Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Desperately Seeking Messiah; Inquire GOP HQ

In politics, like other professional sports, there’s a reason why you play the game. Despite a team or a candidate leading in the standings and the polls, the cold light of performance at home and on the road often brings a presumptive dynasty to its knees.

The desperate folks who brought you the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry have been learning that the hard way the last few weeks, as the arc of his favorables have nosedived pretty much with the public reaction to his Republican candidate debate performances.

The most recent one, Sept. 22 in Florida, found Governor Goodhair rhetorically melting down as he attempted a lame twist on the tired for-it-before-he-was-against-it barb leveled at Sen. John Kerry, back in 2004. That debate appearance was roundly dissed by the conservative media. “He seemed curiously ill-prepared for it,” said Kate O’Beirne of the National Review, to Bloomberg’s Al Hunt on Sept. 23.

“What it points up,” O’Beirne said, [... is] the gap between the idea of a candidate — and the idea of him looked good — and the reality of a candidate.”

◊ ◊ ◊

That gulf has been obvious lately: The “Ponzi scheme” label for Social Security; the walk back of his own law mandating HPV vaccines for young girls; the closer scrutiny of the economic “Texas miracle” that found Texas the state with the fourth highest poverty rate, and one of two leading states with workers earning minimum wage.

And then there’s that other thing. In his previous debate appearances, Perry has stood in staunch support of the bill he signed into law entitling the children of undocumented immigrants to public education at Texas colleges and universities. For conservatives, this is poison wrapped in anathema.

Bottom line isn’t pretty: It just started in mid-August, but in the public eye, the Perry 2012 campaign has the appearance of something that’s all hat and no cattle.

The disillusionment about Perry from those within his own party; the continued mistrust of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by party regulars and the Tea Party pack; and the unhappiness with the clown carload of most of the rest of the GOP field is yielding political gallows humor.

On “Countdown” on Tuesday, author and political analyst Craig Crawford, quoted a joke making the rounds in the GOP hierarchy: “We’re looking for Ronald Reagan and we can’t even find Fred Thompson.”

◊ ◊ ◊

That’s not really true, of course. Herman Cain, whose first-place finish in the Florida Straw Poll has those in the punditburo scratching their heads, is every bit as good an orator, at the same point in the first-time campaign process, as Reagan was in 1968. And Cain would get a better reaction reading the Yellow Pages than Thompson would get reading the Gettysburg Address.

But some analysts have expressed the idea that Cain’s strong showing in Florida — trouncing Perry and Romney by double digits — is more a signal about frustration with the overall Republican field of candidates than a tacit endorsement of Cain per se.

Anyway, one of the realer reasons Cain won’t prevail, for Republicans honest enough to admit it, practically shouts from inside the politically logical assessments: Cain can’t win BECAUSE HE’S a neophyte who Badly LACKs the experience and broad grassroots support he needs.

◊ ◊ ◊

In its drive for pure and unalloyed ideological purity, the Republican Party ignores or diminishes prospective candidates who reflect the very political and demographic practicality that would make the party a more credible choice for the broad cross-section of the country. (Look at the dismal polling numbers for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a centrist among the GOP field.)

Or the party summons prospects who know they’re not ready for a presidential run and who say as much. The kingmakers have lately reached out, seriously, to the next man from whence cometh their help: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the earthy, plain-spoken, rotund politician who has consistently deflected the idea of running for president.

But that hasn’t stopped such deep-pocketed conservative shoppers like Ken Langone of Home Depot, and David Koch, one-half of the Dimmer Twins (brother Charles is the rest) whose billion-dollar fortunes have been used on behalf of state governments in the fight against the right to collective bargaining. Whispers of “draft Christie” are getting louder; the pressure on the governor from party loyalists is increasing. Please, they say, you must. We need you. We need anyone but the candidates running now.

But Christie would be hamstrung at the start: by the need to immediately identify himself to a national public in the autumn before the primaries; by the size of the current field of hopefuls; and by his own insistence that he doesn’t want the job right now — a frank statement of political self-awareness he can’t contradict without undercutting the populist, straight-shooter brand that defines him.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s all there. The problem for the GOP is symbolized in Crawford’s joke, in the quickie divorce from Perry, in the furtive “draft Christie” moves: Republicans insist on hunting for the candidate who can pull the sword from the stone while walking on the water — before turning that water into wine.

