The Thinker

But what’s in the package?

As readers know, I am having a bad case of candidate commitment phobia. With so many candidates to choose from in the coming presidential election there should be one candidate that stands out for me and for whom I can wholeheartedly support. Yet I remain leery.My most likely useful contribution to the primary process will be contributing money. Virginia is not scheduled to have its Democratic primary until February 12th. This will be after Super Tuesday by which time (in all likelihood) the nominee will be chosen. Thus, my vote will probably be meaningless. So here I am with checkbook in hand, desperately wanting to write in some candidate’s name that I can wholeheartedly endorse and finding myself unable to do so.

Since I am a Democrat, it is unlikely that I will be voting for a Republican. Among the Democratic candidates, there is not an obvious flake in the whole bunch except for Dennis Kucinich. In fact, the potential nominees are much better than we typically get. I see virtues in all of them.

Hillary Clinton likely shares her husband’s deep pragmatism. Bill’s pragmatism, called triangulation was much scorned by Republicans, but it also made him very effective. This suggests that (despite suggestions to the contrary) Hillary could be very effective working with Congress. Barack Obama is blessed with high intelligence, a natural eloquence and the ability to connect with people. John Edwards is running as a born again populist candidate and an agent of change. As today’s recent Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates, more than anything else voters want change. Bill Richardson offers expertise at both the state level and at the international level that no candidate of either party can match. Arguably, these skills in a president could be crucial to our country. Joe Biden may be a Washington insider, but you do not have to listen to him very long to understand he has a complete grasp of the full complexity of politics and international relations. Moreover, he has sound and well thought out strategies for solving our most crucial problems. Chris Dodd is also a long time senator, but with solid records on progressive issues. Mike Gravel, according to an online survey I took, aligns most closely with my views on issues.

I notice that when I am in a restaurant I have a hard deciding on my entrée. When forced, I tend to make a snap decision, which is usually whatever I was most recently looking at on the menu. A few minutes after I order, I want to change my order. Of course, by then it is too late. I may like what I order or I may loathe it. However, in general I find that my entrée rarely lived up to my expectation.

Perhaps this natural inclination of mine is why I am leery to open my checkbook. Yet I have succeeded in prying it open a bit. I have given John Edwards $150. Despite his tone of voice, his eloquence and his stands on the issues, I remain leery of Edwards. Part of it may be his bad call on the Iraq War Resolution. I like what John Edwards is saying, but I am wondering if he is being disingenuous. Why did he not hold these positions back in 2004? I know that if I vote for John, that I will be buying the John Edwards for President package. Yet as is true of all the candidates I really am not sure of what is inside. Instead, I am relying on candidates to tell me truthfully who they are. This is sort of like relying on the veracity of the Bible because it is the Bible.

My ideal candidate would be totally transparent. I want no nefarious Richard M. Nixon as my next president. I know when asked questions that candidates are quick to say what they will do. I want to know in advance what they actually will do. Historically there have been poor correlations between a candidate’s views during the campaign and their actual actions once in office.

One of the reasons in 2004 that I was drawn to Howard Dean was that in my gut I knew he was sincere and authentic. This rarely happens with me. I feel some vindication because he was proven right on the issues. I also feel vindicated by the sterling job he has done as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He has stepped on many toes, many of them inside the beltway, but those toes really needed to be stepped on. Complacency was killing the party. He is succeeding in his grass roots effort to reinvigorate the Democratic Party. He convinced people like me to help fund this work. I felt the results were on display during the 2006 election.

So I am keeping my political ears close to the wind. I am waiting to get that gut feeling. It is not coming. So, like when I examine a menu, I almost feel like I need to pick a random candidate, give them some money, and hope for the best. On the other hand, perhaps I should just keep my checkbook closed. Why spend money on a candidate who is likely to lose? Even if they win, will I have a case of buyer’s remorse?

I am very weary of snake oil selling politicians, which is to say politicians in general. I am particularly wary of politicians blessed with eloquence. Barack Obama is this way. He can mesmerize any audience. I am not surprised that he has legions of devoted followers. They all seem anxious to give him whatever spare change they can, as well as to petition their neighbors and friends. I love listening to Obama give speeches. I think it would be great to have a president who could communicate so well with so many different audiences. Yet I am deeply skeptical on whether he would be an effective president. Perhaps like a snake oil salesman or an eloquent preacher he can keep us in his spell. However, getting us to believe in him is not the same thing as doing what is in the nation’s best interest.

The presidency is perhaps the most complex job in the world. In my humble opinion, it is the kind of job which if you say you want it you should automatically be disqualified. It is too hard. Perhaps experience makes it less daunting, but I believe it is a bit like being someone licensed to fly single engine aircrafts being told to fly a Boeing 747. I believe that there is no real preparation for it other than to experience it.

Perhaps this is why if Hillary Clinton becomes president I may not be too upset. As First Lady, Hillary actually lived inside the White House. Rather than spending days baking cookies, she was deeply embroiled in her husband’s policies. She understands the presidency like probably no other candidate. In short, I doubt she will have a high learning curve. She will probably be able to hit the ground running. Being First Lady is not necessarily a great qualification for being president, but it is not necessary a bad one either. It worked for Christina Fernandez, who was recently elected the new president of Argentina. She is succeeding her husband, Néstor Carlos Kirchner. Like Hillary Clinton, Christina also happens to be quite attractive.

In a subsequent post, I hope to write more about the relationship between beauty and politics. For now, I simply ask you to consider these points.

  • Candidates may think they have the country’s best interests a heart, but they also love power. They love it the same way an alcoholic loves Jack Daniels. I believe all of them have egos the size of King Kong. Maybe that is good because it provides the fuel for a very demanding job. However, it is also dangerous because it really means they are much, much different from you and me.
  • Do not let your passion for a candidate overrule your common sense. I see this particularly with Barack Obama and John Edwards’ supporters. Candidates who achieve cult status are often the best at presenting a façade. Both Obama and Edwards may be completely sincere. Understand though that they are also excellent actors. They have learned how to enter a room and mesmerize every one in it. In short, they are master manipulators. Consequently, you are probably seeing a projected image of a politician, and not the person himself.
  • Having said the above, in the end it is okay to trust your gut feelings. Just make sure it is a real gut feeling. A gut feeling for a candidate will not swoop you away with a sense of love-like euphoria. Instead, like a well-matched mate, you will feel an alignment on all levels. If you find someone like this, he or she deserves your vote.

I wish I could feel this way. Right now, my gut says to be wary of all of them. Therefore, I dither. I hope that by dithering I am not making a mistake. It may be that as a consequence our next president will be selected based on how passionate people feel about them rather than how well we believe he or she will actually govern. Given the stakes in the 2008 election, this could be a deadly mistake.


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