It’s the new year, and it’s time to pick a new president. In just three days Iowans will caucus, and five days later the people of New Hampshire will vote, and then it’s off to the races, with Feb. 5 being Super Tuesday, when some 20 states vote, including mine.
I have been watching the debates, enduring extended interviews with the candidates on C-SPAN and Charlie Rose, and generally investing far too much energy in trying to make the right choice. If you haven’t figured out who you’re voting for, the time to do so is fast approaching. Maybe I can help.
Of course, if you’re planning on voting Republican, there is little I can do except to suggest that you take two aspirin, go to bed, and see if it passes. For everyone else, I offer the following analysis:
In a field of good Democratic candidates, John Edwards has the edge. He has the edge because of his health care reform plan and his dedication to putting it front and center if and when he becomes president. I saw his wife Elizabeth on C-SPAN the other day and she pointed out that John will make it his number one priority, with the intention of signing universal health care into law by July 2009.
Even if it takes a few months longer to achieve, no other candidate has brought the passion to this issue that Edwards has, and no one has as good a plan. As I have written in the blog before, Edwards would give Americans the choice of staying with private insurance or signing on with an expanded Medicare program. You will be able to vote with your feet as to which type of coverage you prefer. You will not be forced to choose 'socialized medicine," nor will you any longer be at the mercy of capricious market forces that leave many with no insurance, or with inadequate insurance.
Even if health care were not such an important issue, I would still be supporting Edwards. Like many Americans, I think things in Washington are dysfunctional. Big problems face us and no big solutions are offered. I also agree with him that part of the problem is that lobbyists, particularly those for corporate interests such as oil, drug, and pharmaceutical companies, call the shots too often. Why, for example, do you think Medicare is forbidden to negotiate with drug companies for lower rates for prescription drugs?
Politics is the art of compromise and the American political system is designed to balance competing interests, but there are times when the system itself becomes unbalanced and lopsided; in these times a leader is needed to put powerful interests in their place. Teddy Roosevelt busted the trusts. We need someone now to stand up for American families and American workers, not to compromise their opportunities away. This view is shared not only by some liberal Democrats like myself but also by libertarians like Ron Paul and conservative populists like Pat Buchanan.
So, for those who say Edwards is too confrontational, I’ll let the candidate himself reply. This is what he said when the New York Times asked him about Barack Obama’s nice guy approach and how it would play with insurance and drug companies:
"You can’t nice these people to death. You’d better send somebody into that arena who’s ready."
Can anyone seriously doubt the truth of that statement?
I appreciate that fight and that spirit, though I have not always been an Edwards fan. But something has changed in the man since 2004. I think his natural populist tendencies have come out now that he no longer has to hedge his bets representing North Carolina, a rather conservative state. And I think Elizabeth’s experience with cancer has helped the Edwardses focus more on what is truly important to them, which is something they have talked about. This happens with us CLL patients and it is natural that it would happen with them, too.
John Edwards has two other things going for him: He can reach across party lines and bring independents and some Republicans on board to win the election. And he can be a moving and impassioned speaker. I glued myself to C-SPAN and listened to his Jefferson-Jackson Day speech in Iowa, as well as the speeches of all the other candidates. His was the only one to bring a tear to my eye, and I felt he was more effective than the reasoned but reserved Obama and the somewhat robotic Clinton. In John Edwards we Democrats have a candidate who represents real change and an excellent chance of success in November.
As I said at the outset, there are a number of good Democratic candidates.
I have grown to respect Chris Dodd, whose impassioned defense of the Constitution and its protections for civil liberties, which the Bushies seem to regard as some sort of inconvenience, is appealing. His decision to return to Washington to fight the FISA bill, which would give a pass to telecom companies that handed your private information over to the feds without a warrant, is a definite plus. Dodd is clearly intelligent and experienced, though with a somewhat senatorial speaking style overlypunctuated by the word “here.”
