Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Others

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 6/01/09

The Sotomayor issue defaults not so much to law as to literature. It is not about Race but The Others. That she would identify herself as Latina, woman, New York Puerto Rican – the pundits recall poet Miguel Piñero’s phrase Nuyorican - while she would see The Others – Rick Perry, John Lennon, Tolstoy, Charles Aznavour, the Pope, TinTin, William Butler Yeats, Dick Morris, St. Francis, Picasso, Richard Petty, Stanley Dunham, Jimmy Swaggart, Old McDonald and Dr. Porsche – as a soulless and generic bunch of white guys all packaged in the same crate, shows a mind with the subtle and nuanced sensibilities of a granite field marker.

On face value, one would question so narrow a perspective as The Others are always seen on the dark side, and empathy is all but impossible to its denizens as they live among the beasts. But it is of course only the same undergraduate cant repeated and bonded to generation over generation now by those generally with no experience other than school. Obama described them in his autobiography as leftovers from the Sixties, still stuck in the coffee shop at college, still smoldering.

No doubt she will get the job but this selection will diminish and it has diminished Obama. And that is why the Republicans will let it go. It is good for them as it improves their prospects ahead. But it is also good for Bill Clinton as well, because it is very good for Clinton when Obama, a far superior man and politician, looks narrow and provincial.

Dick Morris proposes this week in The Hill that Obama has masterfully sequestered the Clintons, sending Bill off to Haiti and effectively muzzling Hillary.

“Bill can’t even make money,” writes Morris. “Denied the ability to accept speeches from foreign governments or their organs and fenced out of continuing his profitable relationship with the Emir of Dubai, he and his wife must accept the loss of the $13 million they spend on her campaign and sit by passively, unable to earn the money to replace it.”

Hillary will subject herself to this discipline, says Morris, so long as Obama is popular. But should his ratings fade, she might move away from the president and could even consider a primary contest against him in 2012.

I think she will because his ratings will yield in a dollar crisis and inflated money later on and because the Clintons are without character. And because the people who live in New York City proper can think of little else besides Bill Clinton. He is to them what Conan was to the Barbarians, what Tristan was to Isolde, what honey was to Winnie the Pooh, what The Rapture is to Christian Fundamentalists.

There is an astonishing puff piece about Bill Clinton as a cover story at The New York Times Magazine this week (“Bill Clinton loves to shop.”) which brings to the fore the first steps in the 2012 election.

As a public figure, Obama should belong to the first ranks with people like FDIC Chairman Shiela Bair and Utah Governor and China ambassador appointee Jon Huntsman, Jr. But for someone so original in mind, so naturally urbane and sophisticated, this vision of himself as the New Roosevelt (or the New Kennedy or the New Lincoln) defeats him. It seems a mask; a persona designed for him by the marketing agents in alumni hall who answer to the company trustees. It is out of sync with his prodigious natural gifts. The Roosevelt persona is a mask that doesn’t fit and it is misguided in so many ways but mainly because America is a vastly different country now than it was in the 1930s.

The people went to Roosevelt for a second term because they had no place else to turn. A nation of factory workers and field hands cast their fate at his feet. Today we are a different people – and possibly different peoples. There are other options. There are greater potentials and possibilities. The Clintons are fully without grace and will lose in a landslide, but Bill has that Elvis karma; he will be an embarrassment to the country till his last days and like Elvis in the god suit in Las Vegas, it will get worse as he gets older.

The Democratic Party is a victim of memory. It has a crippling inability to see fresh into the future. Cycles of power today have no bearing whatsoever on the 1930s as the Roosevelt nostalgicos have it. If our time resembles any it is the mid 1970s, the decadent post-Vietnam period when the country was awash in drugs and narcissism. Unless Obama changes course he, like Jimmy Carter, is likely to be seen in history as an entertaining ethnic interim between major power intervals. Auto bailouts then, bailouts today times three; Carter then followed by Ronald Reagan and Saturday Night Live, where Hillary appeared to glow this past week, yielding to a very long run of Dallas.

Rick Perry, take note. Sarah Palin as well.

A primary change in America took place in the 1970s and it is the most important and most historic turning since the war. The Democrats are in full denial. The Republicans in half denial. In the 1970s, the South and the heartland rose as a dynamic political and economic entity for the first time since 1865. Most Republican pundits today live in Washington, D.C. and support the conventional political religion and the status quo, but conservatism now has two wings; the traditional Peggy Noonan/George H.W. Bush gentleman – now Catholic - politics of the Eastern Establishment, and the Ted Nugent tax rebels rising in the heartland.

This will affect our immediate future again as it did in 1980. It is a new political force rising in America and it has come about for one reason: Northeastern Liberalism believes it can “whistle past Dixie” and the heartland and simply dictate policy to these states as if it they were under a military occupation. It cannot, and the more it tries, the more the heartland will turn to Uncle Ted. Uncle Ted is a measure of heartland discontent, which is now growing prodigiously.

Obama’s heartland roots are deeper than anyone’s since Eisenhower. It is almost uncanny how his Kansas grandfather comes shining through each time he breaks into that sensational smile. But it is not part of the persona; that party mask which blocks out and stunts his deeper talents. He is clever enough to accommodate this new direction but most of his advisors are not, as they look to the past and when they see past Interstate 87 at all, they see only The Others.