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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Presidential Personae

(This week's blog was written by sptmck, a fellow educator at the high school in which I work. He teaches English, and after you read this, you'll realize that the rumor is true: All the best do end up at WHS. You'll also realize why he's an English teacher, as his wordsmithing far outmatches my rambling, social studies-geared editorials. Enjoy this, and I hope we'll hear from him again down the road. To see more of what he has to say, please click on the above link. Unfortunately for you, I'll be back next Tuesday.)

As we watch Tony “Herman Munster” Snow field questions about Chimpy’s newest plan in the New Year for a new Iraq, we might dull the pain by turning to presidential politics and the prospects of a new leader with new ideas and a new administration. So instead of erecting altars for McClellan and Fleischer, WH press phantoms of the past, let’s peek into 2008 rather than sadistically reminisce.

But before we go back and forth to the future, I want to establish a critical framework here: as Joe Klein, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman—not exactly my favorite people— have recently noted on different Sunday “talking head appearances,” it’s the persona and story that the candidate establishes with the electorate that matters most. The hell with what candidates really stand for. So let’s take a look at both sides of the galaxy by examining the gravitational pulls first and then circle the rings to see what other space dust lingers.

Let’s begin the right way: the Republican orbit. John McCain tops most lists as the candidate to beat, but I’m afraid that the straight talkin’ maverick we saw in the 2000 primaries has morphed into the straight scripted butt kisser in the political world of 2007. And it’s unclear if he’s gaining, maintaining or losing ground.

Of course, McCain had to morph to appeal to the extreme religious right, the Bush people, who were once split between McCain and “macaca” himself, George Allen, and the establishment right—the corporate class—to make any grounds. This process began in the presidential campaign season of 2004, on Air Force One, to be exact, where we witnessed McCain sell his soul to the very president whom he once criticized, whom he criticized even more when he previously ran against him in the 2000 Republican primaries, and whom he was smeared by in order NOT to win in the South Carolina primary. That Rove and company would falsely claim McCain was nuts, had an illegitimate black child, and a bad relationship with his wife was beyond despicable. And what made it even more despicable was that unquestionably, like or not, McCain had the right personae for the job: a media respected Senator, prisoner-of-war-hero, Vietnam Veteran, fiscal conservative and socially moderate politician.

But the question is: has the McCain tectonic morph undercut the once semi-respectable McCain personae that catapulted him to the national spotlight? Yes, he’s always been a favorite of the neoconservative nuts, but has the shift from center right to righter than right created rifts in the overall persona that continue to widen with McCain’s support for troop escalation? As the Bush team re-arranges the chairs aboard their Titanic Iraq with none other than Captain Lieberman aboard, the sands in the political hour glass seem to move ever more quickly for McCain. And he must decide how to negotiate his pledge of allegiance to Bush, his aspirations for the future, and his persona, which, if not handled with care, could be the albatross around his neck. In short, the nomination is his to lose.

The space dust in the right orbit, at this juncture, poses no major threat despite all the media hoopla. Giuliani has just too much baggage for any terminal to manage, let alone the Republican primary voters who will marvel at Rudy’s three marriages. Yes, folks, America’s mayor has a schizophrenic persona, just like porn-star named Mitt Romney, and it doesn’t jive. You can run, you can hide, you call yourself Pat Robertson’s best friend, but you can’t move away from your socially moderate, if not liberal—in some cases—past. Both men pathetically suffer from the Jekyll & Hyde personae complex: “Believe me: I’m really a social conservative who just happens to like gays and a woman’s right to choose.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. They do have some time to recover, to deny their pasts, and to hope that McCain’s albatross is, in fact, the rime of the ill-fated candidate.

In the left orbit, we find none other than Hillary, a constellation of Clinton triangulationism, the Democratic Leadership Council, and who the hell knows what else personae, as the lady has recently held secret meetings with Wall Street Brokers, and, yes, religious conservatives. As McCain shimmied rightward, Hillary has tangoed rightward in an attempt to gussy up her persona, too. Hillary tops the Democrat list, and every Republican I know hopes she stays there, which has me routinely doing my impression of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” If you thought Giuliani and Romney had baggage, theirs are carry-ons compared to what Hillary has.

