Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reading the Candidates

La pluma es la lengua del alma.
[The pen is the tongue of the soul.]
Miguel de Cervantes

I don't know what got into me, but I just read four books in a row by some of our current presidential candidates. That's not something I've ever done before, or even considered doing. But I'd heard that Barack Obama was a good writer, and I was curious about his candidacy, so I decided to try out The Audacity of Hope. It was interesting enough that when I finished, I thought I'd check out Bill Richardson's book, Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life, because I wanted to know more about him, and the media certainly wasn't going to tell me anything. They seem incapable of dealing with more than three candidates in each party, and Obama and Hillary have sucked up the vast majority of the coverage anyway. [I did some research on that several weeks ago and discovered that they were getting about 50% of all media coverage of the 19 presidential candidates from both parties.] So, two books down. I was on a roll. Hell, I thought, I might as well read John Edwards' book, Four Trials, since I was also considering him as a possibility. Finally, I went for broke and decided to try Hillary Clinton's Living History. I'm still not sure if that was out of fairness or self-flagellation. I'm not a Hillary fan. But I realized that I might have to consider her in a general election, so I thought I should give her a chance. Who knows, maybe I'd really grow to like her.

It was an interesting process, and I would recommend picking up a book by one or two of the people you're considering. They don't always answer the questions you may have about them. Richardson, for example, says next to nothing about immigration, and I was curious to see what he of all people had to offer, because he's part Mexican, and because he's had to deal with the issue head-on as Governor of New Mexico. Hillary ends her book with her election to the Senate, so there was nothing about her support (her continued and irritating support) for the war in Iraq. Edwards' book only deals with politics obliquely through the four court cases he talks about, which was both a relief and a disappointment. Whatever. I can continue to read about their policies and ideas in the press, watch debates, etc. But now I feel like I have a better sense of where they're coming from.

All four write about their backgrounds growing up, which I found illuminating. Hillary turns out to have been a Goldwater Girl and President of the Young Republicans at Wellesley her freshman year. Obama and his idealistic white mother move to Indonesia only months after Suharto begins his brutal 30-year dictatorship. Richardson was born in the U.S. but lived in Mexico City until he was 13, when he is shipped off to an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts. It was the 1950s and he was half-Mexican, but he survives and actually thrives in such an environment because he turned out to be an excellent baseball player. In fact, he had a chance to play professionally but was ultimately persuaded to attend college instead.

Most importantly, perhaps, I felt like each candidate had a very distinctive voice. Obama and Richardson don't strike me as being far apart in terms of policy, but there was a profound difference between the two in terms of tone and style. And I think the difference is important. As Cervantes said, "The pen is the tongue of the soul." You can tell a lot by a person's writing, even when they don't do all the writing, as in the case of Richardson and Edwards, who both had co-authors. The figures I only knew about from media soundbites and scattered articles seem much more fleshed out to me now, more human.

So, I offer a few thoughts on these four books, and then I include a series of reviews from Publisher's Weekly as a sort of counter-balance to my own opinions.

Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream - Crown (2006) 384 pages.

I started reading these books because of a single question: Is Barack Obama really that good of a writer? The answer is yes. At least for the most part. He does best when talking about his own personal story, and when giving history about something - the Senate or about the African-American experience, etc. He's got a good eye for detail. I particularly liked when he describes his first day in the Senate chambers. When it comes to policies and ideas for the future, however, his writing becomes less interesting. Which also sums up many of the ideas themselves. Publisher's Weekly describes his policies as "tepid Clintonism," which I thought was spot on. His style of politics may be fresh, but I don't think you're going to find much difference, in the end, between Barack and Hillary. Actually, that holds true for Richardson as well. They're all three Clintonites - one is married to Bill, the other worked for and strongly supported Bill, and the new kid on the block ain't gonna rock the boat. Edwards may be a little different, though it's hard to tell from his book, since he doesn't focus on policy at all. I get a sense here and there that he might be a little more Left on globalization and economic issues, for example, and he seems to be positioning himself that way right now, but you can't really judge by his book.

