September 23, 2015

The Best Presidential Candidates

Party to watch the 2008 vice-presidential cand...
Party to watch the 2008 vice-presidential candidates' debate at On the Boards, Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As I watched the first two Republican presidential debates this year, I found myself feeling disappointed that these candidates were the best this party has to offer us. Little was new about their messages. More fear and anger, more attacks on reproductive rights, more calls for military spending without acknowledging that they have been unwilling to take care of returning veterans, more liberal-bashing without offering any reasonable alternatives, and so on. I honestly do think we'd all benefit from having both parties field the strongest possible candidates even though I am more inclined to support one of the parties than the other.

In watching the second Republican debate, it was difficult to imagine any of the people on stage representing us as president. I realize I'm not the target audience for the Republican presidential debates, but I had a difficult time imagining anybody getting genuinely excited about electing any of them. Overall, I found myself in agreement with Michael Cohen's analysis in The Boston Globe:
The Republican Party is dominated by candidates who are proudly, even boastfully ignorant.
I do not think anybody benefits from this, including likely Republican voters.

It is not that I was unable to identify any worthwhile ideas from the candidates; there were a few. But they were so heavily draped in dog-whistle rhetoric and blatant falsehoods that their value was greatly diminished. It was rarely clear whether the person putting forward the idea believed what he or she was saying. It is too bad that we cannot have civil, reality-based discussions around important subjects such as immigration, national security, tax reform, education, and trade policy.

As just one vivid example of the sort of thing I'm referring to, consider the subject of the U.S. military. If I went into this debate with no information and an inclination to trust that the candidates were being truthful, I would have come away convinced that the U.S. military is one of the smallest, weakest, and worst-funded forces in the world. I would wonder how our nation hadn't already been invaded. Fortunately, I know better. That the candidates would assume most of their audience does not know better or that they would not care about such blatant lying should be cause for concern.

Will the Democrats do any better? I'm not sure. I think they made a mistake by refusing to schedule any debates until mid-October. The result is that the Republican voices are the only ones being heard. They will have defined the discussion long before Democratic candidates enter the fray. I cannot help but wonder why the Democratic Party seems so desperate to hide their candidates from the public and cede the discussion to the Republicans. It does not strike me as a winning strategy (except possibly for Clinton). And yes, as I look over the slate of Democratic candidates for president I have the same thought: "Is this really the best this party has to offer?"

We need strong candidates on both sides, but we also need a system in which good ideas can flourish and in which parties and voters place effective leadership ahead of just winning. Clearly, we've got our work cut out for us.