That sentiment was pretty much distilled in an anti-Perry rant on Tuesday by conservative talk-radio pit bull and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh: “I know what the people of this country want and they don’t want John McCain Jr., they don’t want another moderate … Republican who can work with the other side ... they want — a conservative!”

If only conservatives knew which conservatives they wanted.

That’s the nut of the conservative dilemma: Never mind the GOP’s battle with President Obama on the campaign trail next year; the bigger battle is the one being fought between passion and pragmatism right now within the Republican party. The outcome of that infra-ideological struggle will shape the coming campaign, between now and this time next year. It could shape, or even decide, the future of that party for years to come.

Image credits: Perry: Getty Images. Cain: NBC News.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Afro-American wars

The latest firefight in the social and cultural war on African American identity took place on Monday in the Atlanta airport. NBC Dallas Fort Worth reported this on Tuesday:

Dallas resident Isis Brantley said she was stopped on Monday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta after she went through security ...

Brantley said an agent asked her if someone had checked her hair. She said no one had and continued on her way. She then heard someone yelling as she went down the escalator to catch her flight.

"I just heard these voices saying, 'Hey you, hey you, ma'am, stop. Stop -- the lady with the hair, you," she said.

Two TSA agents told her she could not go any further until they checked her hair for explosives, Brantley said.

She said she reluctantly allowed them to do it. The agents patted her hair down right there instead of asking to return to a private area for screening.

"And so she started patting my hair, and I was in tears at that point," Brantley said. "And she was digging in my scalp."

View more videos at:

This of course followed the Battle of Nivea, waged last month, a conflict started when the personal products company by that name published an in various magazines that cast the Afro hairstyle in an ugly, backward light. In the ad, a clean-cut brother, groomed to the nines, stands about to hurl a severed head (presumably an earlier incarnation of his own) literally out of his life.

The head bears a beard and an Afro. The ad copy reads: “LOOK LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN” and calls on black men to “RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF.”

The blowback was immediate and considerable. Proud Afro wearer Questlove of The Roots took umbrage online (“#fucknivea”), and African American thought and style leaders weighed in, justifiably pushing back against the Afro=barbarian theme.

Chastened, Nivea issued an apology via Facebook:

“This ad was inappropriate and offensive,” the company said. “It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company."

◊ ◊ ◊

It all points to the persistence of one of the things that America has never been comfortable with: black hair. Few things distill the singularity of the African American experience quite like this mess on our heads. Dyed, fried, laid to the side, jheri-curled, relaxed, weaved, bone straight, cornrowed and natural, black hair is the antennae that transmits an essence, maybe the essence, of who and what we are.

That foundational aspect of black experience has unsettled the marketeers of American business. They don’t know what to do with it. The cultural component of black hair and its maintenance has always been a private thing, a relationship between customer and stylist that goes beyond pleasantries.

When black men gather at the barbershop or black women meet at the beauty salon, there’s a camaraderie and repartee borne of common ancestry and common experience — the kind of boisterous, freewheeling thing that wouldn’t go over too well at Fantastic Sam’s.

Simply put, the black-hair experience is a thing apart from much of the mainstream of American society. And what that mainstream can’t understand, it tends to ostracize, marginalize, demonize … even un-civilize. That’s why Isis Brantley got a follicle strip-search in Atlanta on Monday.

◊ ◊ ◊

Over the last ten-twenty years, black men have tried to circumvent the marginalization the whole hair issue has created by taking the more extreme route: Go bald. It became a fashion statement all its own, as athletes, musicians and actors cut it all off. The rationale was straightforward and entirely credible: The thinking went that being bald was a Statement; it reflected a cooler, cleaner, more polished look that dovetailed with the esthetic of lean efficiency and professionalism in the workplace (and its novelty at that time gave you a leg up with the ladies).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The execution of Troy Davis

Back in the distant day, early in the last century, the NAACP used to hang a huge black banner out the window of its Manhattan offices announcing the latest crime against humanity, breaking news on a case by case basis: A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY the banner read.

There are many in America -- from a former president to singers and actors to everyday people on the street -- who'd shout those words at the top of their lungs, if they weren't too busy crying or husbanding their rage in silence and shame.

