Is That What We Want?

The extended therapy session informally known as the 2008 presidential campaign takes new twists, new turns. We might manage, by the time it’s over, 11 months hence, to figure out what we really want as a nation. Though one tends to doubt it. And if we do figure it out, we’ll almost surely change our minds.

Maybe it does take all these months to work out our feelings. It’s the only possible rationale for watching the candidates so long, so intently.

This week’s story? Huckabee against Obama in ’08. Actually, that’s an extrapolation from circumstances, impressions and statistics. But we’re pointed that way. Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate, Mike Huckabee as his Republican adversary. This, thanks to the latest poll results in Iowa, along with a great deal of head-scratching n the media.
Obama-Huckabee is one I’ll believe when it see it, and then probably only after a half a bottle of cheap chardonnay. Still, it means — get ready — that Democrats are looking for a man who is his own man (and maybe also can Bring Us Together), whereas Republicans are looking for a man of the people.

There is a common thread here with some strength, and we might examine it for a minute.

What people seem to want is something different from what they have. There’s an awful lot of been-there-done-that to the voter reactions we read about. We’ve had the Clintons (and there are those who would say the Clintons have had us!). They just keep circling the heliport: landing, taking off, landing again. Nor was Hillary Clinton, outside feminist circles, much valued for herself; it was more a case of two for the price of one.

To Republicans — so I speculate — Huckabee just looks and sounds different. (May I pause to claim credit for identifying him five years ago as a terrific speaker, with a possible future in the party, after I heard him address some Republican gathering or the other?) He’s got that good old Southern preacher’s cadence, and he kind of socks it to Wall Street.

But do The People want him? Do they want Obama? You’ll have to work hard to convince me they do. "I want to be president of the United States of America," says Obama. He’d be the first such president since maybe Monroe. We all know the degree of unity in the United States. Propose something; watch the hit squads go into action. How long before Obama has to move from glittering generality to sharp-edged specificity?

A little populist rhetoric from a Southern governor can fire up the troops, but a Republican less than committed to free-market capitalism — the best economic system in the world — is riding for a fall.

Right now, the sheer diversion of hearing and seeing these two keeps the accolades piling up. We may soon enough want something else new. One shouldn’t doubt there’s a sincere interest in unity — given the severe disunity that mars our present politics. No doubt, what we call populism (though the historians might call it something else) appeals to many. Yet a deep and deepening suspicion grows. It is that in this era of the Internet’s 24/7 news cycle, the new and fresh has to be newer and fresher than ever before to hold our interest because when it quits being new and fresh, that’s all she wrote. (I’m advised to check out the song charts if I don’t believe it, but I haven’t been able to understand most lyrics since "I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.") 

On will go our therapy session for a while. We’ll figure out in due course what we want, but I wouldn’t count on the sensation’s lasting. Even Hugo Chavez, we note, is wearing out his welcome in Venezuela, as whomever we elect president will after a while. The Aussies last month threw out their best prime minister in over half a century — tired of him. For the familiar, the rooted, the established, the traditional, these aren’t encouraging times, which is why you hear us conservatives sighing more often than laughing.