The Bataan Death March

It’s becoming increasingly clear that overlong tours of duty, and too many of them, are wearing our forces down.  At some point we’ve got to seriously consider cutting the commitments or increasing available manpower.  I refer, of course, to our presidential campaigns.  

Whoa!  Cool down folks!  This campaign season is getting snippier than a moyle convention.  

Just in the past few days we’ve had Mitt Romney climb all over a reporter in Columbia, South Carolina, and Bill Clinton’s face turn red, and — for once — not in apparent embarassmend.

Romney’s incident began when a reporter questioned the role of lobbyist Ron Kaufman in the Romney campaign.  Romney lectured the reporter pretty thoroughly for suggesting that Kaufman might actually be running the campaign, or, at least, sitting in on senior strategy meetings.  I seriously thought for a moment that one of Romney’s hairs might actually get out of place!  We’re talking major melee here, to disturb that kevlar follicle helmet.

And then there’s Bill Clinton, whose face was actually detected by the Hubble telescope’s deep space infrared detector.  Well, not quite, but the bright red glow certainly put the Las Vegas skyline to shame.  All right, not exactly, but several nearby reporters reported second degree burns.  That’s as far as I’m prepared to scale back my metaphors.  That face was RED, as Clinton ripped into a tv reporter who’d asked him about a Nevada lawsuit which unsuccessfully tried to block hotel and casino workers from caucusing right there at work.

The union representing those workers had endorsed Barak Obama, and the suit against holding the Nevada caucus crapshoot in casinos was brought by the state teachers union, which had endorsed Hillary.  “When you ask me that question, your position is that you think that the culinary workers’ vote should be easier than those of other Nevada workers.  If you want to take that position, get on the television and take it.  Don’t be accusatory with me,” said Bill Clinton accusatorily.  

And there’s been more:  The week before, the former president told Dartmouth students it was a fairy tale for Obama to contend that he’s been consistently against the war in Iraq.  On the PBS Charlie Rose program Clinton knocked Obama’s experience with his “roll of the dice” comment.  All in all, 15 yards for roughing the opponent.

And all the candidates seem tired. Have you looked closely under Hillary Clinton’s eyes, and had the word, “Samsonite” come to mind?   John McCain looks 71 for pete’s sake.  And did you know Dennis Kucinich used to be 6 foot 3?  That’s right, allegedly reportedly.  The whole process just wore him down.

What’s going on here?  Well, partly it’s the pressures of very competitive campaigns where nobody has been able to pull away from the pack.  But partly it’s also the fact that we’re driving these very able people into a “Bataan death march”-like situation.  

For those whose knowledge of history is akin to that of the average voter, in 1942 the triumphant Japanese forces took captured American and Filipino forces from the Bataan Peninsula in the Phillipines on a forced march to P.O.W. camps.  It was long, it was hot, and it was grueling for prisoners lacking food, water, and rest.  Stragglers were simply bayonetted.  It remains a symbol of war crimes.  Now, we can overstretch a metaphor (see several lines above), but the fact remains that endurance is becoming more and more a requisite quality for someone aspiring to 4 to 8 years of public housing in a not completely safe section of Washington, DC.  

Maybe we should rethink the process a bit.  First, I concede that running this gauntlet does offer us a chance to see these candidates when things aren’t going smoothly.  It takes them out of the controlled environments they so deeply cherish, and places them in situations where things go wrong, or at least get out of control.  That is to say, real life.  And there’s something to be said for finding out how someone who wishes to lead the free world reacts under stress.  “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”, said Harry Truman, and it’s good to know if a candidate’s iron constitution melts, or turns to steel.  

However, let’s not get carried away.  When you drag people to, and past, the limit, you wear them out.  You grind them down.  You endanger their health.  And you limit the number of top flight individuals who are willing to undergo this sort of treatment.  Constant campaigning does that.  Yes, it causes people to show how well they take pressure, but it can also make them say really dumb things, such as Gerry Ford in 1976 saying Poland wasn’t under soviet domination.  It isn’t good for presidents to say stupid things.  At least any more than they’re already inclined to say.  

For openers, we need to stop this worship of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  I’ve been to both events and goodness knows there are many fine people in Iowa and New Hampshire.  But they have not have not HAVE NOT earned the right to set the gross national momentum every freaking four years!  First, dump these ridiculous, self-serving chamber of commerce stunts.  Then set up 4 regional primaries:  Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West.  Run one a month, March, April, May, and June.  Rotate who gets to start.  Any state violating this and trying for special treatment loses ALL of their convention delegates.  End of discussion, except:  If you really buy the argument that our presidential picking should start with retail politicking — that is, small states where you can actually meet a lot of voters — then let Delaware, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and the Dakotas into the mix.  And don’t hit me with “tradition” as an argument.  So was segregation.  Traditions are only things we’ve been doing a long time, and the thing to do with bad traditions is to trash them right now.  

Do you know when John Kennedy declared for president?  That is– DECLARED — announced his candidacy?  Right now.  January, of the election year (1960 in his case).  He hadn’t been running and flying and debating and melting down for the preceding year.  There is no American presidential primary on Bataan, and we shouldn’t have any that resemble the place, either.  So let’s cut ’em some slack.  And maybe they won’t bark at us — or each other — so much.  

If not for these candidates, then for those already running for 2012.  You know who you are.