Wednesday, May 12, 2010

EDITORIAL >>For Halter, Boozman

Whether you vote in the Republican or Democratic primary, when you mark your ballot for the U. S. Senate on Tuesday, you will be choosing whether to keep an incumbent. That’s right. The leading Senate candidate in each party, Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic and Rep. John Boozman in the Republican, must be considered an incumbent and an agent of the status quo, although neither will accept that description in the current reactionary climate.

Although Lincoln is a moderate but often unreliable Democrat and Boozman an ultraconservative and uniformly loyal Republican, their careers in Congress are not that different. If your major concern is how the United States got into its current fiscal distress — it is a big issue with us — then you must give heavy weight to their votes on those matters. They voted nearly the same on the big economic issues from 2001 through 2009, when their careers overlapped. They voted for the big tax cuts for the rich and corporations, the unfinanced expansion of Medicare that helped explode the budget deficits, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (both financed by borrowing) and the bailout of U. S. financial institutions in 2008.

They cast opposite votes on the two major fiscal initiatives of the Democratic administration last year, the economic-stimulus program and health-care reform. We happen to think Lincoln cast the right votes, which were for them. The stimulus program cushioned the nation’s economic collapse, nowhere with better effect than in Arkansas, and health-care reform will reverse the climb toward greater deficits, secure medical attention for everyone and prove to be an unusual economic bonanza for Arkansas.

Nevertheless, our recommendations would be Bill Halter for the Democratic nomination and John Boozman for the Republican nomination. That may seem inconsistent, but Lincoln and Boozman are not running against each other, not yet anyway. Lincoln must be weighed against her two opponents and Boozman against his seven.

Boozman is an easy choice. All of his opponents offer to be clones of the Third District congressman, except where he has voted badly, most of them promise to do even worse. For example, they would vote for even more irresponsible tax cuts for the rich and corporations. One of Boozman’s two serious opponents, Jim Holt, wants to abolish Social Security, Medicare and other forms of government-sponsored health insurance, farm aid, deposit insurance, and business regulation of every kind — in short, every federal program but the military and Interstate highway work.

The only issue the Republicans seem to have with Boozman is his vote for President George W. Bush’s $700 billion corporate bailout in 2008. It is easy for them to say now they would have opposed it since they were not there when the Republican president, the secretary of the treasury and the head of the Federal Reserve, all the leaders of their party and leading economists were saying that a banking collapse would plunge the nation into another Great Depression.

Unlike Lincoln, who tries to leave the impression that she was against the bailout, Boozman owns up to his vote and defends it. He did not want to take a chance on all the experts being wrong. But, he explains, he voted for a resolution just before Bush left office to block the release of the second half of the bailout funds, which would be dispensed by the new Democratic president. Lincoln voted to block release of the second half of the money, too, although President Obama imposed new controls to halt the rampant misuse of the bailout funds — all the executive bonuses and acquisitions — that made the bailout so unpopular. Obama has not spent all of the allotment, and the banks and auto companies that received the money are rapidly paying it back. By year’s end, the bailout may prove to have been an unalloyed benefit to the taxpayers, but voters long ago made up their minds that it was a cataclysmic evil. Republican voters seem willing to give Boozman a pass anyway.

We don’t admire much about Boozman’s voting record but we like his honesty. That elevates him from the field in the Republican primary.

Halter is a harder choice because we don’t care for his single achievement as a public official in Arkansas, the state lottery.

The lieutenant governor does not have a chance to do great deeds, but Halter went out of his way to do harm when he engineered a ballot position and a resounding vote for the lottery in 2008.

How differently he will perform as a senator from Lincoln we cannot be sure, but he indicated that he would have voted the opposite on all those initiatives of the Bush administration that turned federal budget surpluses into the mammoth deficits and converted the most buoyant economy in the nation’s history into the worst in 70 years. Neither do we believe that he will be at the service of people of great wealth and the petroleum and coal industries, which have pumped fortunes into the campaign of Lincoln.

The third Democrat is D. C. Morrison, who is indistinguishable from the eight Republicans. He’s in the race to force Lincoln and Halter into a runoff so that they will exhaust more of their treasuries.

The campaigns that both Halter and Lincoln have waged have been irrelevant and needlessly vicious. Both accuse each other of driving jobs overseas. The ads by Lincoln and the shadow groups that support her or the Republicans have been particularly shameful, accusing Halter of sending jobs to India and wanting to destroy Social Security, both patently lies. Each Democrat may have made the other unelectable, the ultimate disservice to the party and to the state.

So our choices on May 18 are Bill Halter and John Boozman. We wish we could say “without reservation.”