Twice in the last six months, I've used this space to stress how much of a psychological downer the current presidential campaign has become because of the high negatives of so many of the candidates.
Not in my lifetime do I remember hearing so often, and in so many venues, the stubborn refrain: "I think I could vote for just about anybody but . . ." And then, oddly, you might well fill in the name of just about any of the 15-20 folks aspiring to the nation's highest office.
This is a nonpartisan pattern. It's true that in my circles I hear it most often about Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards-and while I think it's fairly easy to come up with a legitimate reason for never, ever voting for any one of those three, I'm sometimes also embarrassed at the reasons I hear. But in the present cycle, I hear it just about as often with reference to Republican would-be's like Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain, or even Ron Paul.
All this may simply be the result of a much-too-early campaign. Maybe the voting public has gotten grouchy and adamantly negative just from overexposure.
But it's hard, I think, to get too much exposure to a really good thing. And that's why I will continue to argue that the gaggle of candidates we've been watching for almost a year just doesn't measure up. No one has emerged as a clear and dominant leader-within either party-simply because not a single one of the current crop is that overwhelmingly good.
Keep in mind that I'm not the one who slapped the "pygmy candidate" label on the current lineup; such talk is frankly a little too derisive for my taste. But it's not hard to see what gives rise to such thinking. Where is there even a hint of genuine greatness in the whole bunch of them?
But I make the point here and now not because I think I can absolutely prove it. I raise it instead because I think it could become the basis for something remarkable that just might happen next year.
My flight-of-fancy scenario is that the current stalemate that has us all muttering about our terrible choices is only going to get worse. Next spring will come, and in spite of the carefully contrived strategies of the super-planners, no one will have won enough support to head into the summer's conventions with a lock on either nomination.
That hardly spells disaster for the republic. Keep in mind that it's been only a recent development in which we've identified our nominees earlier than July or August of an election year. That wasn't all bad in the past-and it won't be all bad next year if the nominating process stays murky up until late summer.
Because, you see, it may also take until late summer for another critical issue to be clarified. Nothing has affected the 2008 election more than Iraq-and if the current positive trend in Iraq turns into a demonstrable and believable accomplishment, get ready for some noteworthy surprises.
Here and there, you may have seen quiet suggestions that the hero of that Iraqi scenario, Gen. David Petraeus, would make a fitting running mate for someone in the 2012 election.
I'm exponentially expediting and amplifying that idea. America could use a hero this coming year-not in 2012. If the evidence continues to grow that the long-delayed victory in Iraq is finally being secured, why not reward the architect and genius of that accomplishment by retiring him from the military and giving him a really hard assignment?
But isn't that an awfully big "if"? Bigger, probably, than any of us can imagine. Isn't it true, skeptics ask, that even after the last insurgent has been discouraged and disarmed, the government is still in dysfunctional disarray?
And how is that so different from Washington, D.C.? If bringing orderliness to a nation's governing city is somewhere near the core of the assignment, why not bring the four-star general home and let him show the home team something about achieving results against all odds?