When I listened this morning to the reports coming from New Hampshire, I was quite astonished to hear what Hillary Clinton had to say. After winning this semi-open (which allows anyone to vote, not just registered party members) Primary of the Democrats by a narrow margin of two percent over her nearest party rival Barack Obama, she gave a speech that sounded as if she had just been elected President, or at least won the nomination of her party. What she did win in fact were nine delegates from New Hampshire to the national nomination convention, bound to vote for her. Not more and not less.
I cannot say that I was surprised, having observed her campaign (as well as all the others) now for quite some time. There is an air of superiority and arrogance in Mrs. Clinton's approach to politics, an attitude that implies she might be the only suitable person for the Presidency, simply because she has lived in the White House before. If that would be a fair criteria, thousands of US citizens would qualify, from presidential advisers to cooks, gardeners and chamber maids, many of which spent a lot longer in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than Mrs. Clinton.
If she were a Catholic or Christian Fundamentalist, she might as well claim a "God-given right" to follow in her husband's footsteps. The whole idea of people succeeding their fathers, husbands or other close relatives in high public office is not democratic at all. Hereditary succession, even though occasionally to be found in republics, is usually the practice in monarchies (and often with quite negative effects).
It is no secret that I am a Republican, in the general and especially Irish meaning of the word. If I were an American, I could not call myself that and would be most likely independent, with a slight leaning towards the Democrats. So when I look at the 13 remaining candidates for the US Presidency (six Democrats and seven Republicans), I think I can do this fair and unbiased and see every single one with the same critical scrutiny.
And what I see - on both sides - is not encouraging and does not offer much hope for the USA, her people and subsequently the whole world, which is much effected by anything that happens in the United States.
Having been in charge of the White House now for seven years, as well as in control of the House and Senate for six of them, the Republicans are in a right mess, entirely created by themselves and especially by George W. Bush and his inner circle of right-wing capitalists, war mongers and bible bashers.
The defence budget and the national debt are at a record high, as the administration spends money on their wars and other military projects as if there was no tomorrow. And for them - the Bush clan and its extremist supporters - there probably isn't. Even many Republicans are now very critical of the dangerous policies that have turned most of America's supporters (myself included) against the USA. In fact, there was no room for compromise, as Bush made it quite clear that one could only be "with us (his administration) or against us".
Given a choice that narrow, many chose to refuse the USA any further support and sympathy, especially when it became clear that under the Bush regime the one remaining super power on this planet would break every international law in the book, start illegal wars and invade and occupy far-away foreign countries that had never committed a single hostile act against the USA.
Even more disgusting and unacceptable is the creation of illegal detention centres and secret prisons abroad, where thousands of people were - and still are - held captive for years, without any charge, without any evidence against them, and without access to a lawyer! Alongside the administration sanctioned the use of torture on a massive scale, and - cowardly as Bush and his henchmen are - made sure that it was never done on official US territory, so they could pretend it did not happen at all. However, the facts are well known now and indisputable, and all this has backfired massively on Bush and destroyed the trust and confidence billions of people on the globe once had in the USA as a free and fair country.
With Bush having served two terms and Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney not standing for the Presidency (probably because he knows himself that he would have absolutely no chance of getting elected) the field is wide open. Looking at the candidates that seek the nomination of the Republican Party, one has to wonder how serious the Republicans are in their wish to carry on with the responsibility for their nation. Only one - Senator John McCain of Arizona - is a serious candidate with competence and ability, but he is also the oldest contender in the field. In case of him being elected, he would be the oldest ever man to become President, even beating the record so far held by Ronald Reagan.
This might not be negative at all, as it will need an experienced leader to sort out the mess Bush created and win back trust from the American people as well as countries and people abroad.
All things being equal, for me McCain is certainly the one person most qualified to be President, out of the 13 candidates still running on both sides.
However, being a Republican he would not only inherit Bush's mess, but also be forced to treat matters more lenient and even defend many of the failures the current administration made in every possible field of politics. This could lead to even more distrust and further deterioration of America's reputation in the world.
