Comparison chart summarizing  the leadership ability of the top 3 Democratic candidates for President

My personal rating of the candidates on the lastest evidence. Rating is based on their ability to solve the problems we face. I did not include stupid issues like haircuts, etc.

Rating scale:
0=moves the country backwards (e.g., George Bush)
5=stuck in neutral
10=JFK-type leader that inspires a nation to move forward





Edwards 8
  • His policies have specific goals
  • Strong Leader: spoke out on Iraq war and global warming and encouraged others to follow
  • The most electable: The only Democrat who wins against any Republican challenger according to the latest polling data especially in the critical "battleground states" (which are the only states that matter)
  • Won the MoveOn TownHall vote on climate change policy by a stunning 2:1 margin compared to his nearest opponent
  • Clear on his top 4 priorities; in fact, they are even listed on his home page (Jun 3, 2007). He's the only candidate to make his priorities as clear (the other two don't mention their priorities on their home page)
  • No skeletons in his closet for Republicans to swift boat him; he's already been battle tested
  • Totally gets the urgency of global warming; uses words like "crisis" and "immediate action"
  • Global warming plans are specific with specific GHG goal reductions amounts and dates; LCV called it the strongest plan out there
  • Specific plans on other issues including universal healthcare
  • Walks the talk; his campaign was first to go carbon neutral, his house is Energy-Star compliant, etc. A great role model.
  • Smart, knows the issues, personable
  • Personal integrity beyond reproach
  • Heart in the right place; long history of public service
  • Has improved a lot since 2004; like Gore, he now trusts himself more than his "expert advisors" (who advised him to vote yes in the original Iraq vote when Edwards in his gut wanted to vote No)
  • Great strength: publicly he admitted he was wrong in original Iraq vote. He's the only candidate to publicly admit a mistake.
  • Won the June 3 debate according to Daily Kos poll and also the CNN "representative group of voters" poll that aired right after the debate
  • Believes America shouldn't be building any new nuclear weapons
  • Praised by Sierra Club for leading the way on global warming
  • Voted yes on original Iraq bill
  • Lacks the Obama "secret sauce" that energizes the crowd
  • Fundraisers are smaller than those for Clinton and Obama
  • 3rd place in the national polls of Democrats
Clinton 6
  • Front runner in most polls
  • Great ability to connect emotionally with voters, especially women
  • Brilliant. Knows the issues and the details.
  • Right position on all key issues
  • Phenomenal campaign team
  • Heart in the right place; long history of public service and caring about people
  • Has a great mentor (Bill) who totally gets the that the two biggest problems we face as a world are climate change and overpopulation
  • Attracts huge crowds at fundraisers
  • Wins against most Republican challengers
  • Her policies lack specific goals. Look at her global warming plan for example. No goals.
  • Voted yes on original Iraq bill.
  • She's a follower, not a leader: This Washington Post opinion piece points out that "in Clinton's case, she is dead center in American public opinion, foursquare for what's popular and courageously opposed to what's not. Most Americans oppose a precipitous pullout from Iraq and -- surprise! -- so does Clinton." In short, she follows public opinion, she doesn't lead it. Governor Gray Davis was a master of following the polls in California and the voters recalled him. Didn't talk about Iraq blank check bill before the vote because didn't want to deal with the media feeding frenzy, but leaders would relish the opportunity to get their message out! She was very slow to get on the very strong Sanders-Boxer bill. She went on silently with no press announcement. Again, she squandered the opportunity to use the press to help her cause. slow to take other positions (e.g., within hours after Dodd ran TV ads on Iraq, she announced her position). However, on May 31, 2007 she told me that she is willing to be bold on global warming...I'm going to test that..I'll keep you posted!
  • Plans: Her global warming plan will make some progress, but it isn't close to the best we can do.  Her current vision and plan are hard to know; have they evolved from the points she made in her energy speech a year ago? Her own climate change bills do not take on the big issues. She has not articulated a specific GHG reduction goal (it is on the bills she is a co-sponsor, but doesn't talk about what her goal is)
