Seed of Destruction

Jeff Epton

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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) got a letter the other day from the Illinois chair of the Dennis Kucinich for President campaign. In These Times got a copy of the letter, too—after all, it was an open letter intending to provoke controversy over Jackson’s decision to endorse Howard Dean.

Lance Del Goebel, depicting Dean as Bush’s immoral collaborator, wrote, “Will you, Congressman Jackson, be explaining to your constituents that they should support Howard Dean because of the project undertaken by Texas Governor George Bush and Vermont Governor Howard Dean to dump Vermont’s toxic waste on the poor Hispanic town of Sierra Blanca, Texas?”

The agreement to dispose of Vermont’s low-level radioactive waste was signed by Dean and then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Although Vermont environmentalists opposed the agreement, they have declined to stigmatize Dean’s role in the affair. “I was annoyed at the time and was kind of bothered by the fact that he didn’t seem to care,” Vermont Sierra Club President Lea Terhune told the Des Moines Register. “But he was never cozy with the environmentalists. He wasn’t our boy, but he wasn’t anybody’s boy.”

Kucinich, who In These Times has covered since 1977 when he became mayor of Cleveland, is raising issues in the campaign that other Democrats ignore. And for that we applaud him. We also appreciate Dean, who has impressed many with his articulate attacks on the Bush administration and with his ability to spark fresh enthusiasm among previously apathetic voters.

But at this point in the Democratic primary campaign, progressives need to be doing the things that could make a long-term difference—building networks via the Internet, registering voters, maintaining voter databases, fostering coalitions, focusing on defeating Bush, electing progressives, and skipping the pointless, non-strategic and too-often personal debates that divide us.

Del Goebel’s letter to Jackson doesn’t do any of those good things. Instead, the letter is all about taking one’s eyes off the prize and sowing division among Democrats and independent progressives.

After pointing out that in Vermont Dean rarely governed to the left and frequently governed to the right, Del Goebel concludes with a deeply critical attack on Jackson, who is, along with Kucinich, one of the most progressive members of Congress.

“Congressman Jackson,” wrote Del Goebel, “ your help was needed to stop the freefall working people and the poor have had to endure in America since 1980. You had a chance to do something bold, something innovative, to show your constituents that you really care about them. Instead you have chosen the same old worn out lesser-of-two evils argument that only serves to prolong the freefall of those Americans … at the mercy of corporate sponsored America since 1980.”

Jackson’s endorsement of Dean is a blow to Kucinich. But Jackson and Kucinich still need each other. If Dean becomes president, it will take the combined efforts of many in Congress, led by politicians like Jackson and Kucinich, to do what they can to push Dean to govern to the left and to “help stop the freefall” that concerns Del Goebel.

Dennis Kucinich is a genuine progressive. He voted against the Iraq war and against the Patriot Act. He has a plan for universal health care. His candidacy is an opportunity to frame the issues from a progressive perspective, and to do so from inside the Democratic Party. But the larger goal is to defeat Bush, build unity among progressives who must work together after the election, and create the capacity to put post-election pressure on the president, any president, to roll back the neocon agenda and enact elements of ours. Attacking Howard Dean because he isn’t Dennis Kucinich won’t get us one step closer to national health care, a progressive tax system, or peace and justice for the world.

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Jeff Epton is the former publisher of In These Times.
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