Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Peggy Lee campaign

I include the above in order to explain the title of this post, since anyone younger than me probably won't get it. (Your loss; you should get Peggy Lee, at least once in your lifetime.)

I can't help but think, though, that this was the question on the lips of many Republicans after last week's demolition derby of a debate in Las Vegas. It was great theater, at least for people you like David Mamet plays, but does this kind of attack politics really do any good? It made the candidates look small, like the children that fill the stage at the National Spelling Bee. And it leaves me asking one more question: "If this is the best we have to offer, how in the world are we going to beat Obama?"

By all rights, we shouldn't even be discussing the possibility of the President winning reelection, giving the state of things in general. And yet even the chance that such an outcome might be possible speaks volumes about the composition of the Republican field. Herman Cain is likeable, the most Reaganesque in his optimism about America, but the questions as to whether or not he's really qualified continue to mount. Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, to be sure, but he's becoming our version of Obama: arrogant, cold, with an unlikeable air of superiority. Should he win the nomination, next fall's debates could be the first in which neither candidate can see the audience, their noses will be so far in the air.

To say that Rick Perry stumbled coming out of the gate is an understatement. His campaign so far has been a disaster, and only time will tell whether or not his new flat tax proposal can save it. His gladitorial combat with Romney may hurt the Mittster, but I don't know if Perry comes out of it looking any better. The other Rick, Santorum, has been a pain in the ass, putting it mildly. He's like the smartest kid in the class; some of his answers are brilliant, but you still want to beat the crap out of him after the final bell. Michele Bachmann also has some great ideas, but too many of her answers are canned, and few of them even address the main point of the questioner. John Huntsman often sounds as if he showed up at the wrong party's debates, while Gary Johnson keeps getting the wrong directions on where it's being held.

This leaves Gingrich. Longtime readers of the blog know where I stand on Newt; he's been my candidate for three years. His debate performances impress more and more, and remind his supporters why they joined his bandwagon in the first place. In my mind, he's clearly the best candidate on the stage. He's picking up support, true, but despite my brilliant analysis of thre years ago, I still have a hard time seeing him crossing the finish line first, and that's perhaps the most frustrating thing of all.

Hence, Peggy Lee. The list of non-candidates - Pence, Daniels, Ryan, Christie, Jindal, Bush, Barbour, Huckabee, Palin, Giuliani - is at least as impressive as the current field. There's no lack of talent in the party. So why, one can ask, can't we find a better candidate for next year?

The answer, I think, is a simple one, although it won't satisfy many out there. But let's be blunt: aside from Reagan, name me one conservative who's been the titular leader of the GOP.

Go on, I'll give you a minute.

Right. We've had Bush senior, Dole, Bush junior, McCain. The party establishment has been dominated for over twenty years by moderates. The Tea Party movement has been a great andidote to this, and it's produced some wonderful talent: Marco Rubio in Florida, Ted Cruz in Texas, and others - but you don't rebulid a party overnight. It shouldn't be a surprise that many of the most respected young conservatives are just that, young. They're either too new to the national spotlight, or they're not yet ready for their closeup. They will be; it's hard to imagine Ryan, Rubio, Haley, Cruz and Jindal (among many others) not being major players in the next decade.

Any baseball fan will tell you that many is the successful team that's built on a strong farm system. The teams that go for the quick fix might win right away, but they're rarely around for the long term. It's the team that recognizes young talent, that brings it along patiently, bringing it up to the big club when the time is right, that has the ultimate staying power. Yes, this country needs help now, but you know what happens when you rush those young arms to the big leagues too quickly.

Lest you accuse me of looking at this election through rose-colored glasses, though, let me close on this unsettling thought. While it's true that the future of the Republican Party looks promising, the question (to carry through our sports analogy) is: what about the future of the league? Jesus asked, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?" Help is coming for the beleagured conservative movement, but will it be in time? Otherwise, we could be singing another song.

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