  • She currently thinks like a Senator rather than like a leader. She determines her positions based on what she thinks other Senators would vote for rather than doing what a leader does which is determine what is right for the country and then strategize how to change people's minds to support it. It's a subtle but key observation that keeps her from earning a score higher than 6 from me until she can rise above this. I don't have a good public example of this, but have sources that confirm it. But it explains why her proposals are not bold.
  • Like Bush, she refuses to admit she made a mistake in her original Iraq vote; this leads many of us not to trust what she says and makes it more likely she will stick to a losing strategy to avoid having to admit she made a mistake.
  • Mishandled healthcare; used a secret process that some have compared with the process used by Cheney's Energy Task force. However, realizes that is was a mistake and doesn't plan to repeat it.
  • On June 22, 2006, voted No on the Kerry-Feingold amendment to withdraw troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007. Why vote no on this if you really are serious about ending the war?
  • On October 10, 2002 gave a speech on why diplomacy was important before going to war. Two hours later vote No on Levin's amendment to require Bush use diplomacy before declaring war on Iraq and force Bush to come back to Congress if diplomacy had failed. She says she favored diplomacy all along.
  • During 2004, the public had soured on the war. But in February 2005, she still wasn't convinced we should get out of Iraq by setting a deadline. It wasn't until November 2005 that she finally changed her mind on withdrawal and a timetable.
  • In mid-December of 2005, she and a few other senators met privately with Bush in the White House to discuss Iraq. But Clinton said nothing at the meeting to the president, according to an account the next day in The Washington Post.
Obama 5
  • Motivational and inspiring speaker; absolutely incredible
  • Wickedly smart and super quick on his feet in the debates
  • Second place in most polls
  • Incredible public speaker; people love his vision of the future and his ability to rise above the specific issues. He talks eloquently about the bigger issues of working together to solve problems and "bridging the divide" rather than deep diving into specific issues
  • Large supporter base
  • The only candidate of the 3 to have originally voted against authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq
  • Wins against most Republican challengers
  • Incredible charisma
  • Attracts HUGE crowds (5,000 to 20,000 people)
  • 10,000 people showed up at an event in 7 degree weather
  • Has broad support; he has the largest donor base despite being the newest to national politics
  • Brilliant. Knows issues.
  • Personal integrity beyond reproach
  • His first two endorsements were from LCV and Sierra Club when he announced he was running for President
  • 100% LCV score in 109th (2nd session) and 95% LCV score in 109th (1st session). This is way higher than his opponents.
  • Has a long history of public service before he became a Senator
  • He provides something the country really needs: someone they can really believe in to solve problems.
  • Heart in the right place; a long history of public service
  • Long history of environmental activism
  • Seems to have a photographic memory; he remembers the names of everyone he meets
  • Very likable personality
  • Outshines every other candidate in being not afraid to tell people the truth. He gets major points in my mind for this. An article in Time "Why Obama Tells Inconvenient Truths" highlighted the reason for this. He basically has the courage to tell people the truth even when he knows they aren't going to like it.
  • Fantastic potential; if he can recognize his weaknesses and turn them completely around, he'd be unbeatable. By "turn them around" I mean go from last place on global warming to first place with a big bold vision instead of an incremental, in-the-box and environmentally unacceptable vision he has now.
  • Obama has previous opposed Iraq timelines and defunding which three times he had a chance to get behind Feingold's bills and refused.
  • On global warming policy, he fails the most fundamental test of a leader: he doesn't walk the talk on the #1 issue facing our society today; he actually does the opposite. He supports the Sanders-Boxer bill that make global warming better, but at the same time he is the leading proponent in the Senate of coal to liquids (CTL) which is a technology which make global warming worse (twice as bad as the fuel it replaces). And even if all the CO2 is sequestered (which his bill does not require), it is still a worse fuel than what we are doing now as you can see from this chart from the US EPA. As this New York Times editorial that is squarely directed at Obama's billl points out, you can't get to where you need to go by focusing on fuels that, even under the best scenarios, move the ball backwards!
