They waste no opportunity to tell us they are ready, even though almost all of them — especially the serious ones (i.e. not Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, who both may be serious, but neither of whom has a realistic shot) — have done just about everything in their power to help maintain the status quo for the past eight years during the historically disastrous Bush regime. Oh, some of them have made token efforts to produce change. John McCain made a brief stand against torture, only to buckle. John Edwards was reportedly not persuaded that going to war with Iraq was the right move from the beginning, but ultimately voted for it. Barack Obama maintains he was against the war from the start, but has voted to fund it since joining the Senate.
Perhaps one reason voters seem “confused’’ — just when it seems that one of the candidates is poised to take charge as the frontrunner, another primary comes along, and the momentum shifts again — is that they are having trouble making sense of this paradox. Change, change, change, change. If you have the stomach for it, tune in to one of the debates. Republican or Democrat, it matters not, since change is the central theme in both races. The Republicans are eager to distance themselves from Bush, while the Democrats hope to persuade voters that they are somehow, in spite of their records, not complicit in the mess we’re in. Oh sure, you’ll hear John Edwards say he was wrong about the war, as if it were a temporary lapse of judgment rather than a calculated — and sustained — position covering several years (with several opportunities to correct his “wrongness”). He is hoping that his “sincerity” will be more winning, literally, than Hillary Clinton’s odd and ever-evolving position, which has included for a very long time her refusal to take responsibility for her support of Bush and the war. Her stance is that she thought she was voting for the return of weapons inspectors into Iraq, or some such nonsense.
The sad — and pathetic — reality is that both Edwards and Clinton allowed their ambition to become president to trump their principles and their judgment. I have no doubt that both Edwards and Clinton probably DID believe the war was wrong, but did not want to be perceived as “soft” on defense. Oh my heavens, what if someone accused them of being LIBERAL, of not being GOOD AMERICANS, of NOT SUPPORTING THE TROOPS?
Admittedly, it would have been difficult, potentially even suicidal, politically speaking, to have voted against the war in the beginning. That was when Bush and his subordinates had so successfully waged their campaign of lies and distortions to drum up support for the war. Let’s face facts. The poll numbers in favor of the war were as high then as they are low now. It would have been incredibly courageous for either Edwards or Clinton to have taken Bush on, and they didn’t. It would have required actual leadership.
How credible, then, this cry for “change”? If ambition did win out over principle with regard to Clinton’s and Edwards’ position on the war, what does that say about them as candidates?
Now, I realize that accusing a candidate for president of the United States of being ambitious is like accusing a boxer of being aggressive — it goes with the territory. But have we grown so cynical that we expect no more of our political leaders than to do that which is most expedient, to value their political self-preservation above all other principles?
Obama’s position is somewhat murkier. I suppose it depends upon whether one believes that voting to continue funding the war is consistent with opposing it. On one hand, there appears to be an inherent contradiction. On the other, one might say that we have reached a position now that simply cutting off funding and pulling our troops out without any planning or provision for what happens next in Iraq is ill advised. If that is Obama’s case, he had better make a better case for it. He had better make a convincing case for why he has not been more vocal in his opposition to the war SINCE he has been in the Senate. His speeches about “hope” and “change” are stirring, but as voters in New Hampshire proved, abstractions alone are not going to be enough, even against candidates as compromised as Clinton and Edwards.
As for the Republicans, McCain’s resurgence can’t really be a surprise, can it? Where else are voters going to turn? Mike Huckabee? Not big enough on tax cuts. Mitt Romney? If his religion isn’t an issue, his flip-flopping will be — he’s this election’s John Kerry, and he isn’t a war hero. Rudolph Giuliani? Pro-choice. Opposing abortion has long been a key part of the Republican platform — do you expect that to change this year? Didn’t think so. He has other issues as well, but that one alone is enough to sink him.
Of course, there is still a long way to go, and a lot of strange things can and probably will happen between now and the conventions. But I’ll go on record now predicting that McCain will face off against Obama this November. And that if this comes to pass, in spite of whatever shortcomings either candidate may have, we are going to be a whole lot better off come next January than we are now.