Faithful readers may be nonplussed to learn that I am now verging on political optimism. An event as close in clarifying effect to a Damascene bolt of lightning as is able to penetrate the regimental philistinism of my current surroundings alit on me last week, as silently as a bat. It happened unhoped, and, as miracles do, as (political) despair beckoned, as I read the latest installment of the nasty turkey shoot of New York Times editors and columnists, in which they picked off the promenade of Republican presidential hopefuls like giggling snipers.
By my slightly sporadic reading, the Times has not been so excited by a sequence of related discomforts to newsworthy targets as it is in this nomination race since it was offering a city tour and a five-star restaurant dinner to anyone who could claim a novice for the Roman Catholic priesthood had put a wayward hand briefly on an unsuspecting thigh, even decades before in a faraway place, as happened to the spinster in The Night of the Iguana (as long as the Times could allege that the present Pope was alive and already in holy orders when the incipient outrage happened).
Whenever Mitt Romney looks like he has seen off the latest challenger, Seamus — the Romney family dog, and victim on his trip on the roof of the Romneys’ car from Boston to Quebec of the most demonized journey in American history since the Bataan death march — takes over Gail Collins’s lively column. Seamus was shouldered aside for a few weeks by Rick Perry, while his jogging with firearms and vasectomy from his father-in-law were pilloried; and for one week by Chris Christie, whose obesity and liberal views on some issues were basted in the Times’ warm solicitude for the sensibilities of the Tea Party. And then it was Herman Cain’s turn. Following levitations of hauteur about pizza and snufflings of incredulity about his alma mater, and sniggerings as if at a church bingo about 9-9-9, paydirt leapt from the rich earth: groping, lewdness, and “unspecific harassments.” That these charges were denied, were very stale-dated, and were legally inconsequential was all beside the point. (Not to be so lightly dismissed is the trail of the controversy to the door of the Obama campaign, especially David Axelrod.)
This caused both the hatchet ladies of the dark lagoon to come snorting out of the brackish water and the undergrowth. Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd, reaching for the catechism of the damned, dismissed Mr. Cain as a man of such unfathomable turpitude and depravity that he could not be trusted to deliver a pizza to Anita Hill. They declared their latest Republican victim politically dead without waiting for any canvass of his vital signs (which seem fairly vigorous).
There is already a clicking of bolts and a leveling of gun barrels at the upward flicker of Newt Gingrich’s polls. And always looming portentously at the end of the trail is Seamus, the heir to other great dogs, the incipient American itinerant victim (Mormon) dog, tail wagging in readiness. (I wish Gail Collins would tell us, in one of Seamus’s frequent cameo appearances in her column, whether he is still alive or has gone ahead to join Fala and Checkers.)
For me to achieve a degree of optimism from this procession of accident-prone Republican candidates might seem aberrant or a worrisome sign of cabin fever, but it isn’t. The grace of revelation came in two mighty flashes of celestial light, a few seconds apart, thunder to follow closer to next November. Whatever obloquy may be rained down on the well-tended topknots of the Republican hopefuls, it will not excuse or reelect the administration described by one commentator a few weeks ago as “the worst since before the invention of electricity.”