  • Every environmentally knowledgeable person I know wants Obama to drop his support for coal to liquids. None are neutral about it. They basically call his support for coal to liquids "Obama's third rail", i.e., if he touches it, it will kill him. None of the other Democratic candidates are going to touch CTL. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out which side to bet on. If it was such a good idea, the environmentalist would cheer and his opponents would copy him. It is simply astounding that Obama doesn't see this. Everyone else does as this Fortune magazine columnist points out.
  • Took 4 months before he signed onto the key Sanders-Boxer climate change bill. He signed on silently without any press release. Why? A leader on climate change would have both signed on immediately and leveraged all the free press to get the message out about this key bill. He never even asked his supporters in an email to put pressure on their Senators to join the 17 Senators that already co-sponsor this bill. Is that the kind of leadership we can expect if he wins?
  • His approach to climate change is incremental "in the box" thinking: more efficient cars, cleaner fuels. He's not thinking long term. You'll never get to the 90% reduction we need with incremental thinking
  • Sometimes a little unsure of himself. When asked a question about terrorism in the first debate, looked to see how Hillary voted before he answered. Nothing wrong with looking around after you answer to see where your opponents are. But before?
  • While it is excellent that he voted not to enter into a war with Iraq, in the second debate, he did not address the main thrust of Edwards' point which is why didn't Obama help lead us out of Iraq? Edwards' point is true: Obama refused to talk about his Iraq "blank check" funding vote before the vote. He should have seized on the opportunity to get his message out before the Iraq vote when it might have made a difference. We acknowledge that he didn't lead us into Iraq, but that is not an excuse for helping to lead us out of Iraq. He had a leadership opportunity to help lead us out of Iraq and he remained silent until after it was too late.
  • His legislation is pretty mixed on the environment: 1 good, 1 bad, and 2 neutral (see the full analysis for how I arrived at that). For example, his CAFE bill had good intentions, but it has far too many escape clauses so if there is another Bush administration, the legislation can easily be ignored by NHTSA. That's dumb. The planet doesn't care about escape clauses. If we don't achieve higher efficiency targets, we're toast. It should not be optional. We have the technology today to double our efficiency and make vehicles that cost less to manufacture and are safer, so why do we need escape clauses? Why aren't there any ironclad minimums in that bill? And his Health for Hybrids doesn't require any efficiency improvements, only that things not get worse. It has 0 co-sponsors in the Senate. These are two examples of legislation which are very weak on forward progress.
  • When he stepped off the Senate Environment committee, the green groups viewed it as a "neutral" event (I heard this directly from one of the top green groups).
  • Has no goals for greenhouse gas reduction (2 bills he supports do have actual goals, but he's not set one himself; there is nothing on his website about the goal) and doesn't have an integrated plan that would reduce emissions enough to make a significant difference. Although he does support good policies, his thinking is very conventional and incremental (increase mileage standards, reduce carbon content of fuels) rather than the bold and visionary thinking we need. He's missing several key pieces that are required to achieve the dramatic cuts that are required.
  • Policies have been weak in general, but he's recently started improving this a lot. One person summed it up: "hope is not a plan." He's making progress though. Still no "how much by when" goal for GHG emissions on his website.
  • His health plan has great ideas, but he his speech presenting the plan confused even health insurance policy wonks (which is surprising since he is the best communicator of the 3). It is not universal coverage; he backed off mandating this because he was worried about it being enforceable. But why not include it? If it isn't enforceable, that's fine. But if it is, then he's got a stronger plan. Why not take the risk with a bolder plan since there is no downside
  • His approach to issues is to seek a middle ground where both sides can come together, e.g., Health for Hybrids is a perfect example of this; I'll give you X if you give me Y. But some issues (e.g., global warming) you have to set a goal that is in the public interest and not compromise that goal. I'm not clear whether he is willing to do that. It would be nice if we could say "the co2 emission reduction target is non-negotiable." I haven't heard that.
