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By Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ne thing I've always hated about American politics is how everybody's constantly running for office. No sooner do the polls close than pundits start talking about who's going to run in the next election. This year, it's worse than ever, with talk of who'll get to clean up George W. Bush's mess dominating cable news.





So normally I'd ignore pointless prognosticating, but this time it's different. Clearly, the 2008 presidential race will mark a major turning point in our history, and with two years to go, most Americans have given up on Bush -- as he delivered his State of the Union speech, he was at the lowest point of his presidency. Polls say only Richard Nixon had higher disapproval ratings than Bush.





So I guess we have to start looking ahead.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & C & lt;/span & urrently, 19 people are in the race for president, while another eight are considered likely to jump in. And for the first time since 1952, neither candidate will be running for re-election or seeking to make the jump from vice president (unless Dick Cheney jumps in). It's a clean slate.





Handicapping the race is not hard; when Bush brushed aside the Iraq Study Group report in favor of staying the Rumsfeld course, he buried his party in an even deeper hole heading into 2008. According to a recent Newsweek poll, a generic Democrat beats a generic Republican for president. By 21 points.


But I'm not giving up on the GOP. And after the past six years, I'm inclined to want split government -- as long as we could elect a safe and sane Republican.





Too bad John McCain no longer fits that description. Despite having been slimed by the Bush political machine in 2000, some kind of deal was struck in 2004. McCain threw his support behind Bush, and perhaps McCain would get Bush's endorsement in 2008 -- and the use of his crack political staff. Maybe that seemed like a good idea at the time, but along with his call for even more troops in Iraq, it's a disaster today.





Then there's Rudy Giuliani, who has deservedly high marks for his post-9/11 leadership. I like his moderate positions, but I don't see him surviving the microscope of Republican primaries.





That leaves an anti-war hawk Republican like Chuck Hagel, the Vietnam veteran senator from Nebraska (who has not entered the race). If a Republican can be elected, I would also want him to return his party to the mainstream, something Hagel seems to understand. "The party that I first voted for on top of a tank in Mekong Delta 1968 is not the party I see today," Hagel said on Face the Nation last weekend.





We need two functioning political parties to prosper here in America; two that cater to the extreme ends of the political spectrum have not worked.


Of course the Republican everyone wishes could run is the improbable Arnold Schwarzenegger. After butting heads for a couple years by playing politics as usual, the Governator has confounded all presumptions by becoming the bright spot of the Republican Party. And he did it by coming to the center, working with the Democrats and actually solving problems. What a concept! His blueprint for success should be a powerful message to other Republicans.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Democrats face exactly the same question the Republicans do: What kind of party is this supposed to be?


"The kind that solves our nation's problems," should be the answer, since we've got so many. Whoever wins in '08 will have his or her hands full. Playing politics is a luxury we can no longer afford -- voters are demanding delivery on the empty promise that Bush won on in 2000, to be a uniter and not a divider.





And this is why Hillary Clinton is all wrong for the job. Republicans are already licking their chops, hoping they don't have to campaign on their (nonexistent) accomplishments but instead on Hillary-bashing. It's sad, but Hillary is too polarizing a figure for these times. And another Clinton presidency would create 24 years (or more) of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton dynamic that would make us seem like some kind of third-rate monarchy.





Generationally, Hillary Clinton is a classic baby boomer -- part of the "me-first" generation. While fellow boomer Bush has spent the past six years recreating the Nixon White House, still fighting the culture wars of the 1960s, we can expect Hillary to take up the battle from the side of all those hippies who dropped back in, made a ton of money and turned activism into slapping a sticker on their SUVs. Guess what? We need to stop fighting that fight.


We don't need Nixon II or Bush II or Clinton II. If there's a sequel America will line up for, it's JFK II.





And that's why I like Barack Obama. He was 8 years old in 1968, and those baby boomer battle lines have little relevance to his view of America. He's also brilliant and has risen up from humble origins. Unlike the born-on-third-base Bush, Obama can relate to the America the rest of us live in -- the America where solving problems scores more points that landing political punches.





Sure, right now he's a rock star riding a wave. But I see the rock part of his equation overtaking the star part, and he will offer substance to go with all that style. And he will offer hope. And that's what we need most.
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