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Mitt, Rudy and John

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You wouldn’t know it from the media, but the presidential election is next year, not this year. Why, it’s so far away that if my mommy got pregnant tomorrow, my new little sibling would be gurgling and cutting teeth well before the first votes are cast on Election Day.

But, alas, Mommy is long dead, and presidential politics have vastly changed. Time was when Bobby Kennedy could decide to run for president in March 1968, and still have a strong shot at the Democratic nomination.

Or at least he would have, if he hadn’t been murdered after winning the California presidential primary in June. Nowadays, getting in the race so late would be impossible. Next year the nominations for both parties are likely to be settled by what amounts to a national primary election on Feb. 5.

So even though the state is falling apart, our nation is losing a war, and the Detroit newspapers still have Stephen “Band Saw” Grant’s true confessions on their Web sites, we ought to take a fast look at who our next czar may be.

Buyer’s remorse, after all, is a terrible thing. Look at the White House today, for example. That’s not to imply that I intend to tell you who to vote for.

Well, at least not yet, anyway. What I do want to do is tell you where the races stand and a tiny bit about who these people are. Next week, we’ll consider the Democrats. This week, we’ll start with the ...

Republicans: We may not like them very much, and the present lot seems out to destroy the country and much of the world, but the fact is that the GOP does tend to win most presidential elections in the modern era. They’ve taken five out of the last seven, for example.

So who are they likely to throw up at us next year? Well, the polls now all say the frontrunner is Rudy Giuliani, the 63-year-old former mayor of New York City, the hero of Sept. 11. The most recent Gallup poll has Rudy favored by 38 percent to 16 percent for John McCain.

Don’t believe that for a moment. Republican nominations are largely determined by fundamentalist Christian conservatives who think the state’s responsibility for life begins at conception and ends at birth. They also think adultery or gay sex are far worse sins than starting a war.

Most of the Repubs who like him now don’t yet know that Giuliani’s personal life makes Bill Clinton’s look like that of a monk. The Rudy has had three wives, and left the first two for new ones. His last divorce occurred while he was mayor of New York, and was very nasty. For a time, he moved out of the mayor’s residence and into an apartment with two gay friends.

Jerry Falwell will love that. Giuliani is pro-domestic partner benefits for gays, pro-choice, and has refused to condemn “partial-birth” abortions. The torpedoes are coming.

Then there is Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the plucky maverick who beat George Bush soundly in Michigan’s primary in 2000. That McCain, however, has been replaced by somebody who has worked hard to cuddle up to the Bushies. In fact, he’s now more solidly for the war on Iraq than Bush.

That’s not going to play well after it is clear the “surge” has failed. A genuine war hero who was sadistically tortured for years, McCain also has a philandering past, though not up to Rudy’s standard, and has never fully been accepted by the Christian right. If elected, he’d be 72 before taking office, and would be the oldest new president ever.

That leaves former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is now third in the polls — but close to No. 1 in fundraising. He looks presidential, is the right age (60), and has a track record of making money and getting things done.

He is on his original wife, a lovely woman who is battling multiple sclerosis. He has several other enormous attributes: He seems more moderate than his positions indicate. He is a proven vote-getter in the bluest state of all, and has ties to a state that’s mostly blue and more crucial — his native Michigan.

And, he has absolutely no ties to the present mess in Iraq. Never cast a vote for or against; nor was he part of the Bush administration, which by next summer will smell completely like rotten fish in the sun.

Most of the doubt about him has to do with his Mormon religion. Much of that may be due to last year’s sensational cable TV coverage of a sect of renegade polygamists. Will that sink Romney? Not on your life. All he has to do is give a statesmanlike speech denouncing polygamy.

He will be accepted warmly into the conservatives’ embrace. Yes, there are other Republican mini-candidates: Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee and a bunch who are thinking about it. None of them is going anywhere, barring the apocalypse. The Big Three have all the money locked up. My guess is that Romney has an edge, and would be hardest for any Democrat to beat. (I have, however, eaten crow before.)

A cause worth checking out: The Rev. Leo Reilly is a Catholic priest who really does care about the poor in Detroit, and has devoted his life to helping them. A longtime assistant at St. Anne’s, the oldest Roman Catholic church in the city, he is now devoting himself fulltime to the plight of inner-city schools.

Reilly, a member of the Basilian Fathers of Toronto community, has been doing this for a decade, and the experience has understandably made him a little bitter. He can be cantankerous, and he lashed out at me because I was unwilling to picket a “neocon garbage” daily paper with him.

But he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the problem. “The truth is that city schools get half funds for concentrated-poverty children who, on average, need twice the normal amount of individual attention.”

As a result, “Half our city 6-year-olds fall through the cracks in first grade because they get a quarter of normal education rations.” What happens to them after that? “Years of agony until [they] can become a dropout and worse things happen.” He thinks that’s just fine with the establishment because “it generates cheap labor, fuels the prison industry and ‘proves’ racism is right.”

But it isn’t fine with him, and, at 72, he says he has a lot of fight left in him. Right now he wants to get an online village going in southwest Detroit that would include a community Web site and allow “everybody interested in a topic to work on literally the same page and be part of an overall solution.”

What’s more, he thinks the resources to do that are within reach. “Comcast has given southwest Detroit 200 ‘repossessed’ Dell computers, which is a wonderful and timely gift, but no resources to get these machines back to normal and the families off to a good start with them.

“Our bureaucratic social service agencies have resources only enough to get funding to maintain the bureaucratic stalemate,” he said. Someone with more computer savvy than I ought to check this out and give him a hand. You can reach the good father at the Latino Cultural Pastoral Center, 313-587-2212. If you do, I would appreciate knowing about it.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com

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