  • He's still on coal because it is abundant. That's stupid. It's the wrong criteria. LCV has declared "war on coal." There are plenty of clean technologies which are cost effective and which wean us off of dependence on oil and reduce global warming at the same time. Those are the things he should incentivize. Biomass to liquids is much cleaner than coal to liquids (and using wood as a BTL source is actually negative GHG emission, i.e., it absorbs CO2).
  • Technically, he's misinformed in his belief that coal is our most abundant energy resource. It isn't. Some estimates are that the Earth has 50,000 times more geothermal energy than all the known oil and gas reserves known today. And with the minmal government investments, it is very economical and clean according to a new MIT study. This wikipedia article on Geothermal power notes that geothermal can supply the entire world's energy needs for the next 30,000 years! By contrast, we have only 300 years of coal left. So Obama is ignoring a 100% clean resource that is more than 100 times bigger than coal and costs less (when you factor in the "cost" of pollution caused by the CO2 emissions of coal).
  • He said at a fundraiser on June 2, 2007 that you can't eliminate coal from this equation. Ironically, he said it in California. California already done exactly that! It's now illegal in California to buy power from a coal plant and our economy is growing! And it is VERY possible to totally eliminate coal in every other state as well. It just requires vision and the right leader. Even more ironically, it took a Republican governor for this to happen!
  • Abundance should NOT be the criteria on which to select a fuel. We must factor in the true cost of CO2 and look for options which are the most efficient and which will meet our GHG goal. Obama still doesn't get the "and" clause and he doesn't talk about it at all. To him, it is OK if we incentivize a fuel that increases GHG emissions (even if you sequester all the CO2 it is still worse than diesel!) if we are making cuts elsewhere. But you simply can't get there from here. To get the 80% GHG reduction that Obama supports (the goal in Sanders-Boxer bill that Obama supports), we must focus our efforts on replacing every fuel we have with a GHG-free fuel. I don't know why he doesn't get that. Take a look at the chart at the end of this New York Times article showing that coal to liquids is a step backwards, even if you sequester all the CO2! We will never reach our GHG reduction goals with a President who spends time championing fuels which are far worse than the fuels we currently use. Never. Nor will anyone follow us. We have to "walk the talk." We have to look at all our options and incentivize the energy sources which get the job done at the lowest price, not sources which are simply abundant. See this Washington Post article which makes the same point. That is why Obama gets a 4. Until he "gets it" that the solutions must be sufficient to meet the goals he sets, our planet is hosed. I'm not the first to point this out that he isn't "walking the talk." This blog figured it out in January 6, right after he re-introduced his coal to liquids bill, giving nearly identical commentary to what I wrote when I found out about Obama's coal to liquid legislation.
  • On June 13, 2007, Obama issued a statement that he wouldn't support coal to liquids unless the resulting fuel was 20% cleaner than the fuel it replaces. That's better than he was before! However, I checked with his legislative director who confirmed to me that Obama allows that reduction to happen just by blending the fuel with a clean fuel. While that incentivizes the production of clean fuel, if we are going to mix a fuel with the clean fuel, it should be the next cleanest alternative, not the worst.
  • On June 22, 2006, voted No on the Kerry-Feingold amendment to withdraw troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007. Why vote no on this if you really are serious about ending the war?
  • He lacks a clear vision of what energy will look like in 2020 and 2030. These are very important dates. If you have a vision, you can validate that the incentives and policies are sufficient to achieve that vision. For example, if you believe hydrogen is critical to our future, then you need to do something special to break the chicken-and-egg problem; a low-carbon fuel standard is not sufficient because it could be met for a while without hydrogen and if hydrogen pumps aren't there, nobody is going to build hydrogen cars (except for fleets). The process isn't rocket science: bold goal,  vision of how things might look if it is achieved, then policies that can achieve the goals, then validation. Skipping over the goal and vision and going right into mitigation strategies which appears to be Obama is doing is a mistake. If he didn't skip the step, he wouldn't have coal to liquids

