I like most of the Democrats running for president, and I’d be happy with just about any of them as the nominee. In particular, I like each of the alleged front-runners — Clinton, Obama, and Edwards — and if one of them ends up being the Democratic nominee, I will happily do whatever I can to get him or her elected.
But there’s only one candidate among the current crop who has really stood out on multiple occasions when true leadership was called for. Even when it meant taking a lonely stand that was going to annoy not only the president, but the head honchos of his own party. Even when it meant leaving the campaign for an indeterminate period of time, because what was going on in the US Senate — his day job — was more important. Sure, other Democrats quickly fell into line once he got the ball rolling. But on Michael Mukasey, on habeas corpus, and most recently on FISA, one guy has taken that all-important first step, regardless of the cost to his campaign and to his comfort level in the go-along-to-get-along Senate.
That guy is Chris Dodd.
Dodd is, of course, qualified for the job, considerably moreso than the front-runners according to the traditional measuring-sticks. (26 years in the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee, Peace Corps, US Army Reserves, blah blah blah.) I don’t think that stuff should be the deciding factor, but it’s a factor all the same. Dodd has also been quite good in the debates, when he’s been given a chance to speak; I see no reason to think he couldn’t easily best any of the Republicans. On the issues generally, he’s very much in the same ballpark as the rest of the gang, and on some he has stood out as superior.
To be sure, again on the traditional measuring-sticks, Dodd isn’t perfect. He voted for the AUMF in 2003, though he has since said that doing so was a mistake. He doesn’t favor gay marriage, though neither do the front-runners, and he’s as good on GLBT issues as any of them. And he’s a white guy from a small northeastern state when that combo hasn’t worked great for the Dems in recent years, and in a year when there’s a chance to “make history” by electing Obama, Clinton, or Richardson.
But the other guys aren’t perfect either. Just a couple of examples: Obama retreats to vague talk about being a Christian when asked why he doesn’t support gay marriage (as if there aren’t Christians who support gay marriage), and he badly (and perhaps revealingly) mishandled the Donnie McClurkin episode. The recent decline in Clinton’s poll numbers is a modest crisis at best, yet she hasn’t handled it terribly well, and her screwup on the Spitzer/driver’s licenses question reinforced the suspicion that she’s a compulsive triangulator. Edwards yells a lot.
At the end of the day, I want someone whose leadership I can count on when the going is really rough. Obama, Clinton, and the rest of the gang may well be able to deliver that, and I hope they can. But we really don’t know, because they haven’t done it yet. (And no, telling auto workers that cars need to get better gas mileage doesn’t count.) Dodd was the first Dem to publicly oppose Mukasey when the rest of the Dems seemed resigned to the notion that if we don’t confirm this guy, Bush will just give us someone worse; and he probably annoyed Harry Reid no end with his FISAbuster, thereby making life more difficult for himself should he remain in the Senate. He has consistently led the pack on some of the most important issues to have hit the Senate recently; the others have followed.
Finally, a word about “electability.” Dodd, of course, is not favored to win the nomination, nor is he expected to come close in any of the early caucuses or primaries. I don’t care. I am not interested in basing my vote on what I, the pollsters, or the media think that other voters are going to do. I cannot control their votes, and of course it’s possible that the predictions may be wrong in any event. The only vote I can control is mine, and I plan to cast it for the candidate who I think would actually make the best president. Hopefully he will remain in the race through February 5 so that I have the chance to do so.
As I said above, on some very big recent issues, Dodd has consistently led, and the others have followed. I want the leader.