A Tale of Two Democrats at the Star Theater in Berkeley Springs

Two candidates for political office took the stage at the Star Theater in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia Wednesday night in what was billed as a candidate forum.

Zach Shrewsbury at Star Theater December 20, 2023
(Photo credit: Tyler Simmons)

Both call themselves Democrats.

Both are ex-military. 

But on issues that will be central to their 2024 campaigns, they differ significantly.

Steve Wendelin is running to replace Congressman Alex Mooney in the House of Representatives from the second Congressional district – which covers the northern half of the state.

Zach Shrewsbury is running to replace Senator Joe Manchin in the U.S. Senate.

Wendelin is what you might call an MSNBC corporate Democrat. He calls himself a Blue Dog Democrat, which might be similar – pretty mainstream inside-the-beltway on issues of the political economy and war and peace.

Shrewsbury is a labor candidate putting the needs of working people above corporate interests.

On the political economy of health care, for example, Shrewsbury would convert the entire system into a Veterans Administration-like health care delivery system – everybody taken care of from cradle to grave, funded by the federal tax system and cuts to “the bloated and wasteful military budget.”

Wendelin, on the other hand, said he would let government set prices in the system to “a fixed rate that is affordable” and then leave the health care system up to the market. 

“We’ll still have health insurance to help us pay, but it will be reasonable,” Wendelin said. “All they have to do is fix that and the free market system will take care of the rest.”

Wendelin would also follow the American Legislative Exchange Council’s corporate playbook and impose additional caps on malpractice awards.

Shrewsbury comes right out and says we need universal health care where everybody is covered under one taxpayer funded medical system.

“We have a for-profit health care system that preys on working class people,” Shrewsbury said. “I’m against our current system that when you get sick, you think – how am I going to pay my bills and am I going to have to file for bankruptcy when I get out?”

Shrewsbury would insulate the health care system from market forces.

On immigration, Wendelin said that the system is too complex, that we have to scrap the whole system and start over.

Steve Wendelin at Star Theater December 20, 2023
(Photo credit: Tyler Simmons)

But Shrewsbury went to the core issue and placed the blame for the rush of immigrants from Mexico on corporate America. 

At the Star Theater, he reiterated a recent posting he made on social media.

“If our elected representatives truly worry about the current immigration crisis then address the root of the problem – U.S. corporate foreign policy,” Shrewsbury wrote on his Twitter account. “The military industrial complex has ruined nations to our south and the subject is often ignored. The embargo on Cuba, the crippling sanctions on Venezuela, the coups in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama. the constant meddling in Mexico’s affairs. The defense industry and large corporations ruin nations and then our politicians have the gall to look us in the eyes saying ‘immigrants are coming to take your jobs.’ No, immigrants are coming because they have no other options left — thanks to United States foreign policy.”

The differences between Wendelin and Shrewsbury were most stark on foreign policy.

On Ukraine, Wendelin supports U.S. funding of the war effort until Russia is defeated.

“If Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, then who is next?” Wendelin asked. “We can’t just stop funding Ukraine now.”

Shrewsbury countered with “I’m pro-peace.”

“The counter offensive in Ukraine failed,” Shrewsbury said. “Without NATO troops on the ground, there is no dislodging Russia from the areas it has taken. At this point, we should be pursuing peace talks. Without NATO involvement, it’s going to be sacrificing more Ukrainians into that meat grinder.”

On Israel, Shrewsbury said that almost from the beginning of hostilities in the Middle East, he has been calling for a ceasefire.

In a fundraising letter to supporters earlier this month, Shrewsbury wrote that “Israel has obligations under international law to provide services and ensure the safety of its occupied population.” 

“On October 7th, when Hamas attacked, Israel had the right to use police powers to apprehend the criminals and prosecute them but not to use their massive military might against an essentially defenseless people. We cannot use the ‘right to defense’ language describing Israel’s revenge that has so far killed approximately 18,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom are women and children.”

We read that fundraising letter to Wendelin earlier this month.

“Israel is being very decisive,” Wendelin told Morgan County USA. “Hopefully, this war will be over very quickly. Israel has a moral obligation to protect non-combatants and that includes women and children. The problem is, Hamas doesn’t wear uniforms and they hide amongst the population. We fought the same fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. It puts the Israeli Defense Forces in a horrible position where you have to make split second decisions.”

Should there be a war crimes tribunal to investigate war crimes on both sides?

“Always,” Wendelin said. “But Hamas was indiscriminate. I can’t tell you whether or not Israel is being indiscriminate.”

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