The topic below was originally posted in my blog the Intrepid Liberal Journal.
The silly season of presidential politics is here. Posturing, fundraising and repositioning to simultaneously win support from party activists and independent voters that decide general elections. A candidate that can thread the needle with their party’s base and remain viable to the center has achieved a sublime nexus.
In our current culture a candidate must demonstrate fidelity to their party’s core principles and a maverick streak of independence. They must project manliness (or in Hillary Clinton’s case toughness) with a soft side of empathy. After six years of Bush’s insipid rule a winning candidate will also need to project gravitas but not appear above us. As women are burdened with a double standard Hillary Clinton will have to demonstrate firmness without coming off as shrill. Most importantly a winning candidate better have terrific hair.
We expect too much and too little from presidential candidates. Al Gore partly lost in 2000 (even though he really won) because he couldn’t pass the “beer test” while George W. Bush deceived voters into believing he was a “regular guy.” Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t stand a chance today but Arnold Schwarzenegger could win in a landslide if the Constitution permitted him to run. Hence, the realities of our culture require a measure of compromise when deciding upon a winning horse during the Democratic Party’s primary season. With 2008 on the horizon there is one trait I’m not willing to compromise about during the primary season: foresight.
Among the definitions listed online for foresight is,
“knowledge or insight gained by or as by looking forward; a view of the future.”
Yesterday, the Democrat’s 2004 Vice Presidential nominee, John Edwards declared his candidacy. There is much to like about Edwards. He’s a self-made man who remembers where he came from and cares deeply for people struggling to survive in our treadmill economy. Conservatives denigrate trial lawyers such as Edwards but I rather like somebody who earned a fortune by defending the little guy against corporate interests.
Both Edwards and his wife Elizabeth appear to be talented and down to Earth. They lost a teenage son and Elizabeth recently endured the scare of breast cancer. These are people who can empathize with the struggles of others.
John Edwards is also an attractive, articulate man and can effectively advocate the progressive cause in our soundbite culture. Unlike Barack Obama however Edwards doesn’t speak in platitudes and takes firm stands. Edwards also appears to be embracing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and not running from it like Hillary Clinton. So in many ways Edwards is easy for me to like. We sure as hell could do a lot worse and have.
However, his support for the Iraq War while in the Senate is like a worm in my brain. I appreciate his apology for supporting it and hope he’s sincere. We all make mistakes. I’m certainly not perfect. Nevertheless I wonder if his initial support for the Iraq War was about political expediency. Is it possible his apologizing for the Iraq War is also about political expediency? This troubles me. Politics requires a measure of expediency on a broad range of issues but matters such as war and peace should be about one’s conscious.
Admittedly, Hillary Clinton’s stubbornness on the issue also troubles me. I acknowledge the inconsistency in my reaction to both of them. There is a criticism one can fairly level at Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry: a lack of foresight. Many of us protested the Iraq War in 2002-2003 and predicted the civil war taking place today. I’m not surprised Iraq has gone to hell and a hand basket and partly marched because I had no faith in our ability to manage the post Saddam era.
There were also public figures at the time that demonstrated foresight and courage such as Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Al Gore, Dennis Kucinich and Paul Wellstone. Barack Obama partly propelled his candidacy for the Senate by opposing the neocons folly. Alas, Wellstone is dead and Feingold has opted not to seek the presidency. Dean is also not a candidate for 2008. As for Kucinich, I admire his commitment to peace but his overall record troubles me and I don’t believe he can win.
Obama is flirting with the presidency and has generated much attention. I suspect the Hillary Clinton political machine will dissect him and force Obama from his zone of comfortable platitudes to actually defending positions she will distort. The junior Ilinois Senator will come away bloodied.
Also, what kind of president would Obama be? My intuitive sense is Obama is bit too corporatist and tolerant of religious intolerance. I reserve the right to change my mind as I learn more about him. Perhaps Obama will win me over but I doubt it.
Al Gore made a courageous stand against the war while contemplating the 2004 campaign. Gore also had to think about a general election dynamic at the time because he would’ve been the front-runner for the nomination. Many Democrats feared appearing weak on national security after opposing the Gulf War in 1991. Taking the stand Gore did was courageous and right. He showed principle, foresight and courage in doing so. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards demonstrated neither at the time and Obama doesn’t have the same track record of foresight as Al Gore who warned about global warming before it was cool to do so.
Gore is the one prospective candidate that can knit the Democratic Party’s disparate coalitions into a coherent whole and compete effectively in the general election. Admittedly Gore has flaws such as an expanding waistline and thinning hair.
Right now Clinton, Edwards and Obama are regarded as the “big three” in the Democratic Party for 2008. Gore is head and shoulders above all of them. I hope he runs. Nobody else in the Democratic Party possesses his track record of foresight and can compete with the big three.