03 January 2008

Let the games begin: Punctual political punditry from the flannel drop-seat of my tartan plaid Christmas pajamas

The Presidential Primary season officially kicks off tonight in the frozen, fallow cornfields of America’s heartland. The pandering in Iowa ends around 430ish (left coast time) when Iowans can finally watch Jeopardy without attack ads, and dine at the local eatery without TV camera’s following well-coifed temporary coffee attendants who’d rather shake your hand than refill your mug. Later of course, we’ll have to listen to blithering TV analysts for a few hours to figure out who won the damn thing, and let them tell us what this means for next week’s primary in similarly tiny, similarly frozen, and similarly Caucasian New Hampshire.

Ya want my opinion? I thought you might.

If I was Republican: I’d throw up my hands, pour myself a strong drink or three, and consider leaving the country and traveling for a spell ‘cuz ‘taint nothin’ there. Take your pick from the following: A mis-speaking fundamentalist preacher. A newly-minted fundamentalist Mormon flip-flopping Bush-suck-up. A Gotham mob henchman whose hometown’s greatest tragedy occurred while he was in charge…and he’s proud of it. Two geriatrics, one who’s having trouble staying awake during this process. And a goofy libertarian, government-hating, former government rep who wants to be the guy that runs the hated government.

It appears this one’s coming down to whether conservative white religious pastoralists can swallow the good-looking Yankee from a century-old cult who’s changed all his positions to run as a right-wing fundamentalist. Or, will they choose the lifelong right-wing fundamentalist preacher of a two-millenia old cult, owner of a blessed bookcase and who’s skinnier than he once was, but really doesn’t really understand much of the world outside of Dogpatch.

My money’s on Arkansas’ Huck tonight, figgerin’ that Iowa’s bachelor farmers will choose to hang their John Deere ball caps with the historically safe preacher/governor/formerly fat guy rather than a slippery-principled slick-haired New English Mormon.

And, should I be a Democrat (which in the name of full disclosure I have been since my Mama drug me out leafleting for George McGovern in ’72), here’s how I’d spend a pleasant yet frigid January evening:

From what I understand of the Iowa voting process, you gather together with 14% of your neighbors of similar political persuasion in someone’s parlor. The kids have taped hand-crayoned faux campaign signs for each candidate in different corners of the room. The three candidates officially sanctioned by the national news media – the girl, the black guy, and the guy with good hair – each get a corner of their own. The last corner of the room is available for “The Others”: the paunchy, flop-haired Mexican, a couple of eastern white guys, and the short guy with the hot wife.

After coffee is served and everyone’s had a fair chance at the cream cheese finger sandwiches and powder-sugared almond cookies, the caucus host invites everyone to sit in the corner correspondent with their pre-selected fave. When the attendees have all gathered in their chosen corners, the calculators are pulled out while the caucus-goers try to remember how to figure out percentages. Once the remedial mathematics arguments are resolved, those misbegotten fools who sat momentarily for a candidate that couldn’t garner 15% of the 14 people in the room, have to move to the already crowded corners pre-selected for the girl, the black guy, or the guy with good hair.

Me, I’d start in “The Others” corner, throwing my support to Bill Richardson – diplomat, congressman, governor, backslapper and global do-gooder. He wants us out of Iraq now. He’s taken New Mexico forward in green energy leadership. He’s got the personality and experience to talk to foreign leaders. And he’s wasted an entire career working with Republicans and other despots getting things done whether they’ve wanted to cooperate or not. Following 16 years of ugly partisanship, couldn’t we use a domestic diplomat who can tell a good joke for a change?

Unfortunately, the national media says Bill’s just running for VP and refuses to include him in any discussion of leading Democrats. So I’d reluctantly abandon my butt depression in the couch, along with the lonely heart supporters of Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich and try to fall in love with someone, if only for the night.

Likely, I’d snuggle up with the Obama crowd. I like his message of hope and change. If anyone’s capable of moving the national discussion in a new direction, with a new voice, I believe he can and will. I also like John Edwards' message of middle-class resurrection, particularly the class warfare angle he’s taken of late. Hillary, I’m sorry. You may be a brilliant policy wonk and a hard working and effective senator, but you’re much too centrist and all too politically cautious for me. We don’t need your triangulating and parsed and pallid support for action or inaction (which is it?) in the Middle East. And I just can’t stomach the thought of another 4 to 8 years of counterproductive political mud wrestling that you and Bill and Rush and Sean would bring us.

My predictions? Obama slips in as the winner tonight, with Edwards nosing Hillary for #2. Hillary, a disappointing third remains unbowed with gobs of cash and her all-star status media-assured. Bill maintains his steady fourth place, not quite prime time position to hang in for another couple of primaries, assuring himself of the serious VP consideration the media has allowed for him. Biden, Dodd, Kuch…likely gone and forgotten by mid-January.

We have to do this all again next week with New Hampshire, of course. By then, we’ll have a new set of rules, another round of pundit prognostications, hopefully a smaller cast of characters (unless Mr Bloomberg determines we need another NY mayor in the hunt), and a more comprehensible process beginning in Dixon’s Notch, albeit sans the delicious finger sandwiches.

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