By Robert Capehert
Seems an apt question.
By now, it appears the Obama administration has chewed the U.S. Constitution up and spit it out as useless bolus, a forgettable relic of 18th century liberalism, which according to modern progressivism Americans find impractical in our times.
But scandals have a way of throwing jackasses over cliffs.
Still, when those jackasses are of a progressive character, folks will have to offer me forgiveness for my lack of sorrow. I’m not surprised (a bit!) at what occupies the nation’s attention these last weeks. However much I was convinced Mitt Romney would run a “transparently bad” campaign (dittos to Jonah Goldberg) and lose a winnable election, I still turn back to Nov. 6, 2012 and ask: What happened America? What did you, not me, do?
But before celebrations can commence, classical liberals of the libertarian and paleocon stripe need worry: at least a bit. The current scandals are sure to table much of the Obama agenda at least temporarily — maybe even creating a lame-duck presidency even sooner than normal. We can hope (plead). But like former President Bill Clinton, who never scored over 47% of the electorate in two elections, those on the right — ideological and hardwired for battle — are going to have to figure out how to communicate with finesse classical liberalism to 50-56% of the American voting population.
In 1995 onward, in terms of public policy, Pres. Clinton governed as a centrist. Many Americans, it would seem, figured a leftist Democrat like Obama, like Clinton, would result in the same kind of economic expansion and balanced budgets experienced during the Clinton golden years.
In fact, Pres. Clinton shucked and jived on that kind of thinking during his 2012 Democrat National Convention speech. I do not believe much of what former Pres. Clinton utters. Still, I was impressed with Clinton’s pitch. How could one not be? Clinton is a performer of high style.
Clinton’s pitch worked. How that happened when Pres. Obama enacted opposite policies from Clinton post-1994 is the paradox.
But former Pres. Clinton sold it. Part of it remains what Beilstein did get right (recently). Bill Clinton put a narrative forward, communicated with wit and vigor, encapsulating the last 30 years of political government — spinning it to make Democrats look good. Which is normal. It’s not a crime. Like Reagan before him, former Pres. Clinton told the American people a story — a dramatic one, where the past belonged to the antagonist (Republicans), who ruined the good story Democrat’s have been telling since the ancients walked — and the future?
It belonged to the beleaguered protagonists. The protagonist is the hero in a movie — the guy or gal we’re all hoping makes it. Gets it done, finds happiness, or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the protagonists in Clinton’s fable were easy to discern, they were the Democrat Party, headlined by Pres. Barack Hussein Obama.
Romney countered by saying what we have here, ladies and gents, is nothing more than two products. Two smart phones. Choooose. Romney denied the opportunity to offer a counter, dramatic narrative about the last 40 years American politics produced, good and bad.
Romney’s pitch failed. Commentators celebrated his passion. They remarked Romney succeeded because he was not the dreaded robot conservatives and Republicans feared he would be. But Romney didn’t need to show wires, or the zipper on the back of his suit to fail. All Romney need do is what was absent: tell us about our story; about the story of our nation, our people, and our world.
Romney knew the numbers, but he needed the verity of William Shakespeare’s best verses.
As much as Mitt Romney’s business experience and governorship of Massacheuttes prepared him for the presidency far above Obama’s paltry first-term and before that, as community agitator on the streets of Chicago, Romney forgot the campaign for the presidency is performance theater, not a boardroom sweatshop.
We can complain. We can say, “That’s the problem with politics.” But before we do — and I’m riffing off of Beilstein here — we need to come to understand such aesthetics do not mean truth and competence in governing are unimportant. Doesn’t mean numbers are for nerds, therefore pols don’t need them. All are exceptionally paramount — but all need to be structured around a dramatic story.
Let us remember: the great stories, the great movies, are great because they are true. They reveal life’s verities; they reveal our humanity; but they are executed par excellence, too. Our lives are stories. Moreover, we relate to life — even if we do not read, to life’s pageant of experience, ours, and are neighbors, in narrative form.
Therefore, it must remain fixed in the deep gorge of the mind the campaign for high office is theater — a creative, oral, and visual-based performance medium. If I’m wrong — or if Beilstein is — take a gander here.
What you’ll be watching goes back some years. 1979 thereabouts. Back to then California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s announcement to run for the Presidency of the United States of America.
Reagan the great within his element. Shear performance. An honest one, but performance no less. His message had facts; it was political. It had conservative ideology sprinkled with Barry Goldwater’s best. Reagan performs. And Reagan appreciates the set. Knows the room — the set pieces. The blocking is exceptional; it’s cozy and comfy.
Reagan without looking or trying — without a hair out of place — hits all his marks. We know. Reagan was a skilled actor. Nevertheless, Reagan was fabulous here, and even better — Ronald Reagan tells us a story, which ironically, also defends and exegetes American conservatism.
If one watches former Pres. Clinton’s speech to the DNC faithful in the summer of 2012, then watches Romney’s RNC speech a few weeks earlier, then re-watches Reagan’s announcement speech (or Reagan’s own 1980 Republican Convention speech) — it is Reagan and Clinton who are alike.
Not Mitt Romney. Or John McCain or heaven forbid, Bob Dole.
And Reagan and Clinton were elected President. Twice.
We know what happened to Romney (and the others). Romney gave the very graceful and efficient (just like his business practices) concession speech the night Obama whooped up on him and dragged him through the proverbial mud in the Electoral College.
Beyond the scandals… beyond the choice American’s made on Tuesday, Nov. 6 — politics as performance art — a dramatic retelling of the American story and where it must go to be a republic of the people, by the people, for the people, matters.
Scandals come and go — but this, this country of dramatic story; of heritage and blood and family — of freedom. These things will outlive scandal, and American conservatives will need to be able to communicate them.