1/09/2008

Lamentations of an Educated Voter: Part II

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney weren't the only casualties of disappointing primary results last night. Democrat Bill Richardson also saw the writing on the wall and will drop out of the race. This effectively whittles the Democratic field down to two candidates, although it has essentially been a two-person race for months. There are still five plausible Republican nominees in Huckabee, McCain, Romney, Thompson, and Giuliani.

Richardson's departure has struck a chord with me, especially after the premature departures of Senate veterans Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. While Richardson was not my preferred candidate, he did have a formidable resume and was potentially the most difficult Democrat for the Republicans to paint with the "tax-hiking liberal" label in the general election. He should have been the Democrats' dream candidate in that he had brown skin, an Anglo name, the right geography, executive experience, an unparalleled resume, a record of cutting taxes, NRA support, inroads with the fast-growing Latino community, and the ability to put places like Florida and the Southwest in play. Obviously his campaign skills and debate performances were weak, but had he received the same level of exposure as Clinton, Obama, or Edwards, or if the discussion had been more about policy than personality, Richardson might have fared better.

The same could be said for Biden and Dodd. Iowa single-handedly knocked out two competent, tested, uncontroversial, vetted statesmen who were probably the two safest and best qualified presidential candidates of either party. There are many culprits responsible for this: the importance of money, the compression of the primary calendar resulting from the states' "me first" mentality, the silly format of the early contests, and the superficiality of the media and the voters who rely on them. Because of all this, Democrats now have to choose between a polarizing, calculating, semi-inexperienced candidate that half of the nation would never consider voting for; and a candidate with almost no national resume whatsoever and a message that is both uplifting and unsatisfying.

And what about the Republicans? While McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Thompson, and Giuliani keep trying to out-conservative each other to their collective detriment, there is a single candidate who is right on almost every issue important to the Republican base. But nobody has heard of him because he can't raise any money. His name is Duncan Hunter, a veteran congressman. He's right on taxes, right on abortion, has actually done something about illegal immigration, and is strong on national defense. Isn't this the candidate Republicans should be enthusiastic about? Why should Republicans have to give themselves ulcers as they try to decide between an old man with no charisma who has betrayed them on taxes and immigration (McCain), a notorious flip-flopper and corporate suit with little ability to emotionally connect with voters (Romney), a nice guy with no foreign policy depth who has afforded college assistance to the children of illegal aliens (Huckabee), an underwhelming guy with the right accent and a glaring lack of earnestness (Thompson), and a one-dimensional candidate who commonly exploits national tragedies for political gain (Giuliani)?

Thanks a lot, Iowa. And New Hampshire. South Carolina. Cable news channels. Big city newspapers. Ineffective moderators. Stupid debate questions. Pack journalism. YouTube debate organizers. Lousy interviews. Nonstories. Arcane caucus rules. Lack of public financing. Deceptive campaign ads. Slime machines. No equal time for candidates. Blind partisanship. Identity politics. Lobbyist influence. And lack of voter curiosity.

And worse yet, this whole miserable system dissuades the most honorable people from ever running for president. So more often than not, we are left with the dregs of Congress and statehouses across the nation who have skeletons in their closets, fatal flaws that render them electorally weak, or are otherwise genuinely unlikeable people.

So here's my prediction. Come September or October, Americans will be absolutely sick of the presidential candidates, both of whom will have been bombarding the airwaves for about eight months or so. Then we will have the debates and voters of one party will immediately regret having chosen such a weak general election candidate, or voters everywhere will wonder if "these are really the two best candidates we have." The 2004 election was a perfect example of two miserable candidates whose main strength was the fact that each man wasn't his opponent. George Bush's reelection only proved that he was less unacceptable than John Kerry. And look where this nation is now.

I fear that this nation is traveling down the same sorry path. I'm fortunate enough to live in South Carolina, an early voting state, but my preferred candidates have either dropped out of the race or are trailing badly in the polls. I thought Bill Clinton was a decent president and think Hillary Clinton is probably capable, but I want to move on. Barack Obama seems like a great guy, but I don't have Obama Fever and I'm not looking for "change." John Edwards is angry about the right things, but I don't want another confrontational president in the White House. I can appreciate Mitt Romney's success in the private sector and he'd probably be an efficient and organized leader, but I just feel a certain "ick" factor about him. John McCain is a statesman, but I have grown weary of candidates who think the best way to defeat terrorism is to bomb them and that the only way out of Iraq is a slogan known as "victory," whatever that means. Mike Huckabee seems down to earth and pragmatic, but social conservatism makes me recoil in discomfort. Rudy Giuliani could have been an appealing Republican in the mold of Lincoln Chafee, but he has made a lot of petty, childish, and unpresidential remarks impugning his opponents' patriotism and demeaning our European allies. Fred Thompson's folksy style is quite disarming, but the 2000 election has taught us all that we should look for more in a president than someone who can crack a joke. Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have a lot of good ideas, but they are about 30 years ahead of their time and nobody will vote for them. And Mike Gravel has been particularly prescient about identifying the institutional barriers that hold this nation back, but then he had to go and create that bizarre campaign ad of him standing in front of the camera doing nothing for two minutes before throwing a rock in a river.

What is a voter to do?

I wrote about some of these fears shortly before Iowa, and so far, these fears are coming true. We're stuck. Everything is broken. And there's nothing I can do to change it. Richardson's exit is just one more reminder of how unfair and inequitable this whole process is.

