Comparison chart summarizing the leadership ability of the top 3
Democratic candidates for President
My personal rating of the candidates on the
lastest evidence. Rating is based on their ability to solve the problems we
face. I did not include stupid issues like haircuts, etc.
0=moves the country backwards (e.g., George Bush)
5=stuck in neutral
10=JFK-type leader that inspires a nation to move forward
- His policies have specific goals
- Strong Leader: spoke out on Iraq war and global warming and
encouraged others to follow
- The most electable: The only Democrat who wins against any Republican challenger according
to the latest polling data especially in the critical "battleground states"
(which are the only states that matter)
- Won the MoveOn TownHall vote on climate change policy by a stunning 2:1
margin compared to his nearest opponent
- Clear on his top 4 priorities; in fact, they are even listed on his home
page (Jun 3, 2007). He's the only candidate to make his priorities as clear
(the other two don't mention their priorities on their home page)
- No skeletons in his closet for Republicans to swift boat him; he's
already been battle tested
- Totally gets the urgency of global warming; uses words like "crisis" and
- Global warming plans are specific with specific GHG goal reductions
amounts and dates; LCV called it the strongest plan out there
- Specific plans on other issues including universal healthcare
- Walks the talk; his campaign was first to go carbon neutral, his house
is Energy-Star compliant, etc. A great role model.
- Smart, knows the issues, personable
- Personal integrity beyond reproach
- Heart in the right place; long history of public service
- Has improved a lot since 2004; like Gore, he now trusts himself more
than his "expert advisors" (who advised him to vote yes in the original Iraq
vote when Edwards in his gut wanted to vote No)
- Great strength: publicly he admitted he was wrong in original Iraq vote.
He's the only candidate to publicly admit a mistake.
- Won the June 3 debate according to Daily Kos poll and also the CNN
"representative group of voters" poll that aired right after the debate
- Believes America shouldn't be building any new nuclear weapons
- Praised by
Sierra Club for leading the way on global warming
- Voted yes on original Iraq bill
- Lacks the Obama "secret sauce" that energizes the
- Fundraisers are smaller than those for Clinton and
- 3rd place in the national polls of Democrats
- Front runner in most polls
- Great ability to connect emotionally with voters, especially
- Brilliant. Knows the issues and the details.
- Right position on all key issues
- Phenomenal campaign team
- Heart in the right place; long history of public service and
caring about people
- Has a great mentor (Bill) who totally gets the that the two
biggest problems we face as a world are climate change and
- Attracts huge crowds at fundraisers
- Wins against most Republican challengers
- Her policies lack specific goals. Look at
warming plan for example. No goals.
- Voted yes on original Iraq bill.
- She's a follower, not a leader: This
Washington Post opinion piece points out that "in Clinton's
case, she is dead center in American public opinion, foursquare for
what's popular and courageously opposed to what's not. Most
Americans oppose a precipitous pullout from Iraq and -- surprise! --
so does Clinton." In short, she follows public opinion, she doesn't
lead it. Governor Gray Davis was a master of following the polls in
California and the voters recalled him. Didn't talk about Iraq blank check
bill before the vote because didn't want to deal with the media
feeding frenzy, but leaders would relish the opportunity to get
their message out! She was very slow to get on the very strong
Sanders-Boxer bill. She went on silently with no press announcement.
Again, she squandered the opportunity to use the press to help her
cause. slow to take other positions (e.g., within
hours after Dodd ran TV ads on Iraq, she announced her position).
However, on May 31, 2007 she told me that she is
willing to be bold on global warming...I'm going to test that..I'll keep
- Plans: Her global warming plan will make some
progress, but it isn't close to the best we can do. Her current vision and
plan are hard to know; have they evolved from the points she made in
her energy speech a year ago? Her own climate change bills do not
take on the big issues.
She has not articulated a specific GHG reduction goal (it is on the bills
she is a co-sponsor, but doesn't talk about what her goal is)
- She currently thinks like a Senator rather than like a leader.
She determines her positions based on what she thinks other Senators
would vote for rather than doing what a leader does which is
determine what is right for the country and then strategize how to
change people's minds to support it. It's a subtle but key
observation that keeps her from earning a score higher than 6 from
me until she can rise above this. I don't have a good public example
of this, but have sources that confirm it. But it explains why her
proposals are not bold.
