Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Marilou Johanek

Ego-driven pols itching for shot at the White House

AMERICAN politics can be so peculiar. Two years before voters go to the polls to elect the next president, the 2008 campaign is well under way in some circles. Politicians with egos the size of sumo wrestlers are just itching to ride a wave of public adulation to the White House. All the press, publicity, and assembled supporters can be such an intoxicating elixir for public figures who live to be noticed.

Some who dream of being serenaded by "Hail to the Chief" play coy about their burning ambitions. If they keep people guessing about their presidential intentions they keep people talking - about them. Endless speculation can morph into movement for a politician who insists he or she is still just weighing the prospects of running. By stringing the speculators along, prospective candidates can sometimes catapult themselves to frontrunner status.

And how peculiar is that? What does the rush to anoint frontrunner status to the current flavor of the month say about lowered political expectations in this country? Are we really so desperate to latch onto somebody who looks and sounds the part that cursory perceptions are sufficient to inspire a groundswell of blind support for a presidential wannabe? I suppose that explains Obama-mania.

Sen. Barack Obama is a political phenom - or the next best thing to a rock star. The freshman senator from Illinois is greeted with wild enthusiasm wherever he appears. Campaigns have been created to urge him to run for president. For many he is the Democratic Second Coming. But why?

Before he wowed a national audience with his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, he was barely known outside his Illinois district. Does a former state lawmaker have what it takes to lead the free world? Does it matter?

For the most part Mr. Obama is a blank slate that folks fill in with their own wishful thinking. Maybe that's why he is so popular and such an enigma at the same time. He is a bright, personable politician who seems to represent a new political approach that is less divisive, less rigid, and more practical. But beyond that why should he be president? Is being less polarizing than presidential prospect Hillary Rodham Clinton qualification enough?

And speaking of the New York senator, why is she such a draw for Democrats anxious to reclaim the White House in two years? Again, is her party so desperate for a ready-made candidate that Hillary is the best there is?

Yes, she has name, money, and organization, but would she make a good president? Does it matter to Democrats, delirious over the midterms and waiting for happily ever after? Senator Clinton is adept at playing the dedicated public servant more concerned with serving her constituents than plotting a return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But she fools no one.

Her ambitions are transparent even as she teases the political odds-makers with commitment aversion. With her calculated wait-and-see approach, the shrewd senator has already made herself the Democrat to beat in 2008. It's almost as if her party is resigned to another Clinton campaign for president, so why fight it? The same might be said of the Republicans and Sen. John McCain, although perhaps not as emphatically. He is the heir apparent to George W., but, like Hillary, the Arizona senator also comes with baggage.

Personally he lost me when he sold his soul to Jerry Falwell and sidled up to his political nemesis in the White House. Yet he still scores favorably in the polls and, at this juncture, is the GOP's leading man to take on Team Hillary.

His cultivated image as a party maverick took a direct hit when he decided to carry water for the Bush Administration and become a steadfast supporter of its Iraq invasion. The self-professed straight-shooter of the "Straight Talk Express" no longer has the appeal of one willing to risk political capital for principle.

Which leaves us with a bunch of boring party retreads that evoke a collective groan of dj vu.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is a glib partisan point man and frequent guest on Sunday morning network news programs, but a towering visionary he isn't. Neither is his Senate colleague and the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, John Kerry. The man had his shot at history and blew it.

Behind him are lesser Don Quixotes who daydream, from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. The quixotic presidential campaign(s) of Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich just reinforce his image as a loser of national proportions. The politician who long ago shed his image as the disastrous boy mayor of Cleveland for Capitol Hill pacifist with Hollywood connections stands to be remembered as an embarrassment rather than eloquent war critic.

Dennis the Menace always had a tendency to get carried away with himself. He is not unlike party crashers like Al Gore or Newt Gingrich, who, as speculative presidential hopefuls, simply can't be taken seriously anymore.

The only saving grace from these political peculiarities is an electorate that doesn't subscribe. A recent Gallup Poll says 38 percent of voters don't know who they'd like to be the next president. They're not ready for 2008. Twenty-three months before the next presidential election, the only ones who can't wait for the games to begin are those with sumo-sized egos dying to be noticed.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

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