Way too early, I know, but everybody else is talking about the presidential race, so we should probably peek in occasionally. Whatever else might be said, it is certainly true that we will have competing visions:
On issue after issue, the contrasts came through loud and clear. Where the Democrats squabbled over who is the most opposed to the war in Iraq, nearly all the Republicans spoke about the importance of not abandoning Iraq before it has been stabilized -- and defended the decision to invade in the first place. "Absolutely the right thing to do," said Rudy Giuliani. Where Democrats called for ever grander and more expensive government health-insurance schemes, the Republicans called unambiguously for a freer market in healthcare. California Representative Duncan Hunter pointed out that 80 percent of the world's miracle drugs are developed in the United States because of a free enterprise system that encourages pharmaceutical companies to take expensive risks. "Maybe they drill three dry holes in trying to produce a good drug that will save somebody's lives," he said. "Then they hit the jackpot and they produce something that will save people and help their health."
On topics large and small -- gays in the military, making English the official US language, using nuclear weapons to keep Iran from getting the bomb, even the proper role for former presidents -- the differences between the parties came through, stark and unmistakable. If this week's debates are a preview of coming attractions, the 2008 campaign will be very divisive, and deeply consequential.
Consequential, yes, but is "divisive" the right word? We'll have a clear choice. In the meantime, the Republicans now, like Democrats four years ago, are desperately afraid they'll lose so are in search of a winning candidate. That makes their race a lot more fluid than the Democrats'.
Giuliani surged in February and March, then fell back as Thompson's name appeared on the list. The lead he has now is anything but commanding. Thompson, who raised his first money yesterday, clearly is competitive. Romney has been on an upswing, but of limited scope. McCain has been falling, but not precipitously; he had a slight uptick in May, not statistically significant but coinciding with his spirited defense of the surge in Iraq.
Fred Thompson, whose "late" entry into the race is a major reason for the GOP fluidity, is not everyone's idea of a Reaganesque candidate:
His “elder statesman” screen persona obscures the fact he is the most inexperienced of the major G.O.P. contenders, with seven dimly remembered years as U.S. Senator, no area of expertise, no executive experience and no major legislative achievements bearing his name.
Nor is it apparent—not yet, at least—that he is offering any original ideas to qualify him as the “change” candidate that Republican voters could sorely use.
Stay tuned. This could all be crap by Labor Day.