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White, Right, and Uptight


The Republican Party taught the Democrats a lesson in the 2000 election, gave a refresher course in 2004, but looking ahead to 2008 it seems that the GOP has forgotten what the last two presidential cycles proved to be true. Stern, robotic doom prophet Al Gore lost to the gregarious, self-effacing George W. Bush in 2000. A dour and humorless John Kerry’s pessimism fell in 2004 to George W. Bush’s confident optimism.

The lesson? All other things being equal, people want to vote for a good guy, not a bad-tempered crank, but after attending Tuesday night’s debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., it seems the Republicans are intent on nominating a grumpy old man.

Leading the White, Right, and Uptight charge for the Republican Party is Congressman Tom Tancredo, who seems to carry a massive grudge against the president thanks to Karl Rove. I like Tancredo’s stand on illegal immigration and English as our national language, but when asked what ceremonial role each candidate would like Mr. Bush to play under their own presidency, Tancredo spat, “Some time ago, in 2003 I think it was, that I got a call from Karl Rove, who told me that, because of my criticism of the president, I should never darken the doorstep of the White House. I have been so disappointed in the president in so many ways… as president, I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing Karl Rove told me.”

How sweet. We’ve got some lovely parting gifts for you, Mr. Tancredo, including a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni and the presidential nomination home game, where you can relive the fun and excitement of an actual campaign in the comfort of your living room.

Then there’s Libertarian in disguise Congressman Ron Paul, a candidate with whose positions I am most sympathetic. I want to see Ron Paul have an impact on the debate because I absolutely agree that we need to shrink the size of government, let market forces drive the provision of many public services, and stop the frightening erosion of personal liberty and weakening of the Constitution. On the debate floor, Paul comes across like Statler, one of the pair of carping old men in the Muppet Show balcony. Ron, lighten up, buddy. I caught your appearance on the Daily Show; I know it’s in you.

Then there’s the tedious and ongoing one-upsmanship that has nearly all the candidates – and Governor Mitt Romney in particular – trying to don the mantle of President Reagan. Sure, they laugh and smile all the while, but there’s venom on the lips of Romney, Senator John McCain, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor Tommy Thompson, and the others vying for the title “Most Authentic Conservative.”

In response, Duncan Hunter issued a press release seven minutes after the debate’s close with the headline, “Duncan Hunter wonders aloud, “When will the candidates quit masquerading as the conservatives they aren’t?”

Yawn (although it does make me wonder how issuing a press release qualifies as wondering aloud). The statement was issued only to attending media, it seems. I couldn’t find a copy on Hunter’s web site, which also makes me wonder just how “aloud” Hunter is wondering.

Like the Olympics, large quadrennial gatherings of grumpy men are big business in New Hampshire, and last night I fit right in. I’m no stranger to Manchester, New Hampshire, but I’m not familiar enough with the city to get around very well. I made a brief stop at John McCain’s debate party headquarters at Jillian’s Restaurant on the banks of the Merrimack River. A helpful McCain supporter gave me directions to Saint Anselm College, but a combination of torrential rain, horrible street signage (a chronic problem in New England), illogical street layout (another common New England civic malady), and less than ideal directions turned what should have been a five minute drive into a trek of more than a half-hour.

When I finally did manage to enter the campus grounds and take up position, the humidity in the gymnasium turned media nerve center was less than ideal. I sat next to a writer and photographer team on assignment for Playboy (sorry, guys… I’m not gonna offer a link here) and tried my best to cool down and not stink up the vicinity. I settled in with a can of what purported to be lemonade and took notes that were, for the most part, snarky.

“Why do all these genius ideas wait until an election year?”

“[Boston talk radio station] 96.9 event looks like a Dungeons & Dragons party. GOP is populated by geeks.”

“I drew on my shirt…”

“My only coffee option is decaf?!?”

After the debate, I struck out for the brazenly named “Spin Room” to see the posturing for the cameras and bright lights, but the real action was happening outside as New Hampshire state troopers were rounding up a handful of journalist impersonators, one of which was shouting questions, ostensibly to Giuliani (who had already left the building), related to World Trade Center conspiracies.

Back at Jillian’s I spoke with Margot Sanger-Katz, a reporter with New Hampshire’s capitol newspaper the Concord Monitor. Sanger-Katz is originally from New York; I asked her impression of New Hampshire as a center of political influence, and she said she was impressed with the pervasive level of awareness and enthusiasm displayed by Granite Staters, who seemed to take their coveted first-in-the-nation presidential primary seriously.

I tried to ask one of Jillian’s waitresses whether working the McCain room was a lucrative proposition. One would hope that a room packed with Republicans would mean generous gratuities, but it seems handlers had gotten to the serving crew prior to the night’s festivities. “We’re not allowed to answer questions,” I was told.

As I made my way out the door headed for home, I fended off a number of political social misfits who, spotting the press credential hanging around my neck, seemed intent on making certain I knew their opinions. At that moment the only opinion that mattered to me was my own, but it occurred to me that, on a night highlighted by testy exchanges, I fit right in.

Editor’s Note:Spot-on’s Scott Olin Schmidt had some thoughts on the debate, too. His post is here.

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