Friday, August 10, 2007

Where the candidates stand

I'm mostly sitting out the early rounds of the presidential campaign on principle, refusing to pay close attention until we're quite a bit closer to the 2008 elections and the number of candidates has dropped a bit.

It's not just laziness: I can't think of a better way to guarantee that victory goes to the deepest pocket than to have a two-year campaign. Indeed, I've been doing some thinking about campaign financing and will have an extensive post on the subject a little later.

For now, though, I've come across a handy chart that helps makes sense of the current battalion of hopefuls. It cross-references the candidates by their position on 25 issues.

As with all such issues, most don't break down neatly into "yes/no" answers. But it's a starting place to get a sense of the candidates.

A good way to approach it is to decide what your "make or break" issues are: those where a candidate's position is enough to decide whether you could ever vote for him, regardless of his stand on other issues. Then go through that reduced list to see who agrees with you the most, or who has personality or career traits that you find attractive.

For instance, my make/break issues, from those available, are:

1. Guantanamo/torture/wiretapping;
2. Iraq war (overall, not the details of the surge, which I support, or withdrawal, my support for which depends on how the surge works out).

Those are the only issues where the chart provides a meaningful answer to issues that are key to me, although it's imperfect even at that. For instance, I don't mind legal wiretapping, but oppose warrantless wiretapping of domestic targets. It's thus unclear what the entry under "wiretapping" means.

That said, a quick sort using those criteria indicates that I could support any of the following candidates: Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich and Richardson.

Looks pretty Democratic for me this time around, unless Chuck Hagel runs.

Having eliminated those candidates I can't vote for, I can now turn my attention to sorting the remaining candidates based on their personal traits, as well as issues that I have an opinion on but don't put so much weight on.

Gay marriage, for instance: I support it (or civil unions), but I won't vote against a candidate simply because they oppose it. All other choices being equal, though, I'll back the candidate who supports it over the candidate that opposes it. That's enough to throw out Dodd, whose "leave it up to the states" nonanswer ignores the substantive federal benefits attached to marriage.

I can throw out Gravel and Kucinich because they oppose any strong measures against Iran, even sanctions.

That leaves Biden, Clinton, Edwards and Richardson. And there's not much substantive difference in their remaining positions. They all agree on abortion, the death penalty, ANWR drilling, Kyoto, universal health care, etc.

The main exceptions: Biden and Richardson oppose No Child Left Behind; Richardson opposes an assault-weapons ban; and Richardson opposes a border fence. None of those is enough to sway me one way or the other.

So I've got it down to four. The next step would be to examine their policy positions in more detail, as well as weigh the intangibles: experience, judgment, personality, whether I trust them, education, intelligence, and so on. Which is what the final months of the campaign are for: to get to know the candidates as much as possible.

For that, I'll see you in January.

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