Thursday, January 03, 2008

The dcat Pre-Iowa/New Hampshire Assessment

OK, here are my capsule assessments of the candidates. My views on the candidates for the two parties comes with the obvious caveat that I am not a nonpartisan observer. I am a Democrat. On domestic issues I am quite liberal, on foreign policy I believe in a sort of muscular humanitarian approach that makes me more hawkish than many in my party but that hawkishness fits within parameters of what I feel that liberal foreign policy once represented, before so many left-of-center foreign policy views became little more than reflexive opposition to President Bush’s ham-handed incompetence.

The following rankings are not based on my predictions of what will happen in Iowa or New Hampshire, or what will happen between now and the nominating conventions, although I take plausibility into account. On the Democratic side I thus consider both my own views and general electability issues. My take on the GOP is a bit different – consider my rankings something of a tolerability index for a number of candidates whose views I oppose and who in many cases I simply dislike.


Barack Obama: In a campaign in which the candidates’ views are not separated by all that much, my support for Obama comes down to issues of character and personality and integrity and intelligence and vision. My response to Obama is frankly a visceral one borne of his intelligence and competence and my estimation of his capacity. Race features so much in my work that one might wonder if that plays a role as well. Sure it does. And I have no idea why, other things being equal (or in my estimation stacked in Obama’s favor) that would be a problem. In light of this country’s racial history, the idea of a black president seems to me to be something that would reveal just how far we have come, no matter if we have not come far enough. Obama is a brilliant, at times mesmerizing speaker who seems to carry with him the promise of a new politics. The contemporary dialogue is so ugly that a candidate that truly seems to want to rise above divisiveness as more than merely a rhetorical ploy is especially welcome. I like Obama. And when conservatives try to change the rules of the game to somehow make the politics of hope and optimism seem shallow, I have a name for them: Ronald Reagan.

John Edwards: Edwards seems to be peaking at just the right time. Like Obama, he preaches a message largely of hope. I like his populist approach but have the feeling that in a general election Republicans would accuse him of trying to wage class warfare. Of course some might argue that he is merely firing back in a war already being waged against the poorest Americans. Edwards has to win, because he is not primed to be the VP nominee again. If Edwards gathers momentum I’d be proud to see him as the party standard bearer.

Al Gore (Not Actually Running): There are those who hope that some how, some way, things will work out so that Al Gore comes in as the shining knight to take the nomination and win the office that many believe was rightfully his in 2000. This is implausible. I like the post-2000 Gore and frankly cannot really fathom why the GOP built up such hatred for him, except for the fact that such treatment is likely to be the lot of any Democrat who wins the Democratic nomination. If something were to happen so that Gore did end up as a compromise candidate or a late entry, he would be a powerhouse. But the way that the nomination process is set up, and the amount of money involved, would make such a scenario nearly impossible. Consider my inclusion of him here as a statement of my admiration for the man.

Joe Biden: If experience, gravitas, and foreign policy knowledge and capability were the only issues at hand in this election Biden would be the strongest candidate for the democrats (and maybe of either party) hands-down. But Biden is too far back. My hope is that he would seriously consider the Vice Presidential post, or better yet, that he would consider a spot in the cabinet, preferably as Secretary of State or National Security Advisor.

Hillary Clinton: I think Hillary actually gets a pretty bad deal. At the same time, too often in this campaign she has revealed a too-patently-Machiavellian side that have led so many to distrust her. She is incredibly polarizing and my guess is that in their hearts the GOP contenders want her to win the nomination. I’m willing to grant that the GOP may want to be careful what they wish for. Hillary is formidable. She just is not very likeable.

Bill Richardson: Cannot win. Will not win. Guy you’d probably most want to have a beer with. Probably my favorite candidate on the issue of immigration. Cannot win and will not win, though.

Christopher Dodd: See above under Richardson. Except I’m not certain I’d care to have a beer with the guy. I actually support most of his policies. But again, can’t win, won’t win. Tomorrow I might rate him ahead of Richardson. It’s not really a distinction worth parsing.

Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich really ought to be the Democrats’ equivalent to Ron Paul – the wacky, somewhat endearing candidate with a lot of integrity and the ability to be a burr under the saddle of the party stalwarts. Instead he has a better chance of earning a starring nod in The Hobbit. Politics ain’t fair.

Mike Gravel: Positions are fine. In comparison, Richardson and Dodd are juggernauts. I’d actually be more than likely to vote for him before I’d actually cast a vote for Kucinich. But my hobbit line is better than anything I have for Gravel. Again – politics? Not fair.


John McCain: I have tremendous respect and admiration for John McCain now that he is rounding back into his 2000 form rather than his waffling, decidedly un-straight talk 2006 persona. And he is beginning to hit his stride again. He needs a couple of good showings in the next week, he needs that to get the money rolling in, and he needs to exercise his South Carolina demons from when Bush and his minions planted their campaign in the gutter in 2000. If all goes well for the Democrats, wouldn’t McCain make for a hell of a Secretary of Defense?

