Not a big fan of Bill Richardson

I was interested in him at a distance--he has the résumé, with the legislative, executive and ambassadorial experience that you might like to have in a President. He seems to have been successful in all aspects of government service, has a willingness to talk to foreign leaders instead of dropping bombs on them for specious reasons. What's not to like?

The more I saw, though, the more uneasy I felt about him--something seemed squishy about him, I guess, and this is an election where I don't want squishy. I want a candidate who's going to pop the inevitable Swift-Boaters in the mouth.

My uneasiness with him grew as I read the interview he did with Jeff Greenfield in this month's Playboy. I really wish Playboy would start making this kind of content available online without a subscription--there's often some really interesting stuff that could use wider play. (On a side note, I also wish Playboy would knock it off with the naked computer generated game characters--it's even creepier than the airbrushed-to-hell-and-back models they use in pictorials.) Mark Silva over at The Swamp posted some excerpts that I gather he was pleased with, or at least interested in, but since I'm doing a post on this, you might guess that he skipped the parts I found more illuminating.

I'm going to type in an extended portion here, but I'm not particularly good at that, so forgive any silly errors.

PLAYBOY: During the past several years, you've seen middle-income Americans steadily move away from your party. What happened to the Democratic Party, and can you fix it?

RICHARDSON: We've become the party of the poor instead of the party of the middle class. I believe we have to help the poor, but we forgot about middle-class anxieties. We forgot about job security and pension security and health care and safety nets. We forgot about college tuition. We became so enamored with the politics of redistribution and class warfare that we forgot about the middle class and responsible tax cuts and economic growth and putting money in people's pockets. We forgot about being the party of high tech and space and medicine and a can-do attitude.

PLAYBOY: In 2000 Bush won the white working class vote by huge majorities. Even in economically good times, people seem to have deserted the Democrats.

RICHARDSON: I think there was a perception that Republicans would protect voters, and it was a national security issue.

PLAYBOY: Even in 2000, before the 9/11 attacks?

RICHARDSON: In 2000, our party made a tactical mistake. We should have run under a banner of economic prosperity; instead we ran under a banner of populism. It was totally out of sync with a country that had a balanced budget, a surplus, and prosperity. Al Gore got bad advice from a bunch of consultants who were trying to make him into a populist when he was a new-generation Democrat. He should have run on prosperity, on internationalism, on a surplus--"Times are good and I'm going to continue them." Instead he went into class warfare. But it was not Al. He was harangued into doing it. His instincts were always right. Look what he's done on global warming. He's proven to be a great national hero....

PLAYBOY: It has been said that when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he feared the South would be lost to Democrats for a generation. Has that prediction proved accurate?

RICHARDSON: No, I don't think so. I just think that after Johnson we stopped thinking. We stopped being creative. We relied too much on the civil rights days, on the New Deal, on JFK, and we weren't thinking like new-generation Democrats. We were thinking of the politics of redistribution. That's where we lost our way. We didn't adapt with the times, and Republicans then came up with their simple slogans: "We're pro-military, we're against taxes, we're pro-church." We didn't know how to respond. We were flailing away, trying to retain the past.

As Paul Krugman continues to note, the only major change in voting patterns since Lyndon Johnson was elected was that southern white men stopped voting for Democrats and went to Republicans. LBJ knew what he was doing, and he knew what the outcome would be, and all Richardson's rhetoric to the contrary is just dancing around the racism question.

Even his answer on Gore is ridiculous. First of all, Gore won, and Richardson would do well to remember that. In fact, not only did Gore win, but the Democrats won across the board, picking up 2 House seats, 4 Senate seats, and a governorship. And Gore won because he stopped listening to his consultants who were telling him to be a safe, staid, third-way, new-generation Democrat and ran as what he was, a populist. He was lagging in the polls until he cut loose.

There were a number of reasons the election was close enough to steal. Bob Somerby has detailed the press's role in the demonization of Al Gore for years, and Florida was close only because Jeb! and Katherine Harris purged the voter rolls of thousands of eligible voters who would have overwhelmingly voted for Gore, had they been allowed to.

But lastly--the Democratic party has become the party of the poor? Huh? The Democrats are the party of the poor in the sense that they simply ignore them instead of actively seeking to shit on them, but that's hardly being their party. The Democrats of the first Clinton presidency (in case there's a second) were known as being the Democrats who threw the poor under the bus and sold the party out to the corporations, who then immediately deserted them for the Republicans. The poor haven't had much of a political voice at all, precisely because they're poor.

And even if the Democratic party had become the party of the poor, is that something to be ashamed of? Isn't it a good thing to be the party of the people who don't have anything to give you in return? Isn't that honorable, to defend the defenseless?

It's the "politics of redistribution" that's pissing me off, frankly, because it sounds like code for "screw the poor and leave the rich alone." Look, the Republicans are the purveyors of class war right now--they're beating the hell out of the working poor and middle classes and benefiting the top 20% of income earners at everyone else's expense--the war is on. We need someone who'll fight back. It's obvious from his rhetoric that Bill Richardson isn't that guy.

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