Slogans flying, agendas ambitious, diatribes aplenty – optimism is in the air. Put that together with pretenders declaring (and somehow keeping a straight face), potentials “exploring,” heavyweights denying and losers crying. Stir and simmer. Is there anything like the sweet smell of the pre- pre- pre-election season?
Honestly, I’d rather not talk about this right now. Washington is abuzz with the doings of the Democratic Congress, but while Congress promises action on global warming, fumbles minimum wage and panders on Iraq almost as much as President Bush, the race for ’08 is already a go.
There’s really no reason to mention all the hopefuls; I think it’s safe to say we aren’t looking at a Tom Tancredo or Mike Huckabee presidency anytime soon. And while the Republican race between Arizona Sen. John McCain, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani will be tough, there’s no fire on the Republican side yet, and won’t be until (God help us) Newt Gingrich jumps in.
For now it’s all about the Democrats, mostly because with Bush in trouble, Republicans are happy to avoid the first glance of scrutiny as long as possible (hey, they know they’ve got the money to make up for lost time). But should a conscientious liberal really buy into the players of hype on the Democratic side? For the love of our principles, strategies and chances at taking back the White House – certainly not.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a Barack Obama fan and could even be talked into admitting that Hillary Clinton has accomplished things in her life. But these two masters of razzmatazz would spell disaster for Democratic momentum if nominated.
We could talk about Hillary’s pandering and Obama’s inexperience. After all, Hillary did work for the decidedly Republican Barry Goldwater campaign in ’64 and the Democratic George McGovern campaign in ’72. Talk about a flip-flop. Just four years ago, while other contenders were on the national stage as major players in debates over recession and the war against terrorism, Obama was chilling in the Illinois State Senate deciding on things like whether or not summer kindergarten programs could begin two months before the school year. (Though he co-sponsored the bill, Obama decided he wasn’t sure and refrained from voting.)
Those are relevant issues, but let’s also mention the elephant in the room that it’s socially in vogue to pretend not to notice. Hillary is a woman. Obama is a black man. No major party has ever nominated either. But of course no one should jump off the Hillary/Obama campaign bus for that reason. And just as important, no one should jump on for that reason either.
Obama is a prep-school/Harvard product. Hillary chose Yale, and as a former first lady is about as establishment as it gets, so let’s cut the talk of sticking it to the man by going with these candidates. At least one of them would make a fine president (I’m all for a female president, I’d just prefer she wasn’t the former president of the Wesleyan College Republicans). Prevailing social prejudices though, will ensure that neither can win. (Call me when you see a single state of the old Confederacy going to a black man, as it practically must for a Democratic victory.)
Hillary and Obama are the flash, but look to the other two potential Democratic contenders if you want substance. After being robbed of the presidency and falling out of favor with party elites and infantry alike, former Vice President Al Gore has dedicated his time away from office into what is perhaps the progressive cause of our lifetime. Gore isn’t simply out there running his mouth on global warming to gain votes; this is an issue he understands and has dedicated his life to.
With the environment in peril – pick a scientist, any scientist – Earth itself must smile at the thought of a Gore presidency. Also, being an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq from the beginning, while still boasting the political poise and awareness of a House, Senate and Executive branch veteran, Gore is perhaps the most qualified, dare I say, ripe, candidate of all.
Similar to Gore is former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who has also spent his time out of office championing causes simply because he cares. He is the only candidate comfortable with talking about America’s continued affliction of poverty and the state of the working poor. Although he is the son of a mill worker from the fields of Carolina, Edwards shares more than just looks with Bobby Kennedy and follows in a line that leads back to the eminent Henry Clay – those who put the cause before the office.
I’m the last guy who wants to champion the rich white guy in a race full of potentially qualified minorities (besides Hillary and Obama, Romney is a Mormon and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is Hispanic). But the fact is that both Gore and Edwards are activists who care about the issues. Obama and Hillary may also care, but would they if they didn’t have to? We know Gore and Edwards would, and we’re long overdue for a president of that creed.
Now there’s a break with the establishment.
Imran Syed is an associate editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org