Let the voting begin

Which Democrat should win the White House? On the eve of Iowa, Salon asks some favorite writers, activists and media personalities whose ticket they'll punch and why.


Compiled by Erin Renzas
January 3, 2008 5:37PM (UTC)

Gloria Steinem, author and activist

I don't think it's just Bush era despair when I say that the Democratic field is the best in my lifetime. Their heads and hearts are connected, their positions are mostly good, and they can be pressured on the ones that aren't. But Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama add something new and crucial: life experience shared with a worldwide majority that has been excluded by sex, or race, or both.

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The difference is this: Hillary Clinton knows how Washington works; Kafka-style, she's had it written on her skin. Her two "firsts" in presidential history -- eight years of on-the-job training and no masculinity to prove -- allow her to both understand and change the system. In contrast, Obama is making a virtue of not knowing by running as an outsider. Jimmy Carter won that way, but the country paid a high price. We can't afford it now.

This leaves the question of electability. Clinton has an image problem from right-wing Swift boating, but any non-right-wing candidate will suffer this fate. Her Iraq mistake has been mitigated by her sincere condemning of the war. The notion that she's cold or calculating dissolves in her warm and spontaneous presence.

In other words, she can govern. It's up to us to elect her. So I'm for eight years of President Clinton -- with Obama as ally in the Senate -- and then eight years of President Obama. After all, it will take that long to clean up this mess. Meanwhile, the world will get a bonus: Bill Clinton as Eleanor Roosevelt.

David Talbot, founder and former editor in chief of Salon, author of "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years."

I support Barack Obama for president. I knew it starting last summer when Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred over whether the next president should talk directly with enemy leaders. Obama said he would, leading Hillary to call him "naive" and "irresponsible." The truth is that a President Hillary Clinton probably would engage in diplomacy with rogue states like Iran, as her foreign policy advisors quickly rushed to explain in the ensuing fracas. But the fact that Hillary, once again, tried to have it both ways, at first playing to Washington's permanent war lobby and then tacking left to appease the peace-hungry Democratic base, brought it all home for me.

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After eight years of imperial havoc in Washington, we desperately need a decisive leader who will move boldly to redefine America's role in the world. Obama has the potential to be such a transformative leader. Hillary Clinton, steeped in the ways of calculation and triangulation, does not inspire the same confidence. (Nor does John Edwards -- a man who only found his political courage when he had nothing to lose.) To be frank, there is little that inspires in Hillary Clinton, with her cautious and prosaic style of leadership. We need to be lifted to a higher place, if we hope to restore American democracy. Barack Obama has the capacity -- the poetry in his soul -- to do that.

James Denton, actor, "Desperate Housewives"

Why John Edwards? That's a complicated question. Especially for a Southern Baptist, card-carrying NRA member from the rural South. Like so many Americans, I am simply fed up. Fed up with our government's seeming disregard for the environment and the economically challenged. Fed up with our debilitating dependence on foreign oil. Fed up with the Republican Party (with whom I voted most of my life prior to this administration) preaching that it is the party of the moral high ground when its leadership proves otherwise.

I believe John Edwards. I've sat next to him and heard his passion. I've felt his commitment to those issues that are important to me -- like overhauling the healthcare system that forces many Americans into bankruptcy and hobbles our economy. Making college available to all American students who are willing to work. Changing the way Washington works -- curbing the influence of corporate lobbyists on national policy. And he espouses a theory that is seemingly unheard of -- ending our dependence on foreign oil and protecting the environment at the same time. Concentrating on renewable energy sources with his New Energy Economy Fund -- creating thousands of jobs through a dedication to developing the business of powering our country with renewables like ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar power. He is the only candidate who flatly refuses the continuation of funding nuclear power or coal-based fuel programs.

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None of these ideas are free -- or even cheap. But John Edwards has been honest enough to admit that and offer economical solutions that may be superficially unpopular. I like that he has the guts to ask Americans to sacrifice.

