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The Presidential Candidates, 2016

America, you've got to be kidding!

January 2016

In a seemingly endless process – arcane, tedious, unfair, and corrupt – a great country is in the middle of failing to find a suitable candidate for the job of President.

While the United States has a long history of electing inadequate leaders to the presidency, rarely has the gaggle of would-be presidents appeared as inadequate as in the present campaign. But we can't fault the candidates themselves for that; they are what they are, and they have a right to be what they are. They also have the right – though they ought perhaps not have the temerity – to announce their candidacy to a position they are wholly unfitted for. So the question is rather, "What on earth would lead the American people to accept unqualified individuals as serious candidates for President?" We have over 320 million people in this country, and we're looking for the best person to be our governmental administrator, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and international political spokesman. Is this (gaggle pictured on right with Stephen Colbert, courtesy CBS) the best we've got? Well, no, it isn't.

An irony in our selection process or criteria is that, as often in the past, several of the better-qualified candidates in this campaign were dismissed early with barely a hearing. To take the Democratic field of candidates, we are now left with a mere two candidates; the one asks us to believe he can achieve the impossible, the other asks us to lower the ethics bar so that even she can get over it. Senator Sanders is a good-hearted utopian whose total leadership experience is that of a small-town mayor. After 24 years in Congress we have to grant him "good policy chops" – which makes it even more strange that he doesn't seem to grasp that Congress will hardly accept a single one of his fine ideas. The other is of course the notorious wife of the former president, who the Secret Service White House detail knew as "the witch" during her years in the White House. On the strength of her experience as "first lady" and a recommendation from President Clinton she was awarded the post of senator from New York in a walk-over election, and was later made Secretary of State by Barack Obama, on the basis of the same recommendation (and no doubt a significant quid pro quo). In the former role she was one of the senators who started the disastrous Iraq war, and in the latter role she continued to show an astounding lack of understanding of the Middle East, by recommending the bombing of Libya that led to an ungovernable region largely in ISIS-friendly hands, as well as recommending sending U.S. troops into Syria, not to mention an evident failure to grasp basic national security rules (think email server). Like Sanders, she has never had a significant leadership role – in her Sec. of State role she was essentially a roving ambassador.

The dismissed candidates would not have been dismissed so quickly by a more knowledgeable and discerning electorate: Governor O'Malley of Maryland offered the most detailed and sensible program, and was a serious candidate who should have been polling in double digits, but neither the media nor the Democratic voters seemed to care; it was as if the movie was already scripted and he had wandered on to the set by mistake. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia – who may yet reappear as an independent – also has an excellent background for the job of president and will still be my own choice if he runs. His understanding of foreign affairs exceeds that of any other candidate in either party, his concern for dealing with poverty and his broad background as military hero, lawyer, Secretary of the Navy, Emmy-winning journalist, novelist, and senator is unique and valuable. His opposition to the Iraq invasion resolution in 2002 put him on the side of Sanders and Ted Kennedy, against the war lovers Bush, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.

The Republican candidates this year seem to be in a contest to be seen as the most evangelical-Christian, the most anti-science, the most flag-waving and anti-immigration, the most pro-Israel and anti-Muslim, the most gun-happy, and the most opposed to social programs of any sort. For folks who claim to love their country more than the Democrats do (because the treasonous Democrats love Muslims and Mexicans, believe mankind is affecting the climate, and may not even believe that God created the world in seven days and made America for Americans), this love doesn't seem to extend to the actual people of the country, many of whom are starving and in desperate straits. The Republican electorate appears to have become transfixed by personalities – the more outrageous the better – in a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the party "establishment". They've at various times taken a fancy to the boorish and poorly informed Mr.Trump, the completely uninformed Dr.Carson, the inexperienced Mr.Rubio, and lately the nasty Mr.Cruz, who promises to "carpet bomb" entire towns in the Middle East if he gets the chance. It's difficult to see how a serious thinking American voter can want any of these individuals in the oval office.

One Republican who clearly stands out in this crowd for his relative sensibleness is Governor Kasich of Ohio, who therefore has not appealed to the Republican voters. Mr.Kasich, with his reasoned approach to policy and his broad experience in both national and foreign affairs, should be the clear choice for voters who value such qualities. Alas, it looks like his quiet manner will not satisfy the Republicans' need for bluster this year. (I am reminded of the quote "Why is it that those who know the least know it the loudest?")

It is possible that the election year 2016 may yet be rescued by the appearance of one or two actually qualified candidates who are not paid for by influence-buying billionaires or firms, nor expecting to be crowned as a dynastic heir-apparent, nor appeal by crassness or simplistic utopian schemes. And how would such miraculous saviors appear?

I won't hide that I see a reappearance of Jim Webb as an independent candidate as a pleasant possibility. Assuming that the Democratic and Republican current frontrunners (either of the top two in both parties) get their party's nomination, we would have a choice between two candidates who, to put it kindly, would leave a lot of room for a qualified independent candidate, never mind that the last independent to win the presidency was George Washington, a few years back.

On the Democratic side, one can hope that the leadership sees the handwriting on the wall and warms up someone more acceptable to the general electorate. Perhaps Joe Biden may still be available. If there's not much positive to say about uncle Joe, neither is there overly much negative. He knows his stuff, and besides, he's friendly.

If the Republicans don't get around to nominating a moderate like John Kasich – and that doesn't seem likely – Mitt Romney is rumored to be waiting in the wings as a potential tie-breaker and fireman. He came close last time; who knows ...

All in all a depressing campaign season so far. The most likely result this year is that none of the what-if's will happen, and that we wind up with Sanders or Clinton vs. Trump or Cruz. In the absence of an acceptable independent candidate I would favor Sanders by the process of elimination; ... but just in case, I'm already scoping housing in Montreal.

© 2016 H. Paul Lillebo

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