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Joe Biden

Joe Biden (1942- ) is an American senator from the state of Delaware. In 2008 Barack Obama chose him to run as his vice president. Biden has been in the Senate since 1973, when Obama was just 11 and Biden himself only 30. Only six senators have been there longer.

Although he is from a small state, he has been in the Senate long enough to have risen to the top of some powerful committees, particularly the Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

Biden helps to make up for some of Obama’s weaknesses:

  • He has a great knowledge of foreign affairs, probably more than John McCain.
  • He is a good debater. Obama is a great speaker but not as sharp a debater as Biden.
  • He has been in Washington for over 30 years, so he knows how it works inside-out.
  • He is a white Catholic with working-class roots in Pennsylvania – just the sort of people Obama needs but has trouble reaching.
  • Biden is acceptable to the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.

Biden’s mouth gets him into trouble sometimes:

  • He said Obama was “articulate and bright and clean”, as if that is a surprising thing for a black man to be.
  • He said of Delaware: “You cannot go into a Dunkin Donuts or a 7-Eleven unless you have a slight Indian accent.”

Biden ran for president himself in 2008 and 1988. He got nowhere in 2008. In 1988 he had to drop out after it came to light that he was copying parts of his speeches from Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party. A few months later Biden almost died of two brain aneurysms.

Among other things, Biden:

  • Voted for the war in Iraq.
  • Liked Reagan’s Evil Empire speech.
  • Voted for the Patriot Act, giving the government powers to keep an eye on Americans.
  • Favours abortion but not whole-heartedly: NARAL gives him a 60 out of a 100. (It gave Obama 100.)
  • Opposed the Supreme Court confirmations of Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts – all of them Catholics who are against abortion.

Biden was the head of the Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas hearings in which he sat back and let Republicans go after Anita Hill. He was not particularly nice to her either from what I can remember.

He seems to be an honest public servant. He is one of the poorest senators, his net worth being between $100,000 and $150,000 (about 10,000 crowns). Many make their fortune before joining the Senate, but he has been there since he was 30. The money he makes from speaking he gives away to charity and he takes the Amtrak train home from work. His wife is a schoolteacher.

His first wife died in a car crash along with his one-year-old daughter right after he won his Senate seat. His two sons lived.

He is the son of a car salesman. He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he spent the first ten years of his life. He is Irish-American.

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John Edwards (1953- ), a Democrat, was a one-term senator from the state of North Carolina in the American South. He ran for president in 2004 and became John Kerry’s running mate. He ran again in the 2008 election but dropped out at the end of January.

By the middle of January 2008 he was running third among Democrats, far behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He is well to the left of both. He does not have Hillary’s money nor Obama’s star power.

Of the three, his positions and policies were far more thought out. That alone has already forced Obama and Clinton to take stands close to his own. So even if Edwards does not make it to the White House, some of his ideas might:

  • End the war in Iraq and pull out most of the American troops.
  • Cut poverty by a third in ten years.
  • Provide universal healthcare.
  • Take back the Bush tax cut.
  • Raise the minimum wage.

Edwards is for abortion, stem cell research, capital punishment and the Patriot Act. He is against same-sex marriage.

He was for going to war in Iraq in 2003 but changed his mind in 2005.

Edwards has good looks, charm and a silver tongue. He even seems to mean what he says. But he has little experience, even less than Obama.

Edwards has modelled himself after Robert Kennedy, who ran for president in 1968. Like Kennedy, Edwards is for ending the war and ending poverty. He is a rich man standing up for the other America where people are not rich at all, the America he came from.

Edwards was born in South Carolina but grew up in North Carolina. His family was not well-to-do: he was the first to go to university. He got a law degree and practised personal injury law. He took doctors and big companies to court and won millions for the harm they have done. Since he got a cut of the money from every court case he won, he became rich.

Then in 1996 his 16-year-old son died in a car accident. It shook him. He left law and stood for public office. In 1998 he became a senator.

In 1999 he defended President Bill Clinton at his impeachment trial in the Senate. He was so good Al Gore put him on his short list of possible running mates in 2000.

That got Edwards to thinking about running for president himself, which he did in 2004. John Kerry beat him but made him his running mate.

In 2004 doctors found cancer growing in his wife’s breast. They cured it, but then in 2007 they found it growing in her bones. There is no cure for that.

Edwards started running for president early in 2007 when he stood next to a house in New Orleans that Katrina destroyed. He courted labour unions. He spoke about the “two Americas” and how he will fight against the big companies and special interests.

Last updated: Thu Jan 31 08:31:10 UTC 2008 

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John McCain

John McCain (1936- ) is a senator from the south-western American state of Arizona. He ran for president in 2000 and is running again in the 2008 election. He is a Republican.

In 2000 Bush ran to the right of him and got the vote of the Christian right. Of the top Republican candidates in 2008 Giuliani and Romney are both running to his left, only Huckabee is to the right.

Huckabee cannot begin to match McCain in experience of military and foreign affairs – but then the same was true of Bush in 2000.

Bush won and then made a mess of the war in Iraq. From the very beginning McCain said Bush did not have enough troops. And McCain kept on saying it. It took almost four years for Bush to see his mistake and put in more troops.

McCain is the only one running who has been right about Iraq all along – other than perhaps Obama, who said – before the war – that it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place.

McCain’s grandfather was an admiral. He commanded the carriers of the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War. His father was an admiral too. He commanded all the ships of the Pacific during the Vietnam war.

