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Candidate Report Cards


At one time in my life I loved politics so much that I couldn’t wait for this time of year: a month before the Iowa caucuses.

But by 1996 I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Bill Clinton. I wanted him to win, but I knew he’d do it without me against an underfunded, lame campaign by Bob Dole.

I voted for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, despite my disappointment with their mediocre efforts. They were, after all, right about most things.

This year I can’t wait to get rid of George W. Bush, the Worst President in History. If Democrats had their act together (no thanks to you, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid), they’d have impeached Bush-Cheney a year ago for “high crimes”—forget the friggin’ misdemeanors.

Like all other Americans I’ve suffered through a year’s worth of presidential campaigning, far longer than even felons ought to made to endure.

Ideology aside, here are my impressions of the quality of each candidate’s campaign.

The Republicans

Thompson: D-

Lackluster campaigner, barely engaged, even lazy. The L.A. Times reported today that Thompson’s campaign schedule for the day consisted of 3 radio interviews, 2 in Iowa, 1 in Florida—and that’s it. Done by 11 a.m., time for his nap.

He seems to think that being on “Law and Order” is all he needs to get elected. Comes across as old, out of touch, coasting, clueless.

Does occasionally show enough spark to get off a good line, as when he visited a gun shop recently. Then he sinks right back into the ooze.

Giuliani: C

Every New Yorker I know came to hate him as mayor; they halfway liked some things he did but despised his public behavior. And his private life’s even worse—his own children don’t support him.

He’s not bad as a debater—I even like his humor and charm—but his constant mantra “9/11, 9/11, 9/11” is already exhausted. New York firefighters oppose him; he had years to get their radio issues resolved after the first WTC bombing, and didn’t do it. Hundreds of firefighters died needlessly on 9/11, going up into the Twin Towers when they should have been coming down. As a statesman Giuliani’s a fraud; as a political pro he’s fairly talented, which may be why he’s leading the national polls (but not in Iowa).

Then there’s his latest scandal: city-paid trips to visit his then-mistress in the Hamptons, on the far end of Long Island—trips charged to obscure city departments, complete with police officers getting paid to walk the woman’s dogs. What a slimeball he is.

Huckabee: D+

“Vote for me, I’m a Baptist preacher!” Snore…

This is the worst possible year to run for president as a preacher. It was preachers who got us into this mess. Now he’s trying to whip up anti-Mormon sentiment. Why do Republicans always appeal to people’s prejudices?

Well, we know why; the Southern strategy worked for Nixon, it worked for Reagan, Bush I and II, and now they all do it.

Huckabee may win Iowa but he’s completely unelectable. He’s why Giuliani’s doing as well as he is despite the negatives.

The one thing I admire Huckabee for is leading an anti-obesity campaign, taking off weight himself. But he’s a flip-flopper on immigration and he’d be a disaster as president. He’s headed for a flameout; six months from now no one will remember his name.

Paul: B-

Ron Paul, the once and future Libertarian, has been the pleasant surprise of this too-long campaign. He’s people-powered, and he’s learned to go with the flow (not that he had a choice, so minuscule were his chances). He’s consistently outpaced other second-tier Republicans with his supporters’ internet fundraising, and if he survives Iowa and New Hampshire, he may be onto something.

I saw their devotion to him myself in Chicago in September, when I ran into homemade signs on the expressways, “Ron Paul ’08.” Illinois votes too late to have any effect on the Republican nomination, but his fans promote him anyway.

They’re the story here, not the candidate. There is a small but rabid Libertarian following in this country. I admit, parts of their ideology make good sense, but the sum is less than its parts. Libertarianism is so extreme (“let’s repeal government itself!”) that it’s invariably a loser. Paul won’t be able to overcome his ideology.

The one positive contribution the candidate himself has made is his passionate anti-war stance. He’s right, the country knows he’s right, and I admire him for shoving his truth in Republicans’ faces. Al the other candidates are trying to out-Bush Bush; what a loser of a strategy.

Ron Paul is serving his country, but he doesn’t have the chops to outlast a two-year campaign.

Romney: C

He’s goodlooking; that counts. He’s well-spoken at times. He’s finessed his Mormonism fairly well. I don’t hold it against him; his religion is nutty but Mormons are fine folks.

I don’t think he has enough chance to win the GOP nomination because he’s a panderer. In Massachusetts he was pro-choice and pro-Gay; now he’s out of Massachusetts, anti-choice and anti-Gay. He may do well in New Hampshire but I expect he’ll get creamed in South Carolina.