Ultimately, I had mixed feelings about Barack's book. I liked aspects of it very much, but I also found it uneven and somewhat disappointing. In the chapter called Race, for example, he writes a long, eloquent section on the hardships faced by African-Americans. But then he follows it up with a shallow (and questionable) throw-away piece on immigration. He also seems overly cautious, so concerned about his image as a fresh, new face willing to reach out to everybody that he can't stake out any territory. His desire to find "common ground" with others sounds real nice, and, yeah, like most Americans I'm tired of the bitter partisanship of the last 20 years, but I left his book feeling like he could slide around politically and not take stands when stands are needed. Only when he shifts on his politics, it won't be a calculated ploy to get elected - like Hillary gets tarred with - he'll portray it as something noble, a decision reached after searching his conscience in order to find that mystical place where all Americans love one another and want to work together to make the Republic strong. In other words, he'll paint it prettier, but it may still be an old rusted car he's trying to sell you.

Bill Richardson: Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life - Putnam Adult (2005) 384 pages.

Richardson is kind of the anti-Obama. His style is rough and tumble, straight-ahead action. "I went to Iraq. I met Sadaam. I negotiated the release of the prisoners. And then I got the hell out of there. Then I went to North Korea. A helicopter went down with two of our soldiers. I negotiated the release of the prisoners. Then I got the hell out of there. I ran for Congress. One day, the President called and said he had an emergency. So, I went to Afghanistan. I met with the Taliban. I negotiated the release of the prisoners. Then I got the hell out of there." To be honest, after Barack's cautious prose and ideas, I found Richardson's book to be a bit of a relief. And it was in the light of all this action that I realized how precious Obama can sound. So reading the two books helped me understand both men a bit better. Barack's a thinker, Bill's a man of action. He's not going to paint the rusted car all pretty for you. You're going to buy the damn car, and you might as well get used to the rust, because that's all you're gonna get. It just has to be that way in order to get things done. What these things are that need to get done, well, who knows. Probably to get some of our prisoners released.

The problem is that Richardson's book can get a little tiring after a while. Confidence, shall we say, is not his problem. And while I might like his James Bond schtick, I did start to miss Obama's thoughtfulness. What are you going to do? On the other hand, I prefer Richardson's take on finding that elusive common ground. Like Obama, he talks about the importance of working towards agreement, but his vast experience in negotiating with dictators points in another direction. You have to know exactly what you want and be willing to fight for it. Then, you establish a dialog and a bond of trust. And somehow, despite his bluster, people trust Bill Richardson. That's why he keeps going into these hot spots to negotiate with some pretty hardcore people. He's been described as charismatic, and he must be to some degree to sit down with Fidel Castro and smoke cigars and talk baseball in Spanish and then work out a deal to get some prisoners released. He made me think of Lyndon Johnson at times. He's a politician. He knows he's a politician. He likes being a politician. While he thinks it's a noble calling in the end, he sure does love the game. And I can actually appreciate that. It's the ones who want me to think they're all noble and caring who I don't trust.

Richardson's resume is very impressive - important early committee work on Human Rights, 14 years as U.S. Representative, Secretary of Energy, Ambassador to the U.N., two terms as Governor of New Mexico, etc. But I was disappointed in the end by some of his policies. He writes at length on how as Minority Whip he helped get NAFTA pushed through, and he considers it one of his great successes. I was hoping that by 2005, he might look back and talk about the mixed blessing NAFTA has been. Is it just coincidence, for example, that the massive immigration of Mexicans to the U.S. started right after NAFTA was implemented? Personally, I don't think so. The Mexican economy collapsed, especially the longstanding and vital rural agricultural economy, driving millions of people into the big cities and across the border. NAFTA played a role in this. To what degree? But Richardson simply counts it as another notch on his belt and moves on.

My sense after reading the book was that Richardson would be a strong president, but not one I would be happy with at times. But then, when have I ever been happy with a president? At least, I think, he would be somewhat entertaining - I found myself really enjoying writing about his book and had to go back and cut a lot out of this section. That says something.

John Edwards: Four Trials - Simon & Schuster (2003) 256 pages.

Edwards' book is quite different from the others. It definitely affected me the most emotionally, as the four court cases he writes about all involved pretty horrific situations. In one story, a little girl gets caught on the faulty drain of a public wading pool, and literally has her guts sucked out through her rectum. She survives, but has major medical complications, as you can imagine. The company who manufactured the drain disclaims any responsibility for what happened, even though it's eventually brought to light that several other children across the U.S. have died and been seriously injured by the company's product. Edwards is painting himself as the guy fighting on behalf of the little people against the big corporations. And though it's obvious what he's doing, I found the book compelling, especially as he talks about each case in relation to the challenges he's faced in his own life, from growing up poor to losing his son. At one time, I had an idea of Edwards as just some pretty boy trial lawyer, and I think the book definitely challenges that assumption. Of course, Edwards' book may only be the equivalent of one of his well-constructed closing statements that helped him become a millionaire lawyer, but it worked on me. As a juror of sorts, I wound up believing him.