Again, hopefully there will be some serious discussions in the future about how to improve this system of selecting a president because so many people are alienated from the process and some of the best candidates don't stand a chance of having any meaningful impact because they are not as well-funded as their rivals. However, mediocre candidates with large personal fortunes can run as long as their checkbooks allow them to. On top of that, we as voters are not asking the right questions of our candidates, nor are we demanding more from the media that should have been asking these questions in the first place.

I fear this nation is going to get the government it deserves because it's a nation that obviously doesn't take government seriously, given the absurdity of our electoral process and the superficiality of our political media coverage.

What a shame.

7 comment(s):

Andy said...

I understand what you're saying and I really wanted Richardson to do better than he did, but he simply had zero campaign skill beyond some fairly inventive commercials. His debate performances were terrible and his retail politicking was terrible. It was more than him just being a stiff on the trail though. He never really projected his ideas (other than an unrealistic Iraq plan that I felt was simply a plea for attention from the far left). Rather, his events/debates were simply listing his resume. Also, for a candidate with such a history, I was disappointed with his grasp of the intricacies of the issues. On the trail, his answers often glossed over things without showing me he had a real understanding. He is the biggest disappointment for me and I've been waiting four years for him to run.

At least with Biden and Dodd, I felt they really had the understanding and plans for what they wanted to do if they became president. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but Richardson really did leave me wondering.

Andy said...

By the way, this really is a great post that sums up the feels I have occasionally felt over the past many years.

Nikki said...

This is one of my favorite posts that you have done so far. I agree with some of it, disagree with some of it and enjoyed all of it. Slim pickins for candidates for sure. Of course I identify with Romney because we are the same religion. Mormons are a tight knit culture and we seriously have our own lingo and it resonates wiuth eachother. I can tell a person is Mormon almost right of the bat, so there is an element of trust already. But I wrote a blog on my site a few months ago about his not being personable and way too sticky. I think this is true. However having lived in SLC, UT during the Olympics the transformation he did for the games was amazing. Truly it was. and it turned out to be one of the best Olympics in history. He brought people together and organized the best volunteer effort ever seen. The Olympics were run by volunteers. Now of course you say well they wanted to be a part of a historical event, but his embassadorship really resoluted with many and he was inspiring.
Great post. I appreciate the honesty of your frustrations in this post.
Nikki

Schenck said...

Anthony,

I feel your pain, man. But how can we change the system when the people who have the power to change it are the same ones benefiting from how it is now? There's a quote, "A person is smart, but people are stupid." (Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black)

GREAT post, my favorite yet.

egc52556 said...

Competence and resume' don't make presidents. Our best presidents were inspiring and visionary and able to get the country moving behind them.

I have a lot of respect for Richardson's character, competence, resume', experience, and good humor. But he did not successfully communicate an inspiring vision for America.

That's why I didn't vote for him.

You're Welcome,
EGC52556
Iowa

Itamazesus said...

What's really sad is we never get to try less social (giveaway) programs AND less military (police the world) spending. As a peaceloving, hardworking taxpayer, I'm outta luck. Hopefully I'll collect my Social Security in a few years, but I wouldn't bet on it. What a ripoff.

Anthony Palmer said...

Andy,

Richardson did the right thing by getting out when he did because he would have gotten embarrassed in Nevada. That would have politically wounded him. He'd be a formidable Senate candidate, however. I do agree with you though that his Iraq withdrawal policy was not realistic. And you would expect more from a moderate Democrat. Remember his "give peace a chance" line in one of the debates? Ugh. He was easily the most disappointing candidate on the Dems' side this cycle.

David Brooks warned Democrats that they might wish they had chosen Biden or Dodd, but I guess presentation is more important than content, and that's a shame.

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Nikki (and Andy again),

Thanks for the compliments. Normally I don't rant much in this blog, but I just had to express my frustrations with the way our political process works and why we value some candidates more than others. I used to criticize other voters for being "undecided" at this stage of the game, but after Biden and Dodd left, I too joined the "undecided" camp. I don't even know if I'll participate in the South Carolina Republican or Democratic primary later this month because none of the remaining candidates has what I want. I like McCain's statesmanship, Huckabee's humility, Obama's inspiration, and Clinton's discipline. I'd take Romney over Giuliani in a heartbeat also because I believe Romney is a more competent and better organized manager. But none of these candidates make me say "YES! I want to vote for this person!" *sigh*

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Schenck,

I am not really sure how to change this system, but it is broken. I suppose this would mean that I should support Obama, but he seems to be more about promoting national and political unity, rather than making politics more accessible and making the whole process more meaningful. Hopefully I can turn a few heads with this blog. Maybe I'll run for Congress someday as an independent who runs on a "sunshine" platform, if that makes any sense. But that would mean bringing down Joe Wilson or Jim Clyburn, the two most powerful Congressmen in South Carolina. Ha! Good luck with that one!

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Egc,

I guess voters have different priorities. I feel it's too bad though because what use is inspiration if there's no competence or sense of perspective to allow the president to achieve his vision? The current president, for example, was much better at communicating his vision than Gore or Kerry. But I think he's an absolutely awful president and is probably the worst one of my lifetime. (Ford was cleaning out his desk when I was born and I was a toddler when Carter was president, so they don't count.) This is one reason why I'm not on the Obama bandwagon. I'd really like to give the meat and potatoes of simple competence and statesmanship a try this time because I've had enough of rhetorical fluff from presidential candidates. I'm not looking for a president to inspire me. I just want a president who knows how to make the trains run on time. I just regret that more Iowa voters didn't feel the same way.

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Itamazesus,

You sound like a Ron Paul supporter. If I'm correct, then am I right to assume that you share my frustration in that he is a marginalized candidate even though his ideas actually make a lot of sense?

Thank you all for your comments.