DUMMERSTON, Vt. — It’s too soon to be talking about the 2008 presidential election. Unfortunately, the process has become so accelerated that the nation's voters have only a few months to decide who the Democratic and Republican party's nominees will be.
States keep leapfrogging each other to try to be the first state to hold a primary. By the time the dust settles, the party nominations might be settled by the first week of March.
It wasn’t that long ago that the primary season was a five-month long marathon that stretched from the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire in February to the finish line in California in June. A candidate had time to campaign across the country and voters had time to get to know the candidates. That process has become as quaint as whistle-stop speeches and torchlight parades.
But even worse than the acceleration of the nomination process is the level of groveling that candidates must go through to win their party's nomination.
You want to run for president? All you have to do is raise $2 million a week, every week this year. If you don't plan to have at least $100 million stashed away by Jan. 1, 2008, you might as well quit now.
Naturally, to raise that sort of money, you have to sell yourself shamelessly — but not to the voters.
You have to sell yourself to the donors, who will give generously to the candidate who will deliver what they want. Texas populist Jim Hightower's suggestion that candidates wear jumpsuits decorated with the logos of their sponsors like NASCAR drivers doesn't sound so silly when you look at who is giving the money and where it is going to.
You also have to sell yourself to the political reporters and pundits, who will anoint you as "electable" and will rip you to shreds if they change their minds.
The voters? They technically are the people who make the final decision, but what the average person thinks about a candidate gets drowned out by what the donors and the press think.
I would like to think that this time around it might be different.
Politicians in both parties are slowly — too slowly — realizing that the U.S. war on Iraq is extremely unpopular with a large percentage of Americans. Voters appear ready to flay any politician — Republican or Democrat — who doesn't have a plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. At the same time, the presidential candidates know that running on an antiwar platform will get them savaged by the press and shunned by the donors.
So what's a candidate to do? For the 10 Republicans in the race, with the exception of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the strategy is to support the war, more or less, unconditionally. For the eight Democrats, with the exception of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, the strategy is to talk around the problem and don't get painted as a peacenik.
But the voters are way ahead of the candidates. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be way ahead of the field in terms of money and media approval, but Clinton's Senate vote in 2002 to give President Bush authorization to invade Iraq hangs around her neck like a millstone and Obama's lack of a simple, clear strategy for getting out of Iraq is not helping his cause.
As for the 10 Republicans, in the words of political reporter Charles Pierce, "they're all fighting over the tiller of a plague ship." None of the GOP candidates, save for Ron Paul, have the courage to say President Bush has been a colossal failure at home and abroad and that a new direction is needed.
This then is the underlying question for every candidate in this accelerated election season — what are you going to do about the war? At this point, no one but the outsiders — Gravel, Kucinich and Paul — have the guts to tell the truth without waffling or qualifiers.
The voters are not in a mood for the kind of pabulum that gets served up on the campaign trail. They want accountability, they want answers and they want real change. Will we see it in 2008? Probably not.<