Retail Politics in New Hampshire
The debate centered once again on the Iraq War with John Edwards attempting to differentiate himself from the two other front runners, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, by criticizing the two of them for their failure to speak out during the recent Senate debate over funding for the conflict. Obama snapped back that Edwards should have led four years ago when he voted to authorize the war, and Clinton held her centrist ground, later dismissing Edwards' contention that the war on terrror was little more than a slogan on a bumper sticker.
As for the rest of the pack, Senator Joe Biden and Governor Bill Richardson were sporadically impressive, but the bulk of the debate centered on the Big Three. Senator Chris Dodd suffered through an uneven performance after two stellar opening acts, and former Senator Mike Gravel and Representative Dennis Kucinich continued to serve as sideshows to the main act.
The larger question continues to be whether or not American voters (short of the attendees in NH) are paying attention to this ongoing discourse at such an early juncture. With the prospect of the nominating process being effectively over by February 5th, we cannot afford to tune out until the calendar turns to 2008.
Moreover, the media's early crowning of front runners and dismissal of potential dark horses fails to do justice to what is the first open race for President since 1952 (neither an incumbent President or VP vying for the office). The Fourth Estate's excessive emphasis on polling data that reveals little more than name recognition and fundraising prowess (an indication of Rolodex size) masks the substantive debate that is occurring on a number of levels in both parties.
While the Democrats debate their alternative to the Bush presidency's war on terror and place forward the most electable female, African-American, and Latino candidate to date, the GOP field grapples with the Iraqi quagmire, the prospect of nominating a pro-choice and pro-gay candidate, and the potential of fielding the first Mormon candidate for President. Important issues like health care, global warming, poverty, and immigration are also on the docket.
As the summer wind blows in warm weather, we must keep our collective eye on the ball, demanding more of our media and the candidates. The stakes couldn't be higher as we near a pivotal election. This race to the White House is a marathon and demands endurance by all parties to the contest. An occasional break is acceptable, but we must all meet at the finish line and accept the ultimate outcome.