I have heard a recurring call to action from John Edwards in the last two years. A statement that has driven me to do all that I can to help him get elected. A statement that calls all Americans to take control of the direction of this country: "It is time for Americans to be patriotic about something other than war."

Richard Schiff, actor, "The West Wing"

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This year, my wife and I encouraged the family to come out to Los Angeles for Christmas. There were a lot of them -- the Kelley clan, my in-laws, converged from Tennessee, Alaska, Western Pennsylvania, from all over. So when they heard I was going away, they wanted to know what was so important. I told them I was going to Iowa to work for Joe Biden, and their reaction was surprising. "Wow, I really love that guy," they said, "but can he get elected?" I said to them, "Don't the voters decide who is electable? If you like him then help him win."

Over Christmas dinner we got to talking about my trip out to Iowa. We talked a lot about Joe Biden and why I am supporting him. I told them I thought Joe Biden was the smartest, that he has led a distinguished career in the Senate, is a friend of labor, has the only plan to deal with Iraq and troubled spots in the world, and has developed important and binding relationships with the leaders of other countries as well as colleagues across the aisle who can help cut through the gridlock in Washington. But most important, that he tells the truth. By the end of dinner, every single family member around the table had committed to not only voting for, but actively working for Joe Biden.

The Schiff-Kelley Christmas in Los Angeles is a lot like caucus night in Iowa. You talk about your vote. And you don't care who has the most money or who gets the endorsement of the New York Times. You care about who is going to start solving our problems from their first day in office and won't need three years to get up to speed.

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For us, it's clear there's only one candidate ready to lead from the day he sets foot in office -- and that's Joe Biden.

Gloria Feldt, author

Forget the Republicans; one's scarier than the next. The Democratic lineup is the exact opposite.

Barack Obama is inspiring. My lifelong work for social justice sprang from the civil rights movement; Obama's candidacy affirms that dream. I'll support him enthusiastically if he's the nominee.

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John Edwards channels my late father who told me, "Somebody has to look out for the little guy." Edwards skewered Bush's judicial nominees while many Senate Democrats mutely allowed the federal judiciary to become an ideological swamp. I'll support him enthusiastically if he's the nominee.

I could support any of the Democrats running. I will take this unique opportunity to support Hillary Clinton. She's first among equals in overall qualifications. Her candidacy elicits the same goose bumps as Obama's. But a woman candidate is even more revolutionary.

Racism and sexism are always joined at the head. Yet on the winding road to equality, women walk several paces behind men. Thurgood Marshall sat on the Supreme Court decades before Sandra O'Connor, and African-American men held seats in Congress generations before women had the vote.

Clinton's efforts for the little guy and gal have been lifelong and hands-on. No one disputes her brilliance or indefatigable work. Her passionate declaration that "Women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights," is balm the world needs right now.

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I wouldn't support, say, Phyllis Schlafly, and I don't support Hillary simply because she's a woman, but I sure am glad she is. It's past time for this historic leap toward equality and justice.

Eric Stern, former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats

Early in this presidential campaign, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace called gays and lesbians "immoral." John Edwards was the only candidate to immediately denounce and disagree with Pace's attack on millions of hardworking, taxpaying LGBT Americans. Neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama were able to do the same when initially asked to respond to Pace's hateful and very public remarks. Edwards spoke from his heart in defending our community from this vicious attack and he will do the same as our president.

As the former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats and a longtime legal advocate for social justice, I am proud to be supporting John Edwards for president. I initially was inspired to enter the field of activism and politics because of my desire to advocate for underserved communities. John Edwards is the candidate who has demonstrated the strongest commitment to the social justice issues about which I care so deeply.

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The Edwards campaign has worked harder than any other campaign to earn and win the support of LGBT voters. As a result, Edwards won the coveted endorsements of New Hampshire state Rep. Mo Baxley and the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, as well as from Q-Notes, the primary source of news for LGBT communities in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Edwards has not only demonstrated through his actions that our community is a vital part of this campaign whose support he is working hard to earn, but he has also proven that he will stand up and fight for our community as our next president.

