I'll freely admit that I've been paying relatively scant attention (by my standard, anyways) to the 2008 US Presidential Race. As a Canadian, it's something of an abomination to see a two-year campaign cycle, and the amount of money required to run a campaign is equally grotesque. One of the greatest accomplishments of Jean Chretien's career was to drastically reduce the influence of the wealthy and virtually wipe out the ability of large corporations to disproportionately affect an election race to their preferred outcomes. It is commendable that Stephen Harper has followed up on this, further limiting the extent to which an individual can contribute. None of these restrictions apply in the United States, and thus we hear of a $250 million warchest for George W. Bush and a not much smaller one for John Kerry in 2004.
One of the great problems with such a prolonged campaign is that someone who appears to be a virtual lock in the early stages turns into a total non-factor by the time the actual election occurs--hello and goodbye, Howard Dean. The potential for a timebomb to appear at a strategic time is also increased--witness Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or Dan Rather's accounting of GWB's Vietnam record. There is always the possibility for similar things in a Canadian election cycle, of course, but the compressed timeframe means that we're not subjected to multiple variations of the same theme ad nauseum. Thirdly, there are relatively few things that are discussed at a YouTube debate in August 2007 that are likely to still be resonating in the minds of voters by the time November 2008 rolls around. It's merely preliminary verbal jousting for months on end that does little to establish long-term positioning, especially in this, the era of "the flip-flop."
However, the primary season is almost upon us, and that means it is time to start paying attention. What is said in the next few weeks will determine where the Democratic and Republican bases park their votes. True frontrunners are likely to emerge in the next 50 days, while players that were playing well previously will be compelled to throw their weight behind others that have a genuine shot at winning their party's nomination. The mid-carders will start dropping off shortly, and the high-profile main eventers will have a greater number of even more intense spotlights shining on them. That means tough choices for a number of candidates, and that means the intrigue and interest will certainly be picking up.
Off the start, let me say that I am quite likely to be supporting a Democrat for 2008 unless either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani take the Republican nomination. There are a number of shortcomings facing the other Republican candidates that almost instantly disqualify them in my eyes. I cannot reasonably support a candidate who says such things as, and I'm paraphrasing here, "While Mitt Romney was promising to do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, I was moving in the opposition direction." It's unfathomable to me that a candidate for President of the United States would be proud to say that he was moving to deny a group of people rights--and of course, Romney himself no longer supports gay rights for Americans. With so many of the Republican candidates pandering to the religious right, they're alienating themselves from people like me who believe, to borrow Irwin Cotler's term, "a right is a right is a right." Other major issues for me include:
* Foreign Policy - I'll be looking for positions regarding the continuance of the Bush Doctrine, seeing who adopts what and who seeks to be the un-Bush when it comes to America's strategic role and primacy in the world. The candidate who articulates the strongest vision for American leadership, victory in Iraq and the broader War on Terror and Tyranny, ending genocide and human suffering, counter- and nonproliferation of WMDs, and the remaking of the system of international institutions is likely to earn my support.
* Domestic Policy - though I like my American leaders to largely follow the principle of the imperial presidency and leave the domestic agenda largely to Congress (and let's be honest here, being Canadian, what Americans do within their own borders is less relevant than what they do beyond them), there are some initiatives I would like to see. Someone has to reasonably tackle the challenge of increasing violence in the United States--against women, among gangs, as a result of drug trafficking, and otherwise. There's the looming Social Security and Medicaid crises. Education is another big issue. Homeland security and intelligence reform.
There's a lot going on in America that will be relevant and pertinent to a successful candidate for 2008. I'm looking forward to seeing who emerges in the coming weeks and months.