Eight months to go

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin hopes that both the candidates and the press will use the next eight months wisely.

(Kunin) It’s the middle of March, and we already know who the major candidates are. Our incumbent President, George Bush, and the virtual Democratic primary winner, Senator John Kerry. The only question that prompts any suspense is whether the President will hold on to Vice President Cheney and who Kerry will pick for his running mate.

In past years, one side or the other has taken time off before the conventions to give both themselves and the public a breather. Not this year. Neither side wants to let the other side define the issues or the candidate.

What does this early opening of the 2004 Presidential starting gate mean to the voters?

A long, long campaign.

The greatest danger is that we will suffer from battle fatigue, that the campaign will become so negative and nasty that voters tune it out. The biggest opportunity, however, is also presented by a long campaign. We have a chance to have an in-depth debate on the issues that matter to the people of this country and to the world. There is little doubt that in the 2004 campaign there are clear differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates. President Bush and Senator Kerry are appealing to a very different core constituency. The contrast between Republicans and Democrats has never been more stark. Who should be appointed to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court, is one critical example.

In foreign policy, we see a growing divide between the two parties. One party is ready to “go it alone,” while the other emphasises coalition-building. The list of party differences is long. The arguments on both sides are powerful.

Then there are the wedge issues, which are deeply felt, such as gay marriage. The challenge will be not to let this issue overshadow the larger debate.

What the voters deserve is a serious, detailed, and honest debate on such questions as terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, the environment, jobs, the deficit, and the security of the United States in an increasingly dangerous world.

To achieve this goal, we will have to call on the press to demonstrate patience and perseverance and present the candidates’ positions to the public, rather than taking the lazy route of dwelling on who’s surging, who’s falling, and who is ahead or behind.

If we succeed in having that kind of serious debate on the future direction of our country, the time between now and November is not too long.

All we have to do is get involved, pay attention and be very patient over the next eight months.

Whoever said Democracy would be easy?

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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