Only five weeks to the earliest Primary Day in New Hampshire history, and still, whenever I’m being interviewed on radio or TV, I’ve no ready answer to the question: Which candidate are you supporting?
If I could just sneak out in the middle of the night and saw off Rudy Giuliani’s strong right arm and John McCain’s ramrod back and Mitt Romney’s fabulous hair and stitch them all together in Baron von Frankenstein’s laboratory with the help of some neck bolts, we’d have the perfect Republican nominee. As it is, the present field poses difficulties for almost every faction of the GOP base. Rudy Giuliani was a brilliant can-do executive who transformed the fortunes of what was supposedly one of the most ungovernable cities in the nation but on guns, abortion, and almost every other social issue he’s anathema to much of the party. Mike Huckabee is an impeccable social conservative but fiscally speaking favors big-government solutions with big-government price tags. Ron Paul has a long track record of sustained philosophically coherent support for small government but he’s running as a neo-isolationist on war and foreign policy. John McCain believes in assertive American global leadership but he believes just as strongly in constitutional abominations like McCain-Feingold. So if you’re a pro-gun anti-abortion tough-on-crime victory-in-Iraq small-government Republican the 2008 selection is a tough call. Mitt Romney, the candidate whose (current) policies least offend the most people, happens to be a Mormon, which, if the press is to be believed, poses certain obstacles for elements of the Christian Right.
On the other hand, as Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, the mainstream media are always demanding the GOP demonstrate its commitment to “big tent” Republicanism, and here we are with the biggest of big tents in history and what credit do they get? You want an antiwar Republican? A pro-abortion Republican? An anti-gun Republican? A pro-illegal immigration Republican? You got ‘em! Short of drafting Fidel Castro and Mullah Omar, it’s hard to see how the tent could get much bigger. As the new GOP bumper sticker says, “Celebrate Diversity.”
Over on the Democratic side, meanwhile, they’ve got a woman, a black, an Hispanic, a preening metrosexual with an angled nape – and they all think exactly the same. They remind me of The Johnny Mathis Christmas Album, which Columbia used to re-release every year in a different sleeve: same old songs, new cover. When your ideas are identical, there’s not a lot to argue about except biography. Last week, asked about his experience in foreign relations, Barack Obama noted that his father was Kenyan and he’d been at grade school in Indonesia. “Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations,” he said, “is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia.” When it comes to foreign relations, he has more of them on his Christmas card list than Hillary or Haircut Boy.
Senator Clinton was gleefully derisive of this argument. “Voters will have to judge if living in a foreign country at the age of ten prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face,” she remarked dryly. “I think we need a president with more experience than that, someone the rest of the world knows, looks up to and has confidence in.” As to what “experience” Hillary has, well, she’s certainly visited Africa enough to acquire plenty of venerable African proverbs (“It takes a village,” etc), even if no African has ever been known to use any of them. When I mentioned on the radio how much I was enjoying the Hill/Barack snippiness, I received a lot of huffy e-mails from Democrats saying, oh yeah, well, how much foreign policy experience do Romney or Giuliani have? Sorry, but you’re missing the point. On the GOP side, the debate isn’t being conducted on the basis of who was where in Grade Four.
To be sure, John Edwards is said to have been hammering Hillary on her Iraq vote, but this is an almost surreally post-modern dispute. Five years ago, Senator Clinton’s Iraq vote was exactly the same as Senator Edwards’: They both voted for war. The only difference is that the former stands by her vote while the latter has since ‘fessed up and revealed he was duped, suckered, played for a sap by George W Bush. Bush is famously the world’s all-time biggest moron but that’s apparently no obstacle when you’re seeking to roll the Democratic Senate caucus. Anyway, Senator Edwards is now demanding that Senator Clinton repudiate her Iraq vote and concede she’s as big a patsy and pushover as he is. And this is apparently what passes for “toughness” on the Democrat side. Judging from the number of “North Country For Edwards” signs that have sprouted in the first snows throughout the White Mountains in recent weeks, it may even have some traction on Primary Day.
Let me ask a question of my Democrat friends: What does John Edwards really believe on Iraq? I mean, really? To pose the question is to answer it: There’s no “there” there. In the Dem debates, the only fellow who knows what he believes and says it out loud is Dennis Kucinich. Otherwise, all is pandering and calculation. The Democratic Party could use some seriously fresh thinking on any number of issues – abortion, entitlements, racial preferences – but the base doesn’t want to hear, and no viable candidate is man enough (even Hillary) to stick it to ‘em. I disagree profoundly with McCain and Giuliani, but there’s something admirable about watching them run in explicit opposition to significant chunks of their base and standing their ground. Their message is: This is who I am. Take it or leave it.
That’s the significance of Clinton’s driver’s-license dithering. There was a media kerfuffle the other day because at some GOP event an audience member referred to Senator Clinton as a “bitch” and John McCain was deemed not to have distanced himself sufficiently from it. Totally phony controversy: In private, Hillary’s crowd liked the way it plays into her image as a tough stand-up broad. And, yes, she is tough. A while back, Elizabeth Edwards had the temerity to venture that she thought her life was happier than Hillary’s. And within days the Clinton gang had jumped her in a dark alley, taken the tire iron to her kneecaps, and forced her into a glassy-eyed public recantation of her lese-majeste. If you’re looking for someone to get tough with Elizabeth Edwards, or RINO senators, or White House travel-office flunkies, Hillary’s your gal.
But tough on America’s enemies? Thatcher-tough? Not a chance.
© Mark Steyn 2007