John McCain & the GOP: A Match Made in Heaven?
Ever get the heebie-jeebies from one of those eHarmony commercials on TV? I recently got deja vu from one, just as Campaign 2008 is poised to actually move into 2008.
A man and a woman are lackadaisically standing in front of a camera, arms around each other like limp noodles. The guy proclaims that, with eHarmony's "29 dimensions of compatibility" matching system, he found a woman who has everything he was looking for: "Pretty ... a great smile...," he trails off as the bouncy music tries to convince us that they're desperately in love as they dance like fumbling eighth-graders.
It's like the courtship of low expectations that's become a hallmark of Campaign 2008.
What's missing is the passion, the oomph, the can't-live-without-you factor. The poll swings have shown that each romance with a fresh new face fizzles quickly at best, and can spell a fiery death for the GOP at worst. Candidates try to convince us they're a perfect fit on their eHarmony-esqe dimensions of conservative street cred, true compatibility that apparently can best be determined by checking off boxes.
And it's not just the Republican Party: Oprah Winfrey has been like the political version of Dr. Neil Clark Warren, telling the faithful that Barack Obama is the man they've been waiting for all their lives. Without, of course, giving anybody good, policy-based, hard-and-fast reasons why the president of her dreams should be the president in America's current perilous reality. You just apparently have to trust her matching system and you'll live happily ever after.
Has primary season become like an unsavory, yearlong wade in the dating pool? It's not as witty or Manolo-rich as an episode of "Sex and the City." It's not like the John Hughes films where the teen stars have their hearts unequivocally set on a beloved, hell or high water.
It's actually more like being wooed by good-on-paper guys who turn out to be so annoying that you excuse yourself to the restaurant's ladies room during dinner, then try to escape out the window. Along those lines, Ron Paul is like the suitor who keeps bugging you no matter how often you say "sorry, not interested" -- and then employs his creepy friends to relentlessly spam you with the hot scoop on what a catch he is.
And not all of these candidates are even making it to first base by being presidential on paper, but cruising by on perfect hair and a sharp suit. When the Des Moines Register's Republican debate concluded with a Fox News audience panel picking Mitt Romney as the victor because he "looked presidential," it was like picking a mate based on whether he looks like husband material (followed by putting the divorce lawyer on speed dial).
It's gotten to the point where a newspaper has published an anti-endorsement, the equivalent of not being quite sure what you want in a mate, but firmly knowing what you don't want. The Concord Monitor lashed out at Mitt Romney in its Sunday editorial, calling him "a disquieting figure who sure looks like the next president and most surely must be stopped." (This wording suggesting that there's a fine editorial line between presidential candidate and serial killer.)
I admit, I had some early Huckalove in this campaign. I thought the former Arkansas governor sounded fresh, hated taxes as much as I do, and slung a lot of witty repartee at his competitors. I thought that when he turned down the notion of being James Dobson's third-party savior, it meant he wouldn't bend over backward to be beholden to the evangelical wing.
Now, as the race has seemingly devolved into a Baptist vs. Mormon free-for-all with cross one-upmanship, and Mike Huckabee has demonstrated a shallow grasp of foreign policy, the affair may have fizzled. After all, the tax-code reform talk really just made me long for Steve Forbes, and the foreign policy rhetoric reminded me too much of Democrats.
Yet after all of the Campaign 2008 drama, my heart soared watching the on-air endorsement of John McCain by his BFF Joe Lieberman. It was the first time I'd actually cheered politicospeak in a long time. It was the senator who stood by what he believed, even if it meant losing the Democratic Party's backing (and who had the last laugh in the end), supporting the senator who stood by what he believed on the Iraq surge (and who was right), even if it meant his presidential dreams would be crushed.
It was a couple of real men, talking real sense, and having the best dimension of compatibility -- experience -- to back it up, as the next president can't be anything less than pitch-perfect on foreign policy. It's the GOP senator who can snag moderates without being so Rudy. Ahh, electoral l'amour!
It just goes to show that no matter how many fresh faces vie for your electoral affection, sometimes your best bet is the tried-and-true stalwart without a lot of the flash or the cash -- or perfect hair. And the recent poll bounce for McCain suggests I'm not the only one feeling this way.
Now if only the Paul posse would stop stalking all of us.
Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.