The Campaign Before Us

As spring comes, the landscape is still populated by presidential candidates. It appears that the Republican nomination is set, and

As spring comes, the landscape is still populated by presidential candidates. It appears that the Republican nomination is set, and Senator John McCain has positioned himself as a conservative Republican, even though large segments of fundamentalist Christian groups and the some of the GOP chattering class dislike the mercurial maverick. McCain continues to preach the sterling virtues of staying in Iraq-even if that commitment lasts a century. He has been the prime supporter of the surge in US troop force, which he proudly proclaimed is now working. It appears as though that violence is increasing again, and even the US troop commander and the US ambassador in Iraq seemed discouraged by the lack of progress on the civilian front and the misguided campaign in some cities.

Also, McCain is not very knowledgeable about the major issues plaguing the nation: the collapsing credit market, the housing crises, the problems of medical coverage. McCain is really more interested in being our commander in chief than in dealing with the complexities of the modern presidency. Still, his disciplined and amiable personality makes him a powerful candidate. And of course his personal history is a compelling one-a genuine American war hero, a man who lives and breathes patriotism. Not a day goes by, he has said, when he is not proud to be an America.

On the Democrat side, Senator Hillary Clinton made it clear she will fight for the nomination into the party's convention and insists that the Florida and Michigan delegations (which are probably mainly for her) be admitted into the convention count even though they violated the rules about holding primaries too early. She is running out of money for the primary season; her funds for the general election are legally separated, and she has pretty much tapped out her big donors by now. Bills are not being paid and vendors are not getting their due. Obama partisans have insisted that she should drop out, but she rightfully points to her victories in New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and her strength in Pennsylvania. Those are big electoral vote states that cannot be ignored. Of all the candidates last year and presently, she is surely the most knowledgeable about the major public policy issues. As they say in baseball, her bench has depth-strong advisers in each area. But at times, those seasoned politics of Senator Clinton (and former President Clinton) seem to hurt her candidacy. This is, in part, because of the bare-knuckled political system they have both come to epitomize. That style is not in public favor; the voters are weary of the tong wars of partisanship. They desperately want us out of the war, a strong and fairer economy, a relaxation of anxieties on medical converge, educational quality, and immigration reform. The skills needed to win elections are not necessarily the same as those required to govern. George Bush II has taught us that lesson.

A good segment of the populace, especially the young, have mobilized their energies behind Senator Barrack Obama-a most unlikely candidate. With only several years in the US Senate, he has argued rather effectively that there needs to be a new sort of politics, a bipartisanship that leads to solutions to our problems. He attacks the basic pillars of interest group liberalism, and argues for a new paradigm for governing. What it is and how we get there is unclear. For Obama is merely the head of movement, not the leader of a faction. Still, he has tapped into a deep reservoir of discontent. We want something different, nobler, more worthy of our better angles. To Hillary's chagrin, he has become the insurgent candidate, the reformer of this race. He is clearly not as knowledgeable and experienced as she is and at times he seems a little confused in his judgments of close friends. But Obama is an extraordinarily competent campaigner, drawing huge adoring crowds. Yet, can he accumulate enough electoral votes to win the national election? Can he really carry Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, and Texas in November?

The 2008 presidential race is truly an extraordinary witness to American vigor, American wealth, American mass participation, and our insistence that there is something better out there. Where is it though?


Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.

The Campaign Before Us