At this point of the 2004 election season, we were months away from any Democratic presidential candidate taking the lead and looking like a likely nominee. I just can't get over how ahead of schedule we are to have Obama and Clinton (and Edwards, kind of) already being the clear front runners.
To prepare for the July 23rd debate, I went online and looked at the websites of Obama, Clinton, Edwards and - my hero - Dennis Kucinich. I was impressed by the level detail of Edwards' plans for the economy, Iraq and the environment. I was really impressed with the thoroughness of Clinton's health care ideas. Based on the websites alone, I'd be looking at Clinton and Edwards as my main choices.
Then I watched the debate. I still wish John Edwards' words captivated me a tenth as much as his physical appearance does. I like looking at him so much I wish he'd give me a reason to vote for him. But he never did in 2004 and he still doesn't now. Why? I don't know. His assertion that we can eradicate poverty in the first half of this century is optimistic and wonderful, but I seriously wonder if it's true. Wouldn't we have to completely overhaul the very economic structure of society in order to eliminate poverty? Doesn't the existance of a middle class depend on the existance of a working class? Isn't the United States sort of like the bell curve of an algebra class? In order to give ten people A's you have to give ten people failing grades, right?
I thought Clinton looked and sounded great at the debate, but I can't get it out of my head that she's part of the problem. As a senator, she hasn't impressed me by sticking her neck out for her convictions no matter how unpopular they are. She's demonstrated the same inability to admit the mistake (the MISTAKE) of backing the Iraq war as Prez Bush has demonstrated. Is Hillary Clinton "Bush-Cheney lite?" It looks like it. At any rate, while Clinton shows great campaign strategy, great beauracratic attention to detail and all the marks of a born politician, I haven't seen the passionate conviction I want in a president. What does Clinton truly believe in? On what issues will she not budge? What really matters to her, deep down? It's not just that I don't know these things about her, it's that by this stage we should already be able to see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice, feel it in her presence. But I can't and that makes me question her humanity and trustworthiness.
Obama has the passion and conviction I'm looking for and the plans detailed on his website back up that he's thinking in a way I can understand. I appreciated that he said he'd meet with formerly shunned world leaders like those of Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and Cuba (Cuba). I don't know why Clinton makes a big deal about needing conditions first. The United States has a long history of treating governments it doesn't like with sanctions that don't work, refusing to recognize them which doesn't work, and refusing to meet with their leaders, which doesn't work. If any of these tactics actually caused other governments to shift in the directions we want, the world would look very different.
Take Cuba, for example. Despite our best efforts to isolate it economically, asassinate its leader and bring it to its knees until it's begging to become a capitalistic democracy, it hasn't. Maybe it's time to start treating it as the successful, established government it is and not like a rogue state.
Clinton's answer to the world leaders question seemed fear-based and cagey to me. Obama's attitude of wanting to treat nations with respect felt much better.
I must say there are a couple of Democratic presidential candidates who aren't going anywhere, but whose presence I appreciated anyway. Mike Gravel came across as a cranky old codger, but he wasn't afraid to call stuff out. He called Obama out on some of his campaign contributions and Gravel repeatedly complained about how much more airtime certain candidates were getting, at the expense of others, like Mike Gravel. You go, Mike! Good for you! And then there's my favorite candidate, Dennis Kucinich. I voted for him in the 2004 primary, reluctantly switching my focus to John Kerry only when his was the only train leaving the station. On July 23rd Dennis was one of few candidates who answered yes or no questions with a yes or no (Edwards was horrible about hearing the question and then rephrasing it to his own ends -- "The question really is..."). When Anderson Cooper asked if the Democratic party had failed the American people, others talked around the question. Kucinich actually said, "yes" before he gave his longer answer, and I thought "Yay, Dennis! Break it down."
I understand some candidates (Edwards) would like to see the debates limited to the big-money candidates (although that's obviously not the stated reason). I say, no! We need candidates like Gravel and Kucinich to keep the discussions grounded in the actual questions. The hot air that gets blown around can pull us off topic.
And on the subject of personal sacrifice for environmental concerns, Cooper asked everyone to raise their hand who had come to the debate in a private jet. Everyone raised their hand except for Gravel and, my hero, Dennis Kucinich.
[Go here for a complete transcript of the debate]