If the 2008 presidential election is a baseball season, we’re still in that early, delusional phase when even Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans can dream of a World Series ring. The race for the White House is chock full of hopeless players destined to be sent down to the minors before mid-season—and full of superstars who will unexpectedly bust a knee long before the All-Star break and spend the rest of the season muttering in the showers. At a time when candidates have already raised record amounts of money, the polls show tight bunching among upper-division candidates, and the Middle East shudders under daily car bomb attacks, it isn’t at all clear who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations, much less the general election in 2008.
Like another cellar-dwelling season for the Devil Rays, only this much is certain: Whoever comes out on top will give libertarians plenty of reasons to complain. Whether or not most Americans reflexively embrace “Free Minds and Free Markets,” various polls and analyses suggest that between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters reliably try to cast their ballots for candidates who are both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In an era in which presidential elections are routinely decided by percentages smaller than the rounding errors in Barry Bonds’ monthly BALCO delivery bill, that creates a serious opening for candidates who recognize that being, say, both pro-gun and pro-gay might just grab more votes than trying to squeeze one more win out of the worn-out liberal and conservative playbooks.
We’ve scouted the players in both major leagues—er, parties—including a few figures who have yet to decide whether they’re going to suit up this election season. We’ve looked at their backgrounds, we’ve weighed their chances of winning, and we’ve figured out their biggest pros and cons for voters who care about liberty. From a libertarian perspective, there are damned few franchise players out there, but scratching out a policy win is often a matter of stealing a base or a sign here and there, and working deep through a roster filled with prima donnas, hot dogs, and the occasional bum who hits one out of the park. If none of the candidates below quite brings you to your feet, it’s still worth sorting out the strengths and weaknesses of the field from which the 44th president will likely emerge.
Vitals: Entering politics as a Goldwater Girl from Illinois, Hillary Rodham turned left in college. In 1975 she married a Yale Law School classmate, William Jefferson Clinton, future Arkansas governor, U.S. president, and (almost certainly) Surreal Life cast member. A powerhouse corporate lawyer at Little Rock’s notorious Rose Law Firm, Clinton became the most controversial first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt then cruised to a carpetbagging victory in the 2000 New York Senate race. She was re-elected with 67 percent of the vote in 2006.
Pros: If you discount John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Ahmed Chalabi, no one has benefited more from the Bush II presidency than Clinton II. Bush’s blunders have made Hillary’s promise of a Clinton Restoration, with many of the same advisers hauled out of deep freeze, look appealing. It’s a given that a Clinton II presidency would lead to a GOP rebirth, and the prospect of a new Republican majority forcing another era of gridlock might be the best short-term political future that libertarians could hope for.
Cons: Reality check. Hillary wants to restore the Clinton dynasty. If she isn’t battling a Republican Congress, Clinton will get most of her state-expanding projects approved, from national health care to video game censorship to revved-up food-handling regs. And don’t expect the family that intervened in more countries than any other post-World War II administration to retreat from Bush’s bellicose foreign policy. Indeed, until her recent flip-flop, Hillary backed the Iraq war and most of the “war on terror.”
Bottom Line: Of all the major candidates, Hillary Clinton is the one whose presidency is easiest to visualize in detail. No wonder we feel sick to our stomachs.
Vitals: The son of a white Kansas anthropologist and a Kenyan Ph.D. student, Obama led a job-training nonprofit in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School. He returned to Chicago, held a state Senate seat while teaching at the University of Chicago, and in 2000 made a failed run for Congress. In 2004 his campaign for one of Illinois’ U.S. Senate seats seemed to be blessed by the gods of politics: His strongest Democratic opponent crumpled in a spousal abuse scandal, the Republican nominee dropped out when word leaked of his love for sex clubs, and the GOP’s last-minute replacement, Alan Keyes, didn’t even live in Illinois. Obama won the biggest landslide in state history.
Pros: Even his Democratic rivals will admit that Obama is articulate, bright, clean, and handy with a speech. He hasn’t fought many battles in the Senate, but he’s fought some of the right ones. He co-sponsored a bill with Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn that created a searchable database for pork spending. He opposed the Iraq war before he got to the Senate, and while voting to continue funding the war he proposed a troop withdrawal that would wrap up at the end of March 2008.
Cons: Obama’s line on Iraq was, “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war.” And he means it. As a Senate candidate Obama was open to pre-emptively striking Iran if that country developed nuclear weapons, which hints that he might not be the candidate to break with the Bush/Clinton era of foreign adventures. On most economic issues he’s a big-government liberal; he opposes the Bush tax cuts, supports a rollback of the capital gains tax cut, and calls efforts to kill the estate tax “the Paris Hilton tax cut.”
Bottom Line: He’s the most charismatic politician to seek the presidency since Reagan. But where Reagan’s priorities were crystal clear, Obama’s are obscured by beautiful, meaningless rhetoric. What is the “audacity of hope,” anyway?