- Like Bush, she refuses to admit she made a mistake in her original Iraq vote;
this leads many of us not to trust what she says and makes it more likely
she will stick to a losing strategy to avoid having to admit she
made a mistake.
- Mishandled healthcare; used a secret process that some have
compared with the process used by Cheney's Energy Task force.
However, realizes that is was a mistake and doesn't plan to repeat it.
- On June 22, 2006, voted No
Kerry-Feingold amendment to withdraw troops from Iraq by July 1,
2007. Why vote no on this if you really are serious about ending the
- On October 10, 2002 gave a speech on why diplomacy was important
before going to war. Two hours later vote No on Levin's amendment to
require Bush use diplomacy before declaring war on Iraq and force
Bush to come back to Congress if diplomacy had failed. She says she
favored diplomacy all along.
- During 2004, the public had soured on the war. But in February
2005, she still wasn't convinced we should get out of Iraq by
setting a deadline. It wasn't until November 2005 that she finally
changed her mind on withdrawal and a timetable.
- In mid-December of 2005, she and a few other senators met
privately with Bush in the White House to discuss Iraq. But Clinton
said nothing at the meeting to the president, according to an
account the next day in The Washington Post.
- Motivational and inspiring speaker; absolutely incredible
- Wickedly smart and super quick on his feet in the debates
- Second place in most polls
- Incredible public speaker; people love his vision of the future and his
ability to rise above the specific issues. He talks eloquently about
the bigger issues of working together to solve problems and
"bridging the divide" rather than deep diving into specific issues
- Large supporter base
- The only candidate of the 3 to have originally voted against authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq
- Wins against most Republican challengers
- Incredible charisma
- Attracts HUGE crowds (5,000 to 20,000 people)
- 10,000 people showed up at an event in 7 degree weather
- Has broad support; he has the largest donor base despite being
the newest to national politics
- Brilliant. Knows issues.
- Personal integrity beyond reproach
- His first two endorsements were from LCV and Sierra Club when he
announced he was running for President
- 100% LCV score in 109th (2nd session) and 95% LCV score in 109th
(1st session). This is way higher than his opponents.
- Has a long history of public service before he became a Senator
- He provides something the country really needs: someone they can
really believe in to solve problems.
- Heart in the right place; a long history of public service
Long history of environmental activism
- Seems to have a photographic memory; he remembers the names of
everyone he meets
- Very likable personality
- Outshines every other candidate in being not afraid to tell
people the truth. He gets major points in my mind for this. An
article in Time "Why Obama Tells Inconvenient Truths" highlighted
the reason for this. He basically has the courage to tell people the
truth even when he knows they aren't going to like it.
- Fantastic potential; if he can recognize his weaknesses and turn
them completely around, he'd be unbeatable. By "turn them around" I
mean go from last place on global warming to first place with a big
bold vision instead of an incremental, in-the-box and
environmentally unacceptable vision he has now.
- Obama has previous opposed Iraq timelines and defunding which
three times he had a chance to get behind Feingold's bills and
- On global warming policy, he fails the most fundamental test of a leader: he
doesn't walk the talk on the #1 issue facing our society today; he
actually does the opposite. He supports the Sanders-Boxer bill that
make global warming better, but at the same time he is the leading
proponent in the Senate of coal to liquids (CTL) which is a technology
which make global warming worse (twice as bad as the fuel it
replaces). And even if all the CO2 is sequestered (which
bill does not require), it is still a worse fuel than what we
are doing now as you can see from this
chart from the US EPA.
As this New
York Times editorial that is squarely directed at Obama's billl
points out, you can't get to where you need to go by focusing on
fuels that, even under the best scenarios, move the ball backwards!
- Every environmentally knowledgeable person I know wants Obama to
drop his support for coal to liquids. None are neutral about it.
They basically call his support for coal to liquids "Obama's third
rail", i.e., if he touches it, it will kill him. None of the other Democratic
candidates are going to touch CTL. You don't need to be a
rocket scientist to figure out which side to bet on. If it was such
a good idea, the environmentalist would cheer and his opponents
would copy him. It is simply astounding that Obama doesn't see
this. Everyone else
does as this Fortune magazine columnist points out.