Katha Pollitt, columnist, the Nation

By the time Connecticut holds its primary, my vote won't mean much, but that hasn't prevented me from obsessing over which Democratic candidate should have my meaningless ballot. As I write this, only Biden is off the table for me, thanks to his many votes against abortion rights and his vicious questioning of Anita Hill (never forget!). Among the top three, I lean toward Edwards on pure policy grounds: He speaks most clearly to the situation of low- and middle-income people, plus he's a fighter and we need one; it would be wrong for me to hold against him the fact that he is white and a man and has a house roughly the size of Bloomingdale's. Obama's above-it-all bipartisanship seems a recipe for caving to me. On the other hand, Obama was against the war in Iraq when Edwards and Hillary Clinton were for it (but would he have been against it if he had been a senator at the time?). As for Hillary Clinton, it would be fantastic to have a woman Democratic president. The sexist attacks on her enrage me. But in the end I have to admit that like Obama she represents the centrist corporation-friendly wing of the Democratic Party, without his ability to turn the political page.

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Electability is crucial but if my previous votes are any guide, I have no ability to figure that out: My support is the kiss of death. so perhaps I'll abide by the wisdom of crowds, let the other voters decide, and cast my own personal vote for Dennis Kucinich, the candidate who actually supports the things I believe in -- social justice and equality, single-payer healthcare, an end to our militaristic foreign policy, full civil rights for gays, and the restoration of our civil liberties from the dustbin to which the current administration has consigned them.

Oliver Willis, blogger and writer, OliverWillis.com

The biggest question with regard to Barack Obama's candidacy is: Is America ready for a black president? My gut reaction, sadly, is no. But I think that Barack Obama is clearly ready to be president, and for America to truly move forward we need to elect him as our next president. Sen. Obama represents the next generation of leadership, someone with knowledge of the past and the advances and mistakes that have been made there but free of the sort of legacy that makes someone just a little too gun-shy to be transformational. After the destruction done to our national psyche, our global image, and all of our lives by the current leadership team, we need someone like Sen. Obama to put us back on the right path and lead us out of the valley of fear.

Unlike some in the race, Sen. Obama has made the idea of American unity one of the central principles that guide him. While I am a fierce partisan, I have never liked the idea of a 50 percent president. It is simply unhealthy for our democracy to have a leader who acts as if half of the country doesn't exist. Not that he disagrees with them on principle, but actively governs and campaigns as if they are the enemy. Our union does not work with that sort of divisive leadership at the very top. If Barack Obama is elected president, that will likely be the most important task he has. America has done awesome, powerful things when it works together -- like winning a world war or going to the moon -- and accomplishes little or nothing when we are actively encouraged to be hostile by the presidency.

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For him to make it, however, Sen. Obama will have to demonstrate the one element lacking in his campaign so far: killer instinct. He must demonstrate that his campaign will not repeat the errors of Gore and Kerry, and while standing for unity, not allow the venom of the opposition to hang unchallenged in our collective consciousness. Every move requires a countermove; preferably he will act rather than react.

When I thought about supporting Barack Obama for president, I considered his positions and the content of his character above all. What he says and what he does are by far the most important elements. But the fact that he is a black man cannot be ignored. It is not something to be papered over nor should it serve as a substitute for actual skill and ability. But it is there and it is significant. As a black man living in America I would like to be able to point out to my future children that the dream of being leader of the free world is not a pipe dream. I would like to throw off the cynicism so many of us have internalized when it comes to how far a black person can truly go in America. It can't hurt for the world and especially this country to collectively get a kick in the butt on this issue, and since Barack Obama is already qualified to be president, why not him?

On Jan. 20, 2009, I want to see Barack Obama raise his hand and take the oath making him the most powerful human being on the planet. Barack Obama for president.