Ron Paul: My guess is that his momentum will come to a halt and that he’ll be the GOP’s equivalent to Howard Dean in 2004, except that he’ll never end up as head of the party. I admire Paul for his integrity and for his unwavering libertarian politics. I think he’s nuttier than toddler poo and his fixation on things like the Gold standard are endearingly batty. But he does not seem inclined to play the usual political games, and he certainly is speaking truth to power within his party, which I admire.

Mitt Romney: After Paul the candidates go seriously down hill for me on the GOP side. Romney is a blow dried smarm-meister who changes positions on a dime to improve his electability. I’m glad he made his compelling statement about his religion a while back, because while we are supposed to value all religions and all that, given that they can’t all be right I’m just going to say that Mormons are wronger than most when it comes to concocting shit that isn’t even vaguely fucking plausible. He had better do decently in Iowa and win New Hampshire. If a former GOP Governor cannot win his neighboring state, he’s pretty much screwed. Wants to “double Guantanamo” which doesn’t actually mean anything, but shows that the guy can pander like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee’s public persona is really likable. I’ve seen him on a bunch of talk shows, including the late night Comedy Central gantlet and he has done really well. I’m frankly turned off by the religious right aspect of his candidacy. We’ve had enough of Christian warriors in the executive branch, and on that front Huckabee makes Bush look like a piker.

Fred Thompson: I, for one, think the cornpone New York DA would make for a hell of a folksy president who’d tell it like it is with fun metaphors. Oh. That’s just a character? The real Fred Thompson is a lazy social gadfly? Wasn’t there a point when some pegged this guy as a savior? He is like a GOP version of Wes Clark in 2004. Except impossible to take seriously.

Alan Keyes: He’s witty, I’ll give him that. And he seems to believe the things he says.

Duncan Hunter: Name a policy and he’s pretty much got the right wing stand down. Opposes gay marriage, and I’d bet gays too. Supports torture. Opposes stem cell research. Standard right-wing pap. I still like him more than . . .

Rudolph Giuliani I think Giuliani is legitimately dangerous. Cult of personality dangerous. The guy’s foreign policy thoughts are so thin anorexics fear for his well being. I still have no goddamned idea why the guy gets all that anti-terrorism credit based on 9/11. No one has successfully explained to me Giuliani’s appeal. He believes in overweening executive power and I have no doubt he’d exercise it to the fullest. Some of the rest of these guys I see as clowns and amiable dunces. Not Giuliani. I have no idea how he got to be a front-runner and am not only happy but palpably relieved to see him fading, though we’ll see if his strategy to withdraw to Florida and the big-delegate primary days in February is a sign of tactical genius or mere desperation.


Steve Dunkley said...

Here is the (slightly) tongue-in-cheek English response! Firstly, I am clearly quite unable to identify or understand what it is that US voters require their potential president to be. To me a president should be extremely intelligent, have impeccable integrity, and be supremely internationally aware, statesman-like, poised and eloquent.

I agree about Hillary getting a bad deal but she is an automaton type personality, responding to questions as if a particular button has been pushed, having said that her answers are often very good. I also agree about Bill Richardson. He seems to me to have an ideal bi-cultural background, has extensive international experience and a reputation for “getting it done”. It seems wrong to me that he will not win because he has no money, has a weight problem and an ordinary looking wife. I enjoyed listening to Obama’s speeches following his announcement of candidacy but find him far less impressive in dealing with pertinent issues that he does not have prepared answers for. I’m not impressed by John Edwards, to me he seems shallow and ordinary; his knowledge of international issues also seems suspect.

With exception of John McCain all the GOP candidates are, in my opinion, a mediocre bunch. Huckabee and Romney simply want to be president – they have no conception of foreign affairs and their reactions to Ms Bhutto’s assassination were feeble and ignorant – as was Obama’s. Romney, in particular, absorbs stances that he thinks will make him more electable. I believe McCain is an honorable man but I also believe, treasonously perhaps, that we are, as a nation, too adoring of the military and in military solutions. Guiliani scares the crap out of me and Ron Paul is only standing as a GOP candidate because he would not have a prayer as an independent Libertarian.

Here’s a thought: why don’t we get congress to elect a president from within the legislature. We would at least be more likely to have someone selected on the basis of ability rather than spin and wealth – I’m just saying.

Rich said...

All aboard the Ron Paul train!

montana urban legend said...