- Took 4 months before he signed onto the key Sanders-Boxer
climate change bill. He signed on silently without any press
release. Why? A leader on climate change would have both signed on
immediately and leveraged all the free press to get the message out
about this key bill. He never even asked his supporters in an email
to put pressure on their Senators to join the 17 Senators that
already co-sponsor this bill. Is that the kind of leadership we can
expect if he wins?
- His approach to climate change is incremental "in the box"
thinking: more efficient cars, cleaner fuels. He's not thinking long
term. You'll never get to the 90% reduction we need with incremental
- Sometimes a little unsure of himself. When asked a question about
terrorism in the first debate, looked to see how Hillary voted
before he answered. Nothing wrong with looking around after
you answer to see where your opponents are. But before?
- While it is excellent that he voted not to enter into a
war with Iraq, in the second debate, he did not address the main
thrust of Edwards' point which is why didn't Obama help lead us
out of Iraq? Edwards' point is true: Obama refused to talk about his Iraq "blank check"
funding vote before the vote. He should have seized on the
opportunity to get his message out before the Iraq vote when it might
have made a difference. We acknowledge that he didn't lead us
into Iraq, but that is not an excuse for helping to lead us
out of Iraq. He had a leadership opportunity to help lead
us out of Iraq and he remained silent until after it was too late.
- His legislation is pretty mixed on the
environment: 1 good, 1 bad, and 2 neutral (see the
full analysis for how I arrived at
that). For example, his CAFE bill had good intentions, but it has
far too many escape clauses so if there is another Bush
administration, the legislation can easily be ignored by NHTSA. That's dumb. The planet doesn't care
about escape clauses. If we don't achieve higher efficiency targets,
we're toast. It should not be optional. We have the technology today
to double our efficiency and make vehicles that cost less to
manufacture and are safer, so why do we need escape clauses? Why
aren't there any ironclad minimums in that bill? And his Health for
Hybrids doesn't require any efficiency improvements, only that
things not get worse. It has 0 co-sponsors in the Senate. These are
two examples of legislation which are very weak on forward progress.
- When he stepped off the Senate Environment committee, the green
groups viewed it as a "neutral" event (I heard this directly from
one of the top green groups).
- Has no goals for greenhouse gas reduction (2 bills he supports
do have actual goals, but he's not set one himself; there is nothing
on his website about the goal) and doesn't have an integrated plan that would
reduce emissions enough to make a significant difference. Although
he does support good policies, his thinking is very conventional and
incremental (increase mileage standards, reduce carbon content of
fuels) rather than the bold and visionary thinking we need. He's
missing several key pieces that are required to achieve the dramatic
cuts that are required.
- Policies have been weak in general, but he's recently started
improving this a lot. One person summed it up: "hope is not a
plan." He's making progress though. Still no "how much by when"
goal for GHG emissions on his website.
- His health plan has great ideas, but he
his speech presenting the plan confused even health insurance policy
wonks (which is surprising since he is the best communicator of
the 3). It is not universal coverage; he backed off mandating this
because he was worried about it being enforceable. But why not
include it? If it isn't enforceable, that's fine. But if it is, then
he's got a stronger plan. Why not take the risk with a bolder plan
since there is no downside
- His approach to issues is to seek a middle ground where both
sides can come together, e.g., Health for Hybrids is a perfect
example of this; I'll give you X if you give me Y. But some issues
(e.g., global warming) you have to set a goal that is in the public
interest and not compromise that goal. I'm not clear whether he is
willing to do that. It would be nice if we could say "the co2
emission reduction target is non-negotiable." I haven't heard that.
- He's still on coal because it is abundant. That's stupid. It's
the wrong criteria. LCV has declared "war on coal." There are plenty
of clean technologies which are cost effective and which wean us off
of dependence on oil and reduce global warming at the same time.
Those are the things he should incentivize. Biomass to liquids is
much cleaner than coal to liquids (and using wood as a BTL source is
actually negative GHG emission, i.e., it absorbs CO2).
