This is part two of my series (I guess having two makes it a series?) on candidates for the United States presidency in 2008. I chose Bill Richardson this time, partly because he's the foreign policy candidate (and that's a welcome break from Ron Paul's isolationism), and partly because I politically came of age in a Richardson New Mexico. He's probably influenced me, and his years running for president have been interesting. (Like my post on Ron Paul, I'm pulling and critiquing Richardson's opinions as stated on his site.)
Bill Richardson through the Lens of Kelsey Atherton
Iraq - Richardson is bold here, and while that's at least partly a political move, it's a good one. Withdrawal, diplomacy, and a renewed focus on Afghanistan are all good points, but what sells me on his Iraq policy is this quote: "Key objectives of the conference should be assurances of non-interference and the creation of a multilateral, UN-led Muslim peacekeeping force". He's planning diplomacy, he sees the need for more interests than just those directed by the United States, and he sees the UN as capable of performing a function the UN is more or less charted to do. This is great, and other bits in his policy, while not fully developed, are great starts. Acknowledging that Congress needs to end this war, acknowledging that the military will know how to handle the withdrawal, acknowledging that Iraq's neighbors have a vested interest in Iraq's stability and deserve a role in negotiations concerning the exit of the United States are all great moves. Richardson, from this alone, would be an incredibly qualified secretary of state.
Energy - I don't like his tone, which I think is generally the New Mexican problem with Richardson. He has populist undertones, which are frustrating. As far as his policy is concerned, he proves himself to be a Keynesian here, not shying from the free market but instead acknowledging the positive ways government can influence the economy, for benefits that are not just about profit. Using government controls on the market here to make fighting global climate change and establishing energy independence feasible, and in fact expensive to not do, is a good move. His math could use work, and he does need to better phrase what Congress can do and what he will do (as he cannot do everything, no matter how much he tries to convince people that he can), but he says "multilateral" and sees the connection between oil security and terrorism. Acknowledging political realities is just such a good move.
Health Care - Before discussing his plan, I would like to say that his website would be a lot more readable if his sentences agreed with each other. Saying "Richardson" here and "I" there is a frustration, and unprofessional. As for his plan, it's a lot of promises, not all of them about functions he can actually perform. He rests a lot on initiatives he authorized in New Mexico, which at the time felt they were more show than substance, and seem to be the same thing here as well. He supports universal health care, through government programs already instituted, and he favors nanny-state taxes on things like cigarettes to pay for cancer research. Alright, but nothing remarkable.
Jobs and the Economy - He's strongest with his opener here, which looks at three factors that have made other nations highly competitive in terms of high paying jobs. His steps to remedy this problem are shaky. Fiscal responsibility is good, and I suppose he can't say what needs cutting (and what taxes will be raised) yet, but it is frustrating to have no idea of how he will address this issue. Tax credits are a good move, but he's vague about where they go. Starting Math, Science, and Innovation academies is iffy - it will look good, and it's way easier to do than fixing public education. I think the money spent on new schools would be better spent sending more Americans to college, and especially providing scholarships to students who declare in the fields he wants. Perhaps debt forgiveness towards students who pursue a highly skilled job upon graduation would work; Richardson isn't really offering innovation her so much as shiny packaging.
Agriculture - I would have expected yeoman farmers to show up on Ron Paul's site, but I find them in Richardson's vision. Breaking up agricultural conglomerates, combined with tax incentives for small-time farmers and technological improvements to rural areas is interesting, and bold. I do not know the economics of modern farming, but I strongly suspect that the age of the family farmer as viable is past. Farming is so climate dependent, so uncertain, that it seems a big corporation able to take losses is the way to go, though I suppose farmers' collectives organized nationwide could serve the same purpose. It would take an agricultural renaissance to work, but it is a bold vision. Beyond the logistics of farming in a global economy, his policy is mostly sound. Looking towards rural areas as places from which to draw renewable energy is also good, and favors highly skilled jobs and innovative technology. Proposing a system of labeling called "COOL" seems over-the top.
Civil Liberties - He supports net neutrality, which is great. He's against torture, because it is both morally wrong and ineffective, which is the best way to put it. Paper ballots and paper trails for elections are so good I'd call them vital. Native American self-determination, while I can hardly imagine it will be a major campaign issue, is still just a good thing, and it is reassuring to see him mention it in his campaign literature. Domestic partnerships are not the equality that would be ideal, but they are a compromise favorite of the moment, and gradually progressive will always get my vote before reactionary does. His pro-choice statement is good enough to quote, so here it is: "We can work together to make abortion safe, legal and rare. And we should do everything we can to support quality prenatal care and early child health care so that newborns and infants have the support they need to grow." It's good stuff, and while he isn't as outspoken as Ron Paul, and while he does dodge the Patriot Act, I can support everything he says here.
Defense - I like to think I'm a militarily conscious leftist, and reading his defense policy it is reassuring to know that other people consider these issues as well. The section has a rehashing of his Iraq policy, but after that it shows serious thought put into lessons learned by the political elite on how to use the United States military, how the US military is likely to be used, and how to change the military so that it will be capable in the decades to come. Removing mercenaries, creating joint civilian-military commissions to execute the aftermath of a war before the war is over, and providing a variety of ideas about what needs to be done in an occupation situation are all good moves, and moves that need to be taken. Moving funding away from cold-war era programs in general and nukes in specific is smart. Expanding the standing numbers of the army and of marines is an interesting point, and one for which he will take flak. This is unfortunate, as when these moves are coupled with his intended reforms of the national guard and of the army reserves, it allows for the military force that is supposed to remain at home to remain at home. This is all great policy, and as a final positive note, he includes humanitarian missions as part of the future role of the US military. It seems leftist military theory actually exists.
