By Nicholas Allanach
Nobody recognizes Jonathan Tasini as he enters Starbucks. Of course, why should they? After all, he’s not traveling with an entourage or security detail; in fact, the only thing connecting this Democratic Senatorial candidate to his small (mostly volunteer) staff is the Blackberry plugged into his ear, which he politely removes with a friendly smile before shaking my hand. “Sorry, I’m under the wire today. So let’s get right to it.”
Jonathan Tasini has reason to be busy. In fact, despite the lackluster response from the mocha latte sipping clientele’, he has recently acquired a great deal of attention from various progressive groups, such as the Village Independent Democrats, Brooklyn Democrats for Change, and Downtown Independent Democrats, to name a few. Naturally, Mr. Tasini hopes to move beyond party-politics by sending a resounding message (“vote for what you believe in” –troops out now) to anti-war voters seeking a candidate that speaks to their values. In fact, over the past six weeks, Tasini and his team have traveled across New York to spread the word while collecting close to 40,000 signatures from registered Democrats to get his name on the primary ticket. Accordingly, Tasini has put his, admittedly, long-shot campaign one-shot closer to his incumbent target, Hillary Clinton.
Unlike Senator Clinton, Tasini suffers no illusions about the war and indicates each day of this campaign that he can better represent the liberal base Clinton ignored when giving President Bush authorization to storm Iraq. Admittedly, Clinton has recently taken “responsibility for her vote.” But nevertheless, as Tasini notes, “this doesn’t mean she’s off the hook.” Tough words from a man who, at first glance, would seem to pose no threat to the Clinton juggernaut; however, if Tasini has the support he claims, then Clinton’s pro-war vote might not only complicate an easy re-election bid to the senate, but could also deter local support for a White House run in 2008.
If Hillary Clinton is a “stay the course” candidate then Jonathan Tasini is most certainly the “change the course” alternative; unfortunately, many voters will still choose Clinton, despite the fact most, as Tasini claims “can not say what policy position [of hers] they support.” Tasini admits “this campaign is really going to be a question of whether it’s about celebrity and name recognition…or, if we actually get to face the issues.” Some of the issues Tasini hopes to confront are the environment (he supports the Apollo Alliance), labor rights (is pro-union), health-care (“universal”, instead of “affordable”), and (of course) the war. Moreover, Tasini is not afraid to say he is “one-hundred-percent pro-choice” and that he also “supports same-sex marriage, period.”
Jonathan Tasini does not practice politics as usual. In fact, many of the positions he takes on hot-button issues will most certainly isolate him from traditional beltway backing. For instance, when asking Tasini how he would deal with terrorism and national security. He quickly responds, “Number one, we need to understand why people are angry at the United States, but must resist easy explanations like, ‘they hate our way of life’, because it has nothing to do with that; however, it does have much to do with the decisions our government makes around the world.” Moreover, instead of bolstering the usual “U.S. will stand beside Israel” rhetoric (as recently spouted by Senator Clinton at a rally outside the United Nations); Tasini opts for a more balanced (admittedly more risky) assessment of the crisis. He claims, “We must be honest and realize our one-sided policy has played a hand in provoking this recent conflict. In fact, I believe [in a] two-state solution that recognizes an independent Palestinian state.”
Idealism may be the driving force behind Tasini’s run; regrettably, such optimism appears to have no place in contemporary American politics. Too risky. Nevertheless, Tasini isn’t backing down and (unlike Senator Clinton) he refuses to sell his supporters out. Perhaps if Tasini were able to speak to more New Yorkers then he would be able to convince them that he is the best candidate for the job; after all, with Iraq (and now, much of the Middle East) descending daily into worse-case catastrophic scenarios, why should voters not “change the course?” Or, for that matter, rethink the limited framework of politics itself?
Perhaps it’s easier for voters to continue supporting the same greedy policies that increase corporate power, destroy the environment, and perpetuate war; because, they’re unable to imagine alternative solutions to such problems, or, maybe voters are just too lazy to make real change? It appears as though voters hold on to certain ideals that blind them from the truth. For instance, those who support Senator Clinton continue picturing her as the liberal she once was, yet fail to recognize how similar she now is to those (like the pharmaceutical corporations) she once fought so hard against.
Tasini’s position on the issues are common sense to anyone with a clear and socially aware conscience; however, there is something inherently apathetic, hypocritical, and downright evil about the American identity that chooses to ignore such solutions because they demand “changing the course” and honestly confronting the mistakes of our past. Fortunately, for the voter’s of New York, they have an opportunity this September to begin initiating such bold change by voting Tasini into the Senate.