One of the best lines I’ve heard in a presidential debate came from Dennis Kucinich, at the only debate I ever attended live. Other candidates were explaining (that is, rationalizing) their earlier support for the Iraq war, and how their positions had changed. They had just gone through a similar exercise on another issue, so, when it finally was his turn to speak (and he wasn’t getting many turns) Kucinich asked the audience: “Wouldn’t you prefer a President who gets it right the first time?”
Kucinich’s intended takeaway from his line was not that he was smarter than the other candidates about the Iraq war or any other issues of the day. Rather, it was that when the “issue of tomorrow,” arose, as it inevitably would, he would be most likely to get it right.
So, in the euphoria over the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, I wonder how many of those engaged in the early goings of the contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination have noticed this: Sanders: I was ahead of the curve on gay rights. In 1996, Sanders cast one of the few no votes on the Defense of Marriage Act, one of the more odious pieces of anti-gay legislation, which ultimately was held unconstitutional.
When you compare the Democratic candidates on the issues of the day, their similarities greatly outweigh their differences, although Hillary’s expression of her positions tends to be more carefully scripted. But what about the issues of tomorrow? You know, those issues that we don’t see coming, but which will smack us in the face in the next few years.
Here’s the thing about the Presidency:
It often doesn’t have room for eventually getting it right. If you don’t get it right the first time, you’re likely to be beyond your term by the time you eventually do get it right.
Back in 1992, one of the “issues of tomorrow” would have been same-sex marriage. It wasn’t aired in the 1992 campaign. Nobody really saw it coming. But come it did, in the form of an odious piece of legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act. The President at the time got it wrong. He eventually got it right, but by then he was out of office. And out of power.
So, where the candidates stand on the issues of the day is obviously important, but when you pick a candidate, you’re placing a bet on how he/she will do on the issues of tomorrow. Betting can be nerve-wracking when the stakes are so high. But the information is there to place an educated bet. Since you have no choice but to bet, at least bet wisely.