Send In the Clown!

by Michael Potemra

On Friday evening, Chris Matthews said of Texas governor Rick Perry: “He looks like a clown. . . . He dresses very fancy. There’s something about the way that he puts himself together that doesn’t look authentic. He looks like, I don’t know, a wax figure pretending to be governor.” The video of Perry accompanying Matthews’s comment shows the governor looking somewhat this side even of “dandyish,” and therefore very far indeed from the average American’s concept of “clownish.”

This ought to give Americans who have been fortunate enough never to live in Washington, D.C., a clear idea of just how sartorially conservative the nation’s capital is. (Have no doubt that Chris speaks, authoritatively, for the culture of inside-the-Beltway.) But let’s go with Matthews a little distance. In the last election, candidate Barack Obama told us we needed to get over our fear of having a president “who doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” Well, we overcame that. Perhaps it’s time, now, to take the next step? Look at this slideshow on the White House website, and you will notice that of the 43 men who have held the office of president, none has looked like a clown. The closest we ever came was in 1984, when Larry “Bozo” Harmon — who was literally a clown, in addition to looking like one — ran a quixotic campaign against incumbent Pres. Ronald Reagan and Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. Chris Matthews can pander to the anti-clown bigots as much as he likes, but the last laugh may be on him. History books of the next century might well refer to Larry “Bozo” Harmon as the Al Smith to Rick Perry’s John F. Kennedy. (Disclosure: I didn’t vote for Larry “Bozo” Harmon in 1984, feeling bound to honor my commitment — made, I should note, long before Harmon’s late entry into the race — to support President Reagan. For 2012, I have not yet endorsed a candidate, but I have very positive inclinations concerning Governor Perry.)

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