I pretty much agree with all DCat's sketches and there is so much to Steve's response that I will have to keep coming back to it every now and then to chew it over and over from the much more astute perspective of an Englishman not wedded to the systematic American style of dumbing things down so as to never, possibly offend anybody. There are good things and bad things to this attitude, but as someone who has not generally been all that accustomed to being easily offended - especially when it gets in the way of an uncomfortable truth being heard, you can imagine which side of that warning I tend to prefer coming down on. It's also why I greatly prefer Obama - the only candidate who consistently conveys the personality and intelligence for transcending that limitation in American political discourse. And you might also want to check out this book, while you're at it - which explains how a revolution that was as much a reaction against social elitism as it was against a political ruling class, came at the unfortunate expense of a sense of antipathy for the intellectualism that was too often relegated to the elites - an attitude from which I don't think this country's ever recovered. But in the meantime it's a good thing we get Steve to discourse with!

Details and credentials are fine - I won't challenge DCat on his assessment of them among the candidates and am likely to agree in any event, but I think I've just become all that more attuned to figuring out who's most willing to rise above the bullshit meter in American politics, and with the intelligence to do it effectively - meaning, without turning anybody off and while seeming more brave than loud and obnoxious. And this is probably the reason I was so incapable of seeing what was wrong with Giuliani for much longer than should have been the case. But again, it's also a big reason for why I prefer Obama.

I'm going to hope that this election represents a turning point in American politics - where each party has the different personal characteristics it appeals to segregated out among the various candidates, rather than each one trying to prove themselves to be blander, more all-encompassing and full of bullshit generalizations, each one trying to prove they're more wedded to meaningless ideological distinctions than the next - with the exception of singular firebrand outsiders pushed into a distinct spoiler role. The slates of candidates seem more rounded out. For now, those (former, bland) roles are relegated to and competed over by Huckabee and Romney and Hillary, rather than the whole bunch. That's a good thing, IMO. I think that all in all, each candidate in the slate is doing a better job trying to illustrate what it is about them as a person and as a candidate that makes them better than the rest, and it's giving us more to honestly look at and choose from.

Heather and Matthew said...

Steve, you must crazy, Bill Richardson's wife is super hot.

g_rob said...

Nuttier than toddler poo? You're joking right? What if that toddler just happens to have a severe allergic condition to nuts? That poo wouldn't be so nutty would it?! And you want to pro-create. Sheesh!

GoodLiberal said...

I agree with these ranking entirely, although I would put Biden joint with Edwards. In fact, I prefer Edwards the candidate over Biden the candidate (Edwards talks about the poor) but would prefer Biden as president to Edwards.

It looks like it may come down to the top of our respective lists- Obama vs. McCain. McCain will major on foreign policy experience but I am hoping that the likes of Wes Clark, Biden, Richardson et al surround Obama at every opportunity and that Obama just asks McCain to count the number of stars on Clark's lapels every time McCain launches anything. Worked for Bush with Powell and Cheney...

montana urban legend said...

GoodLiberal should check out what the blogosphere had to say when speculating that Biden's bowing out of Iowa was a way to transfer votes to Obama in exchange for a VP or Secretary of State post.

I'm sorry, but Richardson's kind of a tool - at least in this race, and especially now that we're down to the final four of them in New Hampshire. I fast-forwarded over all his bits in the debates on YouTube. He seems to be nothing more than a spoiler, spinning for Hillary's cynical emphasis on an establishment candidacy. Obama had the perfect response about the significance, dismissed by Clinton of course, of articulating change -- (which was, duh, it helps inspire people and elect legislators to my party!). Obviously not something that someone running on Bill Clinton's legacy wants to be reminded of - ;-)

Brilliant job by Obama and Edwards the way they teamed up against her. I had a feeling at times that Edwards was in court and just watching his client bring down the house, sitting and nodding his head, suppressing a smile of vindication - until he inspired counsel to jump right in again. Nice job to them both. Despite how tired Obama was, Hillary was way overwhelmed.

GoodLiberal said...

didn't see that blogosphere buzz, but it sounds perfect to me. Obama/Biden would have been my ultimate pick at the beginning of the whole process, although the word 'General' in 'General Wesley Clark' might help the ticket more. Either way, Biden should play a major role in the next administration, hopefully as Secretary of State.

I also agree with you on Bill Richardson. Most people have heard of the women issues that some allege he has, and Ryan Lizza did a very interesting profile of him for TNR which showed him to be as policy-lite as he is resume-heavy. He's only waiting to know who to endorse.

montana urban legend said...

If the women issues refers to affairs, I might have heard about that in passing before, but not paid it much mind. And if he still doesn't know whom to endorse then he is an even bigger tool than I thought. I'm sure you'll enjoy Gore's endorsement of Obama when it comes, as Andrew Sullivan's awaiting.

