Paul Greenberg

Lincoln-Douglas this isn't. Once again the issues being debated in this year's presidential campaign are of the greatest importance - war or peace, freedom or slavery, national unity or a house divided against itself. But today's debaters do not rise to the stature of the questions facing the country and the world.

Both major parties have platforms and policies and soundbites to offer, but neither yet offers a clear vision. Their leaders are adept enough in the give-and-take of political repartee, but the object of the game has become how to echo the voters' concerns, not shape them.

It's as if our leaders were waiting for We the People to lead them - and only then will they choose a direction. What's missing is what Bush I, in his clipped way, used to refer to as The Vision Thing. Let this much be said for Bush the Elder: He seemed aware of what he lacked even if he had no idea of how to attain it.

The current crop of contenders in the '08 campaign, which is in full gear in '07, may not even be aware of what they lack. They occasionally light on some insight - blind hogs and acorns and all that - but then the usual murk descends.

Nor does the current, foreshortened campaign for the presidential nominations leave enough time for the candidates to be tested through a long series of primaries, or for the public to get to know them before the nominations are decided. Things happen too fast, as they do in much of the rest of American life.

It long has been fashionable to lament the length of American presidential campaigns, overlooking their educational value for both voters and candidates. After this year, we may lament their brevity before the nominees are chosen.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is waging a classic Clinton campaign, not taking a position unless she's absolutely forced into it. Eventually, when the opinion polls are in, or her rivals back her into a corner, as on the issue of drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, she may finally come down on one side or other of an issue - but not before. Even when she does take a stand, does it matter? Since it can safely be assumed that, if public opinion changes, she'll change with it.

It's not Mrs. Clinton's changing stands on specific issues - free trade, for example - that bothers so much as a hollowness at her political core. How Clintonesque. Like husband, like wife. A this rate, Clinton fatigue may set in before the next Clinton administration does.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.