Why are the Republican candidates for president dull, stupid, nuts, or all three? At one time in American history, candidates for president created some interest, if also some trepidation. Conventions at that time, for example, were not boring, because candidates vied for the nomination—they didn’t come in pre-anointed. Nowadays conventions, like everything else in politics, are nothing but a sleep aid. Only the most devout can sit through them.
History records a bizarre circumstance involving Catherine the Great of Russia. Because the sight of hovels might offend her royal eyes, members of her entourage ran ahead of her caravan, through the villages, installing facades in front of each crumbling hut. Catherine, apparently not particularly observant, seems not to have noticed the similarity of the houses she passed. We, as voters, often resemble Catherine in failing to notice the similarities of the facades worn by our aspiring office holders. Here there’s a bell and, over there, a whistle, but we have not seen any meaningful differences until recently.
True, Barack Obama wooed progressive voters with his call for “change.” The change his handlers seem to have had in mind involved intensifying Dubya’s stripping of constitutional rights. Far from repealing the extra-judicial powers Bush took unto his presidency, Obama has expanded those. Instead of closing the torture chamber, Gitmo, the Administration continues to house 171 men there, of which 89 have long been cleared, yet not released. Instead of keeping his promise to close Guantanamo, Obama has signed a bill broadening the powers of the military there.
(Aside: The youngest detainee was 13 years old, a child soldier who claimed he was tortured, a claim that invites belief in view of the adults released who have testified repeatedly to the same treatment: stress positions, extreme temperature exposure, induced sleeplessness, etc.)
But Obama never mentions Gitmo now that he is President Obama. Perhaps it will come back as a renewed promise as he intensifies his Candidate Obama presence.
But back to the Republican side of the race: Mitt has worked diligently on his mediocrity (the most interesting thing about him as a candidate being the majority of Americans think his first name is Mittens)—although he will have to, at least temporarily, jettison mediocrity and join the lunatic fringe to mollify the South Carolina Tea Party. They crave a crazy ignoramus president, a blowhard they would like to share a beer with. (Too bad, Michelle. You should’ve realized beer’s a man’s brew.) In terms of somnolence, Romney outpaces Rick Perry and Ron Paul, two candidates with a penchant for circumventing the advice of their handlers to shut up.
Before they had handlers, candidates for president spoke reasonably well. Think of Honest Abe scribbling on the back of that envelope, a piece of rhetoric that resounds poetically to this day. Barack Obama spoke well enough when he wrote his own speeches, although he was no Lincoln. But Obama spoke rarely—just often enough to seduce a lot of discouraged voters—and, as his campaign began to take on steam, the man Obama receded while the handlers and their candidate swelled into prominence. Eventually the speeches were all “blah blah blah,” with instructions to fill in the blahs with whatever you wanted to hear.
(Aside: If you haven’t watched Rick Perry say he didn’t want to make the lives of “blah people” better, check it out: http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2012/01/rick-santorum-blah-people/)
Handlers are the fruit of the poisonous PR tree, their key job being to put together words that appear to make sense but say nothing. Translated, all previous candidate speeches written by PR hacks would sound like this: “God, motherhood, and apple pie.” We have no idea who the man behind the handlers might be. He could be Hitler or Jesus Christ, but we’ll never know, because the handlers will follow him into office and cling to him like white on rice. Once successful in the election, the PR flaks have a dual role to play: keep the President well hidden behind the facade and ensure that the President defers to whatever the 1% wants.
So why are the Republicans such a group of losers, especially given the weakness of their Democratic opponent at the moment? Where are all the vanilla handlers making them sound plausible? Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian put it this way in December 2011, when the flakiest Repugs were dominating the polls:
By any normal standards, Obama should be extremely vulnerable. Not only is the economy in bad shape, he has proved to be a much more hesitant, less commanding White House presence than his supporters longed for. And yet, most surveys put him comfortably ahead of his would-be rivals. That's not a positive judgment on the president – whose approval rating stands at a meagre 44% – but an indictment of the dire quality of a Republican field almost comically packed with the scandal-plagued, gaffe-prone and downright flaky. And the finger of blame for this state of affairs points squarely at the studios of Fox News.
It's not just usual-suspect lefties and professional Murdoch-haters who say it, mischievously exaggerating the cable TV network's influence. Dick Morris, veteran political operative and Fox regular, noted the phenomenon himself the other day while sitting on the Fox sofa. "This is a phenomenon of this year's election," he said. "You don't win Iowa in Iowa. You win it on this couch. You win it on Fox News." In other words, it is Fox – with the largest cable news audience, representing a huge chunk of the Republican base – that is, in effect, picking the party's nominee to face Obama next November. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/13/fox-news-frighten-america-conservatives
Whenever Fox News intensified coverage of one of the idiot candidates (Fox’s slogan being “Anybody But Romney”), that candidate picked up in the polls. Of course, subsequently, each one of them shot him/herself in the foot, because they weren’t capable of not shooting themselves in the foot.
But conservative Americans only toy with installing a crazy in the White House. In general, they seem most content to install morons. In the end they pick the least visible candidate, the one who, while downing his beer, will keep his mouth shut and listen to them.