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1/8/2008
THE COTTON CANDY CANDIDACY

The tradition of the New Hampshire primary used to be yeoman farmers and small shopkeepers trudging through the late March snow and mud to meet in townhalls to discuss the issues of the day. A broken street light needed fixing. A pot hole needed filling. The school could use a new bass drum. And oh, by the way, who do we want our party’s nominee to be for President of the United States? Drop your ballot in the box by the door on your way out, please.

It was Estes Kefauver, the mob busting Democratic Senator from Tennessee who first realized that if you were going to beat the establishment, the only way to do it was by going over their heads directly to the people. In 1952, the party bosses were resigned to running Harry Truman again despite the president’s problems with the economy and Korea. But along comes ole’ Estes, wearing a coonskin cap and campaigning via dogsled sometimes all over New Hampshire, looking to make a splash in that state’s primary.

He won a smashing victory, defeating the wildly unpopular sitting President Harry Truman which finished Harry’s political career. Truman chose not to run for re-election in 1952.

Although Kefauver went on to win 15 primaries, the party bosses took one look at the Yale educated (cum laude) Senator whose cornpone demeanor was mostly an act and decided they didn’t care how many primaries the rube won, they wanted the “egghead” Stevenson. As a sop to Kefauver, Stevenson gave him the Vice Presidential slot on the ticket which was then promptly buried in the general election by Eisenhower.

But the damage had been done and New Hampshire’s place as a kingmaker in presidential politics was assured. In 1956, it was Kefauver versus Stevenson and Averill Harriman. And although Kefauver won again, he was badly outgunned by Harriman’s money and Stevenson’s weight with the establishment. After winning the Minnesota primary, Stevenson ambushed the Tennessean in California and Wisconsin, ending his candidacy.

By 1960, both Democrats and Republicans were on the ground in New Hampshire, realizing the importance of the first in the nation primary to their campaigns. And each election cycle for the next 48 years has seen New Hampshire grow in importance as the reach of television and now the internet has placed extraordinary emphasis on what New Hampshirites think of the candidates.

Forget whether that fact is healthy for democracy or not. It is simply the way it is and complaining about it only angers the residents of the Granite State who are fanatics about guarding their status as the first major electoral test for presidential candidates.

And they take their responsibilities very seriously. Most primary voters have actually met one or more of the candidates and most have taken the time to weigh their choices carefully. One crusty old New Englander said back in 1976 that the process of choosing a candidate reminded him of the way his daddy used to buy horses when he was a boy; checking to make sure the teeth were good, looking behind the ears for fleas and staring the animal in the eyes to determine its temperament.

Well, New Hampshirites have looked Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the eye and apparently have decided they like what they see in the Illinois senator rather than the former First Lady. And the question of why that is so has Mrs. Clinton almost in tears and many pundits scratching their heads.

How is it possible that a 3 term state legislator and United States Senator who has served just 2 years is now a prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States? This, over a woman who has been involved in politics for the last 20 years as an acknowledged partner of one of the best politicians of the 20th century? A woman who has thought through most of the important issues facing the country and has fleshed out her ideas more than most candidates.

Say what you will about Hillary Clinton (and don’t get me started on her negatives) but no one can deny that she is very smart, very committed, and very knowledgeable about the workings of government. She, even more than her husband, is something of a policy wonk, finding pleasure in detail and nuance of an issue.

Then along comes this upstart, this interloper Obama whose platitudes about “change” and “hope” are sweeping people off their feet like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. The people have responded to this likable, non-threatening black man with an enthusiasm not seen since the 1960 campaign and the Kennedy “jumpers” - so-called by JFK aide Kenny O’Donnell who would play a game with other campaign aides in motorcades counting the number of people who were literally jumping up and down in excitement when the candidate passed.

You see that same kind of enthusiasm for Obama. Next time there is a clip of him wading into a crowd of supporters, look at the people’s faces and more importantly, watch people who are 3 or 4 rows back in the crowd. One would think that people are meeting a religious figure - or a rock star given the proclivities of most people today. The people’s faces light up like a Christmas tree when he reaches for their hand. And the people in the rows farther back are - you guessed it - jumping up and down in excitement.

