Who's best on policy?
The policy differences between all the Democrats really are tiny to irrelevant, since none of their plans will survive first contact with Congress. In fact, I'd rather these candidates shoot for the sky and give us a vision of what their ideal society would look like, rather than "compromise" with themselves right off the gate. Why is single payer off the agenda for most of these candidates? They want to talk about what's "realistic", but what's "realistic" really depends on what Congress looks like, and what the American people are demanding when any given legislation hits the docket.
Who's showing leadership?
Outside of Chris Dodd, who sadly never gained traction, we have a whole field of candidates who like to TALK about leadership, but none that have shown us what that leadership might look like. Too bad. That would've been a great way to help winnow the field. Lucky for them all, none of the top candidates have given us a demonstration in leadership. Unlucky for us. The country could've used some real leadership in 2007.
Who is playing to win?
Winning is important. The last thing we can afford as a country is another 4-8 years of continued Republican rule. If nothing else, Justice Stevens is not long on the bench, and losing his vote in the Supreme Court would inflict the nation with a solid conservative majority for generations. So who is doing everything possible to win?
Hillary Clinton, by far. She's not limiting her campaign's ability to raise money (nor her supporters' to give it) by accepting public financing. Obama has opted out for the primary, but has said he'd accept it for the general if the Republican did so as well. Why give Republicans veto power over what the Democrats do? Given our better ability to raise money this cycle, why would Obama willingly surrender that advantage to the Republicans? That's not playing to win. Edwards is the opposite, saying he could opt out of public financing for the general, but already opted in for the primary. That means that unless he's opposite a similarly limited Republican (i.e. McCain), he'll be at a gross disadvantage all summer as he has less than $20 million left to spend until September.
What's more, Clinton was the only top-tier candidate to refuse the ultimate Iowa and New Hampshire pander by removing her name from the Michigan ballot. That makes her essentially the de facto winner since Edwards and Obama, caving to the cry babies in Iowa and New Hampshire, took their name off Michigan's ballot. Sure, the DNC has stripped Michigan of its delegates, but that won't last through the convention. The last thing Democrats can afford is to alienate swing states like Michigan and Florida by refusing to seat their delegates.
So while Obama and Edwards kneecap their chances of winning, Clinton is single-mindedly focused on the goal.
Who is tested against the Right Wing smear machine?
Clinton, by far. No one has taken more shit from the VRWC, not by a long shot. Edwards earned valuable campaign experience in 2004. It makes me wonder why he'd go through it all again a second time, but still, it's something. Obama has never had a competitive race against a Republican. His best experiences comes from winning primaries. But he's never been in the crossfires of the GOP. Maybe that's why he can pretend that he can move beyond partisanship. Because he's never had to run a partisan race.
Who is the best defender of progressive ideals?
Edwards, by a landslide. Not the 2004 edition, but the new and improved 2008 model. From a rhetorical standpoint, no one has come close to articulating the nation's ills and why progressive solutions are the best salve. This is important -- Democrats have been poor at branding their ideology, thus ceding that ground to demonizing conservatives. Long term, our movement cannot survive another Bill Clinton -- someone more interested in making David Broder and Joe Klein happy with triangulating rhetoric that undermines rather than bolsters progressive values and policies.
Clinton isn't horrible on this front, but Obama has made a cottage industry out of attacking the dirty fucking hippies on the left, from labor unions, to Paul Krugman, to Gore and Kerry, to social security, and so on. People think I was being ticky tack with the Gore thing, and in isolation it would've been but a minor non-event. But it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for me, yet another in a pattern of attacks against Democrats and their constituencies. He is the return of Bill Clinton-style triangulating personified. Now I'm willing to consider that this is all a front, and that he'd govern as progressively as Bush governed conservatively after his 2000 bullshit about being a "uniter" and "compassionate". He can even pull a Bush, I suppose, and claim a "mandate" on policies he blurred or ignored on the campaign. But we've seen how a lack of true mandate has crushed Bush's presidency and made him the most unpopular and least effective president in history. I'd rather have our candidate elected promising progressive reform, especially in a year where the American people seem to crave such solutions.
Then again, I do like that Obama has frozen out Fox "News" (as has Edwards, I think). I wish Clinton would do so as well, but her weird flirtation with Rupert Murdoch apparently precludes that.
The "Story" and likability?
I actually like all the candidates, even Hillary. I don't like the people she surrounds herself with, like the union-busting Mark Penn, but I like her personally. And I like Obama and his story, and I like Edwards and his story. I like the fact that being a white male puts Edwards at a disadvantage. It shows we're progressing and that people are craving a more tangible symbol of that progress -- a woman or African American president. As a Latino, I was desperately hoping I could get behind Bill Richardson's campaign, but that one came up short in so many different areas that it wasn't to be. But I like Richardson as well. Politicians rarely get this high by being public assholes, at least on the Democratic side.
In other words, I'd have a beer with any of them. But I do love the idea of breaking a new barrier this year, whether it's by having a woman president or an African American one.
Given the minor differences in policy, and the vast gap between them and the chamber of horrors the GOP has put forth, I'll be satisfied with any of these candidates as my nominee. None of them rock my world, there are no true people-powered candidates in our field (the only one is Ron Paul, on the other side). So what's the fault line? The desire to win (important) and the ability and willingness to unapologetically articulate progressive solutions to our nation's problems. Hillary wins the former, and Edwards the latter. I'd love to see a barrier broken, to provide a tangible sign of our progress as a society (even Pakistan has had a woman prime minister).
With all those factors in play, with no obvious gate-crashing people-powered candidate, and with what really is solid field, I'm left firmly in the undecided camp. And I don't mind being there since, thankfully, I don't have to cast a vote on Thursday.
Update: While McCain has qualified for federal matching funds, apparently he hasn't officially accepted them.