The other six potential candidates running for the Republican nomination have in my opinion no realistic chance, and some could make things even worse than they are now already. Even the theoretical thought of a Mormon (Mitt Romney) or a fanatical creationist who "loves shooting things" (Mike Huckabee) in the White House and having control of the massively inflated US military power - including the nuclear options - sends cold shivers down my spine.
Rudy Guliani, a former Mayor of New York City and a cold and calculating opportunist, is not a man to be trusted with anything. He is best remembered for "9/11" and his harsh policies of "zero tolerance" against the petty criminals, poor and homeless of New York, but that alone is no qualification for the Presidency. Any mayor in office would have done what he did under the circumstances of "9/11", and his "zero tolerance" campaign actually created as many problems as it solved. Subsequently more than four million people (of the more than 18 million who populate the New York metro area) are now living below the official poverty line and depend on regular food hand-outs.
Since leaving office in New York Guliani tries to show himself as a "liberal conservative", but not in a very convincing way. Many voters will rightfully wonder how "liberal" a man could be after making his name with the slogan of "zero tolerance". (They might also remember that George W. Bush ran during his first presidential campaign with the slogan "compassionate conservatism", and we all know what he did since...)
The remaining three - Congressman Duncan Hunter from California, Congressman Ron Paul from Texas and Fred Thompson, a professional actor and former Senator from Tennessee - are not likely to win any significant support and will drop out of the race sooner or later. Neither of them has a large enough political and financial base, and that is eventually the crucial factor in US politics.
Four previous Republican contenders - Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, Congressman Tom Tancredo from Colorado and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson - did already quit before the start of the Primary season.
Given the crimes and massive mistakes of the Bush administration, many Americans (including Republicans) as well as foreign observers expect and wish that the next US President should be a Democrat. Those with hope for a better future see that only a drastic change at the top of the political system could bring a real change, and cynics think that it will be better to let Democrats deal with the mess and chaos of the Bush administration than burden another Republican with it.
Therefore the attention of the world's media is currently more on the Democratic Party and its remaining six contenders. (Two other Democrats - Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut - have already dropped out after the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd.)
Of the six still running Hillary Clinton, Senator for New York, is clearly the favourite. Not for political achievements or experience, but mainly for three other reasons: She is the publically best-known of all candidates, she has collected the largest amount of money for her campaign (so far more than $ 90 million) and she is clearly the most determined of them all. She is also in many quarters seen as a true Liberal, and a significant portion of US women would like the idea to have her as the first ever female President.
However, the former First Lady carries a lot of baggage and it remains to be seen if that could become a factor during the campaign. One of the most serious details is that she actually voted for the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and that she has not moved much away from this obvious mistake. It will depend on how much the disastrous war still matters to the American voters.
Further obstacles in Mrs. Clinton's path to power are her undisputed coldness and arrogance, a lack of true compassion and her attitude that she "knows best" and is "most experienced". That could in fact be her Achilles heel, since her actual experience in practical politics is limited to her term as the Junior Senator from New York. Being married to a President brings undoubtedly a lot of benefits, insights and interesting encounters, but it is no substitute for responsibility and holding high office.
In fact, her only venture into real politics during her husband's administration - her attempt to reform the hopeless and completely unfair US health system - ended in disaster and chaos. Not surprisingly, she has so far nor even mentioned this shambolic episode of her career and one wonders how long it will take until one of her opponents does.
Second favourite among the Democrats, and the only one of all candidates who offers real hope and a new approach to US politics, is Senator Barack Obama from Illinois. The son of a Kenyan father and white American mother would - if elected - be the first non-white President and as such the natural carrier of hopes and aspirations for America's poor and deprived people (many of which are black). However, there seems to be a tendency that he receives so far not as much support from these quarters than one might have expected. Obama is also the first non-white politician who does deliberately not play the race card himself (as it was done in previous years and campaigns by black Democrats like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and others). He is in fact the first coloured candidate fully and easily acceptable to white Americans (as his decisive win in the 95% white state of Iowa has shown), while a large segment of the black population supports Hillary Clinton, mainly out of loyalty to her husband.
