As I watched Hillary Clinton and John Edwards speak to Democratic convention delegates and Barack Obama shake the hands of wide-eyed supporters last weekend (I missed Obama's speech), my mind kept returning to a question: Why are these people considered front-runners and not Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich?
The Democratic Party establishment lined up behind Clinton a long time ago, and that makes sense-adoration for the Clinton name would bring in trainloads of campaign money. But, really, it's the media that anoint front-runners. First comes the media attention, and the money follows; then comes more media attention, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But do we really believe what we think we believe about these candidates, or have we fallen under the media's spell? Sure, Obama is charismatic, but does that make him better presidential material than, say, Biden, a savvy statesman with tons of foreign-policy experience? Perhaps.
Bring Kucinich up without a smirk in serious conversation and watch the eyes roll. But I couldn't help but wonder what the difference is between Kucinich and Obama as I watched and listened to Kucinich preach to his flock on Saturday.
It could be that Obama spoke in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention about finding a way to join together, heal our wounds and find common ground, while Kucinich's talks identify bogeymen, such as captains of the oil and insurance industries. Obama so far has spoken in more general terms while Kucinich has gotten more into specifics, and specifics create dividing lines for opinions.
Conventional wisdom, the kind residing in the minds of the eye-rollers, would suggest that Kucinich is simply too liberal for America, that Americans like their presidents closer to the center. Of course, that last bit doesn't explain George W. Bush, and didn't they used to say Clinton was too liberal to win a general election?
Or maybe it's because Obama is a physically attractive man who speaks in soothing low tones while Kucinich is somewhat elfin, with pointy ears and a higher pitch in his voice. What would we think of him if he looked like Obama? Some Union-Tribune editor chose for Sunday's edition a photo of Kucinich showing his face barely peering out above the podium, shot from a low angle that made him look like he needed to be standing on six phone books. No wonder nobody takes him seriously.
Truth be told, he does have a bit of a Howdy Doody thing going-but, dammit, I don't care. Nor did Americans seem to care that James Madison was 5-foot-4. Nor did it matter to Spud Webb, 5-foot-7, when he won the NBA slam-dunk championship in 1986. Nor did the Russians give a hoot that Joseph Stalin was 5-foot-6. OK, bad example.
In any case, I found myself getting swept up into his speech Saturday as he talked both in broad terms-integrity, truth, authenticity, compassion, reconnecting "with the angels of our better nature"-and narrow. He went into as much depth as time would allow on the war, healthcare, abortion, global trade, the environment, energy and immigration. And, while I don't know if impeaching Dick Cheney is the most prudent course of action at the moment (although I'd love to see it happen), I agreed with him on almost everything.
Perhaps this was yet another reminder that I am unlike most Americans on the issues, a theme I've touched on in this space before. I am willing to consider departing from the status quo at a faster clip. I do not shudder, for example, when talk turns to abolishing insurance companies. I nod when someone suggests withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement and focusing instead on bilateral trade pacts. I cheer when someone speaks in positive terms about granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. I don't get anxious when faced with the notion of a huge public works program aimed at renewable energy development. These are all policies Kucinich favors, and I'm just fine with all of them.
A friend of mine, Tim Redmond, executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian , in town covering the convention, noted with a hint of excitement that thanks to California's earlier primary, this will be the first time folks like us who make political endorsements, could, theoretically at least, impact the presidential election.
Too bad that's only if we endorse Clinton, Obama or Edwards. Endorsing Kucinich would amount to little more than another protest vote. *Sigh*
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