Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Illogical Campaigning to the Margins

With less than five months remaining until the Presidential election, both presumptive nominees for their Parties' endorsement for President, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, leave a great deal to be desired with respect to specific agendas. The more that is learned of each candidate's positions, however, the more disconcerting things become.

When the presidential nomination process began, each of the two main political parties knew exactly where they stood in the public eye. The Republicans understood the challenges that its nominee would confront set against the backdrop of what can only be regarded as the single most failed two-term presidency in U.S. history. With even the most ardent Republican hard-pressed to identify a single successful Bush Administration policy, the Republican nominee was certain to face an uphill battle for election.

In 2007, the Democrats were conversely downright giddy about their prospects for capturing the White House in 2008. With gas prices approaching three dollars per gallon across the country, oil company executives sheepishly defending record profits while excusing their refusal to invest profits in infrastructure, the U.S. still bogged down in a war in Iraq, President Bush's hand-picked Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke voicing concerns over a possible recession, and the greed of over-reaching home buyers meeting the greed of Wall Street, Democrats were already measuring for drapes in the White House.

As the nomination process lurched forward, Republicans whittled down their leading candidates for the Party's nomination for President to a religious fundamentalist who preached a return to the Old Testament, a Mormon who had changed his views on abortion over time and made the unfortunate decision of selecting to help run his campaign a political caricature in Larry Craig, and a Vietnam war veteran, John McCain.

After much angst, Republicans plugged their noses over Mr. McCain's frequent dances with the Democratic devil, opting for the more centrist Senator from Arizona. Mr. McCain's nomination became all but sealed when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney conceded the nomination at the end of January.

While the Republicans were ending early what should have been a much more fiercely competitive nomination process, the Democrats continued with one of the more staunchly contested nominating processes in the modern era. With far more experienced contenders such as Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden failing ever to gain any meaningful traction, and Al Gore content to remain in the book-selling business, Democrats found themselves with two equally financed and supported candidates, Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.

Ms. Clinton entered the nomination contest with a substantial lead over all of her Democratic competitors in funding, media support, Party support, and even a set of rules devised, in large part, by her own campaign operatives and supporters. Ms. Clinton had such tremendous advantages at the outset of the primaries that she was comfortable announcing that she would have the nomination sewn up by Super Tuesday.

Then Mr. Obama began picking up some heavy-weight support--first from likely suspects like Oprah Winfrey, then from former Clinton supporters, like Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy, Bill Richardson and Senator Ted Kennedy. The seismic shift in the political landscape was too much for Ms. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, to concede and Mr. Clinton's sometimes bizarre, often boorish campaign-trail behavior seemed the final nail in Ms. Clinton's nomination coffin.

The result for Democrats was a tightly contested nomination battle that endured well past its maturation date, forcing Mr. Obama to campaign for the Party's nomination into June while his counter-part, Mr. McCain had the luxury of preparing, even beginning his campaign for the White House in February.

The result of the nominating process is that Americans are left to choose between two candidates that have yet to put forth a concrete plan for dealing with Iraq or the economy. For Mr. McCain, the only excuse for such a lack of a coherent agenda is that he ultimately intends to unveil his plan to stay the course. With four months to do nothing but prepare his campaign for the election and facing overwhelming issues which American voters want to hear clear plans for resolving, Mr. McCain's current plan to maintain the Bush tax cuts, ride out the war in Iraq and, seemingly, do little else, is unacceptable.

Also unacceptable, however, are Mr. Obama's current ideas for dealing with Iraq and the economy. Mr. Obama has made clear his interest in removing troops from Iraq. But that position differs from Mr. McCain's only if Mr. Obama explains how, short of securing Iraq under U.S.-friendly Iraqi leadership, the U.S. will extricate itself from Iraq any quicker than under Mr. McCain's proposal.

On the economic front, Mr. Obama leaves as much to be desired as does Mr. McCain. Unlike Mr. McCain's apparent absence of a domestic economy agenda, however, Mr. Obama's short-coming rests not with his lack of a plan but with his seemingly unworkable agenda.

In Mr. Obama's world, the middle class ceases to exist at an income level of $200,000. It is at that point that Mr. Obama has proposed rolling back any tax cuts made during the Bush Administration.

Forgetting for a moment the issue of essentially raising taxes during an economic downturn, there is the greater issue of grasping the reality of what Mr. Obama proposes to do. By repealing tax cuts for those earning over $200,000, Mr. Obama would be raising taxes not merely on individuals who earned $200,000 in their white-collar jobs, but also on small businesses--even those not taking advantage of LLP and LLC designations and flow-through tax benefits.

Thus, while presidential elections generally are all about running to the middle, the current campaigns offer two candidates intent on running to the extremes of their Parties' bases at a time when all indices call for a push to the middle--an ironic twist in U.S. politics.

Up Next: Hillary Clinton's Loss Offers Lessons for Presidential Candidates. Plus, stopping the madness--a call for an end to the incessant and unwarranted hyping of Chelsea Clinton as a future presidential hopeful.

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