Monday, August 07, 2006

Ross Perot With Cellulite

Don't look now, but Jonah Goldberg is warning all Americans of what voters are likely to be looking for in their next president - and it ain't ideas:

Washington is atwitter with ‘08 presidential talk. Of course, it’s way too early for this sort of thing. But that’s never stopped handicappers from poring over the polls and travel schedules of the wannabes like ancient priests staring at goat innards in the mistaken belief that they can glean the future from the hue of the viscera.

But one particular qualification has emerged above all others: competence.

I have my doubts about this. If "competence" was such a big selling point, why don't we have the Dukakis administration to look back on as a vindication of this angle? Indeed, as I recall from the 1988 campaign, then-Vice President Bush was depicted by the Democrats as being he picture of incompetence, and that doesn't include the hysterical degree to which the reflection on his judgment that his selection of Dan Quayle for his running mate was lampooned. And yet Pappy won forty states and 54% of the popular vote.

Then again, there's a good answer to that: Michael Dukakis wasn't exactly a competence poster-boy himself. That's what the Willie Horton ad was really all about, after all, and he didn't come across as a whiz-kid in the debates, either.

Still, it just seems awfully dry, as well as being hopelessly naïve. But the vitriolic atmosphere created by the Demcrats' years and years of rabid partisanism may, according to J-Gold, be stimulating a public reaction to it that yearns, however unrealistically, for a "problem-solver on a white horse" who won't let philosophy and party get in the way of "getting things done":

Indeed, there is a hunger for competence out there. In foreign policy, the less-than-turnkey operation in Iraq and the wiliness of the Axis of Evil have created a longing for sober-eyed realism. Indeed, at no point in my lifetime has amoral Kissingerian realpolitik had greater appeal on both sides of the aisle.

Domestically, the yearning to be rescued by a clipboard-carrying cavalry of uber-bureaucrats hasn’t been this pronounced since the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy and his crowd claimed that most of the important public-policy questions had been settled and all that was left was for his whiz kids to fix the world. After Hurricane Katrina, a host of avowedly “post-partisan” commentators have focused on a widespread desire for, in the words of the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, a “party of performance.”

Again, I'm skeptical. Doesn't anybody remember that JFK's "whiz-kids" gave us the Great Society and the Vietnam war? Two of the most roaring examples of incompetence in American history borne of the galloping arrogance that has to accompany the belief that one is smart enough to "fix" the world? At best this suggests that, on the Donk side, "competence" would simply be a cover for the hard-Left that originally arose in reaction to the whiz-kids' whizzing.

What is more ominious is that, so Cosmo's master says, the yearning for "competence" penetrates the GOP as well:

The most salient arguments for one candidate over another hinge on the question of competence. Can candidate X make government work? John McCain fancies himself the new Teddy Roosevelt, the martial Progressive who manhandled the state with the strength of a bull moose. Rudy Giuliani more than anyone has cultivated his status as a can-do man, a crisis manager, “Mr. 9/11.” Newt Gingrich, who — full-disclosure time — has shown the brilliance and foresight to hire my wife as a consultant, is the “ideas guy” in the pre-primary primary. Speaking glowingly of the Progressives, Gingrich wants to “transform” government, to make it more efficient, effective and responsive. Bill Frist — about whom someone will surely one day say “if only he were still alive” long before his actual death — insinuates at every opportunity that his expertise as a can-do surgeon translates into a governing philosophy. And Mitt Romney not only has the best teeth in politics but a plausible sales pitch as the best policy wonk in office today.

You'll note that one GOP aspirant's name is missing from that dismal litany - George Allen. The Virginia senator and ex-Virginia governor is being left the Reagan conservative primary vote - which is still the core of the Republican base - almost by default. And Allen gives every appearance of intending to scoop up that vote, and more than likely, the '08 GOP nomination with it.

Goldberg makes that very same observation, albeit with a snarky caveat:

Lost in the backroom debates and New Hampshire coffee klatches is the question of ideology. Until recently, the conservative objection to such “competence” worship was that it steals an intellectual base; it takes it as a given that the government is the solution to our problems. This is the opposite of the Reaganite view that the government, more often than not, is the problem. As of now, the only GOP candidate vying for the Reagan mantle is Virginia Senator George Allen. The rap against Allen, alas, is that it’s not clear if his Reaganism amounts to much more than a well-rehearsed litany of bumper-sticker quotations.
Don't knock bumper-sticker quotations, Jonah. After five-plus years of a Republican president whose indifference to any sort of communication is notorious, a return to the Reaganesque homilies of yesteryear would be as refreshing as a snowstorm would be to the Eastern seaboard. And couldn't something similar have been said of the Gipper himself before he was elected?

The competence dodge does make more sense for the Democrats, though, mired as they are in Bushophobic insanity. And none other than You-Know-Who is doing everything in her ample power to make sure she's first in line at the white charger lot:

None other than Senator Hillary Clinton crafted the DLC’s latest policy platform and it shows: It’s Clintonian to its core. As the future presidential candidate described at the DLC conference in Denver: “This American Dream Initiative is a series of proposals to renew and strengthen the middle class, and to help pave the way for the poor to work their way out of poverty. It focuses on policies here at home. It reflects our belief that a strong, vibrant middle class is at the core of the American dream. Nothing speaks more to the promise of America than the idea that if you work hard, you and your children can succeed in our great country.”

The proposed policies are familiar: an array of tax incentives and government programs to encourage college attendance, home ownership, saving for retirement, and the provision of health insurance. But unlike off-putting, liberal spokesman, like Al Gore and Howard Dean, Senator Clinton keeps the class warfare to a minimum. She takes a few obligatory cheap shots at Republicans for favoring “the rich,” but focuses on painting government as a partner in helping people succeed in life.

And that eerily echoes....George W. Bush's "compassionate conservativism," doesn't it?

For Hillary it makes a lot of sense. She's never going to be the "people person" that Mr. Bill was. The junior senator from New York is about as warm as a gila monster, and as touchy-feely, "Ah feel your pain"-esque as a DMV clerk. But her personality IS suited to being the superficially friendly local auto mechanic or computer store tech geek who can fix that intractible engine knock or get rid of one of your hard drive partitions to expand the space on your "C" drive. Sure, the bill will be exorbitant, but that won't come due for thirty days.

I suppose there must be something to Mr. Goldberg's perception that pragmatism is the next big political fad if the Queen of Mean is hitching her broom to it. But, to employ an expression my boss uses to frightening excess, at the end of the day presidential elections are beauty contests in which the more charismatic candidate always wins. Not being a Virginian, I haven't seen much of George Allen in action, so I can't say for certain how telegenic and/or eloquent he comes across on the tube. I also can't say for certain if, once nominated, Senator Allen would stay the Reaganite course or "pull a Nixon" and tack toward the center. And there's always the possibility that the Clinton machine would cheat and bamboozle him into submission.

What I can say is this: Never underestimate the power of conservative ideology to win national elections. And given that we really haven't had a truly conservative major party candidate since Reagan left the national stage, let's just say that "competence" might just be given a run for its money.