February 19, 2007

Presidents' Day presidential predictions: Democrats

Yesterday I rated the Republican field of presidential wannabes. Today I'll look at Democrats.

Hillary Clinton is peeved by questions about her 2002 Iraq vote: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from," Clinton told an audience in Dover, N. H. (NYT, Feb. 18, 2007)

That answer includes a reminder she might want to avoid giving us. To write off a group of voters at this point in the campaign seems unthoughtful or overconfident at best. I woulda, coulda, been a Hillary supporter, but ... suddenly she's tougher on me than she was on Bush/Cheney when it would have counted. Her current rhetoric opposing Bush's belligerence toward Iran flows easily. Yet the senator apparently thinks it's just as important to show firmness toward her own party's members who were right in 2002. Frightened to death (again) of the name-calling gang that she - not we - enabled, she's making a bad mistake worse.

I hate to see a person with so much ability lock herself in a triangulation corner, but that was her choice when she not only signed Bush's blank check but gave him the keys to the vault. I don't expect an apology (but I can't speak for the families who paid the ultimate price). If Clinton remains unable to admit her mistake - even after seeing the consequences that many had predicted would ensue from her fateful decision - what does that say about her judgment then, or now? Has she learned nothing?

Barack Obama makes a good speech. The question is, where does he go from there? Although he was correct in voicing opposition to the Iraq invasion, that's one issue of many and in itself not enough to win an election. We have a year to see how he looks in his new "national figure" getup. So far, he's looking good, but can he overtake Hillary?

John Edwards has endured one national race already, but needs to break out in the early primaries if he is to compete nationally. Like Clinton, Edwards trusted Bush's Iraq policy but has at least acknowledged the error. For a man running a populist campaign for the second time in four years, he continues to show discomfort with gay and lesbian issues. That may not hurt him with the majority of voters, but his hesitation to embrace those among us still awaiting full citizenship raises questions about the depth of his understanding of the very principle upon which his candidacy is based: an even shake for all Americans. Perhaps he will get there yet.

Wesley Clark seems late to the game, again. Perhaps he will make it onto someone's ticket as VP. Christopher Dodd is earnest and organized and knows real movie stars. Joe Biden is articulate and clean and ... did I mention articulate? Vilsack and Gravel are tossups for ambassador to a third world country. Kucinich is right on lots of issues, but there's little reason to believe he can improve much on his previous run.

Let's assume for discussion that Clinton, Obama and Edwards divvy up most of the early support. Does the selection process then become a media-driven beauty contest, with the issues secondary, or will voters give the other candidates a closer look?

If they do, Bill Richardson has an impressive resume to consider: U. S. congressman, U. N. ambassador, Energy secretary and New Mexico governor. He is a skilled negotiator and has an Hispanic heritage. Like the others, Richardson has weaknesses, but voters may like his low-key demeanor. After eight years of craziness, people should be ready for a president who appears stable, rational and reasonable.

With so many qualified candidates, how does non-candidate Al Gore make the list? It is entirely possible that no one in the race will have built a commanding lead by fall - and we will be tired of everybody's campaign. That might open an enticing door for Al to walk through - especially if polls at the time give him an edge over other Democrats when each is matched against potential Republican nominees.

Following the 2000 election, I never wanted to see Gore run for office again. But, even with his sometimes irritating style, his god-awful choice of Leiberman as a running mate, and his lack of emphasis on the Clinton-Gore record, Gore did after all win the popular vote. His realistic view of the world is needed now more than ever. I can think of no one better qualified - and I can think of no ticket on the Republican side that beats a Gore-Obama, a Gore-Richardson, or a Gore-"anybody" team in 2008.

To say, as some do, that everyone in the presidential race has as much or more experience than George Bush had in 2000 may be true, but it misses the point. Bush's level of prior experience, his ideological mindset and his psychological makeup are hardly appropriate measures for his successor. "Better" leaves the bar too low. We must elect the best - and that means nominating the best each party has to offer.

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