I’m a man of very few, but very passionate convictions. I believe that gun owners who invoke the 2nd Amendment are lunatics, yet I believe that Americans have the right–and, in fact, even owe it to themselves–to drag some serious firepower out to a desolate rock quarry every now and then and just shoot the crap out of things. I believe that there’s nothing wrong with betting on a 10-1 long shot in the fourth race if all or part of the horse’s name flashed into your head while you were standing at the track urinal–in other words, I believe in trusting your sixth sense. I don’t believe that two or three Bloody Marys at Sunday breakfast (or any other day if you don’t have to be to work until the afternoon) makes you an alcoholic.
I believe that Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992 in part because at least 30% of the male electorate achieved some semblance of an erection at the site of circa-1992 Hillary (especially after twelve years of looking at Barbara Bush) and that at least 60% respected Bill because they knew he could nail any woman he wanted. I believe that Pete Rose should be allowed into Cooperstown unless someone can prove that he bet on Dan Quayle winning the 1988 GOP Vice Presidential nomination. And I believe with every fiber of my being that most Americans choose their Presidential candidates on the most superficial of criteria and not one whit of policy expertise.
Paul Tsongas never had a prayer of beating Bill Clinton for the nomination–his New Hampshire victory notwithstanding. America plain and simple wouldn’t elect a man with a grating and Fuddian inability to succesfully enunciate his “l”s and “r”s. (”Sewiouswy. Biww Cwinton is what I caww ‘the Pandew Beaw’.”)
Make no mistake: I have always liked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Among this year’s crop of Presidential candidates, few can match his resume–U.N. Ambassador, Secretary of Energy, Congressman, Governor (and twice, he’s destroyed his Republican competition for Governor). He has a masterful grasp of foreign policy. Never mind that he really shat himself once, calling homosexuality “a choice”, but that’s an anomaly that he retracted, so I’m willing to let that one go. He’s smart, he’s quick on the issues, he’s witty, he’s likable.
In terms of policy and expertise, he’s one sexy dude, But no matter how smart he is, this country will never elect a President who looks like the pathetic but lovable foil on a Ray Romano sitcom. We’re Americans, and we have hard-fought shallow values to uphold. Bill Richardson would be fine sitting in with Los Lobos or playing Paul Rodriguez in the big-screen version of “AKA Pablo”. But President? Please.
We are a country who applauds Jenny Craig Triumphs, and that’s why a personable but insane fringe Christian like Mike Huckabee has done as well as he has. Sure, he has no organization, sure he’s crazy, but he lost 100 pounds! Never mind that Bill Richardson would never connect Benazir Bhutto’s assassination with America’s immigration problems (unless he was coming off a long weekend smoking angel dust), or that he doesn’t equate homosexuality with having anal reach-arounds with dead baby farm animals, the question is: How good does he look on camera? We’ll tolerate a funny-looking intelligent candidate in the pre-election runup, but primary season is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s a reality of our telegenic age, as old as the storied Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 (you’ll remember that Nixon was overwhelmingly judged the winner by those who heard the debate on radio). Seriously, would Mitt Romney be anywhere near this race if he looked like Dennis Kucinich? And where would Dennis Kucinich be if he looked like Mitt Romney?
So at the end of the day, though Richardson did lose weight, he just didn’t lose enough. Another 50 or so pounds and if he’d gotten his Antonio Banderas on, he could have contended. Another 25 and he could still be Vice President. At his current poundage, he’ll have to be happy governing a 2nd-tier border state.