With each primary and caucus in this presidential election, I realize how stupid I am.
When I wrote Pharisees and Tax Collectors, Part I two weeks ago, I was certain I saw the beginnings of a voter revolt against phoney, moneyed candidates, specifically Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Mike Huckabee’s sincere, everyman persona was connecting with voters in Iowa, and while I thought his success would be short-lived, John McCain’s resurgence in New Hampshire would be a continuation of that sentiment. How could anyone resist the plucky former POW with the maverick brand, especially when compared with the former governor of my state whose political convictions have shifted radically with each position sought?
Within the ranks of the Democrats the surge of Barack Obama – which showed the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be anything but inevitable – was just as heartening. Obama’s powerful, moving oratory and John Edwards’ populist stumping would, I thought, lay bare Hillary’s impersonal calculus. Wounded in the snow swept cornfields of Iowa, Hillary’s supporters, with no emotional connection, would melt away.
What I never saw coming was that the shift toward sincerity would be short-lived. I expected both McCain and Obama to be cresting a wave of party support by now, ready to carry them each to their party’s nominations on the spring tide of Super Duper Tuesday.
Instead, the 2008 iteration of Mitt Romney and his hair has managed to survive a few early losses to score significant, momentum-building wins in Michigan and Nevada. Meanwhile, Senator Carpetbag, stunned into full-on crisis mode after Iowa, has opened wide the bag of political tricks, including her crocodilian tear ducts and the big gun known as former President William Jefferson Clinton. Money and machinery win again; curse my idealism.
And now I’m stuck with an analogy that seemed genius at the time, and that came with the promise of a second chapter. It still is genius.
You see, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was about appearances, and that often those who speak loudest and who put themselves in the spotlight are not what they appear to be.
What do I mean? On the GOP side, Governor Mitt Romney is spending a lot of time and hot air bellowing about how much he is like Ronald Reagan, while conveniently forgetting the political positions he took during his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, or the positions he took during his successful campaign for governor in 2002. Back then, Romney espoused stances that were pro-choice and sympathetic to gay rights. He now tells the GOP base that he is unequivocally pro-life and pro-family.
He failed to lure jobs to Massachusetts in spite of promising voters he’d use his business connections to do so. In fact, Massachusetts lost ground economically under Romney. He promised, tried, but failed to re-energize a Republican party in the Bay State that holds fewer than 20 percent of the state’s elected seats. Instead, he spent the last half of his one term living out of a suitcase building the network he now hopes will carry him to the GOP nomination and, eventually, the White House. Mitt’s abandonment of the state was felt most acutely by loyal Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who was left high and dry in her failed attempt to succeed Romney on Beacon Hill.
For the Democrats, we’re asked to suspend disbelief and agree that a senator with but seven years in office has thirty-five years of meaningful leadership experience. By that math we’re supposed to credit her time spent as a young staff lawyer working behind the scenes during the Watergate investigation, although her performance at the time was apparently less than exemplary. We’re also supposed to credit her time as first lady, both of Arkansas and the United States. Even the New York Times isn’t buying that one. We’re expected to swallow the notion that a senator with just over one term in office and no major legislation to her credit, is either (depending on the day of the week) an agent of change or a candidate with a record of getting things done in Washington.
I suppose it’s inevitable; the presidential nomination process draws out the politically ambitious every four years, and each time a number of the aspirants demonstrate they are willing to do and say just about anything to get elected. I just wish that the voters would open their minds and eyes and demand a better quality of candidate.