New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson today joined in the increasingly absurd 2008 presidential race.  How many candidates does that make it now?  Counting both sides, I count at least seventeen declared or presumably soon-to-declare candidates (e.g., Giuliani, Hagel) so far (you already forgot about Tommy Thompson, didn’t you?)Before the spring is finished, we could hit twenty, and that’s not counting third party candidates.  If 1992 gave us the Seven Dwarves, 2008 will be presenting us, per Sam Brownback’s corny Oz reference, with the political equivalent of Munchkinland.   

Here is the article with a link to his online announcement.  I have no love for Bill at all, and most recently voted against his re-election, but one of the things that leaped out at me in his announcement was how incredibly detailed and policy-focused it was.  No grandiose, ridiculous claims about ending all deaths from cancer in 10 years for Gov. Richardson–he was talking the dreary-but-effective talk of pragmatism, competence and citing a record as a centrist Democratic governor.  Brownback can talk a good game about protecting life in Darfur, but that hardly beats Richardson, who actually reached a temporary cease-fire in Darfur.  In any contest to show who is more effective at taking care of irrelevant Sudanese problems, Richardson will win.  Therein may lie a bigger problem: Americans dislike a globetrotting foreign policy-centered President as much as they dislike a bumbling buffoon who can’t tell the difference between the Balkans and the Baltic. 

Unlike HRC, Richardson had something to say in his announcement.  He spared us the vacuous, Freudian, ”I want to hear what you think” approach to politics and told us what he had done (sort of) and what he intended to do (more or less).  Except perhaps for Obama and Clinton, I can hardly imagine a worse person for the office of President of the United States currently in the race right now than Bill Richardson, but there is a boatload of far worse candidates.  There are fourteen or fifteen of them, in fact, whom Richardson beats on his substantive policy remarks, since he has been virtually the only one to make any substantive policy remarks of any kind in his presidential announcement. 

Where Obama and Clinton have both gone out of their way to be as vague as possible, Richardson was stunningly specific.  He has already shown why the very few governors in the ‘08 race, including at the moment just Romney, Vilsack, Thompson and Huckabee in addition to Bill, will be the most successful candidates: they have experience, a record and policy ideas in place of empty bloviating, “national conversations” and saccharine sentimentality about American goodness, which seem to be the stock in trade of our candidates from the Senate. 

Leave aside that most of his foreign policy successes were glorified photo-ops for which he simply showed up, and let’s not forget the disgrace of his tenure at Energy when LANL lost, as it tends to do, top secret material and suffered from rampant security lapses and went through the big espionage scandal of the late ’90s.  As Sen. Byrd famously said of Richardson’s career at the time: “It’s gone.”  (And George Weigel thinks Condi had it tough!)  Byrd was apparently overestimating the impact rank incompetence would have on his electoral fortunes in a state like New Mexico.  We shall see whether voters in other states are as easily suckered by Bill’s glad-handing, world-travelling ways.