National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: One Year From Now

It will be just about a year from now that the two major political parties in the U.S. will finally have decided what their tickets will be for the November 2008 presidential election. Rising above the din of the current intra-party wrangling to see over all that and forecast where the nation will be in one year is not easy.

Don’t forget that in November 2008, Americans will be voting on another new Congress, as well as a new president. The polls that show a present, general malaise and discontent with the performance of the current Congress can’t be reassuring to anyone.

One can only hope that with the way we are being bombarded, at this early stage, by presidential politics, Americans will not be suffering from a kind of battle fatigue by a year from now.

Only by ending the primary process as early as possible can either party avoid this. With the media being paid to lap everything up and throw onto the airwaves, every little spat between contending candidates at this stage makes the nightly news.

Caught up in the process, themselves, the candidates seem to feel they can’t let even the slightest dig by an opponent go unanswered. On the contrary, the challenge, as they appear to see it, is to one-up the other every time.

We’ve seen, in a number of the debates so far, that the more a candidate thinks he or she can actually win, the less they are willing to say, or at least the less they’re willing to say about what they might really think.

But all the polls, including the polls showing a widespread disdain for the now-Democratic controlled Congress, indicate that the American people want their politicians to show more nerve, more candor, more decisiveness, and more willingness to stand against conventional wisdom.

None among the Democratic presidential candidates, for example, is willing to really “tell it like it is” more than Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. He brings a certain disarming, almost childlike innocence to issues that other candidates and their handlers stay up all night trying to figure just the right, most carefully-crafted answer to.

He can make things very simple. Anyone who’s against what the Bush administration has been doing for the last six years can’t really argue against his points. Restoring and guaranteeing civil liberties, ensuring full equality under the law (without backing away from some unpopular language), and ending the war in Iraq all seem pretty obviously the right thing to do and quite doable, the way he puts it.

Alas, he is dismissed because he is, as they say, unelectable. It’s nice to have him running. Give him a pat on the head. But get real, who would give a dime to a loser?

Given this, it’s been more than a little discouraging to see the front-runner Democrats in their horse races for money this year. It’s been all about each trying to out-fundraise the other, including with urgent calls from phone banks and broadcast e-mails desperately appealing for funds to come in before some midnight reporting deadline.

Some say, “Why give a dime to Kucinich?” Others say, “Why give a dime to a candidate who is only going to use it against another candidate of his or her own party?”

In the twilight zone between the perhaps-too-principled idealism of Kucinich and the perhaps-too-crass pragmatism of the front runners comes someone like Sen. John Edwards.

He’s a distant third, at best, among the Democratic contenders, so he’s far enough back to be more focused on his issues rather than his electability. He spends his time talking about bringing the disparity between the super-rich and the rest of us more into balance, offering universal health care and such things, rather than on how he’s the best candidate. But, on the other hand, he considers himself close enough to gaining a possible spot on the ticket that he’s too cautious speaking to some issues, just like the candidates ahead of him in the polls.

Looking at the present G.O.P. field, it is hard to see a ticket emerge that would truly excite that party’s rank and file, much less the nation as a whole. Unless something new happens, that party seems destined for internal dissention and disaffection, no matter who gets the nod.

But a year can be a very long time. Calendar time is subordinate to the pacing and intensity of events, and there are going to be a lot of those crammed into the coming months. Add the economy and global instability factors into the mix, and who knows what the 2008 election will look like come next August?