Who should be our next President?

By Steve Kirsch
May 26, 2007

Executive Summary

Some people tell me that they want to wait to make a decision on who to support in the primary. I think that's wrong.

My experience has been that if you look at what the candidates did prior to the start of the primaries as well as early in the primaries, you'll get the most accurate picture of how they will perform in office if elected. The closer you get to the primary, the more useless and noisy the data. For example, before the election in 2000, I correctly predicted Bush would twist facts, ignore science and reason. Few believed that then. Of course, everyone believes it now. My accurate prediction was all based on his actions prior to 2000; you simply could not have made that prediction based on what he said and did just prior to being elected.

The same is true here. If you want to determine who you should vote for, look closely at the evidence that is available to you right now...it is unambiguous, consistent, and more accurate than data you will get closer to the election.

Others I know say they are sitting on the sidelines for a while. But that is not what our democracy is all about. If we are happy of how things have been going, it's probably OK to sit on the sidelines. If you are not happy with the war in Iraq, our (lack of) progress on global warming, then sitting back doesn't make a lot of sense unless you believe that other people are better informed and smarter than you are or you believe that there are no differences between the candidates.

Ultimately, to summarize the months of research I did, I ended up concluding Edwards was the best choice. My three top reasons were:

  1. Edwards is the most electable based on polling data in the battleground states.We must elect a Democrat in 2008.  Those states are the only polls that matter if you are concerned about winning the general election.
  2. We have tough problems to solve and he's the strongest leader. I found lots of examples when Obama and Clinton had opportunities to lead on very important issues (Iraq and global warming for example) and they both failed to even speak out about how they felt. That lack of leadership will be a major problem if either of them are elected (and it isn't something that changes overnight...if it were that easy, anyone could be a great leader).
  3. He's the strongest on climate change which is the biggest problem our civilization has ever faced. Multiple metrics all show this, the most obvious being that in the MoveOn TownHall on Global Warming, Edwards won handily with  twice as many votes as his closest competitor. If we don't make dramatic progress in the next 10 years, at the rate things are currently progressing, our planet will likely turn into a nearly lifeless rock in less than 100 years from now as we repeat the 6 degree rise in the Eocene period 50 million years ago (see the end of Global Warming: Why we can't wait for the scientific evidence of this). Back then, that temperature rise took 10,000 years. This time we'll accomplish it 100 times faster.

In early May 2007, I was an undecided voter. The one thing I was sure about is that, because global warming requires us to act immediately, this election is critical to the future of our country, more so than any other election in our history. So I spent almost a month doing research on the top 3 Democratic candidates since none of the Republican candidates had a viable position on global warming. What I found surprised me; I found that my choice in the primary mattered. We cannot just elect "any Democrat" because only one of the top three candidates has clearly demonstrated, time and time again, the leadership ability required to tackle the big problems that must be solved now. History has shown that what you see before the election is always better than what happens after the election, i.e., if you aren't thrilled with your candidate before the election, you are going to be very disappointed after the election.

Ultimately this race comes down to one word: leadership. We need leadership to get out of Iraq. We need very strong leadership to solve global warming. We need leadership to solve our domestic issues such as health care.

The evidence I found was both clear and consistent. Throughout this campaign, only Edwards has consistently demonstrated the strong leadership skills our country needs. I found that Clinton and Obama have not. In general, they have refused to take strong positions on the top issues, they have been followers on the top issues, they have failed to speak out and express their opinions on some of the top issues facing our country, and they have not asked others to follow them on key issues. These are key leadership traits that are all lacking when I looked at their actions on Iraq and global warming. I documented many clear examples of all of this in the full analysis. I've included one such example below. It is evidence that is hard to ignore.

Edwards was also the most electable based on polling info in the battleground states (which is the only polling that matters).

If I could describe each candidate in just two words, here's what I'd use:



Clinton Status quo. Uncommitted to the big changes America has to make. If you want change, she's not your candidate. Fifteen years later she still doesn't have a universal health care plan on her website. She said at YearlyKos that universal health care would be her "highest  domestic priority" when she is president. Are you happy with her (lack of) progress on her most important issue? What she's proposed? Nothing. She won't refuse to take money from federal lobbyists whereas Edwards and Obama already have. She touts she's been working on climate change longer than anyone, yet she signed on to the "gold standard" Sanders-Boxer climate change bill 4 months after 11 other Senators (including her opponents). She never signed on as a co-sponsor to Feinstein's "10 in 10" bill to improve fuel economy of vehicles. Her plan to combat global warming is next to useless (see this excellent op-ed: Does Clinton offer real energy policy).
Obama Talks bold. But if you look at his legislation, you find it has no teeth. He's too conciliatory in his pursuit of change. He meets parties in the middle so that neither side has to change. For example, his "Healthcare for hybrids" bill would cost taxpayers billions but he requires only that car makers not get worse! His bill to improve the mileage of vehicles had so many loopholes, the Sierra Club called it worthless. If you like bold talk and compromises that are so full of loopholes so that nobody has to change, he's your candidate. He signed on to the "gold standard" climate change bill 4 months after 11 other Senators. He never signed on as a co-sponsor to Feinstein's "10 in 10" bill to improve fuel economy of vehicles.
Edwards Bold change. He walks the talk. He's not afraid to stand up to the special interests. The public interest is not negotiable. He was out urging his supporters to tell Congress to reject the war funding while the other two were silent on the issue until after the vote. He's never taken money from a Washington lobbyist. If you think we need real change things in Washington, he's the best choice. He won the MoveOn Townhall on Global Warming with twice as many votes as his nearest opponent.

