On Tuesday, voters in the Fifth Congressional District will be faced with a clear and obvious choice of who should succeed former representative Marty Meehan in the US Congress. The two leading candidates, Niki Tsongas and Jim Ogonowski, offer distinct visions for the future: an end to the war in Iraq and the prolonging of it; a path to health-care reform and the obstruction of it; a rational immigration policy and the spewing of empty rhetoric.
The Phoenix strongly endorses Tsongas, who promises to do the right thing on these and other issues.
Tsongas has proven herself to be knowledgeable and capable, and is every bit the equal of far more experienced elective office-holders. She intimately understands the district, and has reliable progressive instincts on the issues. Tsongas will do for the district what she has done for Lowell: work to facilitate the public/private partnerships that can transform and reinvigorate stagnating towns. She knows that what is most needed in Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill, and throughout the rest of the district is real, practical, forward-looking plans for economic development.
On the critical question of the Iraq War, Tsongas would seek a nine-month timetable for a near-complete withdrawal of US troops, leaving only a small force to help maintain stability — and she has even reprimanded presidential candidates of her own party who envision a longer-term presence.
Tsongas advocates for the major expansion of health-care coverage, modeled after the new Massachusetts plan. She would also bring to Congress a much-needed vision for higher education, by preaching the need to make colleges accessible and affordable through more and smarter public investment.
Ogonowski, Tsongas’s Republican opponent, may talk about independence and nonpartisanship, but his positions hew to the tired GOP party line. He would have our troops fighting in Iraq until some undefined but supposedly all-important “mission” is accomplished. He imagines threats from illegal immigrants that don’t exist, and offers silly, impractical solutions to that serious policy matter. On other issues, Ogonowski has offered little more than rote rejection of Washington “politics as usual.”
It is not enough to simply bash Washington. Over the course of the campaign, Ogonowski, a political neophyte, has not demonstrated the independent, original thinking necessary to be taken seriously at this level.
But Tsongas, and the congressional Democrats she seeks to join, do need to heed the public sentiment reflected in Ogonowski’s campaign, and in opinion polls that find Congress even less popular than President Bush.
Our nation faces many challenges after years of Republican mismanagement, and the congressional Democrats have not yet shown the political creativity and dexterity necessary to implement solutions on the war in Iraq, health care, taxation, income inequities, education, global warming, and much more. Instead, their policy platforms are often vague, cautious, or unrealistic — a fault that Tsongas has shown as well.
The American people are not wrong to be disappointed in the Democrats’ control so far of the legislative branch. It is imperative that in the next 12 months — before the 2008 elections — Democrats in Washington act to change that.
As we urge a vote for Tsongas on October 16, we also urge her — and other congressional Democrats — to take bolder, more aggressive steps toward real, practical solutions.