Staff column: Similarities, little moderation in race
The presidential field seems complete now that confirmed conservative Fred Thompson finally announced he is running for president on The Tonight Show last week. His entrance into an already crowded field, at a time when elections in the past most candidates were still weighing the idea of running. Everything is certainly happening earlier than we are used to.
But this earlier than ever election process that is going on doesn't do away with a set of circumstances that we have only had twice before during a presidential race year. That circumstance happens to be that of no standing president running during a major war our country is involved in.
The only other two times this has happened is in 1952 when Harry Truman decided not to run for a second term (although he had actually served almost two terms at that point because he had taken over for deceased Franklin Roosevelt in 1945) while the Korean War was going on.
The second was when Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for another term in a similar manner in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War.
Whether Truman or Johnson would have won if they had run is just speculative conjecture. Truman would have been up against Dwight Eisenhower, a George Washington kind of figure to the American public at the time because of his triumph during World War II in commanding all European forces.
Johnson would have probably faced Nixon just as his vice president Hubert Humphrey did and based on what was going on at the time there is a good chance Nixon would have defeated him. In both cases people wanted a change.
This time a sitting president cannot declare again because of the two term limitation put in place after FDR's unprecedented four wins in row from 1932-1944. And not only that, the vice president is not running either.
But there are some real parallels. Unrest in the public concerning domestic and foreign policies today look a lot like both these other races. But the center of it all seems to be the Iraq war. Our country seems to be trapped in a quagmire just as we were at the time of the election in 1951 and 1967. No reasonable person will say that we can just clear out of Iraq, yet no one seems to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel for when it will end either. In both the other conflicts we were involved in a world wide struggle against communism, or the Cold War as it has been called. Those two earlier wars were fought on the grounds of defeating communism.
We of course are also fighting this war in conjunction with a world wide operation: the War on Terror. However, while it was quite clear that the wars fought in Korea and Vietnam were against communist regimes, it is still very unclear whether the invasion of Iraq really had anything to do with the present larger conflict.
The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban is also still raging. Many who dispute our reasons for being in Iraq, proclaim that the war in Afganistan is totally justified. It is after all where many of the enemy who directly contributed to the 9/11 attack reside, plan and train for more attacks on the west.
It is pretty clear that the American people want some kind of change in Iraq policy. In the two other wars, the party not in power claimed large victories in those presidential elections.
Will that happen this time? It's hard to tell. All but one of the present Democratic candidates want out of Iraq. On the Republican side all but one candidate wants to "stay the course" rather than just pull out.
What is different in this election is the divisions within the country. While the public is polarized about the war in Iraq, they are also polarized on other issues from immigration to abortion. While middle America is scared of the idea of liberals running the government once again, they are just as disgusted with the conservatives that have had the reigns for the last seven years.
Once again for those in the middle of the right and the left, there seems to be little choice, particularly with candidates who can raise money and win the final election. Moderate values are truly lacking in the field of candidates on both sides, and the money and power to get the nomination seems to fall at both end's of the scale, rather than in the middle.
What a turning point in our history this could be. We could elect the first woman president. We could also elect the first African-American or Hispanic president. We could also elect the first Mormon president. On top of that we could have another actor in the White House.
On second thought, Thompson might be the only one with a actors guild card, but they should probably all have one considering what has been going on.