Education - This is an interesting one, especially looking at his rhetorical approach. He starts by talking about American power, an interesting choice given that this is his education page. He moves on, stating future goals and an optimistic outlook towards the United States public education system being improved. Pre-K next, and he says that we can fully fund it nationwide, which is a really good move. Scrapping No Child Left Behind for the reasons that students, educators, and state governments can all agree on is great. Raising starting teacher salary is a logical place to have built up to, but he tops himself in the next sentence by proposing 100,000 new jobs. That's big, not tremendous, but it's big. That would be like employing one in five people in the greater Albuquerque Metropolitan area. That's a lot of jobs, and jobs that take a lot of education to be able to have. He isn't quite living up to his posturing here, but he is putting forth some solid ideas. Public school choice instead of private school vouchers is something I support, and he does couple it with magnet and charter schools to make it effective. There's lots more here, covering a wide array of issues tied in with education, and it all seems solid. If half of this was passed, education would be greatly improved.
Environment - His environmental policy is sound and uninteresting. Restoring protections, removing many tax exceptions, making sure that the EPA actually works to protect the environment. It's good, what democrats will want, and dull. Only point worth mentioning is that he puts the Clean Water Act first on his environmental policies.
First Responders - An interesting category, this is designed primarily to make life easier on police and firefighters. Allowing unions, collective bargaining, and more benefits towards people who fulfill the public services we all expect to exist is good; that the entire section seems to be pointedly anti-Bush is petty and irrelevant.
Foreign Policy - This section is beautiful. Foreign policy is Richardson's strong point, and it's why I chose him as the follow-up to Ron Paul's isolationism. Richardson sees the US actively engaging in the world, willing to sit down and talk with all nations, and willing to reform the United Nations into a more effective entity. He favors expanding the security council, which is a great move, a realist move, and one that helps change the UN from a post-WWII winners club into something more substantial. The only bad move made here is the phrase "obnoxious regimes", which is more honest than we would like from a president. It reflects a clear bias, and Richardson is a man of clear biases and blunt language, who still believes in diplomacy. This is good stuff, and this will probably be what influence my primary vote.
Immigration - He's tougher than I expected here. That makes sense, moving away from New Mexico to a national arena (New Mexico is going to be about the most sympathetic state on illegal immigration). He wants no fence, but double number of border patrol agents. He doesn't offer amnesty, but instead a "tough but fair" path to citizenship. He wants to crack down on those employing illegals, and he wants to work with Mexico to make illegal immigration harder, while making legal immigration easier. He also wants a national ID, which is scary, and it being mentioned here was a little shocking. He is okay here, and is less militant than many. The national ID could probably be defeated in congress, and so I'd be okay with his plans here under that condition.
GLBT - This section has a grammatical faux-pas, saying either that Richardson's vice president will have aids, or will be GLBT, or both. What is intended is that the vice president will chair a HIV/AIDS commission, but sloppy grammar looks really bad. The area itself is another strength of his, though it seems he is trying to both show support for the GLBT community as much as he is trying to show off that he can be progressive in a conservative state. New Mexico isn't a red state, it's a battleground state, and whatever voting patterns it has, staunch republicanism isn't one. As for the policies, yeah, they are decent, and his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" stance is nice and solidly nailed down, with the decency to say that sexual orientation doesn't matter; dishonoring GLBT people serving, and those who have served/were turned down from service is a pointless, harmful and entirely unnecessary act.
Women - He wants to bring back the Equal Rights Amendment. Awesome. Everything else here is decent, and he's very pro-choice and very adamant about how pro-choice he is. He's pro-affirmative action, and he wants employers to collect data on their employees race, pay, and gender, which is great for social scientists, but perhaps iffy for employers and civil rights. The section opener here is another good example of writing in his populist-realist mode, if you like to read politicians for style and not substance.
Veterans - Lots here, mostly health care related, with nice bits on some tax exemptions, and some money guaranteed. An improved G.I. bill is this sections best point, with debt forgiveness for veterans who graduate from college. The problem here is the $15 billion price tag, which can be added to all the price tags from previous sections and leaves a large chunk of either deficit spending, new taxes, cut programs, or unfulfilled promises.
Money's the issue. He mentions $75 billion increase in tax spending (from education and veterans programs), and he mentions a $57 billion cut in defense spending. Already he has a gap, and it's a gap I'm okay with, but it isn't great. It will hurt him in getting what he wants passed, and in many programs for which he has no outlined cost.
Richardson would not be a great president. He's too populist, too "in your face", and too belligerent to have an easy time working with congress. His ideas are good, when he has them, and he has such good foreign policy and defense ideas that I would be content with four to eight years of him. Foreign policy is my biggest issue, and so I'm willing to give up a lot for a US that acts as it should in the international community. With Richardson, I wouldn't have to give up much, but he is so very much a realist and a pragmatist that his stances have some decent leeway. He would be Bush's pleasant shadow, that quietly began picking up the pieces in the rubble. I can settle for less than memorable.