Column for 20 January, 2008
“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.”
In talking with my Republican friends about the presidential race, they all seem to have one thing in common: annoyance. They are annoyed with their party, annoyed with their leadership, and annoyed with what they see as paltry choices in the primaries. They are frustrated that the front-runners, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and (unaccountably in my mind) Mike Huckabee and John McCain are unacceptably “liberal” and the more conservative candidates (usually Fred Thompson but I have also heard Duncan Hunter mentioned) don’t seem to be catching fire with the voters. Thompson in particular, by getting in late and campaigning at a leisurely mosey, is reinforcing his image as a shallow, lazy, self-absorbed prima donna laboring under the delusion that his mere announcement would be sufficient to secure the nomination. And, as with most things, the race is defined as much by the biases of the media as by what the voters actually want. In particular, the mainstream media is smitten with McCain and Giuliani to an embarrassing degree, far more than Republican primary voters. McCain, by making himself available to the media almost 24 hours a day, is lionized in coverage with the kind of embarrassing fluffery that would cause even the most slithering press secretary to cringe. The media has been so enamored of Giuliani that he has avoided scrutiny about his dodgy associations with, among others, Bernard Kerik, the crooked former police commissioner who Rudy pushed to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security. This is putting aside the fact that on the issues where Giuliani is not to the left of most Democrats, he is nearly off the map to the Right and advised by some of the squirreliest neo-cons around. I will be interested to see what happens to candidates like Giuliani and McCain who depend on crossover Independent voters for their primary successes when the campaign moves to states with closed primaries. I suspect it will be the worse for both of them. Even more amusing to me and embarrassing to my friends is the spectacle of all the Republican candidates falling over each other to claim the mantle of “agent of change,” when in reality most have endorsed George W. Bush’s position on practically every issue. In fact, in debates they fight over who can out-Bush the rest. Romney wants to “double” the size of Guantanamo Bay; McCain vows to keep troops in Iraq for a hundred years! And speaking of Romney, was there ever a more shameless two-faced fraud to ever shamble onto a ballot? After serving as essentially a very liberal Republican or moderate Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Romney now seeks to convince a skeptical Republican electorate that he’d make a decisive leader despite having changed his mind 180 degrees on every single issue, other than (maybe) his own name. A commentator on the DailyKos blog put it best when he wrote, “[Romney thought he could win as a conservative, so he became one. If he thought he could win as a pirate, he would have become a pirate.” On the other hand, it strikes me as a sad indictment of the current state of the GOP that Romney is pilloried in some quarters solely because of his religion, and ironic given that the Republic Party has no more faithful constituency that the uniformly conservative Mormons. Utah is, in fact, the only state in the union that has consistently supported George W. Bush and would vote for him again in a heartbeat. Religious bigotry is a slap in the face, and a self-destructive one, too.
And speaking of bigotry, on the Democratic side, the front-runners are accusing each other of racism. Well, actually, more like they are accusing each other of accusing each other of racism. Most of it is silly. Even if Bill Clinton really did mean that Barack Obama’s whole campaign is a “fairy tale,” I don’t see how that could be twisted into a racial commentary. And Hillary Clinton was right, if rather inarticulate, when she noted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have passed without Lyndon Johnson essentially ramming it through Congress. On the other hand, someone really needs to tell New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that white guys using terms like “shuck and jive” when discussing black politicians really looks bad. Plus, “shuck and jive”? Who talks like that anymore? Does Andrew Cuomo actually know any black people or is he getting his terminology from old Blaxploitation movies from the 1960’s? My own view of Obama is that, on paper, he and Hillary Clinton are virtually indistinguishable on the issues, so their competition is over style and electability. I frankly don’t see the comparisons between Senator Obama and John F. Kennedy. He actually strikes me more like Jimmy Carter, a fundamentally decent person with an unfortunate streak of naiveté about the real-world of blood sport politics. He talks about “radical bipartisan change,” as if that term were not an oxymoron. “Change” much less “radical change” usually has nothing to do with bipartisanship, but occurs when one set of partisans has enough votes to run roughshod over the other set of partisans. Moreover, Obama’s candidacy has exposed or exacerbated a fault line in the African American community, with older leaders from the Civil Rights Era tending to supporting Clinton and a younger generation supporting Obama. And, like Hillary Clinton, Obama is firmly in the “free” trade, New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party, a position I think will become increasingly hard to defend as the country slides into a recession made worse by the systematic looting of the American economy over the last twenty years. Only John Edwards talks about these issues at all and he seems to be the odd man out, at least so far. With a politically toxic incumbent, no real front-runner in either party, an unpopular war, and a fading economy, this election may not be much fun for the Republicans, but it’s a pundit’s dream come true.