I consider myself a good American. As a lifelong political observer, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness and even anger at my country after watching the Democrats in Nevada on Tuesday night dragging this election out of the mud of spirited engagement and taking a bare-knuckles campaign–a campaign that was at last devoting itself to character assassination, innuendo, race-baiting, reinforcing sexist stereotypes, and parroting outright lies–and putting the gentleman’s gloves back on and reducing themselves to mature discourse, respect, and the free exchange of differing views.
New Hampshire has always been notorious for its above-board, issues-oriented primary tete-a-tetes (yawn), and for a brief shining moment it was refreshing to see an end to this annoying feedback loop of war and the economy and affordable healthcare and a sane and progressive energy policy, and to finally see the focus back on the things that get me and most Americans out of bed in the morning: Barack Obama’s cocaine usage, Hillary Clinton’s fitness to do anything outside the kitchen besides curling up on her couch in her Tigger pajamas eating cookie dough and bawling at a Lifetime Movie-Of-The-Week, and whether or not John Edwards was drilling one of his nineteen-year-old interns while his cancer-striken wife had to drive herself to her oncologist appointment.
I’ve seen so many campaigns in my lifetime and far too often it just seems like the easy thing for candidates to trot out these shopworn phrases like “respectful disagreement”, “my honorable and capable opponent”, “with all due respect” and “the politics of hope” to justify their interminable and often embarrassing discussions about our soldiers dying overseas, the balance of world power, fuel standards, good jobs at good wages, affordable health care, and a higher standard of living for myself and my children. Whatever. Like I care.
I had hoped they wouldn’t try and play that card this year, but right out of the gate the Democratic race degenerated into a donnybrook of civility. It took one brave soul to bring the election’s focus back to where it should be by standing up and yelling at Hillary, “Iron my shirt!” (even though that brave soul was probably a paid Hillary staffer who thought this “politics of hope” insanity had gone on long enough).
I had high hopes as they left the Granite State behind and moved onto Nevada. There’s a lot of hokum about the plight of the working poor in the Nevada service industry, but at its core the state’s rank-and-file are all about nitrous oxide parties and cocaine inhaled off of bare female midriffs. This is almost certainly an area where Senator Obama would need to defend his record. Come debate night, though, not a word. It was all Kumbaya and backrubs.
Fortunately, with the election moving into the less-genteel political climes of South Carolina, the Republican field at least is coming to its senses. No one understands the dynamic of Palmetto State politics better than John McCain, whose body and spirit came out of Hanoi in better shape than his dignity and reputation came out of South Carolina after the 2000 primary. That’s where he roared in from a dominating New Hampshire victory with his silly “Straight Talk” nonsense, and George Bush and his posse played their Illegitimate Brown Baby card (that would have been McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter, Bridget, from Mother Theresa’s orphanage) and carved McCain up like an Easter ham.
After a contentious, debate-driven primary campaign that is producing no clear front-runner, the Republican contenders began to find common ground during the last New Hampshire debate and coalesced around the idea of campaigning on matters of substance to the American people, rather than on the issues.
Mitt Romney was the first to suggest a new direction for the candidates during a response to a question from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about Romney’s plans for implementing shipping container security at the nation’s ports to thwart another possible terrorist attack, this time at one of our country’s most vulnerable points. Romney responded, “Mr. Mayor, you had access to the Governor on this issue during your two terms in office, but you were obviously more interested in the state of your mistresses’ ‘containers’.”
Giuliani countered that, while he would have no problem managing many more than one container at a time, he preferred to legally commit himself to only one–unlike some close friends and advisers of at least one of his fellow candidates. And, he noted, none of his containers were ever blood relations or young enough to be in 4-H. Not that he was alluding directly to any of his competitors, he was quick to point out.
Before Romney responded to that backhanded slap at his Mormon faith, he stepped off-topic to address his fellow candidates. It was a show-stopping, YouTube-worthy moment of unity in the name of disunity. “I appreciate that, Mr. Mayor, and I’ll get back to your serial philandering in just a second, but I’d like to take a moment to bring attention to what we’re doing here.” Romney noted that the men of the Grand Old Party were finally united as one, righting the party’s ship and getting back to the brand of discourse that won them the White House in 1988, 2000, and 2004.
“We win and America wins”, he said, “not when we’re talking about my economic policy or your homeland security policy or Senator McCain’s immigration policy. We win and America wins when we keep the focus on the whoring you did on the taxpayers’ dime, on Senator McCain selling out his commanders and fellow POWs in exchange for a plate of barbecued ribs, on Governor Huckabee paying the State Police to cover up his own ‘foot-tapping’ incident in an Arkansas rest stop men’s room. That’s why I’ll be the first to take the pledge, and I hope you’ll join me, to keep the rest of this campaign on the things that really matter, and to not let the discourse descend into the morass of issues, policy, and constructive engagement.”
To my astonishment and delight, every one of the candidates agreed, it was game on again, and Governor Romney ignored Giuliani’s metaphorical polygamy charge and accused the Mayor of having nearly 3,000 people murdered by placing the Emergency Command Center in the World Trade Center (”Why didn’t you just put a bullseye on Windows of the World, with an arrow and a message, ‘Insert hijacked airliner here.’???”)
I won’t necessarily vote Republican this year, but it’s refreshing to see them talking again about the topics that matter most in my America–whether Barack Obama was educated in a madrasah, Fred Thompson’s undocumented domestic help, whether Mitt Romney has ever had more than one wife, if Hillary really did have Vince Foster murdered, etc. It’s a long way to the election, but if this trend continues and the Democrats can get back on board, then we have a real chance of winding up with the America that we deserve.