February 06, 2005

Hideously Early Presidential Pre-Picks - Hagel!

Okay, so it's still quite early; get off my back, this will help sort out the field before the buzz clouds it up. I'd like to get my earliest impressions on record. Right after Bush's 2000 inaugural I (was very unfortunately a Democrat and) picked Edwards as the best candidate for the Democrats, in part because of trial lawyer money and his resemblance to Clinton. It turns out he wasn't as experienced as he could have been or as talented as even Dick Cheney in debate, but he was a pretty strong candidate (making it to second slot). Plus, I'd like to sort out my arguments for who should get the nod, because persuading the Internet folks is actually a very important part of the pre-campaign process; Internet folks have money and affect the coverage of candidates in the blogosphere.

First the Libertarians, just to say they should pick somebody famous. Jesse Ventura is already running and he's moderately libertarian on both economics and society - sort of an Arnold. The LP could give him ballot access in a bunch of states right off the bat. They want a purist, so it won't happen, but if the LP nominates Jesse I will very strongly consider voting for him. I can't vote for the LP on purism alone, since purism would demand I vote against abortion. The LP doesn't sell me very well on its non-purist arguments, mostly because it seems more focused on being right than being influential, so I end up rooting for them to 'send a message' or whatever. Jesse is famous, and even though he's out of politics and has that weird beard thing, he's still better than running obscure party activists and people who should stick to book-writing.

Now the Republicans. I am toying with voting GOP, mostly to stave off the Democrats' idiotic negativity on foreign policy and blundering incompetence on anything involving more money than buys a pack of chewing gum. I don't expect much from Republicans on abortion, except that they won't actively block from the White House any Congressional effort on it. I am hoping for someone who can mimic the really awesome stuff about Bush that's not standard conservative fare lately - pro-immigration, pro-free trade, and supports the idealist mission from Bush's inaugural.

My choice is Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He was elected to the Senate in 1996, reelected in 2002 - the year he took 83% of the vote to take the record best margin ever in a Nebraska Senate race. He's very safe there, where he is widely respected. He does his own research and writes his own material. He has accumulated an obscene number of tasks, positions and organizations for which he works. He is widely considered a policy wonk and a nice guy. He is independent and criticized the Bush Administration when it messed up the war in Iraq, but he is a supporter of the efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He backs ideas to reinvigorate the world through American stimulus like aid and reconstruction, but he approaches it from a very intelligent, learned perspective instead of the absurd leftist idea that we just owe it to other countries to send them money.

He endorsed McCain for the 2000 primaries, along with only a few other Senators (DeWine of OH, Kyl of AZ, Thompson of TN) but he voted against the McCain-Feingold tactics of banning soft money and issue ads; he respects the independence and intelligence of McCain but not the speech-limiting measures of his campaign finance bill. He's very pro-free trade, very anti-tax, pro-market, and quite pro-life. He also draws excellent scores from the Republican Liberty Caucus on economics and quite decent scores on social policy. He gets very low scores from anti-immigration and population-control groups, which gives him a very high score in my book; he has voted to increase student and worker visas to keep our economy growing. AFL-CIO and other price control groups don't like him as well, so a plus for me.

He got a 92% from CATO on free trade; he got an A from the NRA; he gets over 90% and sometimes 100% from the National Right to Life Committee; he repeatedly gets 100% from the League of Private Property Voters.

My one complaint is his draft comment last year. He said that all Americans aren't sharing the burden of the war, and a draft might equalize that. I really do not like that argument or that policy. This is enough to give me pause to reflect on my choice: do I think a President Hagel would start a draft? I doubt it strongly, because both the public and the military oppose it and there isn't any major move for it today despite the deep usage of our armed forces. So I think the issue would be moot; I don't believe he would declare a draft as President except in relatively dire situations.

The problem as I see it is that he's a very intelligent, thoughtful guy and he doesn't give yell-to-the-rafters speeches. I don't care; I think it's cool that he knows the issues and has a real mind for this stuff. Without some way of getting popular appeal, he won't make it out of the primaries, though. That's his handicap - getting a strong connection in his speeches and media appearances. He's not like Gore or Dukakis or Mondale, though; he may a little more reserved, but he's not an unlikable, irrelevant doofus like the Democrats seem so prone to nominating. I think his earnest, knowledgeable style will help him to overcome the drawbacks of his quieter nature.

Honorable mentions:

John McCain - He's too old to run but you gotta love a guy who just says what he thinks and does what he wants. He's overly enamored of regulatory schemes, but otherwise he's pretty decent politically. He's also an exciting campaigner.

Richard Lugar - Smart guy, highly respected, foreign policy credentials a mile long, and one of the best economic records in the Senate. Pro-free trade, pro-life, only somewhat less pro-immigration than Hagel. Too old to run, but still gets a mention because I wish he could try.

Sam Brownback - Senator from Kansas, quite pro-life, very high economic liberty scores, pretty standard Midwestern Republican with pretty conservative leanings. More fiscally than socially conservative, but he always shows up to the March For Life in DC to support a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. I am related to Brownback through marriage, as his brother is married to my mother's cousin., though the closest I got to meeting him was when I met his brother's wife at a wedding and reception for a first cousin of mine. Not sure how good his chances are either way, but he seems like a decent enough candidate from my perspective.