This is because yesterday at 11:08 P.M. Eastern time, Troy Anthony Davis, Georgia Department of Corrections inmate No. 657378, was put to death at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison by lethal injection, for the August 1989 murder of police Officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Ga., despite a mountain of evidence that Davis may have been innocent — and despite the outcry of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Benedict XVI, and former President Jimmy Carter, and millions of people around a world more outraged at the death penalty than we are in America.

"I will grieve for the Davis family because now they're going to understand our pain and our hurt," said MacPhail's widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, in a telephone interview with CBS News. "My prayers go out to them. I have been praying for them all these years. And I pray there will be some peace along the way for them."

Almost lost in the wall to wall coverage of the Davis execution was the almost simultaneous execution, in Texas, of Lawrence Russell Brewer, convicted in the June 1998 dragging death of James Byrd. The racial components of each case -- in the one, a black man's convicted of killing a white man; in the other it's vice versa -- led some in the blogosphere to see the two executions as effecting some twisted balance in the mathematics of retribution. Blacks and whites each put up a W and a L yesterday, goes their perverse reasoning; sounds like justice.

◊ ◊ ◊

But the Brewer case was closer, much closer, to open and shut. The avowed white supremacist admitted a role in Byrd's capture; the victim's blood was all over his clothes when Barnett was captured. The Davis case pivoted entirely on eyewitness accounts. There was no blood, no DNA, no murder weapon. The life of a man was taken in Georgia on the strength of nine people -- seven of them presumed eyewitnesses who either recanted or revised their testimony in the previous 21 years, some alleging police coercion.

We may never know what really transpired in that Burger King parking lot where off-duty Officer Mark MacPhail was shot to death. We do know the MacPhail family has waited a long time for that hypothetical thing called "closure," or that other hypothetical we call "justice." Maybe they got it yesterday night, maybe not.

But one thing can’t be overlooked. Some in the MacPhail family went to the death chamber to personally witness Davis' execution. Implicit in this desire for a formal, official endpoint to the presumed source of their suffering for a quarter-century, whether the MacPhails admit it or not, was an equal desire to hear Davis admit what he was convicted of two decades ago. We've seen this before: a convicted killer hoping to exorcise a lifetime of demons does the full mea culpa at death's door and owns up to the misdeeds that put him in his terminal predicament.

◊ ◊ ◊

But it didn't happen like that last night. Jon Lewis, a radio reporter and an eyewitness to Davis' last earthly statements, reported this after the execution:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Captains of industry and practicality

The snapshot of a political meme the Republicans have lived and ruled by — more spending cuts are needed to free up the job creators to go out and hire new people — has become GOP holy writ. Now, some of those job creators, titans of industry for real, have begun to emerge to undercut that austerity-at-all-costs meme, and with it much of the rationale for Republican obstructionism.

In almost back to back interviews, the CEOs for two of the nation’s more indispensable corporations have offered rejoinders to the reflexive No of the GOP on spending and new taxes. That No was most recently distilled by House Speaker John Boehner, who called the president’s entire $447 billion measure a “short-term gimmick.” The phrase “Ponzi scheme,” of course is currently being rented by another politician.

◊ ◊ ◊

Doug Oberhelman would beg to differ. Oberhelman, chief executive office of earthmoving and construction-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (market capitalization $54 billion, 132,239 employees was interviewed tonight by Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News.

Responding to the infrastructure-related dimensions of the American Jobs Act presented to Congress on Sept. 8, Oberhelman said “it’s an investment in our country. ...

“Any politician that says no to tax revenue or zero spending … does not deserve re-election … Our hole is so deep in this country with the debt and the debt service … that everything has to be on the table.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of consumer-products, industrial and media giant General Electric (market capitalization $170 billion, 287,000 employees), made much the same point to Fareed Zakaria of CNN, in an interview airing in full on Sunday night.

“I believe in balance,” Immelt said. “Does the deficit need to be reduced? Absolutely. Is government too big in many ways? Absolutely. But does the country still need to invest in education, does the country still need to invest in infrastructure, does the country still need to invest in the kinds of R&D that are gonna make this country competitive in the 21st century? Yes, we do.”

Not to let either company off the hook on other matters: Caterpillar has come under fire in the past for outsourcing parts production and ramping up production in right-to-work states, undercutting the role of unions. General Electric has a long history of environmental protection violations, and a reputation as a polluter that still tarnishes its legacy.

