I’ve looked in depth at four Republican and two Democratic candidates for President, all of whom are polling higher than 10% in national polls and any of whom is poised to potentially take the White House. Here is a short table summarizing my policy ratings for each candidate’s platform, and listing some positives, some negatives, and something about each candidate that surprised me.
|Rudy Giuliani||65||Strong executive and leadership skills; best overall blend of policies||Autocratic governing style and disregard for individual rights; possible corruption||Once considered becoming a priest|
|John McCain||62||Good grasp of military and foreign policy issues; committed to balanced budget; genuine hero||Arrogant personality and overreaching vision of governmental power; past corruption||Messy personal life stalled privileged and promising military career|
|Mitt Romney||41||Shrewd and competent; likely will listen carefully to competent advisors||Malleable beliefs; veracity deficiency; moves problems around rather than solving them; possible corruption||Both parents ran for high political office|
|Mike Huckabee||34||Strong moral compass; surprisingly charismatic||Big-government conservative and possibly corrupt; would continue trend towards theocracy||Environmental preservation a significant policy concern|
|Hillary Clinton||52||Personal White House and national political experience; strong grasp of military and foreign policy issues||Imperious and calculating personality; advocate of big government solutions to most issues; corruption||Republican party activist through her mid-20’s|
|Barack Obama||47||Youth and charisma; good understanding of Constitution; not an idealogue||Careless and inchoate policy proposals; short resume; possible corruption||Tort reformer|
My policy rubric was pretty heavy on foreign policy and military issues, and I do ask the candidates to confront the basic conundrum of both balancing the budget and at least keeping taxes at their current level — which may be an impossibility.
None of them offers a policy platform with which I am completely happy. None of them presents a personality and background that would lead me to think that this person would be a President worthy of admiration. All have done some interesting things with their lives and most bring talents and experiences to the table which are worthy of consideration. All of them are really smart.
No one has really exciting or promising ideas about either Social Security reform or North Korea. That’s because there probably are no really good solutions to those problems — just hard work and mitigating the damage in the short run, and hoping that smaller, incremental improvements and changes in other economic and geopolitical conditions will produce opportunities in the future before things get out of hand.
And with one exception, all of the provide cold comfort to me in my concern about the consolidation of power in a unitary executive.
For my Democrat and Democratic-leaning friends, I’m surprised at the toughness of the decision with which you are faced. Hillary Clinton has transformed herself into a technocrat and the “safe” choice, but she also seems nearly as likely as any of the Republicans to continue the trend towards consolidating all effective governmental power in the Presidency. Democrats, you’ve seen for the past seven years how much you would dislike that; while Clinton might be more palatable to you holding those reins of power than Bush, remember that one day she’ll have to hand those reins to someone else.
If I were a Democrat, I would like Barack Obama better than Clinton. He presents the promise of innovation, energy, and charisma, but I have to wonder if he’s really the promise of something new or just another empty suit. For the time being, I’m thinking no, because even if he makes a few missteps early in his Administration (as seems likely), it seems to me that he would learn from them and eventually we’d get a pretty good Presidency. But I still have doubts and concerns about what form those missteps would take. Obama is about the only one of those six whose policies, personality, and personal history give me confidence that he has the potential to be a good leader while still respecting the Constitution.
Now, one thing I can’t say is “Well, we surely can’t do any worse than what we’ve got.” But that’s not true at all. We can, at minimum, continue doing as well as we have, if we pick Mike Huckabee. With only minor differences, Huckabee promises to basically continue the policies of the incumbent Bush White House. The difference between the Huckster and the incumbent is that Huckabee’s grasp of foreign policy is not merely arrogant and misguided, but also naive and unimportant to the candidate.
Mitt Romney, however smart he may be, is simply untrustworthy. He is an empty suit. I’m particularly disappointed to find Romney reversing what had been a promising set of principles on the separation of church and state in his desperation to appeal to Christian Right voters in the GOP primaries. It’s hard to find a position he took in his political career in Massachusetts that he hasn’t reversed in order to seek the Republican nomination. While he may not be corruptible in the sense that he has way too much personal wealth to need more by way of bribery, he may well be corruptible in the sense that his craven need for political support and absence of any kind of core beliefs or principles would lead him to bargain away anything in his policy agenda that one might otherwise consider attractive. Like the businessman that he fundamentally is, everything is negotiable with Romney, which means that for the right price, anything is for sale in a Romney White House.
I find myself faced with a conundrum — if one of these guys gets the nomination, would I have to vote for the Democrat? Fortunately, there are other options; I can always vote Libertarian.
But there are other groups within the Republican party than the theocrats. For a while, I had been an energetic advocate of Rudy Giuliani based on his strong foreign and military policy platform and his considerable charisma. But after some careful thought and research, I found some things about him, and looked closer at some other things I already knew about him, and discovered cause for serious misgivings. While there are significant policy differences between him and John McCain, overall I like their platforms about the same and they ultimately are more similar than they are different.
So a policy analysis confirms that the less-theocratic side of the GOP still has the most appeal for me. What I would like to see is that less-theocratic and more economic and military-minded side of the party steering the boat. This may mean that some elements of the Republican coalition have to be reshuffled and some of the more extreme religious types discarded. A pro-choice candidate seems more likely to be able to reach out to voters (particularly women voters) who currently identify as independent and moderate Democrats and bring them into the new party. Lots of those voters are pro-choice enough that they would not consider voting for a Republican, ever — but a pro-choice Republican would make them have to set that single issue aside and look at the rest of the package. There are political gains to be made there.
So I’m sticking with Rudy Giuliani as my most-favored candidate and hoping that the Supreme Court, at least, will be able to assert itself as the “goalie” against what will likely be attempts by the Giuliani Administration to aggrandize executive power. Congress sure won’t do it. But on balance, Giuliani presents the best opportunity to both reform the GOP into a party able to address the challenges of the future, and to respond to the international challenges faced by the country today.