The three front-runners that have emerged from the 10 Republican candidates that swarmed the stage of Saturday’s debate appear to be Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

The public’s priorities are evident and I would argue, less sensitive than the manipulations of media and politicians. Iraq. Health care. Immigration. This is advantageous to voters since each candidate will have to articulate cohesive positions and plans on each issue. Unfortunately, those that they have articulated are either startlingly unoriginal, obscenely unrealistic or otherwise insignificant.

More Americans identify themselves as Independents than at any other time in our history. Could this be an indication of Americans’ disillusionment with both parties? Probably – and why shouldn’t we be disillusioned? Politics have become uglier and perhaps less accessible than ever before. Yes, what Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner asserted will be “the most expensive election in American history,” projecting its cost to reach $1 billion, is looking rather disappointing so far.

Both parties had their first of a long string of debates among potential candidates for the presidency this week. Although both had no fewer than eight prospective nominees behind their respective podiums, the choice seems bleak. There was an undeniable lack of fresh ideas and political momentum seemed stagnant at best. As for the Democrats, although Hillary Clinton has tried to portray herself as the obvious choice for her party, both she and the American people appear to believe that less and less as 2008’s election grows nearer. Not only was there a lack of diversity among issue positions and ideas among the candidates, but the only issue that had been a source of divergence – Iraq – is now the one Democratic candidates are flipping on to mirror each other’s positions.

The Democratic party’s front-runners are bending over backward to try to one-up each other on who can criticize the president the loudest or who can set the soonest withdrawal date and cut the military funding most significantly. Even despite the obvious fact that this war has become so politicized and such a source for political maneuvering can only have detrimental effects for its conduct.

Perhaps it is because the parties have become so grossly distinct from their corresponding ideology on the spectrum of liberal and conservative values. I want the liberal label back. It has been stolen and abused. Classic liberalism values free markets and freethinking. Today’s liberals aim to constrain trade, infringe on the sanctity of private property and restrict the sovereignty of the individual.

The modern left holds us as citizens individually responsible for nothing and collectively responsible for everything. “Liberals” have welcomed our society’s continued degeneracy, justifying everything from drug riots to illiteracy on the part of the individual, while blasting the lack of responsibility among corporations and the immorality of American consumerism.

Today’s “conservatives” are only moderately better. Originally referring to their desire for the government’s powers to be conservative in reach, the label is now associated with a commitment to the “religious right” and impeding movement toward gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, McCain is losing ground, due in large part to his continued support of America’s military efforts in Iraq. His campaign message has become too devoted, necessarily, to defending his support for the war and the recent troop surge – which depends largely on his ability to regenerate fear, anger and alarm among his listeners. He is principled and even presidential, but he has come to rely far too much on the sanctity of his status as a former prisoner of war, a tidbit he is careful to mention at nearly every speech engagement or commentary on his campaign.

Gov. Mitt Romney emerged in my mind as the clear winner of Thursday’s debate, despite his own issue inconsistency. A practicing Mormon, Romney has been careful to distance himself from his former hard-right positions on abortion and gay marriage. He attributes this ideological movement to time, experience and gains in knowledge. Voters may be right to trust him in that admission.

Finally, Giuliani is the only one to really distinguish himself, supporting market reforms for the health care crisis, opposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and articulating a clear, informed and accommodating position on Iraq and the threat of terrorism. He is also effective in articulating his priorities and emphasizing immigration among them.