◊ ◊ ◊

Setting aside for a minute the obvious vested interest each of these corporate major-league hitters has in saying what he said — infrastructure spending’s good for Caterpillar? Imagine that — in this matter at least, both Oberhelman and Immelt are speaking with the kind of cold practicality that rejects the prevailing economic-policy gridlock in government on the grounds of common sense.

An investment in infrastructure is central to the nation’s health; that unemotional conclusion gains currency in the current debate precisely because it’s not from the president; it’s from two of the job creators the Republicans have been flying the banners for. That’s a problem for the GOP.

And it’s to Immelt’s credit that he apparently included education as an infrastructure concern. Makes all the sense in the world: In a rapaciously competitive world, education may be the infrastructure issue that matters the most.

What’s obvious in the excerpts of their interviews is that how Immelt and Oberhelman voted in 2008 or how they’ll vote in 2012 doesn’t matter. They’ve set aside assessments of the benefits of one party or another in order to take on what they can do, or at least what they can recommend, to mend a country approaching the vortex of a dangerous decline. It’s a safe bet they’ll have a lot of company from other boardrooms before long.

Image credits: Oberhelman: CBS News. Immelt: From GE's corporate Web site. Corporate logos used herein are the properties of their respective parents.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Showing us what he’s got

Where is the man known as Barack Obama and what have they done with him? Because the fiery orator, the thinker with action attached who addressed a joint session of Congress, and the nation, on Thursday night is not him. The man who brought his A game of righteous outrage is nothing like the Barack Obama we’ve come to expect over the last nearly-three years. You know the one: The chin-pulling Obama, the dogged gradualist whose enervating deliberation has been interpreted as indecision or reluctance, was nowhere around last night. Find out what his secret undisclosed location is — and keep him there for good.

In an address laser-focused on jobs and what it takes to get the country working again — after a scarily dismal August jobs report that found no new jobs added to the economy that month — President Obama formally introduced the American Jobs Act, a $447 billion measure intended to “provide a jolt to the economy that has stalled.”

It might as well be called the Omnibus Recovery Act: It would cut payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers next year; overhaul unemployment insurance; establish a $10 billion National Infrastructure Bank; direct $50 billion for immediate investment in highways, transit, rail and aviation; cut payroll taxes in half for small-business employers; dedicate $30 billion to modernize schools; and assist homeowners with mortgage modifications through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

With the bill’s formal introduction in as formal a setting as Congress has, the president indicated a grasp of the scale of the problem. With a bite and vigor of language that managed the delicate mission of pointing fingers without pointing them, the president also showed a deft sense of political timing (necessary for the fourteen long months of combat between now and Election Day 2012).

◊ ◊ ◊

Early on in the speech, Obama distilled what’s at stake not just for him and the Democrats but also the Republicans and their bid for continued gridlock on solving the country’s economic woes.

“Members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities,” the president said.

“The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy. ...”

“The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.”

Obama used the phrase “pass the bill right away,” or variations of that, at least 17 times in a speech that finely and clearly distilled what’s at stake not just now but in the upcoming presidential campaign circus: the health of the national economy and the prospect for an already dismal economic status to finally circle the drain toward true depression.

◊ ◊ ◊

President Obama came as close as he’s ever come to naming names, calling out certain Republican leaders from certain beleaguered districts. “There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America,” Obama said, taking dead aim at (two for one!) the home states of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

He spoke of a stalled public transit project in Houston, a shot at Texas Gov. Rick Perry. And referencing his Republican automatic adversaries in general, the president championed the bill’s tax breaks for small businesses: “For everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for job creators, this plan’s for you.”

There was no need to call out people by name. With broadsides like that, with specific states put on the spot … those people know who they are. And we know who they are. And they know we know who they are.

◊ ◊ ◊

And to go by the breadth of the Obama bill, “we” means people at every level of the socioeconomic spectrum; the president said the bill’s passage would mean jobs for returning veterans, construction workers, young people, first responders, teachers and, yes, even the long-term unemployed.

Get your ears around this: “Pass this jobs bill,” the president said, “and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job.”