Republican voters want hardcore ideology. They don’t find that in Mitt Romney. He can be slick, but he also sticks his foot in his mouth with great regularity. If he’s so pro-war, why aren’t his sons fighting in Iraq? “Because they’re serving their country by driving around Iowa campaigning for me in an RV.”

He insulted every woman and man in a United States uniform; Iowa is not Iraq. Mitt Romney has no idea what sacrifice is like. His sons won’t enlist; they’re rich. They pay little people to enlist.

What happens after South Carolina—I expect an absolute free-for-all—will determine the outcome.

John McCain: D

McCain ought to have been the front-runner. Instead he’s skipping Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, which he won in 2000.

Early in the year he dug himself into a giant hole, bleating endlessly in favor of the war in Iraq at precisely the time the whole country turned against it. Instead of stepping up his criticism of Bush for torture and incompetence—troops sent to war without body armor, for God’s sake—he decided the easiest path to the GOP nomination was to be gung-ho for the war and kiss up to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—turning off every conservative LGBT voter in the country and chasing after the waning generation of fundamentalist Christians. Falwell promptly dropped dead.

And then there was the springtime debacle of campaign overspending and underfundraising, in which half McCain’s staff either quit or got fired. He should have trusted his gut, not his consultants.

He’s righted himself a little bit since, but the nomination was his to lose, and it appears that’s what he’s done.

Tancredo: F

This guy’s a clown. He’s got one issue, immigration. Even with that explosive issue he only registers in the low single digits.

His issue is racist. True, lots of people are very pissed off about Mexicans, but his punitive, scare-mongering approach is pure meanness. Americans don’t need it and Tancredo’s toast.

Hunter: F

Duncan Hunter is the George Romney of 2008. No one knows who he is, what he stands for, why he’s running; apparently it’s just an ego trip. “Next!”

Today’s prediction for the eventual nominee: Mitt Romney, precisely because he’s a once-married Mormon.

Prediction for GOP Veep: thrice-married Giuliani.


The Democrats

Gore: A-

An Oscar. The Nobel Peace Prize. You couldn’t script Al Gore any better. The Issue of the Century, global warming; the Survival of the Planet.

If he wants to run, though, he needs to start waffling a little more, or people will believe he has no interest in being president.

No one gets drafted to run anymore, and Gore won’t be either. This is the longest of long shots. If he’s going to run he’ll have to power his way through with sheer, open cunning.

He was, after all, the popularly-elected president in 2000. And he has an attractive family.

Let’s see what happens after Iowa. If Gore does get into the race and gives it his all, I do believe he could take down every other Democrat. But hovering above the fray only takes you so far. It’s time for Al Gore to s— or get off the pot.

Kucinich: B+/D-

In terms of policy, the Boy Mayor of Cleveland, now an experienced Congressman, has the best positions of any candidate. He is for workers, against corporate greed; for our soldiers, against the war in Iraq; for Gay marriage, against religious bigotry; for universal health care, against Big Insurance.

It’s a great tribute to his political ability, given all the strikes against him, that he is still a viable candidate in this race. He is the strongest antiwar candidate of all, and he somehow makes people overlook his too-left image and actually listen to him. He is a formidable politician.

But then a question came up about UFOs, and he didn’t have the guts to tell Shirley MacLaine to bug off.

Okay, he was honest, but I just groaned.

I don’t want to hear about UFOs and veganism. Dennis, if you can’t chaw off a big hunk of steak in Parma, you’ll never get elected President. Buckle down!

Give us the revisions AFTER you’ve been elected, not before.

Kucinich has the best platform but alas, the worst campaign. He’s an idealist, bless his heart, but that isn’t good enough for the White House. Kucinich makes Hillary look desirable. She can bite a cheeseburger and smile, while Kucinich seems to judge all of us who might be less pure than his Zenful exaltedness.

I love Shirley as an entertainer and visionary, but he should have kicked her in the teeth and then chomped a great big chili dog.

Wink at her after you win, dude, not before.

Clinton: C+

The media have decided that the junior senator from New York is the Democratic nominee. No one’s actually voted yet, but the old media long ago appointed themselves to tell you who your candidates will be. After all, Dan Rather anointed George W. Bush in 1998.

How has Hillary’s campaign gone so far?

She is a skilled campaigner. She won re-election to the Senate with two-thirds of the vote, despite being a carpetbagger from Arkinsaw.

