Trivial Pursuit with the stars
This isn’t the silly season, exactly. But some of the groupies and most of the pundits — like sportswriters picking the pennant winners on arriving in Florida for spring training — can’t help getting a little silly on the eve of the presidential season.
Some of them are eager to handicap the field — a field with a lot of handicaps, an observant man might say — and there’s many months to go before anyone beyond the Beltway will start paying attention to the dreaded leap-year parade of presidential wannabes.
These early “debates,” such as they are, are the exhibition games. Only the pundits are keeping score, an exercise useful mostly to the purveyors of early money. They can see who has a good curve ball, and who doesn’t.
Every early debate produces a new hot prospect. Herman Cain was hot a fortnight ago. And the big surprise June 13 in New Hampshire was the emergence of Rep. Michele Bachmann, this time with more on her mind than wrestling with American history.
The early rap on her was that, like Sarah Palin, she had cut history class too often in junior high school.
The Gaffe Patrol, the flying circus of brave and peerless pundits who examine everything a candidate says with a magnifying glass in search of mistakes and “gaffes,” has been taking shots at her for weeks since she put “the shot heard ‘round the world” in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts.
That was fairly trivial, since except for Massachusetts, the New England states are the size of postage stamps, and it’s difficult for anyone to keep them separate.
Earlier, Mzz Bachmann praised the Founding Fathers “who worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” Even an occasional gunner in the Gaffe Patrol knows that by the time of the emancipation the Founding Fathers, even the considerable number of slave owners among them, were all safely dead.
But this was not the Michele Bachmann anyone will recall from this debate, where she was Snow White hanging out with five of the seven dwarfs. Dopey and Grumpy couldn’t make the scene, and Sleepy, disguised as Newt Gingrich, slept through the evening.
Snow White took over the occasion with the formal announcement of what everybody already knew, that she was running. And, at least for the evening, she was the Not-Mitt Romney candidate. Mr. Romney, the pollanointed front-runner, spent the evening trying to prove that he was not as bad as you think, but the next morning 66 percent of likely Republican voters told the Rasmussen poll-takers they prefer someone else.
For the evening Mr. Romney was broccoli, Mzz Bachmann the pepperoni pizza. Everyone else was cold mashed potatos. (Or was it potatoes?)
John King, the CNN ringmaster, established the dimbulb tone of an evening of Trivial Pursuit, keeping it to the level average television viewers understand. Trying to plumb the curiosity and intellectual depth of the field, he asked each candidate an either-or question.
Does Mzz Bachman prefer Elvis or Johnny Cash? Does Rick Santorum prefer Leno or Conan, Ron Paul like his BlackBerry or iPhone best, Herman Cain prefer thin-crust or deep-dish pizza, would Mr. Romney prefer his chicken wings original recipe or spicy, and does Tim Pawlenty like Coke or Pepsi? (An- swers: both, BlackBerry, deep dish, spicy and Coke.)
But John King was not swimming alone deep in the shallows. Soon the candidates themselves were competing to see who could count the most children, like Depression-era farmers in tattered overalls at a Huey Long rally competing for the hundred-pound sack of Robin Hood flour awarded to the Mother Hubbard with the most children.
“I’ve had five children,” Mzz Bachmann said, “and we are the foster parents of 23 great children.” Nobody could top that, though Rick Santorum tried (“Karen and I are the parents of seven”). Said Tim Pawlenty: “I’m the father of two.” Chipped in Herman Cain: “Father of two, grandfather of three.”
They all think they can beat Barack Obama (father of two, who prefers shooting hoops to lacrosse), and maybe they can. His favorability ratings continue to lag in the mid-40s, and the polls suggest that the voters have made up their minds about the messiah from Hyde Park.
Both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, scholars of history or not, have demonstrated a better grasp of history than Mr. Obama has about economics. You could look it up.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.