The president challenged the notion of a cut-rate America populated with business leaders willing to outsource American jobs for the sake of financial expediency, and political leaders willing to outsource Americans’ hopes for the sake of sticking to a pledge against tax revenues. “We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom,” the president said. “America should be in a race to the top, and I believe we can win that race.”

And he did it again. Near the end of this speech, as he did last month, President Obama pulled another Howard Beale-style appeal for mass action when he called for “every American who agrees [to] lift your voice, tell the people gathered here tonight that you want action now.”

(I want them wading … knee deep in tweets at your congressman’s office!)

◊ ◊ ◊

We got a preview of this fresh rhetorical fire from the president at a Detroit Labor Council rally on Labor Day. Obama gave the crowd just a taste of what was to come on Thursday. When the jobs bill was introduced, he said, “we’re gonna see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re gonna see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. Show us what ya got!”

If this is the Obama who means to be at center stage from now into the 2012 campaign, he got here not a moment too soon. He’s going to need all the fire he can bring. One snapshot of recent opinion is not good. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sept. 1 gave the 44th president just 44 percent in job approval numbers, the lowest of his presidency. Fifty-one percent disapproved.

And on his handling of the economy, it was worse yet. Just 37 percent approve of how Obama handles the helm of the economy; a full 59 percent disapprove.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s a rare orator who can speak to two audiences at once: the one directly in front of him and the other, vaster audience in the angry, broke, bone-tired, late-night blue-glow nation beyond.

Setting Thursday’s address in a joint session of Congress was more than smart political optics; it set the scope and tone of the legislation he hopes to advance; it symbolized the gravity of the hour like no other forum could.

But it also owned up to the size of the president’s real, other audience, the ones he really has to sway: the American people, a restless and deeply unemployed public that, more and more often and quiet as it’s kept, harbors the feeling that the social and political gains of the Obama administration and its undeniable populist symbolism may not be an irreversible validation of the nation’s bedrock principles, but an ambitious, even noble, but failed national experiment that has run its course.

Image credits: Obama, Biden and Boehner: Pete Souza/The White House; Obama and Boehner: Chuck Kennedy/The White House.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A trip to the library: Republican candidates debate

The Republican presidential candidates debate Wednesday night at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., was at least numerically democratic. With all eight of the Credible Candidates on the same debate stage for the first time, the crowd assembled in the hall got to see just about every flavor of Republicanism there is right now.

But when the smoke cleared later, the sense was that, despite the promising, uh, diversity of candidates set to start their campaign schedules for real, what’s shaping up at this point is a two-man race. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are, to go by the punditocracy and the opinion polls, the and only two true frontrunners in this GOP race for the nomination.

Their contrasting styles point to the challenge for mainstream Republican voters and those voters smitten with the Tea Party bug: Choosing between Mr. 3X5 Card Perry, whose high regional favorables make him certain to be a hit in much (but not all) of the South, and Mr. Power Point, the New! Improved! Mitt, a man eager to shed the dispiriting loss of his 2008 presidential run, and a man with the financial resources to do it. If he gets out of the primaries alive.

◊ ◊ ◊

The eight people in question — Perry, Romney, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — went at it in barbed exchanges; they all had their highs and lows. But it took getting all of these people on stage at the same time to understand how collectively weak this Republican field still is.

As expected, they threw the conservatives more red meat than a butcher in a going-out-of-business sale. But out of all of them, only Romney kept his eye on the prize beyond the nomination process, at times making it clear he was speaking to a wider audience than the diehards in the hall. For Perry, thanks to a phrase of his own making, emotionally reaching that audience beyond the primaries could be a problem.

Perry, repeating his own comments in his 2010 book “Fed Up!” and parroting something that’s been common phraseology among conservatives, and some progressives, for years, called Social Security “a Ponzi scheme.”

"People who are on Social Security today, men and women who are receiving those benefits today, are individuals at my age that are in line pretty quick to get them, they don't need to worry about anything. But I think the Republican candidates are talking about ways to transition this program, and it is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's going to be there. Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it's not right."

That went over pretty well with some in the assembled clap-on-cue crowd. But Perry’s absolutist pitch to the rock-ribbed Tea-drinking conservatives in front of him may not go over well with the bedrock of the Republican Party around the country: the seniors who’ve lived by and thrived on Social Security for years.

