Friday, May 11, 2012
Okay, I can’t resist. Gotta talk some politics. As I predicted, Mitt Romney has the GOP nomination sewed up. He had it sewed up last fall, but now no one in the media can pretend otherwise. Well, okay, I admit it wasn’t a difficult or exceptionally prescient call on my part. In fact, it was a bit like predicting that the days would start to get longer after the winter solstice, but I have to take a little credit—not for the increased daylight, mind you; that phenomenon, as we’ll probably find out soon, was the doing of Romney. Now the big question is whom Romney will choose (or have chosen for him) as his running mate.
There’s a new TV show on HBO called “Veep,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the
vice president. It’s crude and
fast-paced and sort of funny, too, in a breathlessly uncentered way. Obviously the makers of the show want to emphasize
how powerless and haphazard is the life of the person, who, though only a
proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency itself, has little of national importance
to do. This idea isn’t new, either to
reality or fiction. John Adams, the first vice president, complained about the nothingness of his job. Lyndon Johnson, accustomed to real power, was at his most impotently miserable while occupying the office. Woodrow Wilson’s V.P., Thomas Marshall, became famous only for repeating the line, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent
cigar.” And of course there are the
occasions in history when a less-than-stellar vice president accidentally got to
run the country for a short time—Millard Fillmore and Gerald Ford come
immediately to mind. On the fictional
side, the character of Alexander Throttlebottom in the Gershwin musical “Of
Thee I Sing” probably best embodies the mixture of cluelessness and ambition
that the country associates with the office of the vice president.
The strength of “Veep” is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s cleverly self-deprecating comedic style. Within the premise of the show also is a hint of what might have happened if Sarah Palin had become vice president, though the producers would have you believe that wasn’t what they had in mind at all. And, to give them some credit in this regard, while Julia is good at playing a person who is playing dumb, she can’t help but exude more intelligence from her little finger than Palin does from her whole cranium. What’s wrong with the show quite a bit, though. Mostly it tries to be too frenetically clever--too clever by half and in double-time, as so often happens in
Hollywood. It needs
better pacing to give the audience a chance to savor its funnier moments. Slow the jokes down and retain only the better ones. Lucille Ball and Jackie Gleason showed us over half a century ago
that the central character in a TV show can be silly and funny and foolish and somewhat sympathetic at the same time, while giving the audience a chance to savor it all. Though Julia Louis-Dreyfus is no Lucille
Ball, she’s certainly one of the best comediennes working in the medium today. Still, “Veep” lacks a central galvanizing character who, at the end of the day, so to speak, conveys a modicum of
good sense and sanity. In the classics I've mentioned this of course wasn’t usually Lucy or Ralph Kramden, but rather Ricky or Ethel or Alice, and in Louis-Dreyfus’s other
major vehicle it was Jerry Seinfeld. In
“Veep” it is supposed to be Julia's young blonde assistant, but she is so overshadowed by the banter and idiocy of the other characters that she gets lost in the crossfire and it doesn't quite work. The other thing that mars the show,
quite typically, is the self-consciously potty-mouthed dialogue, which says to
the viewer, “Look, we’re on a fucking cable channel, so we can fucking say whatever
the fuck we want!”
Back to what passes for political reality. To paraphrase the beautiful opening sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of the presidential nomination of his party must be in want of a running mate.” So what’s Mitt going to do? Well, it’s early, but my personal preference would be for the junior Senator from
Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Miami. He has all the things the Tea Partiers
salivate over—conservative credentials, fanatical Republican roots, religion
coming out of his very pores. He was
born Catholic, but his family dabbled in Mormonism when they lived in Vegas
during his youth, and now he’s an official Catholic once again, although
according to Wikipedia he also attends Southern Baptist services. Talk about covering all the bases.
Here’s the thing that should make him so compelling to the GOP, given its recent propensity for miscalculation. He’s a Latino. The Republicans would very much love to have an honest-to-God non-WASP on the ticket, as long as he meets the rigid right-wing criteria they have for any candidate. And a guy whose parents come from a Spanish-speaking country, they figure, would be just the thing for garnering at least some of the millions of votes of those who somehow finagled their way past the green card phase and on to bona fide voter status.
But the Latino vote is not a monolith—not nearly so much so as are the African American vote or the southern white vote, for example. Rubio’s folks are from
which plays well in Florida, where the majority of Cuban Americans reside. But Romney doesn’t need a Cuban running mate
to win in Florida. The Cubans there are going to vote for anyone
who runs as a Republican—Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy. They are close to being what
you'd call a one-issue voting bloc, and their issue is simply that
they’ll back the party they see as most vehemently anti-communist. Simple as that. The Republicans already won that
contest decades ago. However, that issue is comparatively, if not utterly, irrelevant to the Mexicans and Central Americans who make up the bulk of the Latino voting public.
