My vote in the Florida presidential preference primary will go to Sen. Barack Obama. In every presidential election from George McGovern in 1972 to John Kerry in 2004, I have voted for Democrats over Republicans - but no vote of mine has ever reflected as much conviction and optimism as the one I am casting for Sen. Obama Tuesday, January 29. (I voted by absentee ballot several days ago.)
Nearly a year ago, February 19, 2007, I ranked the major contenders’ chances of becoming the 2008 Democratic Party’s nominee for president:
1- Gore, 2- Obama, 3- Clinton, 4- Edwards, 5- Richardson, 6-Dodd.
Except for the absence of Al Gore in the race, my perceptions and expectations have changed little in the past year. Admittedly, politics is not Gore's strong suit, as I recognized at the time. (Take Lieberman. Please.) But if we could get inside the 2000 standard-bearer's head and heart, we might find that he shunned the 2008 race because of his intimate knowledge of the Clintons’ political survival skills. It has become obvious in recent weeks of the campaign that Bill and Hillary would have done to Gore what they have done to Obama. Perhaps in remaining clear of the fray, Gore put the country and his party ahead of personal ambition and the bloodletting that would have split Democrats and handed the White House to a Bush clone, regardless of who won the Democratic nomination.
The "ready on day one" candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has demonstrated a level of cynicism that should preclude her from ever seeing day one of a Hillary presidency. Her husband defined the "Clinton doctrine" last week: Run every race as if it's your last because if you don't, it could be your last. Translation: Win today at any cost, then worry tomorrow about staunching the wounds.
I have supported and defended Bill and Hillary Clinton since 1992, despite my disagreements with them on many policy issues. After viewing the first couple of presidential debates, I was leaning strongly toward Hillary because of her demonstrated knowledge of the issues, although I still questioned her judgment on the most critical issue of our time – the Iraq War. In the past three weeks, however, she has lost whatever support I had for her, and I see no chance of her ever regaining it.
When the Iowa caucuses made Hillary's nomination less than inevitable, the Clintons pulled out the old reliable playbook of fear, division and intimidation. South Carolina rejected that strategy, but the stage has been set for future primaries where voters have not witnessed the tactics close up, and where name recognition and the economy of the 1990’s give her a distinct advantage, deserved or not. The Clintons will dismiss their own underhanded tactics as hardball politics, yesterday’s news, media eruptions or manipulation by the Obama campaign. They will attempt to bring the competition down to their level. As Hillary quipped following a heated exchange at the last debate, “We’re just warming up.” Coming from a woman who spent the past 33 years sparring with Bill Clinton, that’s a warning to take seriously. But ready to be president on day one? No.
Sen. John Edwards has added an edge to his stump speech and honed his message, yet he has not become a serious contender. If he wants to see a Democrat in the White House, and I believe that he does, he should at some point make a deal with Obama to deny the nomination to Clinton. He could accomplish more as Attorney General, or another office of his choice, than he could as a gadfly without a portfolio. If by chance Edwards himself becomes the party nominee, I would support him again, as I did in 2004. This year, however, I am supporting another candidate.
Sen. Barack Obama is my choice for president because he possesses the skills and abilities to unite the country in ways that no other candidate can. He is by no means a perfect man - and he makes no claim that he will know everything on day one - but he demonstrates an expansive grasp of the issues, the good sense to bring people together for a common purpose, and the judgment to make wise decisions on matters of monumental significance, like going to war. As no other leader has done since the 1960’s, Barack Obama engenders hope for a brighter future. I trust him when he speaks, and I believe in his potential to achieve great things for this country. That’s all I can ask.