It is not histories I am writing, but lives; and in the most glorious deeds there is not always an indication of virtue of vice, indeed a small thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of a character than battles where thousands die.
– Plutarch (HT: Livius.org)
History doesn’t tend to repeat itself in completely sinusoidal fashion. It does, however seem to accumulate repeatedly around archetypical individuals the way metal filings arrange themselves in response to a strong magnetic field. Put the same guy out there at Quarterback in a similar down and distance situation, and you’ll keep seeing that individual replicate the same sort of successful or failed play.
Plutarch of Chaeronea picked this vibe up as he wrote the biographies of great Romans and Greeks who fulfilled similar roles in the respective histories of each great empire. I sense a similar potential connection between the Presidential candidacies of Democrat John F. Kerry and Republican Willard “Mitt” Romney.
Michael Gerson, taking to the editorial rostrum of The Washington Post, nicely tees up the choice Republicans will ultimately face this Winter during the Primary Silly Season. In his piece entitled Mitt Romney, a safe choice for risky times, he endorses Candidate Romney in the most logical fashion possible. Gerson depicts Romney as the steady captain steering his vessel through a feke-storm. He does this in opposition to The Cowardly Barack Obama and The Cowboy, Governor Rick Perry.
Gerson frames this dichotomy in terms of the current economic situation that oppresses our nation. He unloads on Obama with a professional polemic that combines cynicism and scorn.
His American Jobs Act — combining minimal ambition and minimal creativity — was greeted with bipartisan skepticism. Obama has repeatedly demanded that Congress “act now.” In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has effectively told the president to get in line for the Senate’s “next work period” in October.
Then Gerson delineates the “riskiness” of Rick Perry in what almost amounts to an invocation of the archetypical stereotype of “The Reckless, Tootin’, Shootin’ Texan.” He waxes David Brookslike in his characterization of the dangers associated with such intemperate rhetoric.
Perry is purposely provocative in style and content. He questions the legitimacy of 70 years of federal entitlement commitments. He proposes a fundamental reordering of the relationship between the federal government and the states. He is highly critical of the Federal Reserve and its chairman. Perry’s specific economic policies remain defiantly unspecific, but his rhetoric and intentions are ideologically ambitious.
Then, to complete his analogy, he gives us the safe and reassuring option of Willard “Mitt” Romney.
But unlike Perry, Romney refuses to hurl the accusation of “socialism.” Romney argues that an overbroad condemnation of Social Security would leave Republicans “obliterated as a party.” His own 59-point economic plan contains a “number of options” for incremental entitlement reform…
What this all reminds me of is how Senator John F. Kerry won himself the opportunity to fumble away an imminently winnable Presidential Election against Republican George W. Bush in 2004. Kerry, like Mitt Romney, excited his base about as much as having to sit through a Wagnerian Opera; staged by ugly people, who couldn’t carry a tune with a shovel. Nobody writing for the hip, new online Marxian Journal Adbusters pines for a new Kerry phase of Leftwing activism. If Mitt Romney attempted to crowd-surf at a Tea Party meeting, he would be unceremoniously dropped upon his 4th point of contact.
Both men are rich like Croesus. John F. Kerry performed CPR on his nomination bid by selling millions of dollars of prime, urban real estate. He was also married to the rich widow of Senator Heinz. He had more than enough ketchup handy to cover his plate of fries. Romney has a similar arsenal of dollars. He is the son of Former Michigan Governor George Romney, and has also done quite well for himself as both a CEO and a Wall Street investor. Like Senator Kerry, Mitt Romney can buy himself air time aplenty in single-state markets and then blitz the South like General Sherman when Super Tuesday rolls around.
Both men have opponents who engage in what Barack Obama humorously dubbed “rhetorical flourishes.”* I can’t even summon a mental picture of Howard Dean without the soundtrack from a crappy death-metal album playing in the background. “We’re going to New Hampshire, we’re going to Neptune, we’re taking this campaign to Alpha Centauri! YEAAAAAGHHHHH!”
Mitt Romney’s opponent, Governor Rick Perry, says exactly what he feels. He says it when perhaps he totally shouldn’t. Ponzi Scheme doesn’t quite resonate like YEAAAAAGHHHHH! However, it still scared more than a few seniors who rely on Social Security to pay the monthly grocery bills. Many critics will also point out that Rick Perry all but threatened to kick Ben Bernanke’s rear-end during a recent critique of Federal Reserve policy.
These gaffes don’t seem like much at the time. I find them refreshingly honest taken one-by-one. But, if Rick Perry is “refreshingly honest” on a daily basis, this will eventually add up in the public perception to one big campaign-killing “YEAAAAAGHHHHH!”
John F. Kerry and Mitt Romney both have chosen years to run for The White House against incumbent Presidents who qualified as damaged goods. George W. Bush was being dubbed “A Miserable Failure” long before Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina were morphed into a damning compurgation of his tenure in office. With Barack Obama, “The Scariest Jobs Chart Ever” became a part of the American vernacular.
Of course history will forget John F. Kerry unless the muses feel sadistic enough to rhapsodize over “Halp us Jon Carry, We R Stuck Hear in Irak!” This is because John F. Kerry was seen by the American People as too weak and too out of touch with the cultural norm to be a worth leader. Fred Reed described the 2004 Election in an October column that accurately predicted John F. Kerry’s demise.
The way it looks to me is coastal snots against the heartland. The wine-and-cheese folk against pickups with gun racks. Texas against Massachusetts. Maybe that’s too simple…
So if the GOP nominates Mitt, can Barack Obama pull off a similar feat of political Judo? I’ll bet you 46 heads of Arugula that he’ll try as manfully as he ever gets. That would be the risk of playing it safe with “My man Mitt.” Mitt Romney is accused of being many things to too many people. In the end, is he enough of anything to win?
*”Rhetorical flourish” belongs in the euphamism Hall of Fame. I almost admire President Obama for his restraint in not developing a facepalm tic everytime the name Joseph Biden is mentioned to him in the company of professional journalists.