This was first posted on OliverWillis.com on Dec. 10, 2007.

Matt Stoller, political activist, consultant and blogger, OpenLeft.com

While Clinton and Obama have endorsed the war on terror, the central frame of the Bush-Cheney governance model, Edwards has repudiated it, and has stated that it is time that Americans be patriotic about something other than war. I don't particularly trust any of them to run good campaigns and none of them are particularly accomplished, but Edwards is somewhat loyal to progressive values. In addition, if Edwards can win in Iowa with a hostile media that undercuts and ignores him, then maybe he can do that nationally. And that's what we need if we are to stop the authoritarian drift toward a lazy corporate P.R.-style autocratic state and create a more sustainable, open and just republic. Sorry to sound so self-important, but there you go.

Mike Caulfield, one of the founders of BlueHampshire.com

There is a recent bit of analysis out that says the election is boiling down not to policy differences, but to different theories of change. Under this analysis, Hillary believes you use corporations and the establishment to leverage change while building in protections for the little guy. Obama believes you find hidden middle ground, and discover a consensus out of supposedly competing interests. Edwards believes you apply force and pressure to the system, until the system is ready to compromise.

I completely agree with the analysis, but I find the more interesting division is between those who are theorizing and those who are doing.

When you have a proven history of change, the theory is a footnote. Chris Dodd entered the Senate in 1981, the very year the conservative movement arrived to dismantle the progressive dream wholesale. Yet in the ensuing 25-year period that will go down in history as the Conservative Era, he found ways to expand and extend that progressive dream.

He has focused, relentlessly, not on what is possible, but on how to extend what is possible. I've seen this on the campaign. Confronted with any new tool, the first question that occurs to Team Dodd is not "Can we use this for marketing?" but "How can we use this to advance our progressive agenda?"

So while Hillary took online suggestions for a campaign song, Dodd took online suggestions for filibuster reading material. While Obama built up his MySpace account, Dodd and his team built tools to route anti-FISA calls to senators. While other campaigns invited bloggers to conference calls in which the latest talking points were recycled, Dodd invited us into war room-like sessions where the strategy for cutting war funding was discussed and explained.

You could choose those that stood back and waited until history was on their side before they moved bold agendas forward. Or you could choose the person who, against all odds, advanced the progressive agenda through every means at his disposal.

I've seen Dodd sailing against the wind and been amazed. I can only imagine what he will do with the wind at his back.

A version of this was posted on BlueHampshire.com on Dec. 26, 2007.

Lowell Feld, blogger and political commentator, RaisingKaine.com

My preferred candidate for president in 2008 has been, and remains, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore. Although Gore's not running (minor detail), he is the politician who best understands the top issues of our time -- global warming, the "constitutional crisis," the "assault on reason," nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Al Gore has the experience, judgment, intelligence and wisdom to deal with these problems and become one of our greatest presidents. I even have the perfect running mate for Al Gore: a four-star general named Wesley Clark. A Gore-Clark ticket in 2008 would sweep the election and then take strong action in all the areas mentioned above.

Unfortunately, Al Gore isn't running. Short of a "brokered" Democratic convention, the party's nominee is likely to be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards. Among these three fine people, I prefer the intelligence, experience and toughness of Clinton; the unifying vision and eloquence of Obama; and the fighting spirit -- for the working people of America, against the corporate power that has our government in a stranglehold -- of Edwards. I'd also like to inject Al Gore's passionate commitment on global warming into Hillary Edwama. Perhaps Hillary Edwama will pledge to appoint Gore as their climate change czar, with broad power to tackle this existential threat? Alternatively, they could promise to appoint Gore as secretary of state in a Hillary Edwama administration. Either way, this would garner my enthusiastic support for the Edwama-Clark ticket in 2008. Go Democrats!


Compiled by Erin Renzas

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Christopher Dodd, D-conn. Democratic Party Hillary Rodham Clinton Joe Biden John Edwards

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