Dateline: 23 January 2008
The case for Bill Richardson can be summed up in two words: quality counts.
The Democrats this year face an embarrassing choice. Even in 1984, when they knew their candidate would be trounced, a stronger field stepped forward. It is difficult to think of any time when any party has been so ill-served.
The three front runners have no executive experience between them. None. None of them has run any organization at all: not a business, a state, a Washington department, a city, not even a small town. There is a huge step from bossing your senate staff to running the entire federal government.
In the past, when parties have run legislators for office they have at least chosen people of many years experience. John Kerry and Bob Dole each served longer in the Senate than Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama combined.
Hillary Clinton rode to election in New York on the coattails of her husband. It was not her achievements that won the election, but his. Being a partner in an Arkansas law firm is hardly preparation for the Senate – even in Arkansas, let alone New York. She is undoubtedly intelligent, but her success at the Rose law firm owes much to her husband’s prominence. In a small, and notoriously corrupt state, it does not take much to win legal business – and sleeping with the Governor can be an advantage. We must assume – in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary – that she was honest in her business dealing, but her position still helped her win business. Clients undoubtedly assumed she could secure favors from the governor for them, even if she did no such thing. It would be a terrible blow to the position of women in the United States if the first woman President was someone with no independent career behind her, elected as a proxy for her term-limited husband.
Barack Obama is a more considerable politician with greater experience – just. He has served 11 years as a legislator, three of them in Washington. In principle, I suppose, having served at both state and federal level enhances his experience. But he has yet to complete a single term in the Senate. Without that we have just his experience as a state legislator to consider, and that does not qualify someone to be President.
John Edwards, with one term in the Senate which he did not dare defend is the least experienced candidate in this weak field. Like Obama he has considerable presentational talents, but he is not presidential material, and his far-left views on the economy put him out of the mainstream even within his own party. He is well to the left of Kerry, Gore, Clinton or Dukakis. Mondale was the last protectionist to be nominated, and he won just one state.
By contrast, Bill Richardson has served longer in Congress than any two of the front-runners combined. He has served in two cabinet positions, including UN ambassador. He really has the diplomatic experience that Clinton claims. He is governor of New Mexico – and a reasonably successful one. He has run a Washington department as well as a state. Though he has withdrawn, votes cast for him will still be counted. He will not win, but if you are a registered Democrat you can still send a message. The message is: quality counts – or at least, it should.