by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & t the Kentucky Derby a few weeks back, Street Sense came out of the gate at an almost leisurely pace, and jockey Calvin Borel let the rest of the pack push their horses hard, dropping all the way back to second-to-last place. But by the last turn, Borel had started his run, picking through the pack as gaps opened up. In the final stretch, Street Sense galloped past Hard Spun almost like the horse was standing still; Borel was even able to look back, standing up in his stirrups before the finish line.

All part of the plan, Borel said after the race.

It's hard not to think the Kentucky Derby may be a bellwether for our political fortunes as the next presidential election looms. The pack is off and running, earlier and faster (and more expensively) than ever before. But I can't help thinking somebody near the back -- maybe somebody not even in the race right now -- will make a move. And when they do, it seems America may finally be ready to cheer.

Nobody's cheering now; familiarity may be breeding contempt as we slog on toward the first primary in New Hampshire next January. How are we not going to be sick of these people by then?

We're at a turning point here, with our soldiers dying and all of us facing an uncertain future. Something has to change, America is feeling, but these phony "debates" aren't doing it. We've been choking on lies, but all we're getting in these campaigns is more of the same old poll-tested spin.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & aybe it's just that the debate formats are bad, when what appear to be dozens of people shoot down rapid-fire questions from their holsters of platitudes. Only the truly nutty manage to stand out at all -- these are forums in which every candidate seems somehow less inspiring than they did before you watched. None of these people is lighting the world on fire.

On the Democratic side, there's the divisive Hillary Clinton, who wants to drive home the idea that she will bomb somebody if necessary. Then there's Barack Obama, who does seem mighty young when the bright lights shine. And don't forget John Edwards, who at least wants to appear young, as that YouTube video of his primping his hair seems to show.

On the Republican side, it's a parade of interchangeable rich, old white guys who love -- really, really love -- Ronald Reagan. The exception is Rudy Giuliani, who, despite loving Reagan, too, may not really be a Republican. Still, he's the leader of the GOP pack in the polls.

And we keep getting the same old questions: How itchy is your trigger finger? How quickly would you undermine Roe v. Wade? Iraq does come up, but even though all the Republicans support the war and all the Democrats oppose it, everyone seems resigned to it. Still, the war is why most pundits say the 2008 White House is the Dems' to lose. And it's why the GOP's best bet is to run against President Bush -- as Newt Gingrich argues in The New Yorker.

Yes, we're living in a political twilight zone: For a discussion of actual issues facing actual citizens, you'll have to listen to someone who isn't running, like Al Gore or Michael Bloomberg. Gore, of course, is the world's most prominent advocate of finding solutions to global warming -- the problem that could make terrorism look like a tea party. And Bloomberg, the Republican mayor of New York City, has come out in support of common-sense gun control measures -- and a hybrid taxi fleet.

Both men get to gallop along at the back of the pack, unconcerned about the race up ahead, appearing to be the only adults in the group. And Street Sense tells us there's still plenty of time to make a move.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o it's important to ask: How screwed up have our national elections become when the smartest place to be at this moment is out of the race? The system is clearly bogged down by too much money, too much polling and too much fear of saying the wrong thing. Having these semi-candidates out in the wings, speaking honestly (with Gingrich and Fred Thompson also toying with a run on the Republican side) is healthy. It reminds me of crazy old Ross Perot, whose third-party candidacy injected the quaint idea that a nation, too, can go bankrupt. Yes, it's unpredictable -- and that terrifies the likes of John McCain and Hillary Clinton -- but outsiders may be our best shot at a real debate before we vote.

Politics-as-usual isn't working. A shake-up may be just what we need to remind us of the need to get back to basic American principles. An outsider Al Gore run with Obama as his running mate would dash Hillary's hopes. An end-the-war-sensibly Michael Bloomberg Republican run (self-financed, of course) would send the rest of the GOP field over the cliff, clutching the anvil of Bush's failed policies.

Or maybe a third-party ticket of Bloomberg/Gore (or Gore/Bloomberg -- they'll need to talk) would serve notice to the major parties that they need to clean up their act before we start trusting them again. Both parties continue to let their constituencies down: Dems promised to end the war, but capitulated to Bush in funding it; and the GOP is getting split down the middle -- between the rich and religious, and between the free-marketers and the America-firsters -- by immigration.

If the country has a reset button, we need to push it.

A viable third party would need a good, catchy name -- the Unity Party, the Common Sense Party... How about the Street Sense Party?

Open Studio at The Hive @ The Hive

Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22
  • or