Four Trials reads pretty well. I like books and movies about court cases (though I've never been able to read more than a single page of a John Grisham novel), and I found each of the four trials Edwards talks about to be fascinating. He does a good job of portraying the real people going through incredibly difficult times and how these kinds of court cases affect individuals, communities and big companies. He takes you through the ups and down of each trial and weaves in some good little observations here and there. The downside of all this, is that you don't get much about Edwards' political views. How would he handle the crisis in our educational system? Well, he'd fight on behalf of the little guy. What about Health Care? Well, he'd fight on behalf of the little guy. You get the picture. On the other hand, having just read two books in a row by politicians talking a lot about themselves, I found Four Trials to be a welcome break. I didn't expect it to be so haunting, however. Even now, a month later, thinking of that little girl trapped in the wading pool really upsets me. In the end, the book is really about Edwards' character. It's up to you to decide whether or not he's done a good job of making his case.

Hillary Clinton: Living History - Simon & Schuster (2003) 592 pages

More than anything, Hillary's book needed some serious editing. At 592 pages, it's much longer than the other three, and I don't think the added length means added value in this case. It was a tough slog, and, to be honest, I wound up skimming through a couple of the later chapters when they started sounding like previous ones - mainly detailed accounts of overseas trips she made as First Lady. One gets the feeling that she had copies of her itineraries by her side while writing the book and just included everything she could think of for each stop along the way. The length might not have been such a factor if she didn't spend 90% of the book talking about her eight years in the White House and so little about everything else. Many of the most interesting aspects of the book - her childhood, her time at Wellesley, her meeting Bill, etc. - are given short shrift, while these damn trips she made to Asia take up a zillion pages.

I enjoyed reading about her childhood and her time in college - I thought these gave me some slight glimpse into who she is - but she just doesn't stay with them very long. And I walk away from the book feeling like she barely cracked open the window on her life, despite all those pages. Living History struck me, in the end, as a reserved book, cool in tone. It also feels pretty scripted at times. There were three or four occasions when she mentioned something that didn't quite feel right, kind of a product placement moment. The most genuine and emotional parts of the book are, interestingly, about her meeting Bill Clinton in graduate school and what she went through after he admitted the Monica Lewinsky affair to her. The writing in these sections seemed much more alive and real. I wasn't, admittedly, a big fan of the Clintons, but I did gain a better appreciation for their complex relationship as husband and wife after reading this book. She also has a good collection of photos, including this fun one of her and bearded, hippie Bill in 1970.

In addition to spending too much time on her White House years, though I guess that was the point of the book, Hillary also goes off way too much on the vast right-wing conspiracy. This is her chance to get back at all of the bad guys, and she hammers away at them over and over. It's not that I disbelieve what she has to say, but after a while I found myself thinking, "Christ, let go of it, why don't you? We get the point." She seems pretty seriously bitter about the whole thing. Who can blame her? But the combination of this palpable bitterness and the emotional coolness of the book didn't exactly turn me into a Hillary supporter. She's intelligent. She cares about children. She's concerned about women around the world. She loves Bill. She loves Chelsea. She hates certain conspiring, right-wing Republicans. These things become clear in the book. She would probably make a fine president. But after about 600 pages, I'm not sure I really know much more about her. I found myself thinking of Gertrude Stein's famous quip about Oakland: "The trouble is that when you get there, there isn't any there there."

Publisher's Weekly
Reviews of the Books

Obama's Audacity of Truth

Illinois's Democratic senator illuminates the constraints of mainstream politics all too well in this sonorous manifesto. Obama (Dreams from My Father) castigates divisive partisanship (especially the Republican brand) and calls for a centrist politics based on broad American values. His own cautious liberalism is a model: he's skeptical of big government and of Republican tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization; he's prochoice, but respectful of prolifers; supportive of religion, but not of imposing it. The policy result is a tepid Clintonism, featuring tax credits for the poor, a host of small-bore programs to address everything from worker retraining to teen pregnancy, and a health-care program that resembles Clinton's Hillary-care proposals. On Iraq, he floats a phased but open-ended troop withdrawal. His triangulated positions can seem conflicted: he supports free trade, while deploring its effects on American workers (he opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement), in the end hoping halfheartedly that more support for education, science and renewable energy will see the economy through the dilemmas of globalization. Obama writes insightfully, with vivid firsthand observations, about politics and the compromises forced on politicians by fund-raising, interest groups, the media and legislative horse-trading. Alas, his muddled, uninspiring proposals bear the stamp of those compromises.

