Republicans are bemoaning the absence of an ideal presidential candidate. This one is too grumpy, that one is too liberal and another is too slippery. Dissatisfied with the current crop they keep casting about for alternatives. Democrats have a similar dilemma. One has no experience, another has no courage and the third is too slick. Rather than search for different candidates perhaps we could help improve the existing ones. We can always hope that the candidates would actually rise in our estimation during the campaign. What would that look like for the major presidential candidates?
For John McCain: He would need to demonstrate that he views his GOP opponents as worthy adversaries not moral inferiors. Perhaps their opposition to McCain-Feingold and defense of the First Amendment was genuine and not a ruse to preserve “corruption.” Some senators actually may think defense of the President’s judicial appointment prerogatives and strict interpretation of the constitution are higher causes than senatorial comity. More “Happy Warrior Hubert Humphrey” and less “Hatchet Man Bob Dole.”
For Rudy Giuliani: Republicans would take solace if he recognized that Americans may like to visit New York but not necessarily live there. Many in his party would be comforted if he acknowledged that needle exchanges, gun control and gay civil unions likely would not be acceptable outside the island of Manhattan. More Middle America and less Upper West Side.
For Mitt Romney: We would like him to know we’re smart enough to figure out when he is spinning and selling. It would be reassuring if he candidly told us that he disagreed on some issues with religious conservatives but believed brave and honest leaders don’t change their tune for the sake of some votes. As someone said about JFK, more courage and less profile.
For Newt Gingrich: We would like him to know that campaigning in cold coffee shops and state fairs two years before the election may indeed be the price one pays to be President and to see a revolutionary agenda enacted. Politics should be about great ideas but cannot be only about ideas. Ronald Reagan had great ideas but he understood great pictures helped him land the presidency. More Mike Deaver and less Heritage Foundation.
For Hillary Clinton: Democrats would certainly be comforted to know she is not only “in it to win” but in it because she believes in things greater than her own election. Does she have core beliefs which are not just the right answer to focus group polls? If she does and they’re not finely calibrated to offend no one, she might actually improve her standing. More Paul Wellstone and less Dick Morris.
For John Edwards: Thoughtful Democrats would be reassured if he expressed some understanding that poverty stems in large part from individual choices — whether to complete high school, have children out of wedlock, and avoid illegal drug use. If he acknowledged that America is the story of upward mobility, not an ubreachable gap between rich and poor we might think him more an astute advocate for the poor and less a trial lawyer playing to our emotions. More Pat Moynihan and less Johnnie Cochran.
For Barak Obama: We all would be heartened to hear that his policy prescriptions are as remarkable as his biography. If he challenged party orthodoxy with ideas and not just his identity we would think he is up to the job. Hope and inspiration should be the beginning of his message not the end point. More Paul Tsongas and less Horatio Alger.
Not going to happen? Wouldn’t be prudent? Probably not. But, in 2008 we should reward the candidate who has the courage and introspection to grow and improve and not just play defense, point to the other guy’s or gal’s weaknesses, and say “I’m the best of the lot.” Then we’d have an imperfect, but deserving winner.