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Campaign 2004: A presidential year

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2004 is a hugely important presidential year and a tremendous opportunity for Native people to educate America on the reality of place and position of American Indian tribal nations in the fabric of North America. As the presidential election year progresses, we will return to thoughts and analysis of candidates and policies on a consistent basis.

It is hard to assess just how deep the support of President George W. Bush is among the American people. Good news in Iraq and even perhaps at home on the economic front provides always a hike of 10 to 15 points in the polls. As the year begins, the president's position is dominant, and particularly solid with white males.

Among the Democrats, a contest is joined that for the next several months will expose all their personalities and positions as contrasted with presidential posture and opportunity before the public. Clearly the frontrunner and at the moment likely Democratic nominee is Howard Dean, who has created a virtual campaign machine that is already epoch-setting while galvanizing the attention of young activists more intensely than anyone since Robert F. Kennedy. Creatively, and pragmatically, Dean has turned the youthful enthusiasm into a productive fund-raising apparatus.

Dean shoots from the hip, which endears him to his flock, but is a considerably dangerous habit in a presidential election. He doesn't lack for intelligence, can parse nuanced language with the best of them and is actually quite cohesive in his arguments, but getting taken off-message too often opens wide flanks in the media feeding-frenzy. He is already being painted as a waffler for constantly having to clarify positions, and he will have to reach out to other publics if he hopes to shrink the 18-point lead in the polls that President Bush has on him. The other Democratic hopefuls seemed mired early and have been shooting all arrows possible into Dean's back. No one has scored yet on Dean but the most presidential by far of those sprinting behind him is General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and a man of excellent foreign policy potentials as the country gets its best handle on the age of terrorism. Among the discussed "dream tickets" might include Clark in its combination, but its far too early for such speculation. For instance, veteran congressman Dick Gephardt is holding his own with labor and African American endorsements.

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Undeniably, at the beginning of the new year, President Bush looks steady in his lead and the Republicans are well situated to withstand political assault. Nevertheless, the country is at war abroad and in some contexts, with itself, in a still divisive political climate. Consider that the U.S. is in an actual military war in the most inhospitable political ground in the world. Additionally, while global markets are suddenly in the upswing, the turn to global labor forces is doing serious damage to the range and quality of jobs available for the rank and file American working and now white-collar sectors. Bush is clearly a decisive president, but the wisdom of his arguably bold decisions, from massive tax-cuts titled toward the wealthiest in society to the launching of an army of occupation in the Middle East, remains debatable.

Tribal nations are advised to closely follow national politics. Tribal self-interest demands it. While Native activists of either left or right persuasion will endorse their own candidates, objectives and political preferences, it behooves everyone involved in Indian affairs to sustain a well-reasoned approach to those elements of tribal sovereignty and self-governance that are fundamental to the continuity of our peoples. Beyond victory in the specific elective battles is the opportunity to educate every American politician and public figure possible with a positive and supportive approach to tribal freedom.

As the presidential year progresses, we will continue to cover the national issues and personalities closely. We encourage Indian country dialogue and written contributions on the presidential campaign and other strategically vital contests.