I have been pretty steadfastly adamant about not endorsing anyone during this primary season. This is in large part because I felt, for a long time, that when the time came to cast my vote on February 19, the Democratic Party would have its nominee. That's still possible, but it seems less and less likely, and, two weeks from now when I fight my way through the inevitable blizzard to vote (seriously--can we have a week sometime without 10 inches of snow?), I may have to make up my mind for someone.
I'll cross that bridge when I get there. In the meantime, let me assure my readers in states that vote today that they should make the right choice, and vote Democrat.
The Democratic field has been an embarrassment of riches. Two years ago, I was ready to back Russ Feingold. He was making all the moves one associates with presidential candidates--buying friends with a PAC, giving big speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, and so on. If Feingold's people had called and said to me, "It's on," I would have had a hard time saying no to packing it up and moving to Middleton for the campaign.
Alas, that was not to be. The day Russ announced he wasn't doing it remains, so far, the most heartbreaking day of the 2008 season.
Yet the rest of the field remained awesome: Chris Dodd and Joe Biden are long-standing, fairly well-respected senators. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich--unelectable as they are--remain right on many important issues that the other candidates won't touch.
For a long time, I kind of leaned toward Bill Richardson. When the next president takes the oath of office in January, there will be a tremendous mess to be cleaned up. Richardson's experience in Congress and in the cabinet and as UN Ambassador left him uniquely qualified to come in and clean up that mess. Foreign policy or domestic, Richardson has a track record to love. But he proved to be a lackluster--really, bumbling--campaigner and just never could seal the deal with me.
John Edwards, too, offered one of the best hopes of the entire campaign. As much as everyone figured that Iraq would remain the big issue in the 2008 election, as it turns out it looks like the economy will be it. No one in the campaign has made more sense or presented a more compelling narrative related to poverty than Edwards. But he couldn't muster the support, either.
Which leaves us with two also-great candidates--Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Obama has the potential to be a transformative candidate, a transformative president. As a veteran of the Dean campaign in 2004, I love transformative campaigns. Obama has the potential--indeed, he has fulfilled it in some early contests--to motivate younger voters and others often left out of presidential politics to vote in large numbers. His rhetoric and his tone is all about unity and hope and change, and he's a much more convincing agent of change in that sense than Clinton. Obama's Democratic majority would be larger, have longer coattails, and would look more like 21st-century America.
Clinton, on the other hand, would not be transformative. But she would be a fixer. Again, I think back to what drew me to Richardson--the idea that we'll need someone in the White House who has the ability to pick up all the severed threads of American democracy and secure them before this thing really falls apart. I have no doubt that Clinton can do exactly that.
Which is not to say that Obama couldn't also assemble a team who can handle the mundane, real, and practical challenges he would inherit next January, or that Clinton wouldn't be able to put together a wide and historic voting coalition with coattails and all in November. It's just that each seems to have a different key strength, which leaves me at this point unable to recommend voting against either one.
A year ago, I kind of wished we could have stuck all our candidates in the transporter machines from The Fly, leaving us with one candidate who had Richardson's resume, Clinton's influence, Obama's wide appeal, Edwards's platform, Kucinich's pot of gold, and so on, and a whole bunch of flawed remainders. In the end, we're left with two candidates who will make history and could easily be the answer to all the questions and challenges the next president will face.
However you vote when you vote today--if you vote today--as long as you vote Democrat, you'll be voting for a winner.