But has anyone bothered to ask why? Certainly not the press - yet. Eventually, even the media is going to catch on to the fact that Obama’s campaign is the equivalent of cotton candy; light on facts, fluffy on details, mostly made up of thin air but tastes rather good.

Indeed, looking behind the curtain of the Obama campaign and you find precious little in the way of policy prescriptions and much in the way of vapid generalities and liberal boilerplate. His “positions” on issues mentioned on his website appear to be cut and paste jobs designed to appeal to almost everyone by offending no one.

For example, here’s our next President’s “tax plan:”

* Provide a Tax Cut for Working Families: Obama will restore fairness to the tax code and provide 150 million workers the tax relief they need. Obama will create a new “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family. The “Making Work Pay” tax credit will completely eliminate income taxes for 10 million Americans.

* Simplify Tax Filings for Middle Class Americans: Obama will dramatically simplify tax filings so that millions of Americans will be able to do their taxes in less than five minutes. Obama will ensure that the IRS uses the information it already gets from banks and employers to give taxpayers the option of pre-filled tax forms to verify, sign and return. Experts estimate that the Obama proposal will save Americans up to 200 million total hours of work and aggravation and up to $2 billion in tax preparer fees.

Well, that takes care of taxes. Aside from the fact that 29 million American wage earners - the bottom 15% - already pay no taxes thanks to the Bush tax cuts, there is little in the way of explanation of who else might need to exit the tax rolls. Nothing about the AMT or even repealing the Bush tax cuts on the “wealthy.” After all, no sense in getting people angry at you - even rich people.

How does he get away with this tripe? No one really cares at this point. As long as he is selling sarsaparilla and malted milk as a cure for what ails us instead of Castor oil, making people feel good about themselves because the man is so approachable and just so darn nice , he could probably get away without having any program at all - which is basically what he is doing judging by his “issues page” on the website.

There is no doubt that the Obama Phenomenon is real. The voters are wild for change. They are tired of wars abroad and wars in Congress at home and they yearn for someone who can ride into Washington on a white horse and bring unity and peace to the country.

In a very real sense, the American people want a “Return to normalcy” - the platform offered by then presidential candidate Warren Harding in 1920 where, after the upheavals of World War I and the bitter fight over the US participating in the League of Nations, the American people chose to put their heads in the sand and ignore the rest of the world, concentrating instead on getting drunk on bathtub gin and having sex with flappers.

Mickey Kaus first wrote about this impulse for a return to what some might consider a 9/10 world, something I believed the Democrats would try to do in this election cycle. In fact, Hillary Clinton rejected this theme and Obama embraced it. Look who is winning.

There have been two great elections for change in my lifetime. In 1960, John Kennedy offered himself as the candidate best able to lead the country into a decade that most people saw as a pivotal period of confrontation with the Soviet Union. Kennedy made the case that his war experience best prepared him to lead the nation through the trials ahead in a radically changing world. He successfully sold himself as an agent of change despite the fact he was a creature of the Democratic party establishment and a member of one of the richest families in the world.

The election of 1980 was also about change - and renewal. Reagan successfully sold himself as an agent of change despite the fact that he was the most conservative presidential candidate in history (conservatives being seen at that time as anti-change) and the oldest candidate ever to run for president. The Gipper captured the imaginations of young people and energized America as it had not been in decades.

Both of those men were seasoned politicians who were serious about issues and public policy. And now we face another election where “change” will apparently be the overarching theme and the self-proclaimed agent of that change is a relative political neophyte whose positions on the issues are as liberal as any politician in America. Obama received a lifetime 97.5% rating from the Americans for Democratic Action, the highest of any Democratic candidate running. And he has proved himself one of the most partisan of party members in the Democratic caucus, voting 97% of the time with the Democratic leadership.

