Wolraich: Obama at the Gates of... Gates
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Politics is a serious matter, of course, of course. The future of the country is at stake, a great war of ideas and all that. Individualism and equality and security and liberty and lots of other weighty words.
But as we harrumph our way through the Economist and the New Republic, anyone looking over our shoulder might notice that we'd slipped the latest issue of People between the pages. For all our puffing about Ideas, we spend most of our political leisure time obsessing over gaffs and scandals and expensive haircuts and bad tans.
Not you, of course, oh fair-minded deep-thinking reader. You would spare no more than a chuckle over Mitt Romney's bumbles in Britain. Nor would you stoop to speculate about his reasons for keeping cash in the Caymans. You care nothing for the arcane mysteries of Mormon underwear or when exactly he stopped being CEO of Bain Capital or how many luxury automobiles fit into his profusion of garages.
Hold on a moment, I can see you starting to bristle around the neck. I agree with you; these issues are not insignificant. A president must be able to engage foreign nations diplomatically. He must be innocent of unscrupulous financial activity. He should care about American workers.
Nor are these issues irrelevant to the Ideas that we clutch so proudly to our inflated chests. Mitt Romney's wealth and occupation symbolize his economic values. His religious faith underpins his social conservatism. Those are Ideas, after all.
And yet, one has to wonder sometimes, how much of the fuss is really about Mitt Romney's Ideas, and how much of it is about Mitt Romney?
I think back to the last election when my cortex feels up to the task, and I try to remember what we talked about. I remember a charming black man, a cranky old war veteran, and an obnoxious woman who shot wolves from a helicopter. I'm missing someone, I think. We talked about race, I vaguely recall, and war. Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb-Iran. I remember that.
Anyway, that's much too exhausting. Let's return to the present. A new character has joined the play. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Wonderboy, enter stage right. The critics are chattering about his place in the drama. Was it a desperation move? Will he boost the ticket? Is he too extreme for America?
These are important questions, of course, of course. But I wonder if they miss the import.
The new kid is trouble, I think. He's trouble because he doesn't shoot wolves from helicopters. He doesn't have cash in the Caymans, so far as we know. He doesn't screech about socialism or bellow about off-color immigrants or sing ditties about blowing up Muslim counties. He doesn't wear funny underwear.
At first blush, he looks like a well-proportioned, fine-leather briefcase stuffed with political manifestos of a highly conservative hue.
Perhaps you are glad for those conservative manifestos. "At last!" you say to yourself as you rub your palms together, the American voters will finally see the black soul of the Republican Party, stripped bare and bound to a post where we can all throw sticks at it.
But I wonder... If we are all so confident that America will hate Paul Ryan, that pure vessel of modern conservative ideology, then why do we spend so much time yacking about tax returns and luxury cars? Why not stick to Romney's Ideas, which are hardly less conservative than Ryan's?
Perhaps it's because we suspect that Ideas alone will not win an an election.
The trouble with Paul Ryan is that his goofy, inoffensive smile and dull-as-paste background leaves us nothing to talk about except his Ideas. We may find that when we put aside the bible-bangers and warmongers and banksters and race-baiters and morons and hypocrites and all the other ugly flotsam and jetsam in the Republican Party, the average American will not find the bare conservative ideas nearly so offensive as we would like to think they will.
And then we may find that a nice young man named Paul Ryan with nothing objectionable in his briefcase except the Ideas themselves will sooner or later take the Ideas out of the briefcase and nestle them in a great big filing cabinet in the Oval Office.