Friday, January 20, 2012

Fact stranger than fiction

On the one hand I shouldn't write about the Republican primary campaign because I have nothing original to say about it and I haven't been watching the debates (except short excerpts). On the other hand, who could possibly resist writing about it in view of what happened yesterday, with Perry dropping out while solemnly assuring everyone that his now-favored candidate, Gingrich, while "not perfect," was not beyond the mercies of forgiveness and redemption which define his (Perry's) own Christian faith, while (pause for breath) Gingrich, who at least tends to speak in complete, grammatical English sentences (have to give him that) told Gwen Ifill that he would not respond to his ex-wife's statements about their marriage but added that his daughters had sent a letter to ABC protesting the unfair portrayal of their father (or something like that). Somewhere there are novelists and writers of screenplays figuratively banging their heads against the wall, saying to themselves: "Criminy, if I wrote this as a movie treatment no one would believe it." Well, on second thought maybe not; that movie with Clooney and Gosling did feature a presidential candidate who goes a little too far with an intern. Still, this is rather amazing for a real-life campaign. (And throw in the business about Santorum now being declared the winner in Iowa even though some precincts' tallies have permanently vanished.)

And I haven't even mentioned Romney. There is something that bothers me about him. It's not the millions in Cayman Islands offshore accounts, it's not Bain Capital, it's not the $300,000-plus in speaking fees being described by him as "not very much." Yes, of course, those things bother me but what bothers me perhaps even more is that I have no idea why he is running for president. Gingrich clearly likes power for its own sake and maybe even sincerely believes in his retrograde policy prescriptions. Santorum is a true believer, as is Ron Paul. But what about Romney? Why is he running? His New Hampshire post-primary victory speech, which I heard on the radio, seemed mostly perfunctory. He only really got into it when he accused Obama of taking his inspiration from -- gasp -- Europe and its welfare states, while he (Romney) takes his inspiration from the USA. He charged Obama with being an appeaser for wanting a slightly more rational defense budget. Really, is this the best his speechwriters can do?

American presidential campaigns often have a bizarre, circus-like quality. One of the campaigns I remember best, because it was the first one I paid really close day-to-day attention to and got personally involved in, was the '72 campaign. The Eagleton episode there certainly had a bizarre, sad aspect. Muskie crying in the snow in New Hampshire. Nixon and Agnew: can you imagine two more bizarre candidates? The '76 campaign also had its bizarreries. (My favored candidate that year, former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, went down in flames pretty early.) I'll stop there. (Bet you thought I was going to go through every campaign of the last 30 years, didn't you?)

Anyway, I hope the Republicans carry on as they've begun. None of them looks remotely presidential right now. I hope it stays that way.

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