Example #1: Rating the candidates on their leadership in getting us out of Iraq

Nothing demonstrated the disparity in leadership abilities to me more clearly than how the candidates handled the Senate's Iraq "blank check" funding vote on May 24, 2007. We all want out of Iraq. All the Democratic candidates say they want out of Iraq. But I'm on all three candidates' mailing lists and I can summarize the emails they sent to their supporters after Bush vetoed the original "end the war" bill on May 1. This was the critical time for Congress to make a key decision: stand firm or cave. As you look at the  lists, ask yourself who was the leader here: Who took a courageous stand to demand that Congress force President Bush to end the war? Who asked others to support that stand by putting pressure on Congress? It's a tough call...look at each list closely. I swear, I am not making this up.


All emails to supporter base in the period from May 1 - May 24

  • May 2: Edwards asks his supporters for money to run TV ads to urge Congress not to back down and to send President Bush the same bill over and over again. This is money out of his own campaign; instead of promoting his campaign, he's fighting for the top issues that he believes in.
  • May 8: Edwards ask his supporters to sign a petition urging Congress to stand firm and not back down to Bush's demands
  • May 10: Edward warns his supporters that Congress is considering giving Bush funding without withdrawal. He's asking people to donate so he can run a newspaper ad in the Washington Post opposing such a position.
  • May 14: Edwards urges his supporters to speak out against the war on Memorial Day and to call their Representative and urge them to stop funding the war.
  • May 24: An hour after the Senate caved to Bush, Edwards announces the defeat to his supporters, but urges them not to be discouraged and to continue the fight with specific suggestions.
Obama May 7: Obama urges his supporters to organize a walk for Obama's Presidential campaign on June 9
Clinton May 17: Clinton asks her supporters to help her choose a theme song for her campaign.

Making matters even worse is that Obama and Clinton did not announce which way they would vote on the "blank check" Iraq bill before they voted. What was the point of that? Why didn't they do what Edwards did: announce his position and try to get others to join with him and help the cause? Instead, Clinton and Obama remained silent on Iraq until the vote was all over. Do you think that was an effective strategy to convince other lawmakers to vote No? Of course not. The only thing that moves lawmakers is hearing from their constituents and if Obama and Clinton really wanted to end the war, they would have done exactly what Edwards, MoveOn, and others did: ask people to call their representatives and tell them to vote No before the vote.

Remaining silent until after the Iraq vote was over is not the kind of leadership this country needs. That kind of "leadership" will not get us out of Iraq. That kind of leadership will not solve global warming. And they had no excuse for not leading. They had the opportunity. But they did nothing to encourage people to call Congress to urge them to stand up to Bush. They chose not to speak out and let people know their opinion until it was all over. They voted last; after they could see how everyone else voted. After the vote, I asked Senator Clinton why she did not speak out on the issue beforehand and she said she wanted to avoid a media frenzy. I think that's a perfectly reasonable position for a Senator to take. I also applaud her for her candor and honesty. But a leader would do the opposite: a leader would capitalize on the media attention to get his/her message out to the broadest possible audience so we can end this war and bring our troops home. It's not an easy transition to make. If it was easy, she'd be there. She isn't yet (there are other examples in the full analysis).

 Ask yourself this question:

"If Clinton and Obama were not willing to speak out in advance on an issue as clear cut as whether to give Bush a blank check to continue the Iraq war for another year with no benchmarks and no withdrawal date, then why should I believe that they will be leaders on climate change and other important issues that are much less clear cut?"

By contrast, Edwards made his position clear from the start, he ran newspaper ads, he ran TV ads, and he even asked his supporters (multiple times) to urge their Representatives not to send Bush a blank check that would extend this war without bound. Some people told me, "oh, that's because it's different if you aren't in the Senate and don't have to vote." But that logic is untrue as on other votes, Clinton and Obama have made their positions known before the vote. And on the votes where Clinton and Obama didn't make their position known before the vote, other Presidential candidates who are also in the Senate did.

As I learned more, I found that Edwards is not only the best candidate on Iraq and global warming but the best candidate all-around and arguably the one best positioned to win the White House.