My problem, though, is neither with Hillary’s baggage nor with her politics, some of which I like; my problem is with her persona. Hillary is smart; she has experience in diplomacy; she has garnered much respect as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; she has done a great job for New York; and quite a few people I know who have met her said she’s warm and sincere in person—believe it or not. However, the truth of the matter is that she comes off as cold, detached, and uninviting. That Donna Brazile, Democrat strategist, recently stated on Wolf Blizter’s “The Situation Room” we will learn more about Hillary the mother, Hillary the wife, and Hillary the daughter in the near future boldly speaks to an immediate campaign strategy the Clintonistas must undertake: tweak Hillary’s personae to make her appealing. On the one hand, at least they are recognizing the problem. On the other hand, they are recognizing a BIG problem that could be costly even if she clinches the party’s nomination. Let’s face it: Hillary has a persona problem that needs addressing. The stern, direct but loving grandmother persona of Speaker Pelosi, I believe, only complicates Hillary’s therapy-needed persona. In short, the nomination could be hers whether or not her persona goes into rehab.

Unlike the schizophrenic space dust in the right, some of the left space dust could amass to form a star, and that could be either John Edwards or Barack Obama. Removing himself entirely from the asteroid beltway, John Edwards has gone from Washington insider to community service hero, taking on such issues as poverty and that other ignored disaster of the Bush administration: the war-torn gulf coast, courtesy of Katrina. Above all else, Edwards has an appealing persona that seems genuine, friendly, and likeable. And he’s not afraid to take risks, as Edwards both supported Ned Lamont and has been the first to vocally call McCain on his recent moves: “the McCain doctrine” belongs to Edwards. Additionally, Edwards has earned high marks with progressives including bloggers; he’s a favorite of the Patron Saint Kos after all. If packaged correctly, Edwards could rise from the black hole of the Kerry campaign and be the guy whom you would want to have a beer with, whatever the label and whatever the party affiliation. Yes, he lacks the experience of others but so did Chimpy and look where he ended up.

Barack also has star potential; hell, he is all star personae. Bright, articulate, charismatic, and a great public speaker, Obama has all the makings and personae of a strong candidate, which was first evident on the national stage the moment he mesmerized audiences at the 2004 Democrat convention. Furthermore, when Obama speaks people are inspired; that he has drawn record crowds in recent public appearances in New Hampshire indicates that perhaps now is the time for his star to truly shine. And remember: unlike both Senators Clinton and Edwards, Obama was against the war from the beginning, while still in the state legislature in Illinois.

Could Obama muster enough resources and strength to position himself as the luminary presence in a galaxy plagued by partisanship, war, corruption, and division? Does Obama have the right blend of presidential personae to restore balance and newness to the universe? Or is there some other burgeoning star out there whose presidential personae will rescue us from the likes of Tony “Herman Munster” Snow?

3 comments:

IC said...

Fantastic read! It's a great in-depth look at what each party and ideology is dealing with. It's also a good segue to what I plan on writing about next Tuesday, when I take a look at more of the popular names being thrown about for both parties.

PresidentWebb said...

The best way to now build a personae is to write an optimistic book and pub it on The Daily Show or the O'Reilly Factor. Case in point, I may work for the Huckabee campaign after hearing his easy going jive and moderate ideas after his discussion on TDS tonight. It made me almost forget he was a Republican...

Stephen C. Kurczy said...

Q Rumsfeld says in the memo, advising the President, "announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis."

MR. SNOW: That's one of the options.

Q Right, this will give the U.S. the "ability to readjust and move to another force, if necessary, and therefore, not to lose."

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Does the President typically get this kind of advice from Rumsfeld, to do one thing, but tell the American people he's doing something else?

MR. SNOW: No. Again, if you take a look at this, this is illustrative options and this covers a whole lot of ground. And the President can sort through it. I think Secretary Rumsfeld was musing, but you'll have to ask Secretary Rumsfeld what he had in mind.

Q You don't see this as duplicitous in any way?

MR. SNOW: You know, I'll let you characterize it.

-----

Q It seems almost like Baker-Hamilton doesn't factor in at all. Every time you're asked --

MR. SNOW: Well, these --

Q -- let me finish the question, please. If every time you're asked, were the contents of Baker-Hamilton discussed, I believe each time you've said, no.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q You seem to be distancing from that.

MR. SNOW: I'm not distancing from it. We are aware of the recommendations. And I have -- a number of these things have, at various junctures, been considered and may or may not be reflected in the final product. What I'm saying is, nobody said, okay, Baker-Hamilton, let's open up to page 40; ah-hah, they accepted our goals, high five, everybody. None of that stuff has happened.
---

In the words of Borat, "HI FIVE!!"

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