If you're looking for a horse race don't look here. The only race that counts is to discover which presidential candidate demonstrates the best judgment and vision when it comes to life or death issues for our tortured world. By that standard, I'd nominate Democrats Mike Gravel of Alaska, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio or Republican Ron Paul of Texas--dark horses all--as early leaders.
After two debates, May 3 in California (Republicans), and April 26 in South Carolina (Democrats), Gravel, Kucinich and Paul are in the lead where it counts.
Yes, I know, they're low in the polls, back in the pack--as if this were the Kentucky Derby. Big Media prefers focusing on glamorous hard-chargers out of the gate. That's why you hear so much about Edwards' alleged $400 haircut, Obama's failure to snarl at radical Muslims, and Hillary's refusal to apologize for voting in favor of Bush's war. But let's get real.
Gravel, Kucinich and Paul have raised far more crucial issues than any of the frontrunners.
Pundits have called Hillary Clinton the winner of the Democratic debate because she came across as tough, smart and assertive. Some are calling John McCain and Rudy Giuliani winners of the Republican debate for much the same reasons.
But moral sensibilities and judgments of history matter. That's why Gravel's voice resonates in today's violent and cynical world. He deserves serious consideration for past work to end the draft and the Vietnam War, and for making the Pentagon Papers--which chronicled how top leaders lied about that war--part of the Congressional Record. Smart-alecky pundits ignore Gravel's message at the peril of us all.
Among his opponents, only Kucinich and Paul have been consistently right about so much. Not only about Iraq--this generation's Vietnam--but also about energy dependence and the lies and corruption swarming around Bush.
Kucinich and Gravel lit up the stage with incendiary statements on April 26, though you'd never know it from Sunday talk shows. It seems not to count that Gravel served two terms in the U.S. Senate or that Kucinich has spent about as many years in elective office as Clinton and Obama combined.
Kucinich and Gravel have been mostly ignored even though their grasp of the most profound issues has made for dynamic sound bites. Take this comment from Gravel:
"Understand that this war was lost the day that George Bush invaded Iraq on a fraudulent basis."
Or this by Kucinich: "The global war on terror has been a pretext for aggressive war. As president of the United States, I intend to take America in a different direction, rejecting war as an instrument of policy, reconnecting with the nations of the world, so that we can address the real issues: ... getting rid of all nuclear weapons, the United States participating in the chemical weapons convention, the biological weapons convention, the small arms treaty, the landmine treaty, joining the International Criminal Court, signing the Kyoto climate change treaty."
Have Bush's aggressive, go it alone policies worked so well that we shouldn't consider new approaches that encourage multi-lateral diplomacy, spending to address root causes of wars, such as energy dependence, rather than ever increasing military budgets?
Or consider these words Gravel flung in the teeth of Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Biden:
"Some of these people frighten me--they frighten me," said Gravel. "When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes, nuclear devices."
Surely the Sunday morning pundits should've taken this bit of rhetoric between their teeth and run with it, lest we all find ourselves complicit one day in killing a million Muslims based on miscalculations like those that brought shock and awe to Iraq--quagmire to America.
After all, journalist Seymour Hersh, who has few peers when it comes to reporting on the military, wrote over a year ago in the New Yorker (April 16, 2006) that President Bush and Dick Cheney have considered nuking Iran's military infrastructure--an option our generals don't even want, according to Hersh. Shouldn't someone be talking about this?
Or take Kucinich's call for impeaching Cheney:
"I want to state that Mr. Cheney must be held accountable. He is already ginning up a cause for war against Iran. We have to stand for this Constitution."
Impeach Cheney? It's a sly move, as I'll examine in a future column, and surely grounds exist. Cheney's conflicts of interest regarding Halliburton, secret meetings with energy interests, his role in the Valerie Plame affair, innuendos and exaggerations regarding Saddam Hussein, WMDs, al-Qaeda and 9/11, his manipulation of intelligence and the media to start another war, should all be investigated. Serious questions need asking.
Who's most likely to start a nuclear war? Is there a downside to spending more than all the other nations of the world combined on armaments? Should our leaders be held accountable for the quagmire we find ourselves in? For covering up evidence of global warming? Is there a way to break the cycle of war, given all we know about its causes and horrible effects in the 21st century?
When we ignore candidates who raise such questions, we do so at the peril of our world.