The majority of Latinos are not as white or as privileged as the Cubans are in this country. Most Cubans (though not Rubio’s parents, apparently) got here through the favored-immigrant political route offered to refugees from Castro’s government (and denied to many other darker political refugees), and not by the more conventional route of trucking up over the dusty roads of Chihuahua or Sonora in order to scrape by in el Norte picking produce, shoveling guts in slaughterhouses, and landscaping and cleaning houses for the Anglos. Cubans in general don’t struggle in anonymity to avoid detection and deportation, or get the shits put to them by the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in
. This gives Cubans a much more natural
affinity with the Republican Party, but considerably less solidarity with their distinctly more impoverished compadres from Maricopa
County, Arizona Mexico and Central America. Not that these latter folks aren’t just as committed to the American dream of upward mobility as any other group of
immigrants, and not that they’re knee-jerk Democrats; they're just not knee-jerk Republicans like the Cubans are.
The Rubio miscalculation, in my fantasy, would be a familiar one, along the lines of the Sarah Palin debacle. Imagine the great minds of the GOP caucusing back in 2008 over who McCain’s vice presidential running mate should be. I know there’s already been a made-for-TV movie about the whole thing, but I couldn't bring myself to watch it, and besides, I have my own vision of how it went down:
“Well,” says one of them, “Our guy is about as exciting as an ad for adult diapers. In fact, he might even wear them. What can we do to draw in some of the younger, hipper demographic? You know—the pukes from the blue states?”
“Hey!” says another, “Let’s get a broad to run with him. Then the gals will have their own candidate, and maybe we’ll get some of the women who are pissed that Hillary got smoked by Obama.” [Here you might already be getting a sense of the stupidity of the calculus.]
And someone else says, “You know, I think I know just the person. And she’s way younger and prettier than Hillary, and definitely not a crypto-Commie or an overeducated ball-buster. We'll probably even get some uncommitted men to vote for her just 'cause she’s kinda semi-hot.”
The gang perks up, because everyone in the room figures that the only prominent conservative Republican women are either wailing furies like Ann Coulter or horse-faced Valkyries like the woman who’s married to that abominably inbred-looking Democratic pundit from down south.
Now let's fast-forward to 2012, as the running-mate scenario is replaying itself. We know the GOP strategists are no wiser, and if anything less organized than they were four years ago. This time the Republicans have a candidate who is a lot like John McCain, but with more hair and without the war record and the experience in
Washington. Sure, he’ll get the old fart vote—that’s pretty
much a given. Men over 65 were McCain’s
most solid backers in ’08. The
Republican apparatchiks figure they know better this year than to pull another Sarah
Palin, which in hindsight was a high-profile Charlie Foxtrot.
So one of the guys says, while idly flipping through a copy of the National Review, with Fox News rolling in the background, “I read somewhere that some huge percentage—15 or 20%--of the people in this country are Mexican, or Hispanic, or Latino, or Chicano, or whatever they like to call themselves. They’re multiplying like rabbits. You can’t go into the bathroom at a 7-Eleven without seeing a “Lave Sus Manos” sign over the sink. Even if only half of them are legal voters, we gotta get on board here.
An old-timer, whose career goes way back, looks dreamily up at the tube, the muted mouth of Bill O'Reilly opening and closing nonsensically. “Yeah, remember how Bush would speak Spanish to the wets down in
Texas? Mi casa es su casa, and all that? That played, didn’t it?”
“Boy,” says another, “if we could get just another whack at that big pinata we might pick up a swing state or two.”
A fourth says, “But what about Rick Santoro? He's Mexican, isn’t he?”
“No, no, dumbass,” someone chides, “Santorum is Latin for something, but he’s not a Lat-teen-o. Just an Eye-talian Catholic.”
“Wait a minute. Wouldn’t a Hispanic vice president be a little redundant? I mean, Romney’s old man was born in
Mexico, so that practically makes Mitt one of them already, doesn’t it? We don't want to overdo this shit. Didn’t Romney Senior fight with Pancho Villa before
he went to Michigan to single-handedly save the auto industry?”
“That was Mitt who saved the auto industry, not the old man. George's company eventually went belly-up. Anyway, it didn’t need saving back when he was governor.”
“Oh fuck,” says another, “I can’t keep all these details straight in my mind. I wish we could just convince the blacks that we really don’t hate them that much. Didn’t we give them Clarence Thomas and Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice? I mean, where’s the love?”
And on it goes, into the night. Smoke fills the room.
The beauty part of all this, as they used to say, is that it could play out in any of a number of ways, all with pretty much the same result. They could pick Marco Rubio of Florida, or some doofus from
another battleground state. Or a diehard
Confederate warrior from somewhere in the deep south, or a smarmy neocon from a
big city. A man, a woman, a reformed born-again
gay. It really doesn’t matter. People are going to vote for Mitt Romney and
whoever his running mate is because Romney is, number one, a Republican; number two, a
white man; and number three, a capitalist.
Not necessarily in that order. Running
mates only matter when they become a distinct liability, and sometimes not even then. Remember Dan Quayle?
But I’m hoping that to break up the tedium of the next six months of electioneering the Republicans will serve us up another delightful surprise like they did in ’08. Hey, maybe Julia Louis-Dreyfus would like to run!