Thursday, January 10, 2008

Oh Bill, Tell Me It Isn’t So!

This maven is feeling very sad. I just received an e-mail from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson telling me that he is indeed dropping out of the presidential race. This is after the voters in our thirtieth and fortieth largest states have expressed their opinions. This is when less than 5% of the delegates to the Democratic convention have been chosen. I know that Richardson finished fourth in both those states, but we have only heard from a few hundred thousand voters. How can the governor quit when only so few people have spoken?

What makes me sad is that Bill Richardson is (was) hands down the most qualified person in either party running for the presidency. He had legislative experience, having served several terms in the United States Congress. He was a diplomat, culminating in him serving as this country’s ambassador to the United Nations. (When President W needed someone to negotiate with the North Koreans to get back the remains of our Korean War dead, he sent Bill Richardson). He was United States Secretary of Energy, which not only required him to manage a big bureaucracy, but also had him dealing with both energy and nuclear weapons issues. Most recently he has served with distinction as the governor of a growing southwestern state. The credentials of Senator Clinton pale in comparison with those of Bill Richardson; senators Obama and Edwards don’t even appear on the same page.

So, if Bill Richardson is so qualified how come he attracted so little support? I’ll give you a few reasons—
1- The media didn’t take his candidacy seriously. Therefore they didn’t give him much coverage, which made it harder for him to attract support and money.
2- The media didn’t think he could win. Therefore they applied all their resources to covering the “first tier” of candidates—Clinton, Edwards and Obama. Most of the voters probably didn’t realize they had a choice other than the “first tier.”
3- Bill Richardson is not a sexy candidate. He is shortish and roundish and speaks just like you and me. He doesn’t wear thousand dollar suits or five hundred dollar hairstyles. On the debate stage he was hardly noticeable. Frankly, he looked a little messy just like you and me. He sort of reminded me of Harry Truman, who never could have been elected to any office in our television-Internet age.
4- Bill Richardson is not a great orator. Nobody could confuse him with Barack Obama. In our times, when style is so much more important than substance, Bill Richardson looked sort of like a burned out star on the stage with Super Novas.
5- (That’s enough. Only David Letterman can always think of ten reasons.)

Bill Richardson’s presidential demise points out all that is wrong with how we choose our candidates. The process is overly long, favoring those who can raise the big bucks. The process puts far too much emphasis on the early vote in the small states. Why should we allow a few hundred thousand voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have so much power? In many instances, it is the media, not the voters, who really choose the candidates. By deciding who to give coverage to and who to ignore, our friends at ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN have a far greater say in who wins than the people who go to the polls or caucuses.

In his e-mail Bill Richardson urged his supporters to pick one of the remaining candidates and to support him or her. For me this will not be easy. Frankly, I do not have a great deal of confidence in the abilities of senators Clinton, Edwards or Obama to be elected in November. I have lived long enough to know that the Democratic Party always finds a way to stare into the jaws of victory and snatch defeat by picking a candidate that cannot win.

So, what am I going to do on February 12, when we in the Old Dominion finally get our say? I think I’m going to go to the front of the voting machine (we no longer have a booth for privacy) and I am going to vote for the person on the ballot most qualified to be president. That will still be Bill Richardson.

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