This political process of ours is fascinating to witness, on the eve of a new primary season ripe for change after President Bush and two failed Congresses have plunged the nation's wealth distribution some 100 years backwards to the days of the robber barons. We are 5 years into a staged war whose cost is still hidden, leaving us a grim economic outlook, record debt with spiraling interest and our military readiness at dangerous lows. Our most valued industries have been parceled out to multinationals and our financial markets are artificially held together by nations who sell us goods or hold our debt. Unfortunately, as a nation we have learned almost nothing from this - we stand poised to elect leaders who will not be confronting many of these issues.
The 2006 election showed how slow people are to wake up, even when faced with the prospect of endless war and a host of unconstitutional improprieties staring us in the face. The basis of our electoral system is legal bribery, with corporate cash and special interests speaking many times louder then the will of the people on almost every issue.
2006's electoral outcome gave the US a reversal of power in appearance only - the slim majority afforded the Dems has done nothing to stop the war, the #1 concern cited by voters. The current Congress won't stop the torture or wiretapping or the defense contract cronyism without oversight. Faced with this, what is the 2008 voter to do?
Let's look at the choices, but let's play out the scenarios too. And in each case, let's look critically at the process by which we decide who to vote for - and check our own decision-making and ethics as American citizens who all have a duty to participate, enforcing the Constitution the country was founded upon.
If Hillary is nominated, the anti-war movement loses again - she is the worst of the Dems on her war record, waiting far too long to apologize for her ill-advised vote for the invasion of Iraq. There would be no national "mandate" for pulling out because the right knows she simply followed national opinion. Also anticipate Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, Monica Lewinsky and various other scandals being thoroughly revisited in a general election, as well as the litany of improprieties between Rose Law and the Pan-Asian donor scandals which are still making fresh news to this day. Fast forwarding to November, a Hillary nomination is probably the best shot for putting a Republican in the White House - any other Dem would bore the right-wing base and keep them home on election day.
Edwards has a positive theme - reuniting the two Americas. His stand on combating corporate influence is admirable and he has spoken about reforming elections. I'd like to see these things prioritized, but I think Edwards' health care plan is compromised by the fact that he'd keep the corporate profiteers in the equation, expecting government care to compete with private care. This sounds like it will be "two Americas" of medicine, no? Edwards also voted for the war while millions worldwide marched in protest, skeptical and distrustful of the military-industrial influence on Washington. How did I know it sounded fishy in pre-invasion 2003 without any inside information? Edwards has apologized, but remains a candidate whose election would not be the all-out anti-war clarion call needed. His detractors would probably swift-boat his legal career, painting him as a sleazy shark lawyer who got rich chasing huge personal injury awards, but Edwards would probably get a large turn out from the disenfranchised and middle class.
Electing Kucinich would be the ultimate blow to the power-drunk DC establishment. Dennis advocates taking decisive legal action against government corruption and has already drafted legislation Congress pursue investigations into crimes and misdemeanors committed by the Bush administration. He proposes a national health care policy that would be a death knell for the middlemen in the healthcare "industry" and make medical access universal, removing the for-profit "insurance" concept that has grown to hurt so many Americans.
Since he has vehemently and vocally opposed the Iraq war from the start, his election would also signal the end of the era of privatized defense profiteering and a loud, clear mandate for ending the war and bringing home the troops. His plans to create a "Green" department and a "Peace" department signal his stands on the environment and foreign policy, but one of his other biggest issues has been his desire to repeal NAFTA so as to resurrect American jobs and manufacturing. Though the Kucinich message may be the most doggedly pro-America, pro-Constitution and anti-corruption, his showing in polls only reveals how much image and popularity play into our candidate choices.
Ron Paul is worth mention because he shows how anxious many Americans are for anti-establishment alternatives, especially in the GOP where the unpopular Iraq war compromises the front running candidates all marching in lock-step. Perhaps the greatest moment in '08 campaigning so far was when Paul stunned a GOP debate crowd, sharing the belief that 9/11 was the result of "blowback" for decades of black bag operations carried out by US intelligence agencies in the MidEast, including installation of puppet rulers, propagandizing, or aiding and then deserting thugs like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban.
This truth has invigorated many within the right to rally behind Paul who advocates peace, removing US troops from all foreign countries, and a general non-interventionist strategy for economic cooperation around the globe, restoring personal and collective liberties at home. This is ironically, a message more strictly adherent to traditional Conservativism then espoused by any of the other candidates, talk show hosts or pundits sympathetic to the illusory "neo-con" ideology. Paul's negatives aside, these qualities should be noted by all candidates - refreshing honesty about Iraq and US involvement abroad resonates deeply.
Sadly, the greatest factors involved in deciding our President are not related to the content of their message: the factors are related more to the amount of TV advertising, media coverage, physical appearance, and perceived electability.
Even more shameful are American aesthetic considerations. Network commentators openly discuss whether candidates look or sound "presidential". The media is wholly complicit in the avoidance of issues-based discussions, because they can't sell aftershave and hemorrhoid cream as easily to a well-informed, discerning public. So debates on a candidates' haircut or cleavage may dominate the conversation. But the media is also hiding political preferences, with each major network acting as squire for it's corporate overlord. If Time-Warner will make billions after cable deregulation and setting up "premium" internet tiers, why would it ever cover candidates who insist on net neutrality? If big pharma and defense contractors are major sponsors, how can medical studies or war coverage on these channels ever be trusted? Answer: they can't.
Individual voters are simply gullible - ask around the watercooler or at the local bar, not who their choices are but why. A new body of research presented Dr. Drew Westen's book The Political Brain" The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation shows convincing proof that Americans have voted with their hearts, not their heads for decades. One chapter shows that our brains shut down logic functions when shown proof that challenges beliefs we've previously held - for example, reciting John Kerry quotes that contradict each other to a staunch supporter, the logic centers in the subject's brain show no activity while the emotional centers flare like fire alarms, looking for rationalizations, excuses and comebacks.