THE BLOG
01/04/2008 04:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Enduring Questions for Today's Democratic Frontrunners

Like many Democrats (I suspect), I am "decided" only in that I have decided I will support any Democrat nominated. Otherwise, I am undecided and unwilling to jump on any bandwagon in an election crucial to America's future. Here then are key questions I would pose to each of the three front runners:

To John Edwards: You understand that it is not just misunderstanding or abstract polarization that divides America, but a fundamental conflict of interest over key questions like abortion, guns, immigration, health care, free trade and American leadership. However, many Americans see this as "the old politics of divisiveness" and want to "get beyond polarization." How can you persuade such Americans - many of them young and attracted to Obama -- that confronting corporate interests and the far right is something more than old, tired left wing populism? And how does such populism and your union support translate into a foreign policy and trade policy that is more than just protectionist?

To Hillary Clinton: your experience does count for something, and your coolness under fire and your pragmatic good judgment (manifested in your Senate work) recommend you. But, Clinton fatigue aside (and it is real!), your campaign seems cautious and uninspired. You have allowed old opportunistic right-of-center pols like Mark Penn to run things, and paid the price in Iowa for displaying so little vision. As critics have noted, the Bush White House was loaded with "experience" when it embarked on the disastrous policies to which we now seek alternatives! So how are you going to get the young people, many of whom have never been engaged in politics before and who are flocking to Obama, to believe that you represent the future? Beyond the details of policy and what happened in the last Clinton Presidency, what is your underlying vision for change and for America's future?

To Barack Obama: You incarnate hope and symbolize the new multicultural America; many young Americans resonate to your plea to get beyond red and blue and unite around a better future, and that's a good thing for American democracy. But such inspiring rhetoric will not suffice to actually govern. Your own career suggests at least a degree of caution and indecision and a reluctance to "offend" anyone that are incompatible with real change. Moreover, is it really possible to change America in significant ways without also dividing it? There is no parsing issues like a woman's right to choose, corporate opposition to universal health care, teaching creationism, or curbing free trade in the name of fair trade. How can you hope both to unite the country and lead it to real change? The realities of doing the second are not really compatible with the rhetoric of doing the first. Great leaders like Lincoln and FDR won elections but their visions attracted many enemies and they hardly "united" the country - Lincoln's vision led to civil war! Show us concretely how you can unite and change America at the same time.

I can sum up my concerns by saying that Edwards seems to represent change at the expense of unity, Obama represents unity but, although he talks about change, does not seem to grasp that politics is inherently about conflict, while Clinton aspires to both realist compromise and real change without making us feel confident about either.