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March 9, 2007

Democratic Presidential Hoedown

Roy Meachum

Naturally Republican friends disagree with Tuesday column's conclusion. If they didn't believe in their party's future, they might as well become Democrats.

Which many of them were, at least in Frederick. The GOP still controls most local races. For next year's White House contest, it's a completely different story.

Even Hillary Rodham Clinton's grabbing the nomination could not guarantee Republican success. And the former First Lady brings a lot of baggage into the race. The jury's out on whether husband Bill hurts or helps her chances more.

As mentor George Delaplaine once remarked about another politician, "Doesn't it make a difference who runs against him?"

In Mrs. Clinton's case, she must deal initially with the formidable competition presented by her home state's junior senator, Barack Obama.

Early GOP attempts to "swift boat" the gentleman from Illinois blew up on their own transparency; he never attended a radical Islamist school. The rumors that he was in training to be a terrorist lacked proof, logic and common sense.

In the event, Hawaii-born Senator Obama wrote a tell-all book, detailing his early hell-raising, short-circuiting thoughts of blackmail. He's very active in the United Church of Christ. His marriage must be described as "normal." And that's more than Senator Clinton's supporters can say.

The question looming over Senator Obama? Not his lack of experience in government: that argument falls apart in face of his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq.

With considerably more Washington seasoning, every presidential hopeful in Capitol Hill's upper chamber went along with the post-9/11's hysteria. Mrs. Clinton's refusal to recant earns a black mark against her candidacy. Her explanation reeks of cynical politics, at its worst.

The former First Lady threatens to bring back the constant noisy rhubarb that has characterized the White House the last 12 years. And essentially the general public has demonstrated the need for 1600 Pennsylvania to return to the tranquility that confirms the strength of American institutions. Teddy Roosevelt's "Walk softly but carry a big stick" applies.

Mrs. Clinton figures to be the latest front-runner who fades; in a sense, her early successes have set her up as the candidate to beat. Every other wannabe must take a shot at her; her tough posture left them no choice.

Instinct combined with impatience, as demonstrated in this campaign already, forces her to respond to every criticism strongly! She tries to wipe out challenges and the human beings who present them. She's not about pouring tea.

Former Clinton-backer David Geffen had the temerity to raise nearly $2 million for Mr. Obama. The New York senator's attack dogs demanded the Illinois senator repudiate the Hollywood money rainmaker; they discovered an ethical flaw where no one else did.

Furthermore, the Clinton camp insisted all the cash should be returned to the people who bought tickets to Mr. Geffen's fundraiser. Fat chance!

And you ain't seen nothing yet!

We can recognize the lady's frustration. She tried to stifle all opposition by the quick millions that turned up early for her presidential drive. But she has succeeded, so far, only with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Eleven other Democratic hopefuls are still in the White House chase.

Mrs. Clinton sorely misses the one constituency that held steadfast for her husband in campaigns past. She cannot reliably bank on African Americans, not when Senator Obama's around.

The color of his skin alone does not militate for his minority's solid backing; but his racial identity still brings into question black solidarity for Senator Clinton. This much is certain: It will not be there in the primaries.

Media have already remarked on how numbers of African Americans are gathering around Barack Obama. But the same can be said of young Anglos and their liberal elders. The core Democrats like the young man with the strange name, let there be no doubt.

Bill Richardson appears, like no one before him, to have in hand his fellow Latinos: his mother was from Mexico, but scarcely a wetback. She married an investment banker from Boston. Their son has had the best of both societies and cultures.

New Mexico's governor has sought the Democratic Party's nomination quietly, refusing to raise a ruckus at this stage. It would be very dangerous for anyone to underestimate his moxie. His name has been put forth, several times, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Only last year he was called upon to leave his governor's mansion to try to negotiate freedom for a Pulitzer Prize journalist kidnapped in Sudan. Not for the first time, he pulled off a tricky diplomatic mission for his country.

Note: George W. Bush was president and neither he nor all his men raised a peep at Mr. Richardson's Democratic credentials. They simply sought - and found - the best qualified man for the job.

Before he became the twice elected governor of New Mexico, he had been the ambassador to the United Nations and Bill Clinton's secretary of energy. Then there were the 15 years he served in the U.S. Congress.

At all levels, Governor Richardson has experience that puts his competitors to shame, especially Mrs. Clinton. His record is not screaming liberal but conservative, in the true sense of the word. In New Mexico, he has set out to conserve and strengthen the best, including the children, through education and health care.

If the Democrats were to totally flatten Republican chances, they would do well to nominate a ticket starring Bill Richardson at the top, with Barack Obama. They would offer an unbeatable combination of very respectable experience and youth with strong potential.

As for the other faces staring up from this Washington Post page; Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Al Gore are damaged goods. They have put themselves forth as White House prospects before, and been rejected.

Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel, of Alaska, is frankly the odd-man on the list; he seeks to run on his anti-war record during the Vietnam War days. His declaration of candidacy some 11 months ago landed with a dull thud on the public consciousness.

At this writing, of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton holds the cards and millions of dollars; she has the lead in all the public polls. But Barack Obama has come storming up in the surveys.

As for Bill Richardson, he possesses the strength and endurance of a long-distance runner; he's fully capable of leaving the other flawed candidates behind. It would happen faster if Senator Obama would drop out of the presidential race and announce he was supporting the distinguished governor from New Mexico.

The pair, as a pair, offer the best opportunity for our beloved country to regain its dignity, its probity and the morality that once provided true leadership to the world.

We'll see. I have certainly been wrong before in putting forth Republicans and Democrats whom I thought deserved high office. I could be again.

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