New Hampshire is a lot like left field in Yankee Stadium, where Yogi Berra, taking note of the lengthening shadows in the latter part of the afternoon, once famously observed: "It gets late early out there." Because we have the first of the presidential primaries every fourth year, presidential hopefuls start visiting us more than two years before the next quadrennial election.
So John Edwards had already been here a time or two since the last election when he arrived in Portsmouth last Friday, the day after he was in New Orleans to formally announce his candidacy for president in 2008. Edwards, a North Carolinian, no doubt noticed the change of climate in going from Louisiana to New Hampshire, by way of Iowa, but New Hampshire residents did not. Yet the headline in the next day’s Boston Herald heralded: "NH voters braves cold to see Edwards." Well, New Hampshire voters are used to cold. We would expect Florida voters to "brave" the heat to see Edwards as well.
Two years out and already the pundits are telling us who the front-runners are. McCain, of course, for the Republicans. And at times, you would think the Democratic contest has already been narrowed down to a two-way race between Hillary (all the world, it seems, knows Senator Clinton on a first-name basis) and Obama (another one-name celebrity. Why don’t we just elect Cher?). I like to think there are still other possibilities. If Barack-star Obama can become a leading presidential contender before he has completed his second year in the U.S. Senate, why can’t Nancy Pelosi be a contender for the same job as she prepares to begin her first year as Speaker of the House? And if McCain is not too old to run for president, then why can’t Cheney be a candidate? I rather like the idea of a Pelosi-Cheney contest: Nancy Pelosi versus Bella Legosi.
Already many seemingly learned analyses have been written about Barack Obama before anyone has discerned what, if anything, the smooth-talking Barack star stands for. "Where’s the beef?" indeed.
Then, again, do we ever really know what a candidate is prepared to do once he reaches the oval office? When Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916, the campaign slogan was "He kept us out of war." FDR used essentially the same line when he ran successfully for an unprecedented third term in 1940. LBJ in 1964 was "not going to send American boys to fight a war Asian boys should be fighting." As George Will later observed, people warned him not to vote for Johnson’s opponent, Barry Goldwater, because Goldwater would lead us into a disastrous war in Southeast Asia. He voted for Goldwater, anyway, and, sure enough, American ended up in a disastrous war in Vietnam.
Many of us voted for Ronald Reagan because he had long been so eloquent in his opposition to big government and defense of free markets. So he doubled the federal budget and tripled the national debt and most "conservatives" still think he was the best thing to happen to America since Bill Buckley stopped writing funny lines about Eleanor Roosevelt. We had no great expectations about the first President Bush and he did not disappoint us. He did what he indicated he would do in his campaign. He did not pardon Willie Horton and he did salute the flag a lot — recited the Pledge of Allegiance, too, though I never was sure if he could do that without the help of a teleprompter.
The current President Bush promised during a debate with Al Gore that "I won’t grow the government the way he will." No, of course not. Bush has grown the government faster than Gore could "reinvent" it and has brought back the days of annual budget deficits in the hundreds of billions, dwarfing even those of his father’s administration. Indeed, money still doesn’t grow on trees in Washington, but deficits sure grow under Bushes.
Bush the Younger (Dubya, Son of the New World Order) also said, while he was still a candidate for Bill Clinton’s job, that America needed to adopt a more humble attitude toward the rest of the world. Now Bush, as Venezuela’s Marxist president rightly observed, "talks as though he owns the world." Bush the candidate also said he was opposed to nation building, and he promised to be "a uniter, not a divider." He made good on that promise while we were still in the "run-up" to the invasion of Iraq. As Jay Leno put it, who said Bush is no good at diplomacy? "He’s brought Germany and France together."
Where do the candidates stand on issues of substance? It’s amazing how little we know about such things when we go to the polls every four years. In fact, very little is really said or even asked about many issues that should be considered important. How much discussion was there during the presidential and vice presidential debates in ’04 about illegal immigration or port security or the power of federal agents to descend upon a farmer whose plowing or fence-building on his own land has disturbed the habitat of a kangaroo rat? Do we ever hear from the candidates a serious discussion of trade policies or corporate welfare? Do we really expect to hear anything from any of the ’08 candidates about what he or she might propose to stop the taking of people’s homes for private corporate development, as happened in the famous case last year in New London, Connecticut?
Come to think of it, how much discussion or debate was there in ’04 over the Bush administration’s claim that the president has the power to lock up American citizens as "enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely without charge and without trial? I can’t recall any.
So I guess these issues are not deemed important by the political establishment and its auxiliary, the "mainstream media." And in ’08 as in most other elections, the’08 contest will likely find most voters choosing what we hope will be "lesser of two evils" or the less incompetent, the less depraved, whatever. You might say we pick "a pig in a poke" every four years. Except that no pig has ever done the kind of damage our recent presidents have done.
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.