The next president: Is this the best the two parties can do?
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After what seem like endless months of campaigning, the Iowa caucuses, followed by the New Hampshire primaries and then the Super Tuesday of Feb. 5 in 23 states, are nearly upon us.
The trouble is that -- whether it is overexposure, the persistent pecking of candidates at each other's faults or perhaps the fact that the U.S. presidency is such a formidable responsibility that it is difficult to imagine anyone filling it satisfactorily -- neither the Democratic nor the Republican slate of candidates seems, at this point, to contain an excellent future president.
On the Democratic side, the pack leaders are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. Were she to become the nominee, Mrs. Clinton would face an uphill battle toward election, given her high negatives among many voters. There is also the question of whether Americans would be willing to give a Clinton another term in the White House, after former President Bill Clinton, with all his virtues and vices, already had two.
Mr. Obama during the campaign has revealed some brightness of vision, but also some fairly raw inexperience. With him there remains, unfortunately in our view, the question of whether Americans would elect an African American as president. Mr. Edwards expresses strong views on many subjects and champions the cause of the American worker, but he failed to win the party nomination in 2004 and as John Kerry's vice presidential running mate that year was unable to win even his home state for the ticket.
On the Republican side, the top three are probably Sen. John McCain, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Americans should not let age become a major factor, but at 72 on Inauguration Day, Mr. McCain will be seen by many voters as too old for the job. Mr. Giuliani has both some questionable associations in his past and lobbying relationships in his present. In addition, what exactly has he done to qualify for the presidency apart from not coming unstuck as New York City mayor on 9/11? Mr. Romney has changed positions on issues so many times now that the people of even his home state, Massachusetts, profess not to recognize him anymore.
The outcomes of Iowa, New Hampshire and Super Tuesday may provide clarity as to the preferences of many voters. Or the results may be fractured, with different candidates taking different states. If that is the case, the door may open for new candidates -- as example, former Vice President Al Gore for the Democrats and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the Republicans.
It would be hard for either of them to come in now, but if the early contests do not present a clear pattern, who knows? Mr. Gore is widely known, with his Oscar, Nobel Peace Prize and snatched-away electoral victory in 2000. Mr. Bloomberg has the advantage of having run New York City well for six years and of not needing money to run. No one owns either of them.
It may be painful for the rest of the country to see Iowa and New Hampshire have such a decisive role to play, but everyone would certainly like to see some clarity in these campaigns. Regardless of who wins the early rounds, both Democrats and Republicans should insist on nothing less than the best candidate for president.
First Published December 30, 2007 12:00 am