborhood issues are a priority.

Similar themes were repeated at a large environmental rally, Thursday, July 29 organized by the League of Conservation Voters, Environment2004, Sierra Club and other organizations. Lead speakers included current New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, former US Attorney General Janet Reno and Robert Kennedy, Jr. of the NRDC.

Carol Browner, former EPA head in the Clinton Administration, kicked off the program. “President Bush has been the worst environmental president in history.” Browner said, “It’s not even close. This President distorts science. He reduces funding. He undermines environmental and natural resource protections. He makes special deals with special interests. And, worst of all, this approach has had serious adverse affects on our communities and children.”

Browner ended her speech with very specific prescription in practical politics: get out the vote. Voting, she said, is the first step in making healthy families and communities. Browner especially urged women to take the initiative… “register friends and family members, make sure they vote,” as the stakes have never been higher.

After four days in Boston, it’s clear that how the country votes in November will have significant local impact. Long-standing issues of direct concern to the Harbor Area: the effects of globalization, port security and labor relations, public education, the environment and public health, are emerging on the national agenda. “This is the most important election of our lifetime”, Kerry said in his acceptance speech last Thursday night, and residents of San Pedro and Wilmington are at the heart of it.

first published in Random Lenghts News in the Port of Los Angeles, California

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Founded in 1979 as a counterbalance to the conservative, corporate- owned daily paper, Random Lengths News draws on the rich history of the Los Angeles Harbor Area. The name harkens back to a description of the lumber that used to...
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