The Incomplete Package, Part One
“He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. and then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.” —Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
In politics, what’s the complete package? In our age of mass market telecommunications, we’re so used to seeing candidates who are so perfectly poised, perfectly scripted,, perfectly groomed and made-up and perfectly tailored that when a curse word, a red truck, an incontinent dog or a campaign contribution from a notorious HMO or lobbyist gets thrown into the script, those flaws are put under a huge magnifying glass under the pitiless sun of public scrutiny. It doesn’t matter that it may not be germane to the candidate’s stance on key issues or even be an indictment against their honesty and ethics.
So we tend to focus on things like Al Gore’s stiffness or Hillary’s cleavage while ignoring George Bush’s horrendous capital punishment record or his stupendous incompetence and self-dealing corruption as a business executive. Molly Ivins saw through him like a pane of glass. Why couldn’t we?
Ergo, we need to shrug our shoulders and abandon all hope for a candidate who doesn’t disappoint us in some way. There’s no such thing as the complete package. If the 1860’s had television, radio and an internet, Stephen Douglas would’ve leaked to CNN about Lincoln’s constant battle with depression and Ann Rutledge’s parents would’ve been doing the morning show circuit. “Well, yes, we had spotted Mr. Lincoln near our daughter’s grave time and time again and, frankly, we thought it was quite creepy.”
The rail-splitter then would’ve lost in a landslide and we would’ve had President Douglas sitting on his booster seat in the Oval Office during the Civil War, one that would’ve surely, under his stewardship, resulted in at least a temporary confederacy, more likely a permanent one. Imagine half the United States entering both world wars, with the confederacy maybe, maybe not fighting as our ally.
So corporately-owned MSM information is not always knowledge and even in the relatively rare occasions when it is, that knowledge can still be dangerously irrelevant and catalytic for reactionary thought. It’s also, for decades now, been able to frame the terms of debate and shape expectations to the point where the candidates have to factor it in. Take the 2004 election.
During the debates, when John Kerry was talking expansively about doing this, doing that, George W. Bush, an intellectual bulimic who thought that “a bunch of numbers” made a budget and championed a Pakistani dictator before taking the time to learn his first name, was nonetheless smart enough to know that he could get the media to ignore, whitewash and spin any other idiocy that dribbled out of his mouth. Ergo, the incumbent could afford to fold his arms, stand back and rightly ask Sen. Kerry, “How do you plan to pay for all this?”
And Kerry ummed and ahhed, knowing that he couldn’t say what he really wanted to say, what he had in store for all of us had he taken over: That he would’ve had to raise taxes. However, pledging to raise taxes is one of the few things that can kill a campaign faster than being caught in bed with an empty syringe and a dead underaged male hooker. Bush knew as well as Kerry that Kerry had to factor in the media as part of his campaign strategy while Bush didn’t.
So, while Chris Matthews, nostrils aquiver like a hyperactive lagomorph, is openly speculating whether or not Fred Thompson owns America’s last stash of Hi-Karate, I’ve been looking at the eight Democratic candidates as well as a couple of undeclared possibilities. We have a clean slate and every candidate, or no candidate, has to factor in the media’s microscope. Let’s start with Illinois’ junior senator:
Barack Obama will never shake the inexperienced tag since he naively said that we could rather than should open up diplomatic relations with hostile countries. Is it a nice scenario? Well, yes, of course. But Obama is running for the presidency of the United States, not the mayoralty of Candyland.
He partly made up for that by subsequently saying that we ought to launch air strikes against Pakistan if they don’t cough up bin Laden. In this, not only does Obama stand alone but the likes of Newt Gingrich agree with him.
All the same, Obama driving home his opposition to the Iraq war two years before entering the Senate has no bearing on what his policy and executive decisions will be two years from now as Chief Executive. All we have is the present, which, we are reminded time and again with every election cycle, is a poor political primer.
I’d feel much more comfortable voting for Senator Obama if he had four more years of seasoning under his belt.
Hillary Clinton. What can be said about her that hasn’t already been said? Hillary Clinton’s taken so much payola from lobbyists, she’s in more pockets than lint. Furthermore, as with her Iraq war vote, she refuses to apologize for it or back away from it, knowing how politically incorrect it is and has been for many years, to take PAC money. In fact, as far back as January, Sen. Clinton was so confident in her fund-raising machine that she’d decided to forgo public financing, meaning that wealthy individuals and corporations were far outpacing money dribbling in from people like us. In other words, we’re getting priced out of elections in which we’d never stood a shot, anyway, against well-monied and self-interested lobbyists.
And can anyone say with a straight face that a candidate, especially one still young enough to get re-elected in ’12, will willingly stab in the back an entity with a lucrative agenda that gave millions to their campaign? In this respect, Obama is no better than Hillary in that, while he may avoid PAC money, he still has no problem taking “bundled” money from lobbyists.
And sadly, some of us have been reduced to hailing Hillary’s obstinacy as “consistency.” Well, yeah, that’s a virtue if you insist on being consistently stupid and intractable. Hillary perhaps got the first taste of the hostility awaiting her at this month’s Yearly Kos when she was hissed after claiming that taking money from lobbyists would not affect her judgment as President (Don’t forget, Tom DeLay made much the same claim while still standing on the tarmac after flying in on a Big Tobacco corporate jet on the way to his arraignment for money laundering). Then after saying earlier in her campaign that she hoped to sign into law a health care package at the end of her second term, she then told the masses at YKos that she would make universal health care her number one priority.
Problem? She still hasn’t advanced a plan of her own and after the debacle of 1994, who can blame her?
John Edwards, no thanks to Ann Coulter’s despicable remarks at CPAC last March, Bill Donahue’s jihad against his staff bloggers whom he refused to support and the Clintonian furor over his $400 haircut, will never shake the image of being wishy-washy and effeminate. Despite the former North Carolina senator’s sincere dedication to ending poverty in America and not-bad health care plan of his own, about the best thing he has going for him is his wife Elizabeth, a committed, blogger-friendly liberal who more often than not shows more fire and commitment than her husband. Out of all eight candidates, Edwards, to me, is the most likable.
But electing a president based on his likeability already has a poor track record.