As the good people of New Hampshire file through their polling places to cast their votes today, I thought it would be an auspicious time to talk a bit about my take on the primary season so far...
Last week's Iowa caucuses were historic and inspiring, with a record turnout, especially for the Democrats. In the current climate of political cynicism, it was refreshing to see so many new and young voters turning out to support their candidates. On a personal note, I was glad (though not totally surprised) to see that ALL 3 qualifying Democratic candidates received more votes than any of the qualifying Republicans, reinforcing the feeling that any Democratic nominee will have a good chance at reaching the White House this year. Much was made of Hillary Clinton's 3rd place finish, but even she was several percentage points ahead of Republican winner Mike Huckabee.
Of course, the big story this week has been Barack Obama - both his Iowa win and the momentum he's gained as a result of it. Obama's Iowa victory was stunning not because it was a surprise (he had been the frontrunner in the polls for several weeks) but rather due to the margin by which he won. I think that, while Obama has picked up a lot of support over the months of his campaign, most pundits - and voters, for that matter - were not sure if this would translate into actual votes. It seems like everyone was hedging their bets, waiting to see if anyone else would dare cast their votes for him before they would publicly back him as a candidate. I know that's sort of how I've felt... Obama seems like a decent guy who shares many of my beliefs, and he certainly has the charisma and presence to be a contender. But all the scuttlebutt over the past year revolved around the theory that Hillary Clinton was the clear frontrunner whose nomination was almost inevitable. So, I felt, why get invested in a candidate who doesn't have a chance? I think a lot of others have felt this way, too, whether they want to admit it or not.
But after Iowa, the floodgates opened - suddenly, it's not so unreasonable to back Obama. And with each passing day, his poll numbers continue to rise. I don't believe this is because people all over the country are unduly influenced by the opinions of Iowa caucus voters. What Iowa did for Obama was prove that people in the heartland have heard his message and not only support it, but are also not afraid to vote for him, despite the fact that he is young, black and somewhat unproven. Now scores of closet Obama supporters are stepping out from the shadows to be counted.
As for myself, I'm still officially undecided, but I find the groundswell of support for Obama to be inspirational. Politically, my beliefs would probably align more closely with Dennis Kucinich, the former candidate Chris Dodd, or (lately) John Edwards. But Obama has been the most charismatic from the beginning, and I can't help but pull for him to some extent. My main concern with Obama has nothing to do with his age, color, background, or lack of experience. No, what bothers me is that his actions don't always seem to match the rhetoric. He talks a lot about change, but I haven't seen much effort on his part to initiate that change. He's against the war, but has voted to fund it (a tough political spot to be in during a presidential campaign, admittedly).
But I would have no problem casting my vote for Barack Obama as president... Of course, I would have no problem voting for any of the other remaining Democratic candidates, either. This may have something to do with why I'm still undecided... Any of them would be so-o-o-o-o much better than what we've had for the past 7 years that it's hard for me to quibble over small platform differences.
The only one I can't get really excited about is Hillary Clinton, which is a shame. I think it would be cool to have a woman as president. But of all the Democratic candidates, she is the one that worries me most. Primarily, I'm concerned that she would be less than supportive of rolling back the unconstitutional powers that have been ceded to the Executive branch by the Patriot Act, which is a major issue for me. How can you be a Democrat and not stand up for civil liberties and basic rights like habeas corpus? That being said, I think Hillary Clinton has a lot of qualities necessary for a great American president, and I would certainly vote for her were she the chosen Democratic nominee.
In all honesty, I feel that most of the Republican candidates would be reasonably capable in the Oval Office, too - not that I would ever vote for any of them. But despite our differences in values, I feel that the majority of the Republicans have the potential to at least be effective executives - and any of them would be an improvement over Dubya (faint praise, at best). Not that I wouldn't still complain about them, as I have done about every previous Republican president in my lifetime (and a few before my lifetime, too!). But I don't think I'd be quite as worried about the future of our country - heck, of the entire planet - as I have been during the Bush/Cheney years.
I guess that may be the only positive legacy of the current administration: they really put things into perspective. I remember feeling frightened by the concept of Dan Quayle being only one heart attack away from the presidency.... Ha! Little did I know what depths of incompetency were yet to come. I used to think Ronald Reagan was evil, but now he just seems like a big, fuzzy puppy dog. Nixon? A bad apple, sure, but no longer the anti-Christ. He almost seems like an amateur compared to Dick Cheney... Once again, I guess the apprentice surpasses the master.