Richardson's Between Worlds

A charismatic politician with a standout résumé, in 2008 Governor Richardson may become the first Hispanic-American on a presidential ticket—at least if he has anything to say about it. In this campaign pamphlet, er, autobiography, Richardson lays out the highlights of his professional career, documenting how, after gaining a taste for politics in college and finaglinghis way into the international affairs program at the Fletcher School, he worked his way up from Capitol Hill staffer to U.S. congressman, United Nations ambassador, head of the Department of Energy and now governor of New Mexico. Along the way, he developed a knack for negotiating the release of prisoners from some of the world's most notorious dictators, among them Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro, work that led him to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times. Richardson prefaces his account of these triumphs with a short chapter on his life in Mexico City, where he lived with his father, a prominent American businessman, and his mother, a Mexican secretary, until he was 12, but the focus of this book is his life in America. Though the autobiography is clearly designed as part of Richardson's long-term campaign for re-election in New Mexico and for national consideration by the DNC, it manages to provide a sense of his most famous characteristics: his blunt, disarming humor; his glad-handing chumminess; and his dogged ambition. "Some politicians say they feel uncomfortable talking about power, as if it's the nasty relation a family wants to keep hidden from public view," he writes. Richardson isn't one of those politicians, and it's his straight talk about how he got the power he has, and how he likes to flex it, that saves this book from being one long commercial.

Edwards' Four Trials

In his campaigns for the U.S. Senate (successful) and the Democratic presidential nomination (struggling), Edwards has defiantly celebrated his earlier career as a trial lawyer. Following that instinct, Edwards has chosen to cast his campaign memoir as an account of four of his courtroom experiences. Four Trials is brimming with Clintonian empathy for regular folks, and Edwards is at his best in his endearing portraits of the victims he represented in medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits. He also displays a keen understanding of the psychology of a jury, which he calls "a microcosm of democracy." Edwards weaves in recollections of his youth as the son of a mill worker, his rise to prominence as a lawyer, his dedicated family life and the death of his son in a car accident. But he mostly sticks to the details of the cases; he omits almost entirely his years in the Senate and his plans for the presidency. Edwards can tell a good yarn, and at times this book works as a courtroom drama. But it suffers from shoddy, platitudinous prose. The book is chiefly of interest for the way it manifests Edwards's strategy to present himself as an advocate for the downtrodden to his new jury, the American electorate.

Clinton's Living History

Whether or not you believe that the Clintons were victims of what Hillary calls a "vast right-wing conspiracy," this memoir has enough information and personality to appeal to people on both sides of the political fence. Most will not be surprised by Clinton's reading style, as it is similar (though not nearly as formal) to the manner in which she has delivered many television addresses. Her Midwestern accent is evenly pitched and pleasant. She easily laughs at herself, and fluctuations in her delivery render her emotions nearly palpable. Indeed, the casual straightforwardness of her delivery will engender a sense of trust and respect in listeners. Though she does not offer much new material, she is adept at disclosing many "backstage" details-from the personal, like her inner feelings about the Lewinsky scandal ("the most devastating, shocking and hurtful experience of my life"), to the humorous, like the time a mischievous Boris Yeltsin tried to coax her into sampling moose-lip soup. Her devotion to Chelsea, Bill and to her country feels genuine, as do her hopes for future. All in all, her infectious sense of optimism and unwavering energy shine through in her delivery and will leave listeners with a new respect for the former First Lady.


Mike McG... said...

Thanks for the reviews, which challenged my takes on both Obama and Richardson. Essay questions:

Which of the four do you think would make the best president, and why?

Why is it that Richardson is getting virtually no play by the national media?

Any thoughts on team (president-VP) combos from this field?

Thanks, Mike McG...

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for dropping by. I'd be curious to know what your take on Obama was/is and how it was challenged.

