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Boys on the Bus #1

Joe Tacopino

Time magazine recently conducted a poll that asked prospective voters what candidate would make the best high school principal; who’d be a better babysitter; and even, which one they’d like to see on the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars. I’m sure there is some cultural significance attached to these questions; some sociological statement as to what character traits we’d like to see in our leaders and what images we project onto them. I am also sure that some writer, with a greater intellect, will pick apart these polls to summarize what effect these unorthodox perceptions will have on the presidential race. This, however, is not what I will attempt to do here. This column will overcome the trivial and meaningless banter that the media focus on during an elongated presidential contest and attempt to focus on the issues at hand.

There are a lot of so-called “second tier” candidates who don’t get the media coverage they need or deserve. This is mainly due to their lack of fundraising capacities. (Senator Hillary Clinton has reportedly added $26 million to her presidential war chest.) Without a significant bankroll, these “second tier” candidates are written off by the major media players as irrelevant because they aren’t able to saturate the public with advertising in early primary states.

During a recent appearance on The Daily Show, Democratic candidate Bill Richardson told Jon Stewart about negotiating with Saddam Hussein to free US hostages from Iraq . Apparently, the negotiations almost went sour when Richardson mistakenly revealed the soles of his shoes, a big insult to Arab men. Suffice to say, the negotiations proceeded and Richardson got the hostages released. Why this anecdote was furnished on a comedy show and not Meet the Press or cable news is a question that will have to be addressed in another column. What the story shows is that Richardson has some unique foreign policy experience which is sorely needed from our leaders in a post 9-11 world. This appearance on The Daily Show encouraged me to take a closer look at the candidate.

The New Mexico governor is the self-anointed “most qualified candidate”. Touting his foreign policy experience and insistence on energy independence, Richardson proposes bringing a diplomatic approach to the White House. As Secretary of Energy under President Clinton, Richardson went toe-to-toe with some of the toughest dudes on the planet. Kim Jon Il, Saddam Hussein, whomever runs those militias in Darfur – Richardson has done it all, and has succeed not with bombs but words. His chance at the Oval Office may be slim but his qualifications definitely make him a candidate for Secretary of State.

On the Republican side there has been much anxiety about the conservative qualifications of the current crop of top tier candidates. With Rudy Giuliani running away from his former pro-choice stance and renouncing his support for gay marriage, conservative voters are searching for a candidate with legitimate right-wing credentials: cue Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. Brownback is a principled conservative who appears to apply his Christian ideals to policies across the spectrum; as opposed to the convenient conservative who gets selective amnesia when it comes to feeding the poor and supplying pork to their preferred constituencies. In addition to being a leading a pro-life voice in the Senate, Brownback has been at the forefront of the movement to end the genocide in Darfur (a supposedly Liberal cause). Like all Republicans, Brownback is inextricably tied to the War in Iraq, but his insistence on providing a political solution (as opposed to just a military one) makes him an attractive candidate who appears to do more than just tow the party line. His views on wasteful government spending and simplified tax codes will appeal to Libertarians. Brownback is campaigning in Iowa, desperately trying to get his message out.

So although the big name candidates are prepared to drown all their competition with a flood of campaign cash, the “second tier” should not be overlooked. Their message and convictions are just as salient, if not more, than their rich rivals. It will be interesting to see if the media alters their coverage in the coming months to include the campaigns of Richardson and Brownback, among others. Or will the debate be relegated to irrelevant verbal jabs between Barack and Hillary; and the insurmountable fundraising of Mitt Romney. We can only wait and see, but I’ll be surprised if Dennis Kucinich gets any face time on Meet the Press any time soon.

Joe Tacopino's Boys on the Bus, a critique of the media and how they handle the twists and turns of the presidential campaigns, will appear regularly.

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