- Technically, he's misinformed in his belief that coal is our
most abundant energy resource. It isn't. Some estimates are that the
50,000 times more geothermal energy than all the known oil and gas
reserves known today. And
with the minmal government investments, it is very economical and
clean according to a new MIT study. This wikipedia article on
power notes that geothermal can supply the entire world's energy
needs for the next 30,000 years! By contrast,
we have only 300 years
of coal left. So Obama is ignoring a 100% clean resource that is
more than 100 times bigger than coal and costs less (when you factor
in the "cost" of pollution caused by the CO2 emissions of coal).
- He said at a fundraiser on June 2, 2007 that you can't eliminate
coal from this equation. Ironically, he said it in California.
California already done exactly that! It's
now illegal in California to buy power from a coal plant and our
economy is growing! And it is VERY possible to totally eliminate
coal in every other state as well. It just requires vision and the
right leader. Even more ironically, it took a Republican governor
for this to happen!
- Abundance should NOT be the criteria on which to select a fuel.
We must factor in the true cost of CO2 and look for options which
are the most efficient and which will meet our GHG goal.
Obama still doesn't get the "and" clause and he doesn't
talk about it at all. To him, it is OK if we
incentivize a fuel that increases GHG emissions (even if you
sequester all the CO2 it is still worse than diesel!) if we are
making cuts elsewhere. But you simply can't get there from here. To get the
80% GHG reduction that Obama supports (the goal in Sanders-Boxer
bill that Obama supports), we must focus our efforts on replacing every fuel we have with
a GHG-free fuel. I don't know why he doesn't get that. Take a look
at the chart at the
end of this New York Times article showing that coal to liquids is a
step backwards, even if you sequester all the CO2! We will
never reach our GHG reduction goals with a President who spends time
championing fuels which are far worse than the fuels we currently
use. Never. Nor will anyone follow us. We have to "walk the
talk." We have to look at all our options and incentivize the energy
sources which get the job done at the lowest price, not sources
which are simply abundant. See this
Washington Post article which makes the same point. That is why
Obama gets a 4. Until he "gets it" that the solutions must be
sufficient to meet the goals he sets, our planet is hosed. I'm not
the first to point this out that he isn't "walking the talk." This
blog figured it out in January 6, right after he re-introduced his
coal to liquids bill, giving nearly identical commentary to what
I wrote when I found out about Obama's coal to liquid legislation.
- On June 13, 2007, Obama issued a statement that he wouldn't
support coal to liquids unless the resulting fuel was 20% cleaner
than the fuel it replaces. That's better than he was before!
However, I checked with his legislative director who confirmed to me
that Obama allows that reduction to happen just by blending the fuel
with a clean fuel. While that incentivizes the production of clean
fuel, if we are going to mix a fuel with the clean fuel, it should
be the next cleanest alternative, not the worst.
- On June 22, 2006, voted No
Kerry-Feingold amendment to withdraw troops from Iraq by July 1,
2007. Why vote no on this if you really are serious about ending the
- He lacks a clear vision of what energy will look like in 2020
and 2030. These are very important dates. If you have a vision, you
can validate that the incentives and policies are sufficient to
achieve that vision. For example, if you believe hydrogen is
critical to our future, then you need to do something special to
break the chicken-and-egg problem; a low-carbon fuel standard is not
sufficient because it could be met for a while without hydrogen and
if hydrogen pumps aren't there, nobody is going to build hydrogen
cars (except for fleets). The process isn't rocket science: bold
goal, vision of how things might look if it is achieved, then
policies that can achieve the goals, then validation. Skipping over
the goal and vision and going right into mitigation strategies which
appears to be Obama is doing is a mistake. If he didn't skip the
step, he wouldn't have coal to liquids
Candidates can change; this analysis is based on where they are today
Clinton: She has 4 negatives that really hurt her in my eyes:
(1) she needs to shift from "Senator mode" to "leadership mode," and (2) she
needs to admit her original Iraq vote was a mistake and (3) she needs to modify
her stance on the issues to be commensurate with her new found leadership, i.e.,
visionary and bold (4) she needs to recognize that climate change is urgent not
just important (see Global
Warming: Why we must act immediately). If she can do those 4 things, she'd be tied with Edwards in my
mind. She has the power to change the bad into good and I honestly hope she
rises to the challenge!