In that war McCain flew jets for the Navy. In October 1967 he was shot down on his way to bomb a power plant in Hanoi. He broke both arms and one leg and fell into enemy hands. He was taken prisoner to the Hanoi Hilton, a hell on earth.

He was a prisoner there for five years. Two of them he spent in a dark cell. Twice he tried to hang himself. The guards saved his life – and then beat him up.

When the North Vietnamese found out who his father was they offered to let him go. He thought about it but said no.

When the war ended he came back home and had to learn to walk again. For a long time he could not raise his arms above his head.

In the early 1980s he retired from the Navy with the rank of captain and stood for office. He was in the House from 1983 to 1987 and in the Senate since then.

Some of the rank and file Republicans do not like him because he sometimes votes against the party. Like on immigration, global warming and campaign finance reform. That is why they call him a maverick.

He is against abortion and same-sex marriage, but he is for stem cell research and for each state making its own laws on marriage (as they have always done).

He divorced his first wife, a model, and married a woman almost half his age. Her father was one of the richest men in Arizona.

The infamous Keating Five once gave him money to stand for office, which is probably why he got religion on campaign finance reform later.

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Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy (1925-1968), also known as RFK or Bobby Kennedy, was a younger brother of the American president John Kennedy. He was a Democratic senator from New York who ran for president in 1968. On the night he won the Democratic race in California Sirhan Sirhan killed him.

Kennedy wanted to end the Vietnam war. It was immoral: America, with its great strength and wealth, was killing unarmed Vietnamese women and children to support a corrupt and unjust government. America was destroying its own good name. He wanted to pull out of the war.

When his brother was president in the early 1960s Bobby was part of his inner circle and became Attorney General, the top law man in the country. At the time Bobby had a black and white, right and wrong, law and order way of looking at the world. His duty above all was to his brother.

Then one November afternoon in Dallas in 1963 all that changed. His brother was killed. His world was gone. Instead of turning to his Catholic faith to find comfort and to make sense of what was happening, he turned to the ancient Greek tragedies. Life, he learned, is bitter, a thing of chance. You cannot count on tomorrow.

There is a line from Aeschylus that he often quoted:

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

He was no longer the son of a rich family who had everything. He became one with those who suffered, whether because they were poor, came from another country looking for work or did not have white skin.

Because of this Bobby Kennedy was one of the few political figures who could cut across the divisions of an increasingly divided country: young and old, rich and poor, black and white. He was one of the few public figures who seemed to understand both blacks and whites.

His view of America was neither that of Adam Smith nor Karl Marx. He said the wealth of the country:

measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America except whether we are proud to be Americans.

He saw himself morally. Better to die doing what is right than to live a long and comfortable life by making peace with evil.

In late 1967 and early 1968 he was torn inside: He was against the war and yet the only way for him to end it was to oppose the president, who was from his own party. In the end he chose to put principle above party. It was his moral duty. Like Marcus Brutus.

McLuhan said, “He strove to do good by stealth and blushed to find it fame.”

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hillaryclinton.jpgHillary Rodham Clinton (1947- ) is a Democrat, the wife of former American President Bill Clinton and, since 2001, a senator from New York state. She hopes to win in 2008 to become the first female president in American history.

Her strengths: She is well-known, will have little trouble raising money and has the experience and political genius of her husband to guide her.

Her weaknesses: she is bad at public speaking and many will not trust a Democrat or a woman to be commander-in-chief of the military in time of war.

Although she is loved on the coasts, she is something of a hate figure in the middle of the country.

What people most remember: how she stood by her unfaithful husband during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It made her seem human and honourable. Quite unlike the cold, self-serving, play-it-safe Hillary Clinton that we are used to seeing.

Her most famous expressions:

  • “a vast right-wing conspiracy” which she said wanted to take down her husband.
  • “It takes a village” to bring up a child, the name of her first book.
  • “stayed home and baked cookies” is what she could have done instead of working for left-wing causes.

In the 1990s when her husband was president she was well to the left politically. She pushed for universal healthcare, which her enemies called “Hillary Care”. It was a disaster. It never made it into law and only united the Republicans, who swept to power in Congress in 1994.

Since becoming senator in 2001 she has moved to the middle, especially on military and foreign affairs. She does not, for example, oppose the war in Iraq outright like most Democrats. While New York City is very left-wing, the rest of the state is not.

She was once a Republican, like her father. She even worked for Barry Goldwater, a hard-right Republican who ran for president in 1964. But by 1968 she had become a Democrat, working for Eugene McCarthy, who opposed the Vietnam war.

After college she went to Yale Law School where she met Bill Clinton. After law school he went back to Arkansas while she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund and the Watergate hearings. Only later did she move to Arkansas. They married in 1978, but she did not start using her married name till four years later. He became governor while she worked at the Rose Law Firm with Vince Foster.

It was then that the Clintons got involved in the questionable Whitewater land deal.

She is not from New York, by the way. She grew up in Park Ridge near Chicago, in the same time and place as actor Harrison Ford. The Clintons did not move to New York till 2001 when she wanted to become senator.

If Hillary Clinton loses and does not become president, she will be remembered largely as a first lady, what Americans call the wife of the president. It is a position of honour but some make it into one of political power, as Hillary Clinton and her hero Eleanor Roosevelt did.

But if Hillary Clinton wins, then Americans will have to think of a name for the husband of the president.

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