But she is cold. She is calculating. She is mean. She’d throw her own daughter under the bus if it would win more votes. She didn’t believe in invading Iraq but she voted for it anyway, so she could look “tough” on military issues. She doesn’t believe in bombing Iran, but she voted for that too.

Her strategy is simple: look tougher than all the men combined. Margaret Thatcher did the same thing back in the ’80s, and it worked. I guess I’d rather a liberal Democrat do it here than a right-wing Republican woman. After all, Hillary’s been running for President since she was an undergraduate at Wellesley.

That mean streak might make her a very good President; but I don’t trust her. If she’d left her husband after that Oval Office blowjob, had a trial separation for six months and then come back, I might believe she had an authentic bone in her body. But she doesn’t. She is all calculation.

If she wins I will celebrate our first woman President. But I will not trust her.

The sad thing is she really is a good person. She really does want the best for this country. She really does believe in universal health care—and if elected she really will get us closer to it.

But she wants dominance for herself more than anything, and therein lies the hubris and tragedy.

Edwards: B-

I like John Edwards. I like that he talks about the poor. I’m a little suspicious of his background as a trial lawyer/ambulance chaser, but maybe he’s the best of that breed.

He has impressed many people in Iowa. He renounced his vote, unlike Hillary Clinton, authorizing the illegal invasion of Iraq. But he hasn’t quite found the right way to capitalize on that difference. His message is too diffuse.

He needs to hammer Hillary at every opportunity, with a smile on his face and a vision of the future. So far he’s not doing that. Maybe he’s just vice-presidential material.

Barack Obama: B

The one-term senator from Illinois, who’s only been in office for three years, has not taken full advantage of his rock-star status. And his message, “We need a new politics,” is wearing thin. We’ve heard it for a year already.

He speaks in such generalities that he seems not to realize Americans are way past 2006. He seems to run on last year’s reality, not next year’s.

Give him credit for opposing the Iraq war. Take some credit away for claiming that growing up in Indonesia equates to foreign policy.

If he’s on the ballot in my late state, I won’t vote for him based on his pandering to Black homophobes in South Carolina. All the proclamations in the world won’t make up for that gaffe.

I’ve felt all along the strongest ticket is Clinton-Obama. I hope he’s smart enough to accept.

Richardson: C

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson really does have the best résumé in this year’s race, but he hasn’t figured out how to take advantage of it.

Pros: Humorous campaign ads on YouTube.

Cons: Can’t break out of the pack. Doesn’t know how to exploit being Latino in this environment. Cannot defend with impassioned eloquence the minority he counts on to elect him.

Worst of all, he wants to drain the Great Lakes—the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world—to sprinkle golf courses in the New Mexico desert. Over my dead body: If people are so stupid as to live in a desert, they shouldn’t be surprised to find there’s no water there. If they want water, they should relocate to the Midwest.

Dodd: C

Smart, talented, articulate, patriotic; has no signature issue and can’t break out of the pack. I hope he gets a cabinet job; Attorney General?

UPDATE, Dec. 19: Sen. Dodd gave an absolutely brilliant interview yesterday on MSNBC’s “Countdown,” after successfully filibustering a Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance bill that would give immunity to U.S. telephone companies that turned over millions of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails to the Bush Administration—pure raw wiretapping without a warrant.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a newsmaker this articulate, speaking one punchy sentence after another. As a speaker he’s completely on a roll; I watched it twice, an amazing performance, like staring open-mouthed at Michael Jordan in his heyday with the Bulls, scoring at will, dumping in point after point.

The interviewer slows him down towards the end with a procedural question criticizing the ineffectual Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), but Dodd shakes it off and ends the interview charmingly. Watch the video on a website I visit every day, Crooks and Liars.

While Clinton, Obama and the other Senators running for President kept trolling for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, there was Dodd in the Senate chamber, running a one-man filibuster to uphold the Constitution. Bravo!

Biden: C+

Probably the smartest candidate of all. But again, no signature issue. Might make a great Secretary of State.

Gravel: D-

He was a decent Senator a long time ago. Don’t hold his age against him; he’s apparently running to remind us that he’s not dead yet.

Today’s prediction for nominee: a bruised and battered Hillary Clinton.

Prediction for Dem Veep: Richardson. Hillary doesn’t need Obama to win the Black vote, so she’ll go with Richardson to sew up the Hispanics.++

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