John Edwards is running for president. The former trial lawyer has all of the assets that a presidential candidate should have. He’s from the South, he’s articulate, he has a nice family, he’s intelligent and at 49 he looks younger than some of the graduate students attending the University.

In order to win the Democratic nomination, however, Edwards will have to fight off a bevy of presidential hopefuls, most of whom have more experience in public service than the first-term North Carolinian.

As the Democratic field begins to take shape, political observers have found a common denominator among the candidates. The primary might as well be called the good-hair primary because most of the candidates have great hair. Edwards has found his way into GQ magazine, Sen. John Kerry’s trademark is the thick mop on his head and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle would be unrecognizable without his dark locks.

While the fact that leading politicians have great hair doesn’t surprise anyone who has ever seen a picture of John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, the contrast between this field and the man who just announced that he will not be a candidate, former Vice President Al Gore, should make Americans think twice about the current mood within the country.

While Gore has his faults, unlike these well-coifed Democrats, he is a man of ideas. He was not – and likely will never be – the natural politician that Edwards is. While all the men vying for the Democratic nomination are extremely intelligent, none of them have a vision for this country that rivals Gore’s in any way.

And the sad part about all this is that it would seem that as the world enters a more serious era, the country as a whole would want to support more serious candidates. It must be some sort of twisted irony that the beauty pageant about to take place on the Democratic side in 2004 would follow the serious debates between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

The problem is not that hair is bad. The problem is that the country is at a fork in the road, and it is trying to take it as Yogi Berra likes to say. Neither the citizens nor the politicians who lead us have decided whether this is truly a dangerous era.

In the weeks immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, the conventional wisdom was that the United States was facing grave dangers around the world and that we would have to make significant changes in the way we ran our country. We started by invading a country; then we were going to search the globe for terrorists. We were going to become energy independent. We were going to spend more money on foreign aid, give up some civil liberties and we were going to be at a constant state of alert. The United States was poised to make major changes even if that meant sacrificing some of the cushiness of the ’90s.

After having to endure listening to Tom Brokaw and historians praise the Greatest Generation for enduring during World War II, the Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and even the members of Generation Y had found our moment of glory. We had found our opportunity to escape from the world of Starbucks and elliptical trainers in order to be another great generation.

Then we lost focus. The president didn’t lead anyone to greatness the way that FDR did. He told us to get back on our elliptical trainers and to keep drinking our espresso. We decided not to let anyone change our myopic way of life, and then we lost focus. We decided to invade Iraq, not to secure Afghanistan. We forgot about the dangers of foreign oil, and soon all of our grandest notions degenerated into a frenzy of flag-waving and patriotic halftime shows.

We also decided to go back to our old ways of evaluating candidates and shun the people with ideas. Even though we are told ad nauseam by the commentators on television that Sept. 11 changed everything, it does not appear that anything has changed.

As a country, it is time to decide how serious this world in which we now live is or whether we even live in a new world at all. We need to evaluate the current situation and decide how serious it truly is. If we decide that the world is a dangerous place and that our way of life is at risk, we need to be better citizens. And if we decide that the threat is not quite that imminent, we should work towards self-improvement anyway because it shouldn’t take a grave threat to our civilization in order to find some idealism in this country.

Pesick is an LSA freshman and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.

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