11 February 2007


And so Barack Obama has officially entered the race.

The first-term Senator from Illinois announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination to so much hoopla that even Hillary Clinton's once-postponed first visit to New Hampshire couldn't upstage the upstart.

Obama, to a freeezing but frenzied crowd in Springfield, Ill., promised to be a leader of a new generation of politicians who would get beyond partisan gridlock and find solutions to Iraq, health care and new energy sources.

While Jesse Jackson ran much stronger than the "experts" expected in his presidential bids in the 1980's, Obama enters the race as the first black American who looks formidable right from the get-go (which I believe is all Joe Biden - though very clumsily - was trying to say). So Obama's announcement clearly is important, though not at all surprising.

But, the most important bit of news to come out of the Obama camp this week came Thursday, amid Anna Nicole's death and on the heels Lisa Nowak's trip to Disneyworld. Needless to say, the Obama news got little notice.

While opting out of the public campaign financing system so he could keep up with Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Obama proposed a voluntary cap on spending for the general election.

Under the proposal, the two major party nominees would agree to limits on fund raising and campaign spending, as a way to limit the influence of the well-healed and the special interests.

The proposal is particularly significant because the 2008 election marks the first time since the Nixon years that the major candidates will not be confined to spending limits, as they have all opted out of the public financing system and intend to raise hundres of millions of dollars from private donors.

Hundreds of millions of dollars!

And therein lies the problem.

Primary elections should be about letting every candidate be heard. Yet many never even declare because the task of raising so much money is too daunting.

Others - Tom Vilsack, Bill Richardson, Sam Brownback and even senior statesmen like Biden and Chris Dodd - have decided to give it a go, but, lacking the sizzle of an Obama or Clinton or Rudy Giuliani, are likely to go unnoticed even though they all have important things to say that would resonate with certain segments of the electorate.

Take Bill Richardson for example. He's a Democratic governor from New Mexico. That's about all most of the electorate knows about him, if they know that much. But he's also a former ambassador to the United Nations, a former energy secretary and a former congressmen.

Gee! A candidate with extensive executive and legislative experience and credentialed in foreign policy and energy. Why would we ever need to hear more from a candidate like that?

Just this week Richardson called for a major reversal of tone of U.S. foreign policy. From Cowboy diplomacy to an acknowledgement that other countries populate this globe as well and can contribute in important ways to its survival.

Among Richardson's proposals is an expansion of the U.N. Security Council to 10 permanent members from the current five, to reflect the new realities of global politics. He also called on the U.S. to live up to its obligation to the planet itself, by joining the Kyoto Protocal and going well beyond it to combat the realities of global warming and waning energy supplies. Richardson also proposed strengthening our diplomatic efforts with Iran, North Korea and Syria. A drastic change from the shoot-first diplomacy of our current regime.

It wasn't that long ago that the New Mexico governor also outlined a sensible, comprehensive plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. Beyond this blog and a few others, the plan was published in a sprinkling of dailies across the country - the story picked up from the AP.

Mike Huckabee holds socially conservative ideals that appeal to the far-right, but also has raised taxes to the benefit of the middle and working classes in Arkansas, where he was governor until this year. All most Americans know about him - if the know anything at all - is that he's the other former Arkansas governor raised in Hope, Ark. who used to have a weight problem.

There are nearly two dozen people running for president right now. Most Americans can name no more than four or five. A few others would-be candidates have ruled out running because of the long odds that they would get noticed in a crowded field with four or five "superstars."

The money tends to head in the direction of the likely winner, not necessarily the candidates with the best ideas.

Until we as voters require a publicly funded, cost-controlled system not only to elect our presidents but also our alderman and everyone in between, we will be limited to those who make it to the feeding trough first.

Obama's proposal for the general election is a first small step in the right direction. My guess is the suggestion will go unheeded.

Editor's Note: We at PrezPolitics, while still making the 2008 campaign our reason for being, have decided to change the focus of our blog a bit. Rather than following the day-to-day developments (big and small), we will be focusing on the most important events, the key issues raised and some of the things that fell through the cracks that we think should be noticed. Our posts will be fewer, but more substantive and - we hope - informative. Our piece on Brack Obama above is an example of what you can expect to see here at PrezPolitics.

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