January 04, 2008

Last night’s caucuses presented some attractive storylines:

In one case, an unknown governor from a small southern state, outspent 15:1, soundly defeated the well-heeled and well-coifed multimillionaire who fashioned himself the perfect Republican. In the other, a half-black junior senator vanquished “€œinevitability”€ and the Dems”€™ new old guard”€”three of whom (Wesley Clark, Bill Clinton, and Madeleine Albright) were literally standing behind the supposed frontrunner during her concession speech.

Iowans bought organic”€”they chose hope, fresh faces, personality, and the prospect of change over experience and focus-grouped shine. But the caucuses also marked the triumph of a kind of narcissism and a non-political politics that might make the coming year difficult to bear.

In the case of Obama, the senator likes to indulge in self-dramatization suitable to French emperors and madmen. In his victory speech, Obama claimed that his winning of the Iowa caucuses marked a “€œdefining moment in history.”€ (Obama’s fellow travelers in the media seem to be similarly light-headed: Chris Mathews exalted that an Obama win would be the “€œbiggest American political story in modern times”€ and the “€œbiggest story of modern Third World history.”€ World War II and the 2005 Tsunami seem to pale in comparison.) 

Huckabee combines a kind of faith-based folskiness with the cunning of a used-car salesman. He is a true master of the art of paralipsis, whereby the speaker professes to ignore or pass over something while in fact emphasizing it “€“ “€œand I won”€™t even mention my opponent’s history of spousal abuse…”€ In the Huckster’s case, he likes to be political while pretending to be “€œgetting beyond politics.”€ Thus he creates a political commercial in which he complains about political commercials, as if saying, “€œol”€™ Mike doesn”€™t care about running for office, he just wants to wish you a Merry Christmas!”€ With even more boldness, Huckabee held a press conference in which he announced “€œenough is enough!“€ and promised never to run negative political commercials “€“ to prove his bona fides, he dimmed the lights and projected an example of the kind of attack ad against Romney he wouldn”€™t even think about airing… 

Obama is usually the one criticized for “€œhope mongering,”€ for being heavy on transcendent rhetoric and light on actual policy prescriptions, but Huckabee is clearly like-minded. Take for instance the governor’s theme of “€œvertical politics“€: 

“Ultimately, people don’t care about whether an issue comes from the left or the right, what they want to hear about is an idea that lifts America up and makes us better. It’s what I call Vertical Politics.”

Huckabee seems to have uncovered that little known clause in the Constitution that demands, “€œAnd the President shall make us better.”€ At the very least, he’s created a “€œVerticle Day”€ webpage (replete with a “€œvertical”€ blog, of course). A President Huckabee dedicating an actual calendar day to verticality is an event I”€™d rather not experience. I think I”€™d prefer holidays celebrating multiculturalism.

Moreover, Huckabee’s “€œinspiration”€ talk doesn”€™t seem to be mere ornament. According to his recent article in Foreign Affairs, he wants to base American foreign policy on “€œreaching out”€ and a “€œchange of tone and attitude.”€ 

Do we really want an election in which the two major candidates argue over the politics of personal uplift vs. the politics of hope? Do we really want nationally televised forums, in lieu of presidential debates, in which Oprah and Chuck Norris hug teary-eyed single moms who”€™ve overcome depression and lost 30 pounds”€”and at which everyone in the audience goes home with a complimentary fruit juicer?

With a strong showing in New Hampshire, perhaps Ron Paul might save us from a Huckabee-Obama political charade. That’s something to hope for.     


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