If I had a vote in the USA, it would clearly go to Mr. Obama. If there is any chance for the USA to recover from the catastrophic Bush years within the foreseeable future, it will need a man of vision, courage and new ideas. Among the 13 remaining candidates on both sides Barack Obama is the only one with such qualities, reminding one in more than one way of John F. Kennedy in his presidential campaign. And like Kennedy he has the ability to reach many of the young and unconventional Americans who have long given up on the established parties and traditional politicians. This could work well in his favour, and personally I hope it does.
What could be held against Obama is his lack of experience, especially when it comes to foreign policies. However - despite Hillary Clinton's forceful speeches - when it comes to practical and hands-on experience in politics, Barack Obama has more on his CV than the former First Lady.
As Obama is also the first leading US politician with open sympathies for the Palestinians, it is to be expected that he will not do very well in New York and other areas with a strong Jewish community. As New York is also Mrs. Clinton's current home turf, she will certainly make good use of the situation. But whatever she might throw into Obama's way, the fact remains that she is "yesterday's woman", representing old and worn-out ideas, while he is "tomorrow's man".
The third contender, and surely the "dark horse" in the Democratic stable, is John Edwards, a former Senator from North Carolina, who was John Kerry's running-mate in the Presidential Election of 2004. Energetic, handsome and a "man of the people" with great public rapport, he should not be written off, even though he currently trails Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in third place. In matters of political experience he outshines both of them, and he has a strong and solid support base of white voters, especially in the Southern states. As things stand for now, he has the best chances to be nominated again as the running-mate (for the Vice Presidency), with either Clinton or Obama as the main nominee. Should, however, Hillary Clinton fail to muster the amount of support she expects, John Edwards might well have a chance to pick up many of her delegates and secure a nomination, with Barack Obama as running-mate.
So far barely noticed by the pundits is outsider Bill Richardson, currently the Governor of New Mexico. Of all Democratic candidates he is by far the politically most experienced, having been a Congressman, US Ambassador to the United Nations and US Energy Secretary. Despite such an impressive service record, his public profile is rather low, which will dampen his chances for the first prize. But having collected so far more than $ 18 million (a fifth of Hillary Clinton's funds) in campaign contributions, he might have enough financial stamina to keep going all the way, with a chance to become either running-mate or - in case of a Democratic win in November - to take a senior position in the new administration.
With a new Democrat in the White House there might also be interesting appointments for the remaining two also-rans, former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. In the long and strenuous march through the Primaries, however, they will not find much support from voters.
As much as commentators emphasize the New Hampshire Primary, it is far too early to make a clear prediction for either of the parties. Nevertheless it appears that John McCain might carry on from where he left off in 2000 (when he also won New Hampshire, but was then pushed out of the race by massive corporate donations to the Bush campaign). Mitt Romney's funds (of now $ 63 million - twice as much as McCain's) make him a serious contender by force, but is remains to be seen if America is ready for a Mormon in the White House. Lack of support for Romney could benefit Rudy Guiliani, who collected $ 47 million in campaign funds, but has not yet spent much of it. If his unorthodox strategy of completely ignoring certain states will eventually pay off - well, only time can tell.
In the Democratic Party the contest is clearly between Senators Clinton and Obama. After Iowa and New Hampshire they stand at a one-all draw, with Michigan to come next in a week's time.
I am still astonished how much Mrs. Clinton praised herself last night after winning in the New Hampshire Primary with 39%, while Obama received "only" 37%. What few people realised and not one commentator mentioned is the fact that this result is only a win by percentage. What really matters in the Primaries is the number of delegates a candidate takes from each state to the nomination convention. And on that count Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama drew in New Hampshire, each receiving the support of nine delegates (with the remaining four going to John Edwards).
On the long and winding road ahead anything is possible with two such strong and determined candidates, and this year promises at least to be one of the more colourful and interesting on the often quaint and dreary plains of US politics. However, I cannot see much hope for the future of America (and the world) unless Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the USA.
The Emerald Islander