This is “change” alright. Whether it’s the kind of change the American people want is another matter entirely. A “return to normalcy” may be a hypnotic and tempting theme to run on. But reality has a way of intruding on even the most powerful dreams and images. And exposing Barack Obama for what he is and what he represents - a mushy headed liberal idealist who has failed to think through what he wants to accomplish as president - should be the responsibility of both the press and the opposing Republican candidate whoever that might be.

UPDATE

Heh. Princess Obama:

Welcome to Planet Diana. It was only with the death of the People’s Princess that the extent of Britain’s transformation from a country of reason, intelligence, stoicism, self-restraint and responsibility into a land of credulousness, emotional incontinence, sentimentality, irresponsibility and self-obsession became shatteringly apparent. Princess Diana was an icon of the new Britain because she embodied precisely those latter characteristics.

It became clear that politicians could score remarkable short-term success if they too got in touch with their inner trauma and felt everyone else’s pain. Bill Clinton (hideous irony for Hillary) was the first to realise this and made it his political signature. Tony Blair, whose lip periodically quivered with precision timing, had it in spades. David Cameron has it; so too does Obama.

The effect is electric, but short-lived. That is because Dianafication is essentially empty, amoral, untruthful and manipulative; eventually voters see through it and realise they have been played for suckers. But while it lasts — and it creates presidents and prime ministers — reason doesn’t get a look in. Warm fuzzy feelings win hands down because they anaesthetise reality and blank out altogether those difficult issues which require difficult decisions. Obama appears to be on the wrong side of just about every important issue going; indeed, were he to be elected president he would be a danger to the free world. But hey – the guy makes people feel good about themselves; he stands for hope, love, reconciliation, youthfulness and fairies at the bottom of the garden.

God help us if it comes to all that.

By: Rick Moran at 8:39 am
9 Responses to “THE COTTON CANDY CANDIDACY”
  1. 1
    syn Said:
    9:11 am 

    I can’t help but notice the American mindset has returned to pre-1993 WTC attack.

    That said, Americans aren’t addicted to oil, or drugs, or liquor, or sex or money or power…

    Americans are addicted to Happy.

  2. 2
    Banjo Said:
    9:48 am 

    This Obama bender will pass and people will sober up. For all the jumpers along JFK’s parade routes, he beat the unattractive Richard Nixon in what was then the closest race in modern history. JFK’s brief presidency was notable for glamor and his inability to make good on his promises. His reelection was by no means in the bag.

  3. 3
    Santay Said:
    10:51 am 

    At this point Obama seems on the way to the nomination, he hasn’t had his first big gaffe yet. Bloomberg is champing at the bit, if he jumps in he’ll suck up more of Obama’s votes than his opponent’s.

  4. 4
    michael reynolds Said:
    12:27 pm 

    Banjo and Santay:
    I hear whistling. Where’s the graveyard.

    Huckabee vs. Obama, you guys lose the experience issues. Plus Huckabee’s a loon. Romney vs. Obama, you weaken your evangelical vote and surrender the moral high ground behind Mitt the Flip. Giuliani vs. Obama, you give off a strong smell of corruption and weaken your evangelical vote. McCain vs. Obama is your best shot, but you all despise McCain.

  5. 5
    mannning Said:
    12:33 pm 

    The glaring point that seems to be suppressed by the sugar candy is that many, many people are firmly against Hillary (at least 42% of the entire public), which redounds to the benefit of Obama. Any port in another Clinton storm for the presidency suits them just fine.

    It will be very instructive to see Sugar
    Barack Obama run against any of the three top Republicans.

  6. 6
    David M Said:
    1:23 pm 

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/08/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  7. 7
    kreiz Said:
    7:39 am 

    Banjo- I remember reading your paper tiger comment re: Obama. You were right. Nice call.

  8. 8
    Scipio Said:
    9:58 am 

    If the one issue yahoos would only realize that the President is not a monarch and would get behind Giuliani, we would win decisively in November. however that is not going to happen.

  9. 9
    The Glittering Eye » Blog Archive » Eye on the Watcher’s Council Pinged With:
    12:31 pm 

    [...] Right Wing Nut House, “The Cotton Candy Candidacy” [...]

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