The campaign for the 2008 Presidential election has gone into high gear. I can't remember a Presidential election race that has drawn so many candidates so early. George W. Bush's dismal White House performance over the past six years has obviously impressed contenders in both parties that the bar for Presidential qualifications has been lowered.
I consider myself a political independent, although I normally vote Democratic. The only Republican candidate for whom I might consider voting is Nebraska's Sen. Chuck Hagel. But the very qualities that I find attractive--his liberal social views and his opposition to the Iraq war--are what make it unlikely that the Republicans will nominate him.
I once greatly admired Arizona's Sen. John McCain. But I've lost my respect for him, largely because of his insane demand to send still more American troops to Iraq. Moreover, his pandering to the right-wingers who defeated his 2000 campaign for the Republican nomination makes me question his integrity.
Three months ago, I touted Gen. Wesley Clark in this blog as my favorite Democratic candidate. I still regard him as the best hope for intelligent and honest national leadership. But he doesn't seem to be gaining any political traction, and he is evidently failing to gain the financial support required to run successfully.
So I am rooting for Al Gore to run again. It's hard to forget that he would have been in the White House these past six years had it not been for a disgraceful Supreme Court decision. I have no doubt that the nation would now be in considerably better shape--economically and security-wise--with Gore as President. It's unclear, however, whether Gore is willing to go through the election ordeal again.
That brings me to the front-runners, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. It's become a cliche for some Democrats that Mrs. Clinton is unelectable because of deep-rooted public hatred for her. I've never understood why this is so, but I think that as a Senator she has improved her political image.
My own respect for her, however, has diminished because of her equivocal stance on Iraq and other issues. And though I was a fan of her husband, I've become weary of political family dynasties. The Clintons are no Bushs. But I'm turned off by the prospect of getting what Bill Clinton once called "two for the price of one" back in the White House.
I consider Sen. Barack Obama to be one of the brightest and most refreshing new figures in the political arena. Nevertheless, he has yet to really spell out his views on many vital policies, and his record of significant personal achievement is modest. Still, a similarly modest background did not keep George W. Bush from the Presidency.
The excitement about Obama's charisma, sparked by his 2004 convention oratory and his subsequent brilliant autobiographies, shows how desperate many discontented voters are for a political messiah. Perhaps because I am an old fogey, however, I confess to some discomfort about having a President almost a decade younger than my own child.
The Obama boyish charm that excites so many people diminishes the gravitas that one expects from the world's most powerful man. George W. Bush has not been an exemplar of Presidential gravitas, and maybe that's a factor for the damage to America's international image and influence.
Obama's popularity has provoked the right-wing, xenophobic cranks to emphasize his middle name, Hussein (as if that links him to the infamous Saddam), and that both his biological father and his stepfather were Muslims. It should also be noted that his first name, Barack, is the Arab version of the Hebrew "Baruch," or blessed.
According to Obama's autobiography, his Kenyan biological father, with whom he evidently had limited contact, abandoned Islam and became an atheist. His Indonesian Muslim stepfather enrolled him briefly in a Jakarta elementary school that the cranks hysterically and incorrectly describe as a religious madrassa linked to Islamist terrorism.
These claims from the sleazy extremists have almost encouraged me to support the youthful Illinois senator simply to protest their nonsensical slander. I would prefer to see Obama selected as the Democrats' Vice-Presidential candidate. This would provide him with the apprenticeship that would strengthen a bid for the Presidency in 2016, assuming the Democrats can hold on to the White House for two terms.
There is considerable Democratic talent ready to challenge the two front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Obama. John Edwards, John Kerry's running mate in 2004, seems to be coming on strong. (I am thoroughly enchanted by his lawyer-wife, who projects the kind of personal charm that many think would bolster Hillary Clinton's image.)
Governors Thomas Vilsack of Iowa and Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware are also impressive politicians who would bring honesty, decency and intelligence to a White House missing these qualities over the past six years.
For a news junky like me, the next 20 months are shaping up to be an exciting political playground. I hope that the result will be a newly energized nation and a return to the international glory the U.S. once once enjoyed.