Forget reality television; we have the seemingly interminable pre-primary segment of the 2012 Presidential race to watch.
Critics unload heaps of inane trivia. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau wants you to compare former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota: Who has the better front end? Meanwhile, candidates display themselves like peacocks, trying to distract potential supporters from whatever flaws they may be squirreling away with magnificent displays of political plumage. For example, Mitt Romney has real executive experience fighting intransigent liberals within sight of the Kennedy Compound; but he hopes you won’t notice that during his Gubernatorial reign in the Bay State, he developed the State-level precursor to the abominable Obamacare.
While the Democratic Party has a long record of candidates who possessed the intellectual depth of Tupperware (does anyone know where Senator John Kerry can “get me a huntin’ license?”), the Republicans generally shied away from cosmetic appeal in place of legitimate competence. Witness Senator Bob Dole’s loss to President Bill Clinton in 1996: Clinton won with only a plurality of the vote, due in part to the fact that Dole was nearly as captivating a stage presence as shower mold. Of late, the GOP has begun to play the electoral version of “The Dating Game,” offering up candidates like President George W. Bush, whose folksy charm and 80s-action-film attitude supposedly made up for his mercurial policy directives, if not his tortured enunciations.
Taken to a logical extreme, this sort of political pageantry ratchets up the degree of difficulty for a quality candidate with strong ideas and sound principles, especially if the candidate in question looks like an aging college professor (Representative Ron Paul) or a guy who cuts his own hair (former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson).
As 2012 approaches like the T-Rex chasing the Jeep in “Jurassic Park,” we are welcomed to the aforementioned logical extreme. For those who think I’m overstating the case, say hello to the current field of Republican candidates and the two men leading the way: Governor Rick Perry of Texas and former Governor Romney. The very idea that the GOP is seriously considering these two men for the post of Leader of the Free(ish) World is testament to the barely subcutaneous levels to which most voters are ostensibly willing to venture in search of a true statesman.
Watching the remarkably telegenic Perry and Romney tear into each other during the course of the past two Republican Presidential debates has been the political version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em ROBOTS®. Oh, they got testy with each other, but I kept wondering if there was someone behind the curtain, furiously tapping on a video game controller. “The Corporate Media and the Current State of American Politics Present: The Republi-Ken Dolls!”
Both offer curricula vitae chock full of crony capitalism and flashes of statism. Romney’s infamous “corporations are people” miscue was a telling moment, while Perry’s political appointee roster shows an almost 1-in-4 ratio between campaign donors and appointments. And perhaps Perry really didn’t try to force STD inoculations on the preadolescent female population of the Lone Star State on behalf of Merck Pharmaceuticals; let’s just say it sure would have been convenient for Merck’s profit margins – not to mention Perry’s campaign coffers.
That sort of backscratching is common in Democratic circles. Nearly 200 of President Barack Obama’s heavyweight “bundlers” are now enjoying the sweet taste of plum patronage. As an example, the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom is Democratic whale and former Citigroup exec Louis Susman, whose previous experience with the Brits is limited to the bar at the Connaught Hotel. But the Republicans ought to be running from such backscratching like Donald Trump would run from a crowd of helpful citizens after his limo breaks down in South Central Los Angeles.
If it comes down to a choice between Romney or Perry and the current tenant squatting in the people’s crib on Pennsylvania Avenue, I will obviously vote for – um – “change that matters.” But there are better choices than any of those three. They are easy enough to spot, if we’re willing to look a little deeper.