Ah . . . the vast array of presidential hopefuls

If “anyone but Bush” is the electoral doctrine for many voters this year, then the list of candidates proffered by the Democratic Party is just generic enough to put that philosophy to the test. One might mistake supporters’ fervor as genuine zeal for the respective Democrats they are backing, but the onus of removing President George W. Bush from office might be the most potent fuel feeding their fires at this point.

OK, it’s easy to rail against candidates in an election year, and as much as I want to hop onto the “anyone but Bush” circus train, I am finding it difficult to differentiate my options. Through the Iowa caucuses and yesterday’s New Hampshire primary, people tended to be examining personality over policy – which would normally be a travesty if there were either personalities or policy platforms worth pondering.

The current poll leader, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., looked most comfortable during a charity hockey scrimmage with retired Boston Bruins last week. He appeared relaxed and confident in his University of New Hampshire hockey sweater – just one of the guys. Casual in his manner with the

players around him and obviously skilled at a difficult game, Kerry on ice was essentially the opposite of how he appeared in all other campaign activities.

Kerry’s education plan will surely favor greater discussion of condiments in schools, but his education trust fund is as flimsily thought out as the education plans of Howard Dean; Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.; and Bush. If it’s high time to put a career politician in the White House, who past Democratic voters never put within whiffing distance of the presidential nomination, Kerry is definitely a prime choice.

Former Vermont Gov. Dean is a particular favorite among students and faculty on college campuses, and why not? He has that intense demeanor and outward passion missing in candidates like Kerry, Lieberman, and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. Standing in opposition to Bush’s Iraq war is Dean’s most distinguishing feature to some supporters, and a devastating trump card in his own mind. He chastises Kerry for officially endorsing the president’s actions in Iraq, but I find it hard to put much stock in his stand due to the absence of a true juxtaposition of circumstances. If Dean had been in the Senate, how would he have voted?

Dean’s now-infamous rally yelp following the Iowa caucus stands for me as an accurate metaphor of his campaign to date – lots of excitement and exuberance, but uninspiring and raspy in the end.

Edwards might be campaigning harder behind the scenes for vice president than he is for the presidential nomination itself. He is relatively young and self-made.

In a year of “anyone but Bush,” Edwards looks much less like a replacement for the president than he does a sterling alternative to Vice President Dick “Halliburton Halliburton Halliburton” Cheney.

Then, there’s everyone else.

Lieberman is even less appealing as a candidate this year than he was in 2000 – all centrist politics and no central substance. He is probably a heckuva guy, but if that were all it took to get endorsed then I’d like to nominate myself for 2008.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is well over halfway to crazy, but aside from that, I see few reasons to support him.

Al Sharpton actually appealed to me because he is probably the most intelligent of the men left on stage, but his platform is riddled with more cliches and empty lines than one of my columns.

Carol Moseley Braun is, unfortunately, out of the race – though the ghosts of her checkered political past in Illinois continue to haunt her.

Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Miss., is, fortunately, also out of the race. A “politician’s politician,” people seemed endeared to Gephardt as the little engine that couldn’t – ever! He has finally taken a cue from all the people who didn’t support him and taken his caboose off the political track forever … amen.

Oh, one more candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Many of his platform components harbor the unrealistic elements common to inexperienced politicians, but his avaricious wish lists for education reform, Iraq and taxes for families with children are well developed, though probably unattainable. His rookie status in the arena of electoral politics, however, is what makes him viable. Clark is intelligent in a pragmatic way, has the “everyman” quality lacking in the other remaining candidates except Edwards and Sharpton, and has less chance of being negatively influenced by longtime political colleagues than any other candidate.

Clark is enigmatic and not inspiring in a military way like Gen. George Patton (or as George C. Scott playing Patton), but if the mantra is “anyone but Bush,” Clark is the pony to bet on. He might not be the best “Democrat” on the list, but when the list is full of has-beens, wannabes and Dean, perhaps the best “Democrat” is not what Democrats want or the country needs.

Aaron North is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]