Who of the four would make the best president? I have no idea. There are so many factors involved. I think any of the four would do better than the one we have right now; I feel comfortable saying that much.

If I didn't care about any of their policies and was just picking someone I thought would be the best leader of the U.S., I guess I would choose Richardson. Not only does he have the most experience, but I think he has a mixture of experience that would be excellent for a president. He was a U.S. Rep. for 14 years and served as Minority Whip, so he knows how to get legislation passed. He started out as a young staffer in foreign policy, was Ambassador to the U.N., served on a number of foriegn policy committees while a Rep., and has been deployed around the globe to negotiate with foreign leaders. In fact, from his book, it's obvious that he loves this kind of work. And I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up as Secretary of State if the Dems win, especially Hillary. But he's also been a Governor for two terms, so he knows how to manage and get things done at a very practical level. Finally, having dealt successfully with Sadaam, the Taliban, the North Koreans, Castro, etc., I don't think he would mess around in terms of national security. He would not be a weak president. So it's a pretty impressive combination in his background.

That shouldn't be taken as an endorsement. I haven't made up my mind yet. Actually, since I'm an Independent, I can't vote in the New York primaries, so I won't really ever have to make up my mind on these four. And unless something weird happens, I imagine I'm going to vote for whoever gets the Democratic nomination, having been totally and absolutely disgusted with the Republicans of the last eight years. Liam accused me of "flirting" with Chuck Hagel (but he's actually too old for me). I was interested in his candidacy, but it looks like he isn't going to run. At least not as a Republican. I have considered working for one of the Democrats, however. So I might have to make a decision soon.

Why isn't Richardson getting more coverage? I don't know - a combination of factors, I imagine. Hillary, Obama and Edwards have all been on the national stage more recently, so I think they have built-in name value that Richardson doesn't have, and which is so important to the media. I also meant what I said in my post about the media only being able to cover three candidates at a time. It's Hillary-Obama-Edwards and Rudy-McCain-Romney. It takes a lot for anyone else to get attention. Huckabee is trying to break out of this conundrum on the Republican side, just as Richardson is for the Dems. Also, Being Governor of New Mexico will get you some coverage out west, but not much in the NY Times or Washington Post. (And he does get more coverage in the west.) Finally, his poll numbers have been much lower than the others. At least until this past week when he finally reached double digits in New Hampshire, getting 10%. Personally, I think his numbers are going to rise as people get tired of Hillary-Obama-Hillary-Obama-Hillary-Obama. Unless he makes a major gaffe, I'd almost put money down that the race is going to be a lot different in six months than it is now. I think one of the current top three Dems is going to have trouble, and I think Richardson will then get more attention.

No real thoughts on Pres-VP combos. I can't see Hillary going with any of the other three. Obama's black and I can't see a woman and a black on a ticket. I see her picking an older white guy. Some have speculated that Richardson is really running for VP, specifically hers, but I don't really see that. It's possible. He was a Clinton insider. But he's half Mexican. Are the Dems going to run a woman and a Mexican? I doubt it. Nor do I think Obama would choose any of the others if he gets the nomination. I could possibly envision an Edwards-Obama ticket if Edwards get nominated. I don't think Richardson would pick any of the other three either. But I'm terrible at this kind of guessing. What about you?

Mike McG... said...

Interesting comment on the MSM capacity for serious attention as 'three.' I think you may well be spot on, suggesting that one of the big three will need to stumble for Richardson to attract national attention.

I'm a Chicagoan. As you can well imagine, there is broad and intense support for Obama hereabouts. But beyond proximity (although I don't know him, we work out at the same club!) and the extraordinary life story, I find myself tremendously drawn to his persona.

I didn't really understand why until I read your analysis. I now suspect it is because style weighs so much more heavily than content in my implicit evaluation criteria. Perhaps I want reconciliation more than the enactment of any particular policy and thus favor a guy who is at risk to "slide around politically and not take sides" as you say. I need to confront this possibility.

The contrast with Richardson, the 'anti-Obama' as you portray him, is remarkable. "Rough and tumble, straight ahead action" has great appeal to me in those settings when the stakes are high and the alternatives are relatively unambiguous. And I can't diminish Richardson's successes. But most of the issues that confront us seem so amorphous, so much more in need of framing than fixing.

So for me you've called the question: whether it is resolute action or reconciling vision that is the prime requisite for the next president. I know which speaks more powerfully to me but I have no idea which would be better for the country or the world.

