Watched about half the Democratic debate tonight, and listened to the other half from the next room. This is about the third or fourth debate I've seen, and I'm still not much closer to making a final decision about who to vote for in the primary. And even though I'll almost certainly vote for one of the Democrats in February, it's by no means certain that I'll vote for the same person again in November.
It's looking increasingly likely, though, as Giuliani, the only Republican I had seriously considered voting for, seems to have completely turkeyed out of the race. I mean, not entering or campaigning in the first several primaries is a pretty bizarre strategy by any standards, but now he's no longer doing well even in the states where he is campaigning. Basically, he just doesn't seem to have what it takes, not that a monomaniacal lust for power should be one of the major criteria for a potential President. But at least a little bit of it is in order; I don't think you want a President whose attitude is, "Well, if you really want me to be President, I might be able to squeeze it into my spare time, but no way am I working nights and weekends."
So Rudy's out, and Huckabee and Romney were never in the running for me; I may be a very tolerant centrist, but I've had my fill of right-wing wackos for now. And I'm pretty sure McCain is out for the same reason. He's not as far right as the other two, and he's actually quite moderate on some issues, but he strikes me as being just a little too tightly wound, the kind of guy that could go all Dr. Strangelove on us if world affairs got too out of hand. I'm open to arguments to the contrary, but for now, I can't see supporting him.
So that leaves me with the Democrats, and with most of their random nutters and cranks now faded from the field, that means Edwards, Obama and Clinton. The more I see of Edwards, the less I like him. I mean, sure, genial, folksy, well-dressed and all that, and a charming Southern accent (which I suspect he dials up or down depending on who he's trying to impress), but no matter what he says (and it's inevitably some variation of "born in a mill town, first family member to go to college, evil corporations, blah blah blah"), it always comes across as, "I've got some mighty fine snake oil right here, it'll cure every one of your ills."
So it's really down to Obama and Clinton, both of whom I think I could live with as President, but neither of whom inspires much confidence. Obama would certainly be the best-looking President we've had since Kennedy (I always found Bill Clinton a bit too inflatable and pre-formatted) in both the physical and the cultural/psychological sense. And the fact that he's got even less governmental experience thank JFK had doesn't necessarily have to disqualify him; I mean, how much experience did George Washington or Abraham Lincon have?
But so far there still seems to be something not quite there about him, whether because he's playing his cards too close to the vest or there really is a vacancy - or worse - at his center. He's great at articulating a vision, not so great at spelling out what that vision might be.
Hillary, on the other hand, I've never especially liked. She's always struck me as phony, hectoring, overly ambitious, and the thought of having to listen to her leaden prose for the next eight years makes me almost willing to accept almost anyone else, regardless of party or ideology, as President.
But the times are trying enough that I can't let my personal disinclination to listen to her rule her out, and it's also true that from time to time she surprises me by coming across as reasonable and even thoughtful. Tonight was one of those occasions, and I found myself thinking, "Yeah, I guess she wouldn't be that bad."
There's still the not-so-minor matter of both Obama and Clinton being farther to the left than me on some issues, and of neither being strong enough on energy and the environment. But hey, I don't think McCain or Romney are going to be covering the land with solar panels, either, and I think Obama/Clinton's obsession with getting the troops out of Iraq even if we're starting to win the war may be held in check by pragmatic considerations (not that I have any other ideas about what to do in Iraq, at least none that wouldn't require reinstating the draft and further bankrupting our national treasury).
At any rate, for right now I only have to decide who I'm going to vote for in the primary, and at present I'm still leaning toward Obama. I guess the main thing holding me back is the concern that between now and November something will crop up (further revelations about the slightly odd, and possibly racist church he belongs to, perhaps?) that will render him unelectable and hand the contest to whichever wackjob the Republicans nominate.
The fact that that's unlikely to happen to Hillary is maybe the best argument she's got going for her. She's too well-known a commodity by now, and too practiced a politician, for her candidacy to be derailed by some surprise scandal. Unfortunately, she's also too well-known by millions of people who just plain don't like her for her to have much of a chance to win them over.
Oh, what the heck, I always end up saying, America has weathered worse Presidents than either of those two is likely to be, and will probably muddle on through no matter what happens. But there's only so much incompetence the country can handle in any one stretch, and I think Bush as sorely tested those limits already, so for all of our sakes, let's hope we get it right this time.