Sunday, July 29, 2007
Presidential campaign doesn't inspire
- Heading back to the debate in Appalachia
- Redistricting process must be taken from pols
- A shutdown remains a very real possibility
- U.S. Navy Vets case argues for campaign limits
From the RoundTable blog
Even though I consider myself a news junkie -- it comes with the job -- I just cannot force myself to get interested, much less excited, about the presidential campaign yet.
It's just too early. And the candidates are just too uninspiring.
The early part is understandable, if unfortunate. Voters in states with late primaries were tired of the decision effectively being made before it was even time for them to vote.
The obvious solution? Every state has scheduled its primary for Jan. 1, 2008. OK, that's not true. But by 2012, who knows?
More than 20 states will hold their primaries on Feb. 5, 2008. Florida bucked the Democratic Party to schedule its primary in late January.
Presidential candidates had to get an early start -- never mind how utterly sick the nation will be of the primary victors by the time November of next year rolls around.
I'm already pretty worn out with the candidates, and we've got more than six months to go before Virginia's Feb. 12 primary -- which, as early as it is, may still be too late to matter.
This should be an exciting campaign. It's the first since 1952 without a sitting president or vice president in the race. The wide open field should provide plenty of sparks and action.
On top of that, Democrats are facing the historic possibility of nominating either the first female or black candidate with a real shot at victory.
But my pulse remains unquickened by it all.
I didn't even bother watching the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate, though I understand it offered some quirkiness. I did see a few clips. The only genuine moment I saw was when Sen. Joe Biden slammed a questioner who cradled an assault rifle and referred to it as his "baby."
"I'll tell you what, if that's his baby, he needs help," Biden said. "I don't know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun. I'm being serious."
If there were more of that kind of honesty and bluntness in the campaign, it might be worth paying attention.
But most candidates are afraid to speak so candidly. The goal, after all, is not to actually tell people what you believe. The goal is to say as little as possible, as cleverly as possible without saying anything controversial or stupid.
The result is a sea of vapidness that does nothing to help Americans actually decide who would best perform what is arguably the most important job in the world.
With so little of substance to define them, candidates become the caricatures that partisans on both sides draw.
John Edwards becomes the "Breck Girl." Based on one sound clip from a rally that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can't replay often enough, Hillary Clinton becomes a shrieking harpy, the angry wife that, as Limbaugh puts it, no husband would want to go home to.
The Republican field is so uninspiring that the front-runner is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, despite a near-complete absence of conservative positions, especially on social issues. (The satirical Web site Wonkette likes to describe him as "the thrice-married opera-loving cross-dressing gay-roommate-having Manhattan dandy.")
Giuliani's one credential is that he was mayor of New York City when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, and he didn't crumple into a sobbing heap on his office floor when he got the news.
Republicans are so dispirited they're holding out hope that Fred Thompson -- by most accounts one of the laziest senators to ever serve -- will announce his candidacy.
Thompson's main appeal seems to be that he's played a variety of tough, straight-talking public officials in movies and on television.
In an excellent column last month, Eugene Robinson told us why America's next president needs to be more than just someone with "a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve." This nation needs a brainiac, Robinson said.
"The conventional wisdom says that voters are turned off when candidates put on showy displays of highfalutin brilliance," he wrote. "I hope that's wrong. I hope people understand how complicated and difficult the next president's job will be, and how much of a difference some real candlepower would make."
My worry is that even if enough people understand that to make a difference, it won't matter because the campaign process is practically designed to hide any evidence of the candidates' actual substance.
Radmacher is the editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.