An aside: it is way cool that we are having a serious conversation about the relative merits of the candidacies of: a bilingual-bicultural Latino who is a first-rate diplomat, an inspiring and thoughtful scholar of Kenyan and Kansan descent, an accomplished woman attorney who is intimately acquainted with the halls of power, and a remarkably articulate politican who is willing to dispense with pandering to the middle class and address issues of poverty in America.

cowboyangel said...

Mike, it is cool that we're discussing these four people. I hope the 2008 election will be an historic one in which we have a different kind of president that we've had before.

I can see why you're drawn to Obama. One thing I should have mentioned about his book was how inspirational he can be. I'm pretty cynical about the political process; he is a true believer. And I found myself wanting to believe as he did. Obviously, many others are drawn to him for the reasons you state. Here's an excerpt from a March 15, 2007 New York Review of Books article (which I recommend) called "The Democrats," by Michael Tomasky, who reviews several new books on how the Democrats can win in 2008:

Obama has announced few clear proposals but he evidently believes it possible to arrive at a Democratic majority not by blurring or accentuating distinctions between different political tendencies but through somehow rendering them anachronistic. The language of civic engagement and asking citizens to be a part of something larger than themselves comes naturally to him. It's my sense that this, more than Clinton's centrism or Edwards's populism (or Schumer's agenda for the Baileys), is the appropriate language for the times. But Obama has yet to say, in any clearly explained way, just what it is that he will ask citizens to engage themselves in.

So you're obviously not alone in believing Americans want some reconciliation right now. I would love to see it as well. I guess what concerns me is that Obama seems to be basing so much of his candidacy on this persona or style. But I'm not sure Karl Rove and those who come after him for the Republicans are interested inreconciliation and will play nice with Obama. Nor will a lot of people who vote. If the poisonous atmosphere among political blogs, both liberal and right-wing, is any indication, a lot of people want blood right now, not peace. How do you think Obama will address this kind of situation?

More than anything, I want a candidate who can win. Offering up another Gore or Kerry with their ineffectual ability to handle the likes of Karl Rove doesn't interest me. A nice, inspirational candidate, I fear, is going to remain an eternal candidate. I don't think Obama articulated in his book a way of actually dealing with this kind of vicious opposition. Hoping people play nice is simply not enough. Hillary Clinton's not going to. The Republicans aren't going to. And Al-Qaeda, the North Koreans and others out there certainly aren't going to. I don't know exactly how a candidate expresses strength, but I would like to see something more in that regard from Barack.

Perhaps I want reconciliation more than the enactment of any particular policy and thus favor a guy who is at risk to "slide around politically and not take sides" as you say.

Funny, for the first time ever, I find myself less interested in policies among the candidates. Perhaps the incessant ideological bullying by the Bush administration has affected me more than I realized. I find myself wanting someone, first, as I said, who can actually win. Second, someone who is competent. The incredible damage done in the last eight years is not going to be easy to undo. For the sake of the Republic and our standing in the world, I think we're going to need someone who can get things done and repair the aftermath of Bush. We simply can't afford a Katrina President. We need someone who's smart, effective, and practical. Third, I want someone who's strong, because I think that's essential to get things done in the current environment, both at home and abroad. Then, I want someone whose ideas and policies I feel like I'm in agreement with. I probably lean more towards Edwards in terms of policies, but I'm not sure about some of the other factors. I'm intrigued by Obama, but I'm not sure how competent or strong he's going to be. I think Richardson and Hillary would both be strong and fairly competent, but I have doubts about their ability to win, and I'm not too keen on some of their policy ideas. But it's weird for me, because I've always tried to connect with a candidate because of what they believed in. It's a major shift for me to not care as much.

So for me you've called the question: whether it is resolute action or reconciling vision that is the prime requisite for the next president.

Well, I don't think those should be mutually exclusive. Do you think anyone will be able to bring about reconciliation in the current atmosphere without being incredibly strong? He or she will have to be resolute in order to stick with a vision for reconciliation over a long period of time and to get the opposition on board. For there will be opposition. A lot of people don't want reconciliation. Karl Rove's entire strategy for the Bush's electoral success, according to Mark Halperin in The Way to Win is to mobilize the passionate extremes.

