America has efficiently narrowed down from some 200 million eligible people to three over the course of a year. I can’t help but wonder what goes on behind the scenes, what is left out of the common media reports and analysis?
Practically speaking, there are three candidates to choose from at this time. There were, generously, about 10 candidates when the primaries began over a year ago. I wonder how those 10 candidates came to run for president, and who else might have been a worthy candidate but for lack of political and financial support? Ron Paul has a lot of sensible things to say, and no chance whatsoever of winning. I wonder now about the three candidates remaining – why do Americans prefer a two-party system in which we only allow ourselves the possibility of voting for a democrat or a republican? To what extent is this dictated by the democratic and republican national committees? What is the role of the Federal Election Commission in discouraging third parties from running? Yet most of the work has already been done for these organizations by an American public that is conditioned to only think in red or blue.
For decades now our government has failed to make any progress in areas such as healthcare and energy. A number of less noticeable but no less important topics such as campaign finance reform, tax reform, and immigration reform continue to stall in the legislature. I question whether we can really be sure that our two-party system is working? If the public is truly fed up with partisan politics, then why do we continue to elect only republicans and democrats for almost every single position of government at the state and federal levels?
Barack Obama appeals to a number of people with his message of hope and change – taking the money out of Washington and fixing the problems with America. Despite the growing power of the executive, the president is still just one wheel (though a large one) in the machine that is the federal government. This institution will always exert control on the president. If I register my hope in the government by voting for Obama will I later accuse myself of being naïve?
Hillary Clinton is the most polarizing candidate of the three. For many she represents the possibility of a woman finally achieving what hitherto was only possible for men. For many others, unfortunately, I believe that their passionate hatred of her is at least in part (and unconsciously so) because she is a woman. However one feels about her, it is a cast iron fact that she has received the most scrutiny of any candidate. Personally, my bull&*it meter goes off to often when I listen to her; maybe I need to ask myself if that’s because of what she says or her XX chromosome?
What I like about John McCain the most is that he is willing to take an unpopular stance – that and his minimal pork-barrel spending. Yet on many accounts he feels very much like business as usual: continuing a failed war in Iraq, willing to fight Iran, supporting Nuclear energy, continuing our embargo of Cuba, and having a surprisingly poor environmental record (perhaps because of an overly strong pro-business stance?). I am not concerned about McCain’s age in the slightest, but neither do I feel that being a veteran or tortured improves one’s credentials for being president.
Of all the issues mentioned above with respect to these three candidates, addressing the Iraq war may be the most important. I feel that Americans were misled when we went to war, that our preparation and achievements there have been weak at best, and that whether we stay or leave the future of Iraq is dim and speculative. I do not feel that McCain was “right” about the surge, either. With an increase in troops, we have an increased strategic advantage only, and this translates to more tactical control of the country. But an open government cannot be imposed on a people, and whether the Iraqis can take over for themselves remains to be seen. More depends on Muqtada al-Sadr and those like him than the number and duration of American forces present. Vietnam and Afghanistan are testaments to this fact. It is hard to imagine transitioning from tribal politics and the Hussein dictatorship to a democracy in 5-10 years – it is equally hard to imagine continuing to spend as much money as we are in Iraq with all the expensive problems we have at home. For this reason, it is likely that I will not vote for McCain. Yet Obama and Clinton may be overly optimistic if they believe they can pull out in less than a year.
So here we are, with three possible candidates left for the 44th president of the United States. When next we have a chance to vote, the field will be down to two. And I wonder, do the influences behind the scenes dictate the final outcome more than our votes?