Look­ing for a cure for cam­paign in­san­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

When you talk as much as Newt Gin­grich, you’ll of­ten say some­thing in­ci­sive, clever and even wise. Newt, who may be­come a can­di­date him­self this fall, ridicules the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns as too long, too ex­pen­sive, and the de­bates as “al­most un­en­durable” and verg­ing on “in­sane.”

Once he thinks about it, he’ll drop the po­lite qual­i­fiers “al­most” and “verg­ing.” We’re al­ready there.

Newt’s point is spot on, as our English cousins say. The de­bates, like the Demo­cratic hymn to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in the de­bate in Los An­ge­les, have be­come un­re­al­ity shows like “Amer­i­can Idol” and “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” The Demo­cratic can­di­dates played “Can You Top This?” in their ap­peals to what Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign called not only gays, but “les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der sup­port­ers.” (Have we forgotten any­one?)

Barack Obama promised mar­riage but ap­par­ently only if it isn’t called that. Bill Richard­son de­scribed him­self as the great gay hope. John Ed­wards wants grade-school kids to learn about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, though he wouldn’t say when, ex­actly. The re­sult was more of the tire­some same, blah, blah, blah and a lot more blah.

“What’s the job of the can­di­date in this world?” Newt asked rhetor­i­cally in a speech ear­lier at the Na­tional Press Club. “The job of the can­di­date is to raise the money to hire the con­sul­tants to do the fo­cus groups to fig­ure out the 30-sec­ond an­swers to be mem­o­rized by the can­di­date. This is stun­ningly dan­ger­ous.”

But what’s re­ally in­sane is that the de­baters, such as they are, must wal­low deep in the shal­lows be­cause naval fluff, eye­wash and ear wax is about all the cul­ture can ab­sorb. The No. 1 television “news” show is Jon Ste­wart’s “Daily Show,” which as satire is not about the news at all, but make-be­lieve stuff that the au­di­ence, ef­fec­tively il­lit­er­ate, takes as the real thing. The can­di­dates line up to get on the show be­cause they fig­ure that’s where the au­di­ence, such as it is, ac­tu­ally lives.

Leonardo DiCaprio, the 32-year-old teenager fa­mously seen float­ing among the ice floes off the sink­ing stern of the ss Ti­tanic, warns the can­di­dates — pre­sum­ably only the Demo­cratic can­di­dates — that he’s tak­ing the stern and skep­ti­cal view of them, and they had bet­ter shape up if they ex­pect to get his vote. “I have yet to hear a can­di­date that has clearly laid out their en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy in a way that is in­spir­ing to me.” Given his Hol­ly­wood at­ten­tion span, the can­di­dates are warned to keep their en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies short and de­void of words of more than two syl­la­bles (and not too many of those). Hol­ly­wood heart­throb or not, the eas­ily amazed Mr. DeCaprio has high stan­dards. “I thought [John Kerry] had an amaz­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy. But I have yet to hear a can­di­date that has com­pared in that re­gard.”

Ge­orge Clooney, an­other ex­pe­ri­enced thinker of deep thoughts, told Barack Obama that he’s go­ing to sup­port his can­di­date sit­ting down this year. Sen­si­ble fel­low. “Sen­a­tor, I’d like to sup­port you in any way I can, in­clud­ing stay­ing home. Be­cause you never know how [the vast right-wing me­dia con­spir­acy] in our coun­try is go­ing to char­ac­ter­ize par­tic­i­pa­tion.” Mr. Clooney didn’t even say this much in pub­lic, let­ting his pal Matt Da­mon pass along the mes­sage while Mr. Clooney stays in seclu­sion, try­ing not to drop a heavy thought on his toes.

Newt Gin­grich, who longs for learned col­lo­quies about the im­por­tant is­sues of the day, is ea­ger to sail against this pre­vail­ing wind com­ing at us from some­where far away in the dark. So no more sound bites. He thinks Barack Obama’s warn­ing that he wouldn’t hes­i­tate to in­vade Pak­istan un­less the Paks shape up in the fight against ter­ror­ism was “in­sight­ful” but said “in a very dan­ger­ous way.” The re­sponse from Hil­lary and the chat­ter­ing class “was to at­tack Sen. Obama, not to ex­plore the un­der­ly­ing ker­nel of what he said.” Newt, ever the pro­fes­sor, is ea­ger for more talk. He would stage a se­ries of “di­a­logues” among the “ma­jor can­di­dates” for 90 min­utes once a week for nine weeks. “Af­ter nine 90-minute con­ver­sa­tions in their liv­ing rooms, the Amer­i­can peo­ple would have a re­mark­able sense of the two per­son­al­i­ties and which per­son had the right ideas, the right char­ac­ter, the right ca­pac­ity to be a leader.” But if not all that, at least an idea of who’s the smartest fifth-grader.

Wesley Pruden is ed­i­tor in chief of The Times.

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