Joe Biden also impresses. He has the right foreign policy experience and instincts to deal with thorny issues such as Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. He has shown an ability to speak in short, pithy bursts that combine humor and common sense, and thus comes across as an appealing figure as long as he doesn’t start rambling. In his personal life, he is a man of quiet faith, of modest means, and one who has overcome the tragic loss of his first wife and infant daughter to a drunken driver.
In a country hungry for change, no one represents "new" quite so much as Barack Obama. The Illinois senator is just different enough -- young, African-American, not in Washington long enough to be a creature of the place -- that he appeals to the emotional need for, as Monty Python says, Something Completely Different. He is a good speaker and his argument that we need to rise above the sort of politics we have been experiencing has appeal. But I am forever reminded that, in the street thug world of elections, nice guys usually don’t finish first. I also think he is a little shy on experience. Three years in the US Senate, much of which has been spent campaigning for the White House, is a paltry amount of time to learn the ropes of governance. Serving in the Illinois state legislature may have been adequate experience in the days of Lincoln, but those were simpler times. I can accept the argument that judgment trumps experience, and while I appreciate Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war, one good call does not make for a record of good judgment. With Obama we are clearly taking a big chance: he may work out, he may not.
In contrast to Obama’s freshness, Hillary Clinton is the familiar choice, the establishment candidate. After all, she and her husband are the Democratic establishment, such as there is one. If “establishment” means stability and experience, it also means, for many, a failure to get things done. Voters think the Democratic Congress they elected in 2006 has largely failed them by playing the same old games. They are reminded of the Clinton era, and of concepts like “triangulation” and the definition of “is” and they are a little worried that another Clinton presidency will not bring the real change they hunger for. Perhaps this is a bit unfair to the senator from New York, but her campaign’s wanton attacks on Obama -- everything from kindergarten to cocaine -- have not helped overcome this concern. Hillary Clinton would probably be a good president, and I will happily vote for her if she is the nominee, but I do not think she is the strongest choice in the primaries.
I have a soft spot for Dennis Kucinich, who calls it as he sees it, who has been right on the Iraq war since the start, and who has challenged the other candidates to find principle and consistency in their actions. I am not sure the country is ready for him, but I appreciate the fact that he gives the left a sincere voice in party affairs.
Bill Richardson seems like a nice guy but somehow I do not get the impression, despite his long resume, that he is quite ready for the presidency, or that he has the debating and speaking skills to inspire and persuade.
Fortunately for us Democrats, the GOP field is about as weak as any ever was. Mike Huckabee has an easy manner and a good sense of humor but his ineptitude on foreign policy and his tendency to wear his religion on his sleeve will mean trouble in the general election. Mitt Romney flip flops more than a fish out of water and has a patrician, Kerryesque quality that is not appealing. He looks like a mannequin that has come to life, and he has all the personality of one. Fred Thompson is a decent enough fellow but dull and uninspiring, all the more surprising since he has made a career as an actor. Rudy Guiliani has no foreign policy experience, parrots the neocons who got us into this Iraq mess, and has made just enough bad judgment calls in his career to sink him in November.
Ron Paul has developed a following among libertarians and some traditional conservatives, who rightly think the Republican party has left its roots, sold its soul to corporate interests, and ended up in the land of fiscal irresponsibility, unnecessary foreign intervention, and disrespect for Constitutional rights. I would argue that not a few Paulites -- Paulies? -- might consider a vote for Edwards over someone like Romney.
And finally, there’s John McCain, the exception to the rule. I disagree with him half the time but I respect his independence of mind and his experience. He is the best-qualified Republican running and would do best in the general election. Here’s hoping he continues to grate on enough purist GOP voters that he is denied the nomination, just as he was in 2000.
Regardless of who the Republicans select, it promises to be a Democratic year. But we should not be overconfident; in my view our best bet to win and our best bet to bring about reform in Washington is John Edwards.
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