So if I were at a Colorado Democratic caucus session this Tuesday, would I side with the charismatic, exciting, young Barack Obama, the first black with a realistic chance of making it to the White House or with the very bright, supremely articulate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to have such a chance?
And if I showed up at a Republican caucus, would I vote for John McCain, the war hero who has stood tall during this country's effort to beat back terrorism or maybe for the certifiably brilliant, managerially gifted Mitt Romney?
Although I live in Colorado and am entitled to vote in the general election, I won't be able to do any of the above because I am registered as an independent. That means my participation in any caucus will be limited to thinking about what I might do if I could, starting with the extraordinary Obama.
He is an amazing figure who at times emanates a rare combination of elegance, decency, sincerity and intellect, and someone whose oratory fills the air with grand emotion, as if he were singing a magnificent aria. You sense something special about him while realizing that personal magnetism can have its dangers and is scarcely the final word about a candidate. Content counts.
In his case, the content is not always impressive. His constant talk about "hope" has come to seem a melodramatic muddle that assumes we're caught up in intolerable circumstances we've almost lost the spirit to address. In a country as dynamic, prosperous, full of opportunity, generous, democratically directed and free as this one, that is silliness writ large.
He speaks of bringing us together, but he's no beacon of a middle way; his record is one of unveering liberalism occasionally contemptuous of the other side.
There's something frightening about him as well: his insistence on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a stand that could mean unspeakable genocide and a victory for terrorists who might then bring mass murder to our cities.
Clinton, on this issue, appears more mature than Obama, wanting to start withdrawals right away while leaving some for special operations as needed. It's not easy to be sure of her stand, though; she has been all over the map on troop withdrawal. While a degree of indefiniteness on some matters isn't entirely bad, she has been overcalculating on most. Where she seems to mean what she says is on her socialist-tinged economic ideas. If she managed to put them into effect, the nation would rot.
Is she capable? Perhaps, although she is not all that experienced apart from her time in the Senate; her one excursion as something of an assistant president during her husband's tenure was ruinous for him. Another eight years of Hillary and Bill Clinton in the White House? Heaven help us from the national divisiveness and a crumminess we have already seen in this year's presidential campaign. I'd rather take my chances with Obama, who just might grow with the job.
Figuring the race for the GOP nomination is now between Romney and McCain, I opt against the man who says the word "profit" in debates and speeches as if it is some vile, disgraceful thing, against the man who employs leftist lingo to oppose tax cuts, against the man who makes drilling for oil in Alaska sound like an environmental catastrophe it definitely would not be, against the man who wants to squash free speech in the name of campaign tidiness. I opt against McCain.
Yes, he has strengths, such as a deep sense of honor, opposition to runaway federal spending and toughness in the fight against terrorists. Yet Romney, too, would be tough in that fight, and happens to understand and appreciate the free market; he has proven himself in it as an incredibly successful business boss. It's true, as critics say, that he has tried on every possible costume that might appeal to Republican voters. But he exudes vitality and eagerness and seems finally to have found his campaign voice in discussing conservative solutions to economic issues.Maybe the choices I've made will lose in Colorado and most other states on Super Tuesday, but in the next outing, the one in November, I can try again, this time with an actual vote.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at [email protected]