For the Democrats, who I will never vote for due to the abortion lobby, the unions and the rest (unless the Republicans somehow summon Lucifer and nominate someone even worse), I'd like somebody who's pro-free trade, ideally pro-life, willing to be either moderate or partisan based on what he believes rather than on cultivating an image, and somebody who understands that the Democrats tend to nominate guys that don't connect with the public. Based on these factors I'm picking Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. I'm not going to vote for him, but I am going to root for the Democrats to pick him on the hope that he'd be at least marginally better than the rest of the lot.

He is, as most know, Senator from Wisconsin. He was recently reelected in what was supposed to be a mildly at-risk seat, but he won 56-44 with a half mil left in his campaign chest. Pretty decent performance, and this despite voting against the Patriot Act and doing some other things that traditional wisdom held would make someone unelectable. He pulled it off.

Aside from his strong leanings on abortion, he's a pretty horrid economic libertarian. He draws dismal scores from most economic and business interest groups and is not really free trade in his votes. The McCain-Feingold bill was cool from a reformist perspective but it was a horrible nightmare both in terms of efficacy and constitutionalism. He did vote against the Patriot Act, so that's as much as I can expect from anyone who could actually be nominated by the Democrats. After all, I don't have to vote for him, I just want somebody who's less of a total idiot than the Carter-Mondale-Dukakis-Gore-Kerry types.

More broadly, Feingold realizes that Kerry and gore lost because they didn't connect with voters. Hey, somebody in the Democrats who actually pays attention. He surmises that the geographical home, left-center-right slanting, and insider/outsider identification are all less important than connecting. As I see it, those first three are somewhat important, if only because people say they are, but ultimately it matters if you connect. Somebody painting you in terms of insider or New Englander or leftist always paints it as an elitist, disconnected from the beliefs and goals of the wider populace. So those are merely vehicles to communicate the real key. The only real addendum is that identity does in fact matter to many Southerners, who have some weird tribal thing going on. But what's cool is Feingold recognizes that the candidates are a huge problem for the Democrats. Maybe he can't fix it, but recognizing the problem is step one.

Additionally, even though this shouldn't matter, the fact that he's a Jew is a plus just to send a big FUCK YOU to the terrorists - and to fashionably anti-Semitic intellectuals in Europe and Canada. I think, no matter who wins, the President should set up a HUGE fucking menorah on the Ellipse for Hanukkah.

Honorable mentions:

Ben Nelson - He's pro-life and gets pretty decent scores on spending and trade. He's too conservative and too obscure to win the nomination and it's unlikely Nebraska would go Democrat for him. No interest, no chance, but it would be nice to see a pro-life Democrat who stays pro-life when the primaries start (fuck you, Kucinich).

Blanche Lincoln- She regularly gets the most economic-libertarian and most commerce-friendly scores of any Democratic Senator, and sometimes of any Democratic member of Congress. She's not a libertarian, but she is definitely the closest there is today to an economic libertarian Senator in the Democrats. She probably wouldn't get the nomination, but as a woman she pulls the left-base and as a Southerner who can play up moderatism she has a shot at making a play for both the South and the moderates. She's pro-choice, except for partial-birth abortion; somewhat more against immigration than the mainstream opinion. She gets bad NRA and GOA scores and good scores from the gun control people. She's way against vouchers and very close to the notoriously stubborn teachers' unions.

I don't think she'd be a good candidate, though. She's probably too young (born 1960). She was first sent to the Senate in 1998, so she doesn't have a load of experience. I just wanted to give her a nod for her pro-trade votes and views. I would not be upset if the Democrats nominated her, given the alternatives.

You'll notice by now my preference for Senators - I like Senators, they have experience and votes, they have exposure, they know the system and best of all they tend to have a broader view of the country and the world - including actual experience in foreign policy. The only Governor I said was Jesse, who isn't even Governor any longer. I know everybody thinks Governors are the only electable candidates and that history proves them right. Well, at one point Governors weren't very good candidates and then they were; every historical trend starts somewhere, and maybe we could go to electing Senators who can deal with the myriad national and international issues we face today, instead of Governors who are better at kissing ass than making policy.

I'm going to give some unsolicited advice now.

My advice to the Libertarians: don't be afraid to win half the battle instead of losing all the battle.

My advice to the Republicans: don't walk away from Bush's embrace of forward-thinking issues like immigration and free trade, but don't get caught on the wrong side of history when it comes to the gay marriage issue; make sure to continue Bush's foreign policy commitment because it's a grand vision that inspires people.

My advice to the Democrats: don't condescend to us, don't ignore us, and don't send us a candidate who's boring yet still manages to have sucky arguments; just send a confident, friendly candidate who can be straightforward and doesn't hate rich people; and don't try to promote your less-experienced people (e.g. Senator Obama and the new Governor of Montana) to compensate for the lack of good candidates this time around or you'll screw your future along with your present.

So for now I'll be rooting for Hagel to get good press. I won't endorse him, since politicians tend to refine themselves dramatically up until 18 months out from the election, but he seems like he's in a good spot and he's at least headed in a good direction policy-wise - unlike so many other potential candidates.

Chuck Hagel
Could Chuck Hagel Take the White House?
A Republican Foreign Policy - Hagel in Foreign Affairs journal

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