Face Time With the Presidential Candidates A libertarian curmudgeon tries to figure out where the major presidential candidates stand on the issues


Candidates from both parties have been braying the same old line we hear during every presidential election: This is the most important election of a generation, or perhaps even a century. So much is at stake that you, the harried voter, need to hang on every word every candidate utters during the televised debates. Do you want the candidate who is "standing up for regular families," or the one "who speaks the truth and who will restore America’s moral leadership," or the one who understands that our nation "embodies the belief that tomorrow can be better than today"? Such big issues and tough choices!

Certainly, whoever becomes president gains an enormous amount of power for good or for ill. Someone (thankfully) has to replace President George W. Bush, who has specialized in the "for ill" category. Last week, for instance, U.S. intelligence agencies released a report rebuking the administration’s rationale for increased belligerence toward Iran. The report showed that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, yet the president declared that the new information would in no way change U.S. policy. Hey, why let new facts get in the way of a policy?

No wonder so many Americans are ready for a new administration. But the new boss can be just as bad, or even worse, than the old boss, so proceed with fear and trepidation.

Yes, this is an important election. But even when the candidates do talk about things that are real issues (the Iraq war, abortion, health care, Social Security), they dish out pabulum designed not to offend any particular interest group. The race isn’t just about public policy, but about the deepest issues of "faith." Mitt Romney is trying to defuse concerns about his Mormon religion. Mike Huckabee has told Iowa voters that he is the "Christian" candidate. It’s hard enough figuring out what these candidates believe about taxes and the Constitution, let alone about their theological thinking.

American voters have to be a hardy bunch to sort through the information and pick the right candidate. The weak field of candidates, by the way, should be reassuring to those who cling to that old adage that "anyone can grow up to be president in America." Nevertheless, someone eventually will win the race. Here are some quick thoughts about the 17 Democratic and Republican candidates vying for their respective parties’ nominations. Consider it help in picking your poison.

Bring on the Nanny State

Should the federal government vastly expand its reach into our private lives? If you believe that, then no candidate would express your views better than Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "We need a new beginning on health care," she said. "We need to stand up to the drug companies and the insurance companies and provide health care for every single man, woman and child, at a price that people can afford, and we’re going to give them the help to do that."

Reagan without the principles

If you like the Reagan look (with a lot more hair gel), and the Reagan-like conservative platitudes, but aren’t concerned that the candidate probably doesn’t believe much of his own rhetoric given his incessant flip-flopping, then former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is your clear choice.

Pat Robertson meets Hillary Clinton

For those who like the Nanny State, but prefer that it be served up in the cadence of a preacher, then I’d suggest Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and a Baptist minister. Writes National Review’s Jonah Goldberg: "Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do ‘good works’ extends to using government — and your tax dollars — to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth."

Give class warfare a chance

Do you think your biggest problems are the result of Evil Corporations and think that America is a land dominated by irreconcilable differences between the haves and the have-nots? You ought to start walking precincts for former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. "In today’s Two Americas," he said, "it is no coincidence that most families are working harder for stagnating wages when there are nearly 60 lobbyists for every member of Congress." Edwards has a solution to that non sequitur — more government.

Authoritarianism with a not-so-friendly face

If you want the trains to run on time, and aren’t too worried about minor issues such as civil liberties, then Rudy Giuliani should be a top choice. The Republican former New York mayor once summarized his views this way: "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do."

‘Wilsonianism’ with a friendly face

Those who like grand big-government crusades will love Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Obama said recently at a South Carolina church that "we can create a kingdom right here on Earth," thus reflecting his belief in Great Society-type programs. But he’s not hesitant to use U.S. military might, either. In 2004, he told the Chicago Tribune that he would be willing to attack Iran if it obtains nuclear capabilities. And he promises to use U.S. might to fix problems in Africa.

Follow the Constitution

Those who truly believe in limited government and noninterventionism will have only one choice, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. As he rises in the polls (7 percent) and raises millions of dollars, the long knives have come out for him from "mainstream" Republicans trying to portray him as a kook. But as the self-effacing Paul recently said to Salon magazine, "The message is so powerful, in spite of my shortcomings."

Less is more

The best choice for those who believe that a president should have limited ambitions is former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Michael Crowley wrote in the New Republic: "If Fred Thompson is as lazy as reputed …, he’d have stuck a Post-it note to his wall back in 2002, reading ‘Saddam?’ and then never quite gotten around to invading. Which, in retrospect, may not have been such a bad thing."

Follow the shiny object

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is the right choice if you are yearning for old-fashioned socialism with a conspiracy-theory twist. Kucinich’s Web site includes a section on "saving capitalism." As "Share Guide: The Holistic Health Magazine" explains, Kucinich "is a dynamic, visionary leader who combines a powerful activism with a spiritual sense of the essential interconnectedness of all living things."

Straight-talking warmonger

If you like the idea of cutting through all the Washington BS, but don’t mind a candidate who in many ways epitomizes that same BS, then you might want to hop on Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s straight-talk express. McCain, after all, is best known for his campaign to erode the First Amendment by strictly limiting political speech (and protecting incumbents) in the name of campaign-finance reform, and for his constant push for more war.

The real Bill Clinton Clone

Some voters still pine for Bill Clinton, yet are getting the sinking feeling that his wife is a different sort of politician. The choice for them is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the former Clinton appointee who embodies Clinton’s focus on small initiatives (i.e., a Green Jobs program) combined with the embrace of a handful of conservative policies (i.e., support for the Second Amendment) designed to win over centrist voters.

The Mexicans are coming!

Voters who are solely concerned about the issue of illegal immigration should look no further than U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

The Chinese are coming, too!

Those who worry about the "invasion" of Mexicans AND also stay up at night, fantasizing about a trade war with China should put U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-San Diego, at the top of the list.

Opting for an also-ran

If you want to support a candidate who offers no new ideas, little money to seriously compete in the primaries and no chance of winning, then you have four clear choices: Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., lecturer Mike Gravel (a Democrat) and professional candidate-for-any-office Alan Keyes (Republican). And you think third-party candidates are ridiculous?

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register. He is the author of the book, Abuse of Power.