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February 28, 2007

Harry Phibbs asks, who will be the next US President?

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Harry Phibbs hopes the next US President will succeed on the basis of substance - not balloons and soundbites?

The overlap between political parties certainly in political rhetoric and to some extent in ideology and policy that we have adjusted to in Britain since the advent of New Labour and, to an even greater extent, since David Cameron's leadership of the Conservatives, is well established in he United States. It has always been well understood that some Republicans are to the "Left" of some Democrats.

For example on the issue of race there have been some Republicans willing to go along with "affirmative action" programmes for years. The Democrats have included a large block of Dixiecrats - white southern voters who were often pretty openly racist. In contrast the Republicans are able to proudly describe themselves as "the Party of Lincoln". Despite this the overall picture has been of a dismal failure by Republicans to capture the black vote broadly in line with an equivalent failure by the British Tories - "The party of Wilberforce".

Race could be a pretty big issue in the next US Presidential elections. There is a possibility that the Republicans will persuade Condoleezza Rice to stand and if elected secure a double first - the first black President and the first woman President.

She hasn't said she will stand yet. There is an elaborate etiquette about standing for US President. The done thing is to test out support before making any declaration. It is a prolonged flirting which drives the media into a frenzy. What is a little more discouraging is that Rice has actually denied she will stand rather than merely that she is undecided.

Despite this an entire Rice campaign is in place with all the paraphernalia of bumper stickers, coffee mugs, underwear, etc. Reading the website, it was clear that those involved believed that if they plead loudly enough Condi will regard it as bad manners not to stand for President:

NBC's Meet The Press moderator Tim Russert confronted Dr. Rice with a computer monitor featuring an Internet browser logged onto Rice Many observers, myself included, noted a usually unflappable Rice blushing at the sight of the RUN, CONDI, RUN! banner that headlined our page at that time. Again Dr Rice stated no intention of running for office - but there was a sheepish grin on her face that one might even call a smirk. We think there is definite cause for hope.
The Democrats may well offer a black or a woman candidate as well. Hillary Clinton attempted to establish an American version of the NHS when her husband was President and the scheme proved an abject failure. Since then she has attempted to temper her left wing (or "liberal" as the Americans say) reputation by chirpily backing capital punishment and the Iraq War.

When she stood for the US Senate a group of Labour Party research assistants went over from Britain to campaign for her. Before they left I mentioned to one of them that she supports capital punishment and was greeted with disbelief.

Hillary's main rival for the Democrat nomination at the moment is a black male Barack Obama, who has been commended for being like a rock star on the campaign trail. But he has his critics. One scope for attack is that he smokes. So much of American politics is about "character" (to be positive about the preoccupation) or "lifestyle" (to be dismissive.)

Here is the Judicial Watch blog with their analysis:

Earlier this month, the media revealed a published memoir in which Obama blames negative stereotypes of young black men for driving him to be a cocaine-abusing "pothead junkie" when he was younger. The second-year senator wrote that an identity crisis arising from the realization that his life was shaped by a loving white family and negative stereotypes of young black men drove him to use drugs.

Though he says he no longer abuses illegal drugs, Obama still smokes cigarettes and one blogger wonders if a candidate who smokes can win the liberal vote. It asks, will the part of America that holds its nose when it walks into a smokey bar be willing to vote for a man addicted to cancer sticks?

For my part I am less interested in Barack's colour, or gender or Party, or whether or not he smokes, as in what he believes. What are his policies? What would he do? But as the Americans would say this shows I just don't "get it".

When it comes to white men they are still in with a shout. There is John McCain. (Do you remember? He stood against the incumbent for the Republican nomination touring the country on the Straight Talk Express.) He has some clear messages about backing the Iraq war and favouring limited Government at home. He states:

Common sense conservatives believe that the government that governs least governs best; that government should do only those things individuals cannot do for themselves, and do them efficiently.

Much rides on that principle: the integrity of the government, our prosperity; and every American's self-respect, which depends, as it always has, on one's own decisions and actions, and cannot be provided as another government benefit.

Another white male looking for the Republican nomination is Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York. His strengths include his tough and highly successful "zero tolerance" approach to policing in that city based on the "broken windows" theory. There is a problem for Rudy in that he believes that abortion should be allowed - those who regard it as representing an annual holocaust of unborn children quote understandably regard this as an irreconcilable barrier to supporting him.

There is a long way to go. But I hope that whoever becomes the next US President will succeed on the basis of substance - not balloons and soundbites.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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