Where does he stand?

July 29 2013

Bob Braun, a former longtime columnist for The Star-Ledger, is following Rush Holt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. He will be sharing his thoughts and his stories from the campaign trail from time to time. 

The debate Saturday wasn’t really a debate. Few of these brief televised rituals are. But it did serve two purposes. It showed Rush Holt to be a man who both understands the magnificent power of ideas as well as the ability to translate those ideas into legislation.

And it showed Cory Booker's unwillingness to tell voters where he stands.

Those two purposes intersected most dramatically when Rush was called on to answer a question about the future of American cities, particularly in the light of the effort by Detroit to declare bankruptcy, a move that will pit poor pensioners against big banks—a move that is a horrifying shadow of the shape of things to come, maybe even for Newark.

``It is forces outside Detroit that to a large extent caused the problem there,” Rush said. He blamed the financial industry, Wall Street, for its manipulation of mortgages, for ``the sending of jobs overseas, for gambling with people’s money.”

That is what, Rush said, ``brought on crises all over the country, including Detroit. And we’ve got to finish the job of putting cops on the beat on Wall Street and standing up to the a buses that have had a real damaging effect on our economy.’’

And then he brought up the obvious absence of one of the four candidates for the Senate, the one candidate the main-stream media has crowned the front-runner without asking why. The one candidate with the closest ties to Wall Street. The candidate who said he was nauseated because President criticized Mitt Romney’s job-destroying company, Bain Capital.

``Now it is worth noting there are three of us up here. There is one who is missing. We don’t know where Mr. Booker stands on breaking up the big banks and on Glass-Steagall”—the law that would prevent banks from risky speculation.

How can the people of New Jersey vote for so important an office as a Senate seat without know what a candidate stands on such important issues? Rush continued:

``We don’t know where he stands on stopping warrantless searches, spaying on Americans. Where he stands on vouchers—well, we do know where he stands on vouchers actually, but we don’t know why. We don’t know how he stands on single payer health care.’’

But we do know where Rush stands. He called himself a “bold” progressive and he did take bold stands. Try this: He is not only for comprehensive immigration reform, he is for helping the nation try to see immigration in a completely different way than many politicians do now:

“We have to change the way we frame this matter. All across America and in Congress, the debate what is what is the best solution to the problem. I say we should express it as an opportunity, not as a problem. This country for generations has been enriched culturally, socially, and, yes, economically, by immigration. A liberal immigration policy is an opportunity we must not pass up.’’

There were other examples. Health care, for example.  We shouldn’t just be fighting a rear-guard action against right-wing ideologues who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said Rush.

``The Affordable Care Act is a great improvement over what what existed before but I can assure you that the inefficiencies and remaining problems within the Affordable Care Act will lead us quite soon to recognize that we need a universal, single-payer health care system,’’ he said.

The debate gave Rush the chance to highlight some of his major legislative efforts--$80 million for suicide prevention and mental health services for America’s veterans and soldiers; $20 billion in scientific research spending; money to put teachers in the classroom and cops on the beat.

But, maybe, more importantly, it gave him the opportunity to describe a vision for the nation he has served so long in Congress. He didn’t just talk about what was minimally possible given the intransigence of ideologically driven Republicans. He didn’t just clothe himself in self-serving rhetoric. He talked about the greatness of a nation and urged the viewers to buy into that vision.

``We have to get beyond the mentality in Washington that we are a poor nation. We are not. We are the wealthiest nation in the world. We can afford to put youngsters and others to work in the inner city and across America. There are plenty of jobs to be done. There are things that need to be built. The inequalities in our economy and in our society must be addressed. That’s what a progressive vision is. We can afford it. We need to do it.’’