As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Camp Buehring, Kuwait
December 8, 2004
Waiting around for the perfect presidential candidate is like waiting for Godot. In 2004, Howard Dean came very close to being my perfect presidential candidate. In 2008, I find no such candidate. However, as the primary season approaches, I have to pick someone.
I have finally worked through my issues with the candidates and have chosen to vote for Barack Obama. He is not the ideal candidate but he is the best choice. I might add that during this election cycle, Democrats are truly blessed. We have a bumper crop of genuinely fine candidates from which to select. All have their warts and pimples. None of the group, from my perspective is an ideal candidate. Any of the first or second tier candidates would make good presidents. Any would be a quantum leap over the miserable failure currently occupying the White House.
Hillary Clinton, for all the brickbats she would bring as the Democratic Party’s nominee, has been battle tested. She made some serious mistakes in the political roles she played at First Lady and as senator (particularly on the Iraq War Resolution). Yet she remains smart, capable, personable and pragmatic. I personally like the idea of a woman president. I think the time has come for a woman president, particularly as I discover in my own life that the most effective leaders I know are women. She may have baggage associated with her husband, but I suspect she would make a fine president.
John Edwards gets an A for enthusiasm, for having a firm grasp of reality, and for championing the rights of the poor and disenfranchised. In my mind he is the most Democratic of the Democrats in the race, almost a Franklin D. Roosevelt reincarnated. He just oozes passion. I could enthusiastically line up behind John Edward except for his vote on the Iraq War Resolution. He admits the vote was a mistake. We all learn from mistakes but this one was a whopper. It led to the biggest foreign policy mistake in the history of our country. I can forgive John, but not enough to endorse him. As in 2004, I think he would be an excellent Vice Presidential candidate. I just do not think John would accept the position again.
Of all the candidates, Bill Richardson is the only one who can credibly claim he has both the knowledge and experience to be president. In all of his jobs, from New Mexico governor to U.N. Ambassador, Bill has excelled. He is also decent and humble. Bill though has a few problems that make me leery endorsing him. First, he has said things that made him sound like a homophobe. Second, he might have the knowledge and experience, but he does not communicate his position passionately enough to either lead or inspire people. Bill is an excellent manager. Throw a big and nasty problem at him and he will solve it. He would be an excellent Secretary of State or Secretary of Homeland Security. The presidency though requires a certain style of leadership that I just do not see in him. Perhaps I am wrong. The president should be both an excellent manager and an excellent leader.
Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are both are experienced and capable senators but simply have not caught the interest of the public. There is nothing compelling in either of their resumes that suggests they deserve a promotion to the Oval Office. Dennis Kucinich is unelectable, as is Mike Gravel.
Which leaves Barack Obama. I have my concerns about Obama too. Like Bill Clinton, he may be reaching for the brass ring a little too early in life. A few years as a state senator and as a U.S. senator are hardly the sterling qualifications necessary to be our next president. What makes Obama different in my mind is that of all the candidates he is the one who behaves the most like a genuine leader. In these perilous times, we need a leader that can pull us in their wake. He or she must do this while also moving us in a positive direction that moves us back into the international mainstream, addresses the root causes of terrorism, and moves us toward taking real action on global warming. We need someone with sound judgment who also truly grasps the nuances of the bigger picture. In short, we desperately need a president with real intellect and mojo. I have some concerns that Obama’s mojo may be more for show than real, but overall I feel comfortable that it is real.
The true test of leadership is to see if a candidate made the right judgments in difficult times. He may have been just a state senator at the time, but when the Iraq War resolution came up, Barack Obama was one of a handful of people who swam against the tide. He said going after Saddam Hussein while our real enemies were in Afghanistan and Pakistan did not make any sense. He spoke out passionately against going on this ill-advised war. Almost without exception, the rest of the candidates went along with conventional wisdom. They went toward political safety while I am sure many in their hearts knew the war would be a debacle. This is not leadership. This is triangulation.
There may be some dirt on Obama out there, but if so, I have not read it. About twice as many people feel positive about him as feel negative about him. Given his ability to inspire and his Reaganesque ability to communicate with the masses, he becomes a compelling candidate. If he wins the nomination, I think he is a shoe in to win the general election. Moreover, I think he will bring many new progressives into national office in his wake. I think he is the best candidate running in our perilous times and the one most likely to restore the progressive government we desperately need.
If Al Gore were running, I would vote for him over Obama. Since I must vote for one the candidates we have, Barack Obama looks like the obvious choice. I suspect I am one of many voters puzzling out the candidates and reaching this general conclusion. This suggests, contrary to my earlier analysis that Hillary Clinton’s star is fading.
If you have not made up your mind, I encourage you to consider my analysis. I hope you will join me in voting for Barack Obama for President.