January 07, 2014

Brian Schweiter — great but flawed #Hillary opponent?

Brian Schweitzer: Can he overcome his guns & greens flaws?
Getty Images photo via Slate
In the face of the potential landslide 2016 Democratic presidential nomination of the yet-unannounced Hillary Clinton, two potential opponents have been mentioned — financial populist Elizabeth Warren, now Massachusetts' junior U.S. Senator, and Brian Schweitzer, mountain West populist former Montana governor.

While I don't agree with Schweitzer on everything, or am even close to agreement in some areas, this Slate interview points out why I hope he runs and why, if I don't need to vote in a contested Green primary, I would consider pulling his lever in a Democratic primary.  

But, please note what I said. Consider, but not guarantee. While he's got a lot of positives, he's got some definite, and large, negatives, which I note later on in this piece.

He's definitely not going to be inside the bipartisan foreign policy box. That's the biggest plus.

First, he knows, and admits the truth of, why Iran dislikes and distrusts us — the anti-Mossadegh coup:
So we’ve had a bad history with Iran because of what we did in 1953, replacing an elected official with a dictator. 
Bingo.

And, he background that with his knowledge of the Middle East, having lived there and being a good Arabic speaker:
The Iranian deal makes sense. We linked up with the Saudis before and after World War II. Look, unlike virtually every member of Congress, I have a pretty good firsthand knowledge of the Middle East. The day after I got out of graduate school, after I defended my thesis, I went straight to Libya. I was there for a year; I was in Saudi Arabia for seven. I learned to speak Arabic. I can explain to you, in a way that almost no one else in the country can, the difference between a Sunni and a Shia. I can explain to you who and what the Wahhabis are in Saudi Arabia. I can talk to you about why we, the United States, initially got involved with the Saudi royal family, what we got out of the deal. I can explain to you why we knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We knew, because we supplied chemical weapons to him so he could poison the Iranians. The Iranians are Persian, not Arab; they haven’t got along for several thousand years.
Hillary Clinton just isn't going to tell us that. And, as of now, I have no idea of Elizabeth Warren's stance on foreign policy issues.

Schweitzer goes on to criticize our still being in Iraq, bluntly saying the Taliban is in the Stone Age and of no threat to us.

That leads to the next issue.

He's not inside the bipartisan snooping policy box, either:
If Edward Snowden is a criminal, then so are a lot of people that are working within the CIA and the NSA who have been spying illegally on American citizens. They ought to grant Snowden clemency.
No way Hillary Clinton is saying that.

Meanwhile, he admits Obamacare isn't working well, probably won't work well, and says why: payoffs to lobbying groups, including those tied to former Montana Senator Max Baucus. That said, he says that he can make it work, as well as diagnosing those problems:
I will give you not just how this thing should have been written, but what it will get to be, because what we have right now will not work. No. 1: You pass national health insurance laws that say you can’t discriminate against women, charge them higher premiums than men of the same age, you can’t discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, you can’t have annual caps. Then you allow insurance companies to compete wherever they want, in any state. Boom. The second thing is, you say to every citizen in the United States, now you have the option to buy into Medicare.
We just need to act like capitalists, not socialists. We need to negotiate to buy medicine. Now, what’s interesting is that the detractors hear that and say—this is like socialized medicine. No! Are you kidding me? France, the United Kingdom: They negotiate like capitalists to buy their medicine. The United States? We say to the pharmaceutical companies, how much would you like this for? We continue to pay them three times what they sell the same medicines for all over the world. Right after the bill was passed, big pharma was running ads for all the Democrats who voted for this thing. Even in Montana. What’d they get out of it? They now have a lot more money.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Keep the insurance coverage guarantees of Obamacare, do actual negotiations for drug prices, and make "Medicare for all" an option, at least.

As to why we got where we are on Obamacare, he's blunt about Dear Leader himself, too:
He’s not unlike Woodrow Wilson, who was the last really big Democratic corporatist.
Ouch. That said, he does have a somewhat more nuanced overall assessment:
In part what a president is able to do is elevate, through rhetoric, issues that need to be elevated. I’d give him an A in that area. His ability to communicate, to deliver the message about the values that set us aside as Americans, is very good. I just don’t think his administration has been very good at doing things, about organizing things. It’s not just about the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. As governor I had four years to work with the Bush administration and four years to work with the Obama administration, and they’re just not good at getting things done.
I think he's far from alone in the "competency" assessment, a think that Obamiacs who admit their man is a neoliberal still fight tooth and claw. The "competency" issue is, as some conservatives note, at the heart of liberal governance. Because neolibs want to surrender more of that to the private sector, "competency" is even more important for the slice of governance it wants kept in the public sector.

Also, the Wilson comparison quote shows he's a definite student of history in general. And, that he wouldn't be part of the bipartisan economic policy establishment, either.

That said, is Brian Schweitzer perfect, or nearly so, as a presidential candidate?

Probably not.

The main disagreement I have with him? He's a squish on environmentalism. When he was governor, he wanted to start a massive coal gasification program with eastern Montana's coal. First, that takes a lot of water — water that eastern Montana doesn't have. Second, it's air polluting. Third, the waste rock detritus is ground polluting. Fourth, it's carbon intensive. I don't know if he's ever apologized for that or not, but it would make me leery.  (And, while he may hoo-haw for Montana hunters, Montana farmers like the Jon Tester he semi-derides wouldn't like those water shortages, either.)

And, this isn't the only area where he's problematic, or worse, on environmental issues. He has advocated breaking federal law, namely the Endangered Species Act. Considering that elected officials are all supposed to swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, he arguably broke his gubernatorial oath of office.

Even more leery? In his gubernatorial re-election run, especially, he touted his NRA membership and affinity. Now, the NRA of pre-Obama days wasn't quite as nutbar as today's, but it was already nutbar enough that this was after the time that Poppy Bush had resigned his membership. I'd specifically want his take on the need (or lack, he might say, for what I know) of additional gun control laws, and actual stricter enforcement of current ones (not just the NRA lip service mantra) post Newtown.

In short, his greens and guns stances leave me thinking that, overall, he might be an upgraded version of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. I mean, the skeet shooting trick is about exactly like what Manchin did.

Hence, I said consider, but not guarantee, on voting for him in a Democratic primary. And, while he'd be a breath of fresh air, unless he changes his position on guns and green issues, I'd still vote capital-G Green in the general election if Schweitzer somehow got the Democratic nod.

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