Give All '08 Candidates Their Due
Think one person can change the world? So do we. Otherwise, the frenzy surrounding Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be puzzling at best, irrelevant at worst. But we as a nation are absolutely convinced of the healing powers of our 44th president and so Election Day just can’t come soon enough. President Clinton/Obama/Edwards will, it seems, create a national health care program, begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and eliminate our staggering budget deficit sometime before sunset on inauguration day. True, it’s an ambitious agenda, but we have learned that, with audacious hope, we can achieve anything.
Despite the slightly cynical tone, I really am optimistic about the future and believe that our next (Democratic) president will do great things. There are times, however, when I am also struck by the paralyzing thought that the next leader of this country might not be a Democrat. I don’t think this is just my fear, but one shared by countless Americans, and it leads us to a solution that may not be much better than the problem we’re trying to fix.
The most recent Iowa poll places Hillary Clinton slightly ahead of John Edwards and Barack Obama, and national polls show Clinton to be well ahead of her rivals. Clinton is an extremely polarizing figure on the right as well as the left, and yet her victory seems almost assured. There is still time before the first primary, but at this point, I cannot find a logical explanation for her popularity, except perhaps that the disastrous 2004 election has left progressives with a collective case of post-traumatic stress disorder. We still have the flashbacks and the anxiety, and the best way to cope is by assuring ourselves that it will not happen again. And so, we stare straight ahead at Clinton’s salmon-colored suit and allow nothing to distract us from the end goal: winning.
This has long been the strategy of the Republican Party. While we agonized over Howard Dean and John Kerry in ’04, the Right demonstrated pure resolve and unshakable loyalty toward George Bush. John Kerry obviously had flaws, such as a lack of conviction about just about anything, but this was an endearing quirk in comparison to Bush’s reckless invasion of Iraq. The problem was we still weren’t inspired.
This time around, inspiration is for the weak. Barack Obama has not deviated from his hope mongering, and his campaign has come to a standstill, while Clinton’s “vote for the machine” message continues to, if not exactly resonate, convince voters that she can win the White House.
I am tempted to throw my support behind Clinton for exactly these reasons, until I catch sight of Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd at various debates and interviews. All three are interesting figures in their own right, with many years of experience and some rather provocative ideas. Governor Richardson turned New Mexico into the clean energy state through actions such as eliminating the tax on hybrid cars, and made New Mexico the second state (following California) to privately fund stem-cell research. He also has some of the wittiest candidate ads on television today. Senator Dodd calls for a renewed interest in public service and a greater emphasis on programs such as the Peace Corps and Teach for America. For a country struggling to understand its identity in a changing global climate, renewing our commitment to these programs is a step in the right direction to unifying an increasingly diverse population.
Dodd, Richardson and Biden are compelling candidates, but Clinton and Obama are great as well, and if either one becomes our nominee (and hopefully president), I will be thrilled. But at the same time, I worry that we are closing off our options too soon in the name of victory. Oberlin students are known for supporting the unknowns, the underdogs and the overlooked; in previous “mock conventions” in which Oberlin students cast fake votes for candidates, the winners included eventual “losers” Salmon P. Chase and Howard Dean, and did not include the actual nominees, such names as Senators George Edmunds, Owen D. Young and John Kerry.
Granted, voting in a mock convention does not carry the same weight as voting in an actual primary, but the outcomes of those “elections” demonstrate that this campus is willing to at least consider the less-publicized candidates along with the front runners, a trait that is apparently not shared by much of the mainstream media. We have a “fearless” reputation to live up to, and that includes investigating to discover, with an open mind and an ability to look beyond the hype.
Trust me, I want to win in ’08, and I want that candidate to enter the presidential race with a strong mandate issued by voters across the country. I also want that candidate to be nominated for reasons beyond his/her “rockstar” status or because of “inevitability;” I want that person to be the best suited for the job. And if that suit happens to be salmon-colored, well, that’s fine too.