Candidates can change; this analysis is based on where they are today

Clinton: She has 4 negatives that really hurt her in my eyes: (1) she needs to shift from "Senator mode" to "leadership mode," and (2) she needs to admit her original Iraq vote was a mistake and (3) she needs to modify her stance on the issues to be commensurate with her new found leadership, i.e., visionary and bold (4) she needs to recognize that climate change is urgent not just important (see Global Warming: Why we must act immediately). If she can do those 4 things, she'd be tied with Edwards in my mind. She has the power to change the bad into good and I honestly hope she rises to the challenge!

Note: in "Senator mode," you change your legislation to get others to agree. In leadership mode, you figure out what the country needs and then you figure out how to get others to realize you are right. For example, Bush is a great leader because he makes clear decisions, sticks to them, and then spends his time convincing others he's right (even though he's rarely right). He's a great leader, it's just that he makes very bad decisions.

I thought this comment in the Huffington Post summed it up better than I can:

Let's face it: Clinton is so captive to the DLC wussy mindset that she will never change. And we all know that. But I certainly expected better from Obama. Until rank and file Democratic voters wake up to the fact that ANY consultant driven candidate is pure political poison come election time, then we're in for more of the same. All you have to do is look at how Bob Shrum/Mary Beth Cahill/Jim Jordan/Tad Devine/Chad Clanton sank Kerry's chances in '04. If Clinton gets the nomination, then I fully expect a repeat. She may have different advisers and consultants, but it's the same overly cautious political timidity. It seems that Democratic politicians like her and Kerry never run to win; they just desperately hope not to lose. How pathetic

Obama: He could change my rating of him as well. If he sets really strong and clear goals for global warming and other top issues, has an integrated set of policies that were both necessary and sufficient to meet the goal he sets (and can be validated by independent experts), admits publicly his support for coal to liquids was a mistake, understands the erroneous thinking that got him there, and appreciates the urgency of action on global warming and the difficulty of achieving the very high goal that he must set, he would be a formidable competitor. His legislation also generally lacks real teeth that ensure forward progress, e.g., there are no non-negotiable minimums in his CAFE bill, and his health for hybrids only requires that fuel economy not good down. He needs to set a higher bar as a leader. I realize he's trying to get stuff done in the Senate and by setting a lower bar, he's more likely to make some forward progress. But he should be up front and honest about the lower bar and not talk about this legislation like it is ironclad forward progress. It's understandable given his position in the Senate. He'd get a lot more points by being totally honest. What a refreshing change that would be if he did that! He's got all the right stuff and of all the candidates, he would have the easiest time in moving to a 9 on the chart above. He's not going to want to publicly admit he made a mistake, because candidates are advised by their handlers not to do this. He'd need to rise above that and be honest to the American people in calling a spade a spade if he wants us to trust him. Everyone makes mistakes. But it takes a big person to publicly admit they made a mistake and then do things to make up for it. Only Edwards has done that. The sooner Obama abandons CTL, the better. The longer he hangs on in the face of every credible environmentalist telling him directly "this is stupid," the more he looks like George Bush, refusing to acknowledge that you have a dumb strategy. And that comparison with Bush will kill his campaign. And I assure you that Clinton, Edwards and Richardson are reading this page and I'm sure all of them would like one less competitor and if they all gang up on Obama on this issue, he's toast. I'm surprised it hasn't happened already, but it is very likely happen if Obama doesn't abandon CTL. Is Obama feeling lucky? Here's an e-mail I got from a former MIT professor who is now doing clean energy:

"Obama seems to have some inspirational qualities, but I'm not sure he's really that good on environmental issues (supporting coal-to-liquids? he must be crazy)."

This is a sentiment echoed privately by every knowledgeable environmental leader I know. However, it may be too late for Obama. I know that he was told many months ago that coal to liquids was his "third rail" that would kill his campaign. His time on this is running out. It has for me. We need someone with better judgment in this position. Displaying this sort of bad judgment this late in the game, well...that is very hard to recover from.

Steve Kirsch is a philanthropist and entrepreneur based in San Jose, CA. He is CEO of Abaca, an anti-spam company and 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@ Phone: 650-279-1008

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