This Washington Post article summed up Clinton's position pretty nicely: "in Clinton's case, she is dead center in American public opinion, foursquare for what's popular and courageously opposed to what's not." In short, she follows public opinion, she doesn't lead it. This seemingly "safe" strategy is a loser; former California Governor Gray Davis religiously followed public opinion; he was the only governor in California history to be recalled. This Huffington Post article points out A New Poll Suggests That Play-It-Safe 'Centrists' Are Weakening the Democratic Party. In the case of global warming for example, most people know it is important to fix, but less than 1% of the public realizes that unless we must make very deep cuts before 2020, the entire planet will suffer very severe irreversible consequences. Similarly, Clinton understands global warming is important, but she has positioned it as a "moral" issue on both her website and speeches. She is not yet willing to lead the country to take bold actions now to fix the problem. She will join efforts once they are sufficiently "safe" for her to move there, e.g., she signed on as a co-sponsor of the Sanders-Boxer climate change bill after Obama signed on to the bill and four months after 11 other Senators signed on. She signed on to the bill silently without any press release. As of June 10, she still has never sent any emails to her supporter base on how important this bill is even though the Union of Concerned Scientists calls it the "gold standard" of climate change bills. That is hardly the leadership we need on such a critical issue for our nation and the planet.  Clinton also has been known to make up her mind pretty quickly on issues and then stop listening. I heard that when she met with doctors when she was doing healthcare during the Clinton administration that the doctors complained that she didn't seem to care what they thought.

Obama is a great speaker. His approach to problem solving is to "meet in the middle" which results in compromised goals and this is reflected in his legislation. It's not clear that he'll change this if he is elected. Great leaders determine what the right goal based upon the public's best interest and then figure out how to get it done by negotiating the how and not the what. Obama negotiates both leading to bills that are not likely to accomplish much. For example, Obama has a bill to raise fuel efficiency standards, but the Sierra Club's analysis of Obama's CAFE bill concluded it was nearly useless. They wrote: "it is likely that this bill will not do much to raise CAFE" due to all the loopholes. Secondly, nobody will follow a leader who says one thing and does the opposite. Although Obama says he wants to fight global warming, at the same time, he is the leading advocate in the Senate for switching to transportation fuels (coal to liquids) which emit twice the greenhouse gasses per gallon as the fuel it replaces! His position is totally inexcusable; the discrepancy has been brought to his attention by many environmental leaders I've spoken with who told me he just shrugged it off when they raised the issue with him. There are cheaper and cleaner alternatives, e.g., biomass to liquids, that emit hardly any greenhouse gasses and, in some cases, actually absorb CO2! Here's a link to the New York Times editorial referring to the legislation Obama is championing in the Senate. Fortune magazine writer Marc Gunther's column also criticizes Obama directly for supporting coal to liquids. And here's the urgent email MoveOn.org sent to its members entitled "Turning every Prius into a Hummer" calling the coal to liquids legislation that Obama is championing "the greatest single threat to solving the climate crisis in a decade." His poor judgment on the most important issue facing our country today disqualifies him in my mind. Still, Obama does have a lot of outstanding qualities: he's brilliant, a great speaker, his heart is in the right place, he outshines any other candidate in terms of telling people the truth even if it is not what they want to hear, and he has a 100% League of Conservation Voters voting record. I give him a lot of credit for all this. I can even rationalize his legislative "meet in the middle" approach since he is a legislator currently and that is how you get legislation passed. But his refusal to back down on coal to liquids and continue to defend it when I questioned him about it in June, 2007...that's hard to justify. And his failure of leadership on Iraq as detailed below is also hard to justify (he deflected the question when asked).

June 3 update

Edwards pointed out the Iraq vote showed the difference between a leader and a legislator at the start of the second debate and The Washington Post called it the signature exchange of the event. Obama responded by deftly dodging the attack and changing the focus to point out that he originally voted "No" on getting into Iraq. It was an extremely fast and clever comeback, but he did not directly respond to Edwards' point which was that on the issue of getting out of Iraq, Obama did nothing but cast his vote while Edwards was doing TV, newspapers and emails urging people to put pressure on Congress. Obama can't say that just because he didn't lead us into Iraq that he has no responsibility for helping to lead us out of Iraq. Clinton was even more artful. She dodged by changing the focus and said that the differences between the candidates was minor compared to the Republicans. She's right that the Democratic positions are all the same. But Edwards was trying to point out that there are substantial leadership differences between the Democratic candidates because the viewers are trying to decide which Democrat would do the best job. Changing the topic to point out Democrats are better than Republicans is a dodge. Fundamentally, Edwards was absolutely right about the leadership differences which is why they didn't answer him directly.

These examples are not isolated incidents. My full analysis comparing Clinton, Obama, Edwards on the top issues has other examples showing the differences. If you are short on time, see the chart comparing the top 3 Democratic candidates which summarizes the strengths and weaknesses I found for each candidate.

The decision you ultimately make in this election is going to be a personal one, based on your own criteria. I urge you to choose wisely and I hope the information I've provided in these pages is helpful to you in making the right decision. If you found this page useful, please let your friends know using this sample email you could send.

Steve Kirsch is a philanthropist and entrepreneur based in San Jose, CA. He is CEO of Abaca, an anti-spam company. He has donated millions of dollars to environmental and world safety issues. In the 2000 election cycle, he published an analysis of George Bush which analyzed the evidence from his performance as Governor of Texas and correctly predicted that Bush would be a disaster as President since he had a track record of twisting the facts to support his misguided beliefs.
Email: stk@ propel.com. Phone: 650-279-1008

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