Is anyone really inspired by any of the candidates currently running for President of the United States in 2008? I am not.
This is the first election in my lifetime where there is neither a president running for reelection nor his anointed vice president waiting in the wings. Consequently, it seems like everyone and his grandmother is running for president. With so many candidates to choose from, why does it feel like mediocrity abounds?
On the Republican side, there is Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and current Republican Party front-runner. He put on a good show immediately after 9/11 but his overall record as mayor of New York City was hardly exemplary. He certainly had his peaks in popularity and he can take credit for removing much of the crime from the city. However, his style left much to be desired. He proved himself tin-eared, pompous, secretive and extraordinarily vindictive. His friend Bernard Kerik plead guilty to corruption charges resulting from his actions as Corrections Commissioner for the city. Despite this, Giuliani promoted him to the Bush Administration for Secretary of Homeland Security. You have to wonder what he might be smoking on the side to do something this stupid. Then there is his disastrous personal life which the national press so far has chosen to ignore. He not only cheated on his wife, but did so quite brazenly in public, in front of the tabloids and without a care in the world. New Yorkers were thrilled to see him leave office.
John McCain is certainly an honorable man, but he seems intent to dig his own political grave. Give him an A for sticking to principle on national security issues like Iraq. However, this is like giving Thelma & Louise an A for hitting the accelerator at the end of the movie. We do not solve terrorism by continuing a losing strategy.
Mitt Romney is handsome but is far more vulnerable to flip flopper charges than John Kerry ever was. He was proponent of gun control and then he was for the second amendment. He is now against gay marriage and civil unions but once supported domestic partner benefits. He was for stem cell research in 2002 but now opposes research using cloned embryos. Who is the real Mitt Romney? He will be whomever he needs to be to win the nomination, is what the answer appears to be.
The rest of the Republican bunch consists of unknowns who are very likely to remain unknowns. They may each have merits, but they have not demonstrated a way to connect themselves with the voters nationally. Say Senator Brownback and most people say Senator Who? They have no idea where he comes from or what he stands for. While he may have done some great things in the Senate, they were not great enough to garner national name recognition. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore was my governor once upon a time. He cut the much hated car tax, but it came back to bite him when the recession arrived. Rather than pull back on the car tax, he gave short shrift to both roads and schools in order to pay for car tax relief. Mike Huckabee did nothing to distinguish himself while governor of Arkansas. Being mere U.S. representatives running for president puts Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo out to pasture. Representative Ron Paul is a libertarian and consequently unelectable. Fred Thompson is not officially in the race yet, but his short Senate career was hardly distinguished. At least he has name recognition from his Hollywood acting days. Tommy Thompson was at one time my boss (when I worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), but his work there was unremarkable. He is hoping he can connect with voters who remember his success chopping of the welfare roles in Wisconsin before President Clinton persuaded the Congress to do the same thing. However, that was so long ago though that most voters have forgotten.
On the Democratic side, there of course is Hillary Clinton, who has six years as a U.S. senator. I would count her eight years as First Lady but while she doubtless had influence she had no direct power. I keep trying to get excited over Hillary and I keep failing. She seems too stage-managed. As The Washington Post documented recently, she is staged managed. She has a whole slew of official and unofficial female advisers that act as her de-facto Praetorian Guard. Her biggest mistake of course was for voting for the Iraq War, a vote she still has not officially recanted. She recently voted against funding for continuing the Iraq War, likely because she knew it would play well politically with Democrats. However, she has also stated that she thinks that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will have to stay in Iraq indefinitely. How is this getting us out? She has the advantage of being attractive and articulate but she strikes me as simply more of the well moneyed centrist Democratic tradition. Mostly, she makes me want to yawn. If she had not been married to Bill, she would suffer the same ignoble fate as Elizabeth Dole.
Having voted for the Iraq war and then later saying it was a mistake also makes John Edwards a flip flopper. Perhaps to amend his mistake, he is now running not just against the war, but as a populist. Yet his populism strikes me as a bit too convenient and timely to be wholly sincere. I do not care if he spends $400 on his haircut, but I do care that he was stupid enough to charge it to his campaign. I like most of his positions but they seem curiously to be tailored to give red meat to the liberal wing of the party, and thus improve his chances at winning the nomination. Nor am I convinced that even if he were elected he would have the political savvy to get many of his great ideas through the Congress.
Barack Obama remains a terrific orator, but some inept steps during his campaign so far have made me cautious. He has something of an aura surrounding him the likes we have not seen since John F. Kennedy. However, it takes more than aura to be an effective president. I would like to see how he spends the next ten years as a politician before he tries to reach for the Oval Office.
I was quite enamored with Bill Richardson until I learned more about him. His credentials look great, until he goes along with the Republican line that Democrats (except him) are tax spenders. It is clear which party is the “charge everything to the national credit card” party, and it is not the Democratic Party. In addition, his command of certain facts left a lot to be desired. Sorry Bill, Roe v. Wade did not happen was not a 1980s Supreme Court decision. It was a 1973 decision.
Gravel is an amusing joke running for president. Kucinich is just a joke. Kucinich’s positions are so extreme and weird that even I, a good Democratic liberal, want to run away from him. That leaves two aging senators: Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd. Of the two, Biden has more name recognition and credibility. Nonetheless, this is hardly his first try for the presidency. He never garnered more than tepid interest so this dynamic is unlikely to change in 2008. Like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Biden also voted for the Iraq War, and at the time gave impassioned speeches about the major threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Given the open field, it is surprising and disappointing that those who do have the necessary combination of gravitas, command of the field and the experience to run for president cannot seem be bothered. Maybe they realize what I have long suspected: actually being president is a lose-lose proposition. Even so, for the good of the country I think Al Gore and retired General Wesley Clark should throw their hats into the ring. I could support either with enthusiasm.
The United States is at a crucial point in its history. It needs someone of Lincoln’s stature to be president. Unfortunately, what we are getting are uninspiring candidates. Perhaps this will encourage independents to fill the void.
I am a good Democrat but if these are the best both the Republicans and Democrats are able to field, they would deserve it if an independent ran and won instead. We need excellence right now, not mediocrity or more of the same. I wish both parties could throw out the current candidates and bring in a set of fresh faces. We can do better than this.