Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Devil We Know

This Month's Flavor is Amphibian, Hypocritical
I've been avoiding it, trying not to admit it, but the baton has been picked up, this time by someone who knows how to run with it and is unlikely to let it drop.

I have long--very long--kicked around in my mind an idea for a future-oriented story that I probably will never write. The heroes of the story are a couple--an interracial couple--who defy tradition and local custom and dare to become celebrities, working as a team, and put their love out there--too much. Their "transgressions" cause a rupture in society, and a right-wing demagogic leader, called "The Perfesser", leads forces of reaction in the country, rises to power, and brings things to a definitive, self-righteous confrontation with the rest of the world--the only way we can really lose. The Perfesser is the "intellectual" who unleashes the atavistic, anti-intellectual tendencies lying hidden within our society.

This idea goes back beyond the '90's, and I never really saw the Newt as the incarnation of my bad daydream--until now. I didn't see him as that great a threat to our way of life, even at the peak of his power in the 1994-1996 period. He seemed like someone whose appeal was too peripheral, who inspired little trust even among those who were his political allies. His career since that period, on the edge of significance, hasn't suggested the potential that he could re-emerge and do massive damage. His Presidential campaign hardly seemed serious; he seemed more interested in selling his books than convincing us he could win, and he turned over his whole staff in the early days; they left saying that he was not serious.

Perhaps not, but he's just kept up his ego-driven, impassioned, self-righteous invective, and now, with the fading of the other anti-Romney candidacies--Herman Cain being just the latest to lose his shine--Gingrich has risen to the top, like algae. Surely he can be stopped--he can fall short of the target, just as others have done, and his ceiling, in terms of his favorability rating and in the portion of the electorate that might ultimately vote for him would seem relatively low. One thing about Newt, though, is that he will persevere; his campaign to date has shown that.

I would give him little chance in a head-to-head race against President Obama; though Gingrich is a capable debater, he would find Obama more than a match, intellectually, and far better in other dimensions (humanity, military leadership, diplomacy, public policy, familial and moral virtue, etc.) The possibility that a third-party could arise and draw support of moderates could make the election's outcome unpredictable, though.

Gingrich is certainly vulnerable on all these counts. I also give some credence to the notion that, just as Rick Perry seemed less attractive to the right-wing when it came out that he had a human side, willing to help illegal immigrants go to college or young people get HPV vaccines, so Newt Gingrich's history may disqualify him in the minds of some purists for his willingness to peddle influence for Freddie Mac, a government-backed enterprise the right-wing places right at the heart of the causation of the economic crisis of 2008.

I certainly hope so. Because of his ruthless nature, his knowledge of legislative strategy, his big ideas, I consider Gingrich absolutely the most dangerous and destructive of the candidates if he were elected. In Romney and also in Gingrich I see a Nixonian quality: the real person is hidden behind screens, the arguments are for whatever will advance the personal cause, the ambition is relentless. Gingrich is worse than Romney, though, in that personal virtue is totally lacking in him, and I have to believe that he does know what he wants to do. And what he wants scares me.

I was wrong about whose balloon would rise after Cain's, inevitably, began to lose air (his has not totally deflated, but, as a gasbag capable of holding his air, his has little future). I thought it would be Ron Paul's turn, and that may still happen; I'm thinking it may surge with good, though not great, results in Iowa and New Hampshire, particularly if Gingrich turns off his current band of followers, and they turn to someone with greater moral authority and consistent political philosophy.

That would likely be too late, though, if Romney can spin his likely close second-place finish in Iowa as a tactical victory, which will be followed by a big win in New Hampshire. That combination might give him enough momentum to pull off a win on the difficult turf of South Carolina (Cain, Gingrich, and even Perry would seem to have the advantage there): if Romney wins there, it would all be over. Though South Carolina has a track record of deciding contested Republican races, I'd be betting that it will have an inconclusive result this year, which would then make Florida the likely decisive result.

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