Hmm, now that we're getting into this more, I suddenly realize there's a connection between the strength question and what the Publisher's Weekly review says at the very end: "Alas, his muddled, uninspiring proposals bear the stamp of those compromises." Muddled. Maybe that's really my concern when I say it seems like he could slide around politically. His strategy of finding common ground, seeking reconciliation, etc., doesn't seem fully formed to me yet. Which is why I have my questions. Perhaps the lack of strength I sense is actually a lack of clarity. You know, I really wanted Barack to wait to run for President. I liked him a lot, but his decision to run was actually the first warning sign for me. Why not wait another four or even eight years? I guess he just seems young to me, politically speaking. I feel like he could be a great President because of his thought and vision. But I'm scared that he could also do a terrible job because of his lack of experience. He feels like a riskier bet - one that could pay off tremendously, or one that could sink us at a time when the country desperately needs to heal and recover. After the damage done in the last 8 years, another four years of a bad, incompetent president could harm our country irreparably.

Jeff said...


Thanks for doing all that legwork for the rest of us, although I suppose it behooves all of us to do some investigation on our own. After reading those reviews, I'd make the following observations about first impressions...

Obama. For someone with so much buzz around him and so much hope riding on him to be something different, I was a little disappointed to get the sense of how cautious he is in his positions. I think people are looking for something a LOT bolder from him, don't you?

Who knew Bill Richardson was a tough guy? I suppose I should have known, but I always thought he was a mild-mannered sort of fellow. Maybe it was an impression built upon the weight that he used to carry. Gee, that's real deep thinking on my part, isn't it? Good ballpayer. Played at my dad's alma mater, Tufts University. It was easy to think that Leon Panetta was mild-mannered too, but I guess he's a real hardass as well.

I'm a bit better disposed towards Edwards after reading about those cases. I think he's a good man and a very strong candidate, but I just wish he wasn't so tone-deaf about certain things... the blogger incident, the expensive haircuts, the big house... I wonder if he's ever going to shake the "silky pony" trial lawyer image with the general public.

No Joe Biden book? He's never at a loss for words. Nobody to copy from?

If Al Gore stepped in, I think he'd walk away with the nomination.

Hillary... I don't think I'd ever be able to vote for Hillary. For one thing, I think there are a lot of people who would never speak to me again if I did, maybe even my own wife. I got a chuckle out of her being the head of the Young Republicans at Wellesley. I've spent a lot of time at Wellesley College. My college girlfriend was the president of the Wellesley Democrats for a while. It was off and on again for a few years, but the final straw for us was the Iran-Contra hearings. This was during my Reaganite-Democrat phase. We split up while watching Ollie North's testimony on TV.

Jeff said...

Side note: Caught some of the FOX Republican Debate on Sunday. All they could talk about was who was willing to be the biggest, meanest, best torturer. I couldn't believe I was watching this in the USA. Why didn't they just hang a big swastika up behind them?

cowboyangel said...

I suppose it behooves all of us to do some investigation on our own.

Definitely. That was my main point. I think it's worthwhile reading a candidate's book and making up one's own mind. I've tried to be as objective as I can, but my politics are notoriously convoluted. Ask Liam. I was trying to open up some discussion.

I think people are looking for something a LOT bolder from him, don't you?

As other commentators have pointed out, one of the things happening with Obama is that people are looking for many different things in his candidacy. They see what they want to see. He's partly responsible for that, as he has focused on style rather than specifics, and he doesn't have a track record, so people can form various opinions of him. Also, people are looking for the fresh face, and he's it this time. Edwards was in 2004. But I think it's unrealistic to expect something BOLD from him. If you're trying to reach out to people across a wide political spectrum, you can't push bold plans.

I think Edwards is more than just tone-deaf. I think he's conflicted. The more I read about him and hear him, the more I believe he's genuine about tackling poverty. He founded The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, and recently edited a collection of essays based on his work there called Ending Poverty in America. On the other hand, I think his coming from the working class and being highly successful has left him with a kind of nouveau riche relationship to wealth. My own pop-psychoanalysis of a Presidential candidate. I think both are important to him. And should it matter that a wealthy person is concerned about poverty? FDR came from wealth. Do we discount what he did? Unfortunately, Edwards is tone-deaf, as you say, and hasn't thought through his own conflict very well. And the Republicans eat it up. Never mind that George W. Bush came from even more wealth and power while offering up his "compassionate conservatism." That was okay. He's a regular guy. The Republican spin machine is better than the Democratic spin machine. But Edwards has shown a disturbing lack of awareness of that fact. Personally, I think he's in trouble. The $400 haircuts were probably the end of his campaign.