With one statement, Perry threw 75 years of American history, standing federal policy and accepted social practice under the bus, casting in an ugly and criminal light the one unassailable success of the modern federal government, one used by millions of the senior citizens who form the infrastructure of the party he hopes to lead to victory next year.

Can’t wait for Perry to explain himself when his ten-gallon campaign bus pulls into the retiree state of Florida.

◊ ◊ ◊

Maybe that’s why some GOP mentalists think that Perry needs to step up his game considerably. Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and former McCain campaign thinker told MSNBC Wednesday night: “I think Rick Perry had a good first 45 minutes in this debate, but he was almost like a boxer who ran out of steam in the middle to late rounds. I thought he was very unsteady in the back half of the debate. I don’t think that he did anything that knocks him out of the debate, or dislodges him from frontrunner status, but I thought he entered tonight as a soft frontrunner and … he leaves the debate as a soft frontrunner.”

What might be considered a campaign version of the soft bigotry of low expectations could redound to Perry’s favor; the longer he stays in the race, the greater those expectations will get. That’d seem to be the thinking of the organizers of a Perry SuperPAC, whose apparent intent is to pump $55 million into the Perry campaign and its enablers, the better to reinforce a sense of inevitability about Perry as the nominee months before New Hampshire.

That kind of hubris can backfire. You can’t help but think of the early days of the 2008 campaign, when Hillary Clinton sought to position herself in the same light going up against Democratic presidential hopefuls, including one upstart community leafleteer from Chicago. Some kid named Obama.

But it may not matter. Analysts are already praising Romney’s more polished, confident performance Wednesday. “I think he upped the presidential quotient for himself tonight,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”

“Mitt Romney is an exponentially better candidate today than he was four years ago,” said Jim VandeHei of Politico, which co-sponsored the debate with NBC News. “He made Perry look small.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman looked good Wednesday: sharp, crisp, on message, on his game. But Huntsman’s best efforts may be undercut by his own history. Despite making salient, concise points on stage, his polling — consistently in the single digits suggests that his White House experience under Obama may not count for much to the conservative zero-sum-gamers who insist on absolute loyalty. In their eyes, Huntsman remains an apostate — a centrist apostate, at that — and not to be trusted.

Maybe Huntsman is angling for the veep spot on the Romney ticket, or a Cabinet-level post with more clout than ambassador to China. You have to hope there’s at least that much Machiavelli in the dirt-bike rider millionaire from the Beehive State. Otherwise, he’s jerking our chain. Otherwise, he’s wasting our time.

◊ ◊ ◊

Like Gingrich and Ron Paul. Neither the former House Speaker nor the Republican congressman from Texas is electable, but for completely different reasons. The staunch libertarian lion Paul, at least, has assumed a philosophical stance and stuck with it, expressed its geopolitically improbable principles consistently and done so with a minimum of bombast and showboating.

Newt Gingrich? Not so much. He Who Speaks With Index Finger Pointing Skyward has a history of political and philosophical inconsistency we won’t even bother with here. That plus a freight car’s worth of personal baggage makes him another odd man out.

Other candidates whose polling numbers still track in single digits did their best. Herman Cain tacked to the center with an unequivocal support of FEMA, the agency reviled after Hurricane Katrina, and a call for immigration reform without demonizing. He also reasserted his business bona fides, calling for a “9-9-9 plan” — 9 percent national sales tax, 9 percent income tax, and 9 percent corporate tax — a concept that, for all its possible merits, sounds like the price of a Godfather’s Pizza promotion.

Bachmann was doing her best again to slap the president around on health care. “Kids need jobs!” she said. “Obamacare is leading to job-killing regulations.” Rick Santorum doubled down on moral and cultural issues and his own full-throated conviction that he can reach “a sector of the economy that can get Democratic votes.” For all their fervor, these are the kings and queen of presidential wishful thinking.

◊ ◊ ◊

Barring any last-minute deus ex machina move by political personality Sarah Palin — and probably even if she does jump in — it’s really down to Romney and Perry. Some of the distinctions to be made between them by primary voters may well come down to style points. Perry’s already shown himself to be something of a voluble, glad-handing showman whose outward can-do rhythms mirror the general outsize perception of Texas politicians. And as the others have observed, Romney may have finally tamped down his Central Casting aspect, the car-salesman mein that didn’t serve him well in 2008.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...