He shoulda been a contender

Here's a movie treatment worth pitching Hollywood.

There's this guy running for president. He was born in the United States to a mixed-ethnic couple and received his early schooling outside the country. Then he was admitted to a U.S. prep school and attended one of our best universities. He found himself in a political world and soon distinguished himself within his party and legislatively before running for president.

No, it's not Barack Obama. It's New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who withdrew from the Democratic primaries after registering only 2 percent in Iowa and 4 percent in New Hampshire.

His biography is the stuff Hollywood films are made of when you add Richardson's service as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary in the Clinton administration.

His diplomatic rescue sorties are among his most cinematic. There was the time he went to Iraq to negotiate with Saddam Hussein. The dictator is across from him and Richardson crosses his legs, showing the bottom of his shoe. That's a really big cultural no no, like calling him chicken-sh–, or something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe. But Hussein recovered from the faux pas and Richardson got two U.S. citizens released who had accidentally crossed the border into Iraq from Kuwait.

He negotiated The Chicago Tribune's Paul Kalopak out of Darfur, Sudan. And he also negotiated in Cuba and most recently with North Korea.

Last year his autobiography came out, "Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life," something expected of a presidential contender. But in the same year the other one appeared, "Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution." It didn't receive as much attention as it should have.

A while back I was contacted by a writer for Playboy asking me what were the good and the less-desirable qualities of some political personalities. What stood out was how much importance the writer gave Richardson's jowls and rumpled look.

It was as if popular culture doesn't want a presidential candidate. It wants someone who looks like what Hollywood thinks a president should look like. This is the power of appearance over substance.

Remember Jack Nicholson telling us in "A Few Good Men," "You can't handle the truth." This could be one of those moments. Richardson leaving the race forces us to face the truth. Maybe most candidates are posturing.

The presidential campaigns are now heading west for the primaries in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and California. Growth, space, water, energy and security are concerns at the front-end, not the tail end, of politics in this part of the country.

Energy, especially, is the chief domestic and foreign policy area to concentrate on. But we have recurring national amnesia about it. And the candidates don't stay focused.

If a good movie camera took a sweeping shot of the stretch of landscape between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with the wind turbine propellers rotating like windmills, I think the public would get it.

That shot alone represents what we are going toward. It shuts those mouths that claim "I will do this when….." or illusory claims about hope or about change, or about experience.

Without Bill Richardson, the 2008 campaign could easily devolve into ho-hum rehashed promises to avoid recession, create jobs, whom to hate, what to fear — the whole time telling us change is in the air.

The truth is change means not them — for all but one. Now perhaps we could spend some time talking about the country.

The candidates continue yammering. Meanwhile the governor seems to have turned his attention to universal health care in his state. As Richardson said in his book, it's about leading by example.

Had the Hollywood movie come out first and then Richardson ran, his candidacy for president would have been more believable and easier to sell.

If so, who do you think could have played the lead? Russell Crowe or Jimmy Smits?

(Jose de la Isla, author of "The Rise of Hispanic Political Power," writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com.)