I'm not considering Biden. He has a book coming out in July, I believe, for those who are interested. Newt Gingrich has something like 14 books if one wants to get to know Newt better. I'm still waiting for him to enter the race.

I have to disagree with you about Gore. First of all, I don't think he'll enter the race. If he did, I think he'd certainly shake things up, but I don't think he'd run away with anything. The Democrats aren't looking for a savior the way the Republicans are right now. Polls show the Dems are pretty happy with their current lot. And, Gore's a loser. By that I mean that he lost an election. Even worse, he lost an election he should have won. While some people are clammoring for him to enter the race, I don't think the party hierarchy want a guy who ran a terrible campaign and already lost one election to run again right now. They have a great chance to win in 2008. Why go with a guy who already blew it? He looks good on paper because he's what might have been instead of Bush. There's nostalgia involved. But let's remember the reality - this is the guy who appeared to be so arrogant and insufferable that he lost a nationally televised debate to George W. Bush.

Wow, breaking up over Ollie North. I have a feeling I was probably on the side of your girlfriend in that case. I've never broken up over politics that I can remember. Liam and I broke up over Pirates of the Caribbean, but the bastard didn't really love me anyway.

crystal said...

Thanks for doing this, William. I really don't know much about politics and I've just been going along mostly on feelings.

I didn't even really know about Richardson - thanks for bringing him to my attention.

Edwards - eek! he was/is a personal injury attorney? I worked for some of them at my first real job (file clerk) and never met a more charming but self-absorbed set of sharks. I still remember their motto from their law school days -- All I need to get my career started is that first big plane crash.

Hilary is still the one I'll probably vote for. In a way, the fact that her book was reserved seems reasurring - she's not be as good at selling herself. Nice pic of her and Bill :-)

But if Gore decided to run, I'd vote for him.

cowboyangel said...


Well, no one really knows about Richardson yet - that's his biggest challenge. It's getting a little better for him. In the past few days, he's finally broken into double-digits in Iowa and New hampshire, reaching 10%. that could begin to shake things up a little. If he can raise enough money to stay in the race a while, I think he'll be able to get more coverage. He's been a pretty effective campaigner in the past.

Interesting that Hillary being reserved (possibly) reassures you. I think she is good at selling herself, and I've read several times that in person she's very warm. My take on the book could be off. The Publisher's Weekly review said: "fluctuations in her delivery render her emotions nearly palpable." I didn't feel that palpability myself, but others have, I guess. It's difficult for me to be objective about the book, I'll admit. I felt like the cool tone was done on purpose - like she wanted to be careful in what she revealed. Can't blame her, considering how much and how viciously she's been attacked in the past.

I'm curious to know why you would vote for Gore if he ran. I've been wanting to talk to someone who felt that way. What do you think he offers that you're not finding in the current choices? What is it that makes him more attractive to you?

cowboyangel said...


I've read about the candidates comments on torture. Did the audience really greet McCain's opposition with silence? And did they really cheer loudly for Rudy McRomney's comments?

That's the really scary thing to me - the candidates are only saying this stuff because there's a big audience for it. Except for McCain, who actually had to live through it. Your response is interesting - you sound like you could be on Daily Kos?!?!? ;-)

crystal said...

Argh! I just wrote a long answer about why I'd choose Gore and it was eaten (a sign?)

Short answer ... he's smart, he probably knows more than the other guys what it means to be president, he's pro-choice, for the environment, for gay rights mostly, was against the war early on, against the Patriot Act, has shown he can win the popular vote ... and Tommy Lee Jones was his college roommate :-) I think unfortunately, he may be for the death penalty, though.

Liam said...

I saw some excerpts from the debate. They loved DB Romney's "Let's double the size of Gitmo" comment.

Crystal -- the Tommy Lee Jones as a roommate is definitely a plus. Anyone who spent a year rooming with someone as cool as TLJ can't be all bad.

crystal said...

TLJ nominated Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention :-)

cowboyangel said...

Heck, forget the Draft Gore thing, let's draft Tommy Lee Jones for 2008!

Although, he couldn't catch Harrison Ford, so I don't know how he'd do with Bin Laden.