But chances for American political phenomena to materialize successfully come and go quite quickly. I can think of Nixon coming back eight years later, but I think 1968 was an incredibly anomalous time. That's why all of Obama's core supporters/encouragers emphasized this window of opportunity to him. That's why Bill C. is going down so hard at watching his wife kick the presidential bucket. The nineties came and went. The idea of a liberal general-leader to oppose Bush came and went. But the need for hope that's not peddled by a completely psychologically dis-integrated spin-monger like Clinton never does.

Interestingly enough, reading Bill's strident defenses of Hill lately, he said that he thought that she shouldn't marry him because she'd make a good president. Not sure why he thought marrying him would weigh her down politically, but now I see her running to him and her need to be a political chameleon as part of it. Perhaps she could have learned to be a less disingenuous panderer had she married Obama and been influenced by him rather than Bill.

I'm trying (and desperately so, if not successfully at that) to not write too much speculation about her because losing is not fun, but to me it's all too transparent that her whole psychology is in trying to win the respect of her Republican father. That's why this struggle with Obama and his rising credentials among conservatives - and therefore, among a much broader portion of the electorate generally - is so personal for her. It must suck. But then again, so must being condemned to living forever in the past.

Steve Dunkley said...

Heather and Matthew – heat is relative as the Yemeni said to the Inuit!

Montana and G’Lib. I watched Bill Richardson on TV the other evening and was a little disappointed in his poise and eloquence - but still impressed by the content. A thought for G’Lib: If Richardson is high on Resume and low on Policies but Obama (by implication) the reverse, high on Policy low on Resume – who would we want for President? Someone who has credentials of proven experience or someone who promises much from an empty base? Promises are cheap and easy, achievement is expensive and difficult. Who do you want as head of state? Again, I’m just sayin’. As Dcat will tell you, I am just an ignorant immigrant taking advantage of subsidized edumication.

In reality, if it comes to a choice I would prefer Obama to Clinton (Republican defeat is a given). Youthful enthusiasm over aged cynicism or open-minded (I hope) over party dogma is probably preferable! But then again…

Again, in reality; Obama as president, Oprah Winfrey as Vice-president, Richardson as Secretary of State and McClain as Defense Secretary (as long as Bill is strong enough to prevent military excesses from John).

Developing the previous thought (from ages ago), one of the most difficult issues facing the United States, is the (sometimes) spectacular unfamiliarity with international affairs by Congress, Edwards, Romney, Huckaby, Guiliani and Obama and the electorate as a whole. If we get our elected congressmen and women to choose the president from the legislature and the president chooses the cabinet - also from the legislature. Just ponder the greater transparency and accountability. Face it chaps – they cannot do worse! Closer involvement on the international scene by congress and the electorate would (imo) have prevented the disaster that has been Iraq. By the way, if you pronounce Iraq and Iran as Eye-raq and Eye-ran and Arabs as Ai-rabs, you are a poorly educated, Republican redneck and have no business on this blog. Most Ai-mericans would agree with this and possibly some Eye-talians.

Why is it the media only covers two or three candidates from each party?

Ron Paul is nuttier than greased squirrel shit!

I’m a citizen, so you can’t deport me!

Obama – 1 Clinton – 1!

As always, I’m just saying!


montana urban legend said...

Steve - your comment must have come in right after I got to the homepage, cause it just said "9 comments".

Anyway, I'm really not feeling this independent spirit everyone tells me NH is famous for. Way to go! Now try weasling me into believing that going with cynical establishment figures is the way to show true judgment. I'm not buying it.

But like with all the other jokers you non-independents have handed me over the years, I accept it.

montana urban legend said...

Having recently read a post on the distinction Maine has, of being the most racially antagonistic state, perhaps this was an example of a lot of moneyed and wanna-be white New England ladies and their husbands, asserting their sense of privilege by casting votes for someone who can really identify with that emotion more generally.

Any thoughts, dcat?

montana urban legend said...

Steve, even if you're just venting, the American system won't change. We're a much larger country than the more democratic, parliamentary systems in the tiny European nations, and political stability is therefore more important - which is what the presidential system affords.

Luckily we have focused in on only 2 or 3 candidates in each party early, since there are good reasons for why the others don't stand a chance, as even these first few contests have now made clear. And yes, even though Ron Paul is a nut, FOX still should have let him into their debates. And even if he now turns out to have been somewhat of a bigoted nut or a look-the-other-way-to-bigotry nut.

I don't see what's so wrong about pronunciations that vary from one's own.

Americans don't have to care much about what happens in the rest of the world because they have power. I'd be interested to see if British attitudes toward the rest of their empire paralleled those of America today when the sun never set on it. Things are different when you no longer carry that big stick.

I'm more concerned about Americans' ignorance generally - and their assertion of said ignorance as if it were a virtue - and how they can't even see a phony when one is looking right into their faces with a pandering grin.

And, oh yeah, that "showing of emotion" clip of Hillary was the phoniest thing I've ever seen.

Think that's about it... for now.