Note: in "Senator mode," you change your legislation to get others
to agree. In leadership mode, you figure out what the country needs and then
you figure out how to get others to realize you are right. For example, Bush
is a great leader because he makes clear decisions, sticks to them, and then
spends his time convincing others he's right (even though he's rarely
right). He's a great leader, it's just that he makes very bad decisions.
I thought this comment in the Huffington Post summed it up better than I can:
Let's face it: Clinton is so captive to the DLC wussy mindset that she
will never change. And we all know that. But I certainly expected better
from Obama. Until rank and file Democratic voters wake up to the fact that
ANY consultant driven candidate is pure political poison come election time,
then we're in for more of the same. All you have to do is look at how Bob
Shrum/Mary Beth Cahill/Jim Jordan/Tad Devine/Chad Clanton sank Kerry's
chances in '04. If Clinton gets the nomination, then I fully expect a
repeat. She may have different advisers and consultants, but it's the same
overly cautious political timidity. It seems that Democratic politicians
like her and Kerry never run to win; they just desperately hope not to lose.
Obama: He could change my rating of him as well. If he sets really
strong and clear goals for global warming and other top issues, has an
integrated set of policies that were both necessary and sufficient to meet the
goal he sets (and can be validated by independent experts), admits publicly
his support for coal to liquids was a mistake, understands the erroneous
thinking that got him there, and appreciates the urgency of action on global
warming and the difficulty of achieving the very high goal that he must set,
he would be a formidable competitor. His legislation also generally lacks real teeth that
ensure forward progress, e.g., there are no non-negotiable minimums in his CAFE
bill, and his health for hybrids only requires that fuel economy not good down.
He needs to set a higher bar as a leader. I realize he's trying to get stuff
done in the Senate and by setting a lower bar, he's more likely to make some
forward progress. But he should be up front and honest about the lower bar and
not talk about this legislation like it is ironclad forward progress. It's
understandable given his position in the Senate. He'd get a lot more points by being totally honest. What a
refreshing change that would be if he did that! He's got all the right stuff and of
all the candidates, he would have the easiest time in moving to a 9 on the chart
above. He's not going to want to publicly admit
he made a mistake, because candidates are advised by their handlers not to do
this. He'd need to rise above that and be honest to the American people in
calling a spade a spade if he wants us to trust him. Everyone makes mistakes.
But it takes a big person to publicly admit they made a mistake and then do
things to make up for it. Only Edwards has done that. The sooner Obama
abandons CTL, the better. The longer he hangs on in the face of every
credible environmentalist telling him directly "this is stupid," the more he
looks like George Bush, refusing to acknowledge that you have a dumb strategy.
And that comparison with Bush will kill his campaign. And I assure you
that Clinton, Edwards and Richardson are reading this page and I'm sure all of
them would like one less competitor and if they all gang up on Obama on this
issue, he's toast. I'm surprised it hasn't happened already, but it is very
likely happen if Obama doesn't abandon CTL. Is Obama feeling lucky? Here's an
e-mail I got from a former MIT professor who is now doing clean energy:
"Obama seems to have some inspirational qualities, but I'm not sure
he's really that good on environmental issues (supporting
coal-to-liquids? he must be crazy)."
This is a sentiment echoed privately by every knowledgeable
environmental leader I know. However, it may be too late for Obama. I know that
he was told many months ago that coal to liquids was his "third rail" that would
kill his campaign. His time on this is running out. It has for me. We need
someone with better judgment in this position. Displaying this sort of bad
judgment this late in the game, well...that is very hard to recover from.
Steve Kirsch is a philanthropist and entrepreneur based in San Jose, CA. He is
CEO of Abaca, an anti-spam company and has donated millions of dollars to environmental and world safety issues.
In the 2000 election cycle, he published an
analysis of George Bush which analyzed the evidence from his performance as
Governor of Texas and correctly predicted that Bush would be a disaster as
President since he had a track record of twisting the facts to support his
misguided beliefs. Email: stk@ propel.com.