It’s time to take stock of the landscape. The American political system, as conditioned by corporate cash, the corporate press and legal obstructions to independent candidacies, is designed to eliminate any threat to business as usual. In the case of the Democrats, the winnowing process is working well. Mike Gravel, by far the most vivacious and radical of the party’s candidates on substantive matters of war and empire, was swiftly marginalized. I’ve seen very few Gravel buttons.

Dennis Kucinich seems to have a lock on those Democrats prepared to stay true to a hopeless outsider. I don’t understand this loyalty to the Ohio Congressman. The point of hopeless outsiders is to give us hope. It’s a dialectical thing. They convince us that their cause is not hopeless, is worth fighting for. Kucinich gives me no hope. He has barely shouldered his way into single digits. His signs and buttons and stickers already look as though they’re collectibles on eBay.

The three major Democratic contenders for the nomination are all unalluring. John Edwards is offering us a populist package, with homilies on fair trade, gaps between rich and poor, corporate greed and so forth. Decent people, including many labor organizers, are working for him. I don’t believe a word he says. His record on war and empire is bad. He has poor judgment. Why spend $400 to have a hairdo that makes you look like a slick lawyer with a fancy haircut?

Barack Obama? I can’t remember a single substantive statement he’s made. In terms of political philosophy and pragmatic intention, his platform is like the Anglican clergyman’s answer when asked for his conception of God: an oblong blur. When he’s pressed, Obama’s positions on war and empire are usually very bad. Talk about “moving beyond partisan differences” invariably ends with the Establishment’s long-term goal of abolishing Social Security.

Hillary Clinton is the candidate for corporate power at home and empire abroad. She argued passionately in the White House for the NATO bombing of Belgrade. Two days after September 11, 2001, she was calling for a broad war on terror. She voted for the Patriot Act. When it came time for Mrs. Clinton to deliver her speech in support of the attack on Iraq, she reiterated some of the most outlandish claims made by Dick Cheney.

On the Republican side, I’ve liked Mike Huckabee. He had a decent record as governor of Arkansas and deserves support if only for his moral and political courage in his pardoning or sentence commutations of more than 1,000 convicted criminals. These acts of mercy and faith in rehabilitation have been predictably attacked by some chortling liberals because one of those whose parole he may have prompted subsequently killed someone. This is an unavoidable risk unless you achieve certainty by execution or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole–which will be the trend if states continue to abandon the death penalty. Juries will have less compunction in convicting if the penalty is LWOP rather than death. Of course, these days parole itself is harder and harder to win in all states. The release on New Year’s Eve of the 77-year-old Sara Jane Moore after thirty-two years in prison for trying to kill our greatest President since Warren Harding is, alas, scarcely a precedent. This parole, incidentally, was won by two young attorneys from the Bay Area: Scott Fleming and Scott Handleman, the latter a close friend of mine and indeed my former intern here at The Nation. But Huckabee, particularly since he took on board a big-name political strategist, Ed Rollins, has made bad mistakes, flip-flopping on his enlightened position on immigration and invoking the awful John Bolton as a foreign policy counselor. Nonetheless, I have a soft spot for the guy, if only because he has real populist character and has panicked the Establishment into regrouping round John McCain as the Republican match to HRC, as the bipartisan candidate of choice. But my favorite remains Ron Paul, rock-solid against war and empire and the neoliberal corporate state. He’s a principled fellow who’s won passionate support (and millions in modest cash contributions) from ordinary Americans. I recently drove down I-5 from Washington through Oregon to Northern California, and “Ron Paul” signs were almost the only ones I saw. I like the look of the people behind them.

The case for Paul as a candidate leftists can and should support is powerfully made on our CounterPunch website by Jeff Taylor, a onetime Wellstone enthusiast. I encourage everyone to read the case Taylor makes at www.counterpunch.org/taylor01022008.html. As Taylor writes, “Not only does Ron Paul represent Jeffersonian values usually termed ‘conservative’ or ‘libertarian’ today (fidelity to the Constitution, frugal government, states’ rights, Second Amendment, national sovereignty), but he is also a leading example of support for Jeffersonian positions nowadays described as ‘liberal’ or ‘leftist’ (e.g. opposition not only to the Iraq War but to war in general, anti-imperialism, ending the federal war on drugs, hostility to the Patriot Act and other violations of civil liberties). This accounts for the wide appeal of the Paul campaign. It’s precisely the sort of trans-ideological, cross-generational populist-libertarian-moralist coalition that I was hoping to see with a Feingold presidential campaign.”

Will there be other candidates? Bloomberg may run, but he certainly doesn’t make my pulse beat faster. Ralph Nader? He told me on New Year’s Eve that he’d make up his mind in a month. The same day he endorsed Edwards, which presumably helps Ralph’s cred with the trial lawyers. So if HRC becomes the certain nominee, Ralph may run. If he does, he should campaign solely in Ohio and Florida. For now I hope Paul makes a break for it and runs as an Independent. That would be exciting. All great seasons in politics begin with excitement. Right now there’s none.