The Logic Behind the “Vice President Clinton” Meme

11 01 2012

Happy New Year, now let’s talk politics, specifically that long forgotten subject – Democratic politics.

ImageOk, maybe forgotten is pushing it a bit too far, but with the Republican primary process well and truly underway and the incumbent Democratic president running unchallenged, there’s not much for us on the left to do politically except remark on the dog and pony show of ultra-conservatism that’s bumbling its way around the country. I suppose that it’s that kind of party boredom that’s mostly to blame for this kind of story, but there might just be more to it. The latest incarnation of the “Hillary for VP” meme comes from a New York Times opinion piece by Bill Keller published Monday and another in the Washington Post by Suzi Parker from yesterday. The points they makes are much the same as in most of the other renditions of this tune that’s been playing off and on almost since this administration began, but there has been a decidedly different reaction to the notion of Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden switching places this time around. It’s no longer treated as some crazy idea being floated by Clinton diehards (highly unlikely) or desperate Obama fans (also ridiculous) that has no basis in reality let alone fact. Monday night this opinion piece was discussed all over the place on cable news in spite of it being the day before the New Hampshire primary and discussed with some degree of seriousness albeit prefaced by numerous “this will never happen”-type comments. The truth is that, no matter how unlikely the scenario, you never know. I mean, did you think that the question of whether or no states can ban contraception would be a question in this year’s presidential primary debates at this time four years ago?

“Ok, so it’s a thing, but why and how would it work?” you ask. Well, even though I’m in no way involved in national politics or punditry (Not that I wouldn’t like to be, in case anyone in those fields is looking to hire. 🙂 ), I have just as good an imagination as the rest of them, so, if you would like, let’s take a stroll around Speculationville. We’ll start with the “why”.

2008 was the year of Hope and Change. The nation was weary of war and increasingly unnerved by the steepening decline in our economy. People were looking for something fresh and optimistic – a feel good candidate – and they found that in the calm persona of “No Drama Obama”. There is, however, a downside to being seen as Mr. Cool and that’s running the risk of looking too ‘on point’ and scripted. Obama needed a foil that brought a more approachable, down to earth ‘average Joe’ quality to the ticket and they got just that in an ever likable, if chronically gaffe-prone, senator from Delaware by the name of Joe Biden. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the past four years, the mood of the country has shifted. Our idealistic search for something new has given way to old cries, from the eighties and even earlier, of “fat cats” and “corporate greed” versus a shrinking middle class and growing number of people on some form of government assistance leading some candidates to insinuate that these lower-income people are lazy. It’s all remarkably similar to the Reagan era arguments about “welfare Queens” and the financial culture of hostile takeovers and Gordon Gekko types running the show on Wall St. At the same time we have seen the rise of the Tea Party culminating in the Great Butt-Kicking of 2010 which flipped the balance of power in the House of Representatives and shifted the political dialogue of the entire country well to the right of anywhere I’ve ever seen it. The moderates, Republican and Democrat alike, were excised in favor of more partisan candidates and the resulting Congress has been deadlocked ever since. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve almost-but-not-quite shut down the government. Is it four times now? Six? I don’t remember.

So this year is shaping up to be a Smackdown election worthy of a Pay Per View cage match and the respective political parties are looking for prize fighters. The Republicans are looking for a defender of tax cuts and a champion of smaller government and business interests. The Democrats are looking for fighter for workers and the middle class and a protector of programs that they see as vital. What Democrats have is a very mellow, professorial president with an affable everyman as his VP. The Republicans are searching and re-searching their candidate field in the vain hope that one of their potential nominees is the much longed for second coming of Ronald Reagan and Democrats are kind of left to pine for their second coming of FDR.

The Democratic presidential candidate is decided by default, or should I say incumbency, but there is still that unfulfilled desire for a fighter. Someone who will have no problem going a couple of rounds with the Republicans on the Hill, conservative pundits, or maybe both at once without flinching. Joe Biden, as likable as he is, doesn’t strike most people as a tough guy, so regardless of the good job he’s done, he’s not necessarily what a lot of Democrats are looking for this time around. If there is one thing that Hillary Clinton is known for, it is her strength and her tenacity and throughout her time as both a political spouse and a political figure in her own right she has never, ever had any problems with taking it to Republicans at all. There was one instance during one of her husband’s gubernatorial races when she crashed a press conference his opponent was holding to criticize the then Governor for being out of state and Mrs. Governor Clinton took him on herself. I don’t think anyone has any doubt that she’d know how to handle these tea folk and that’s why I think this rumor never quite goes away. The fact that she’s the most popular government figure in the country right now doesn’t hurt either.

The mechanics of how a Biden/Clinton switch would happen takes us deeper into the realm of completely unsubstantiated guessing games. It’s worth noting that removing Biden from the ticket does have some serious drawbacks. Just look at the coverage the replacement of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley got even though it was primary time in New Hampshire. That would increase exponentially if it were Joe Biden that was on his way out, even if it was just to head down to Foggy Bottom. Coverage like that is rarely a net positive. It would look bad to demote someone who has been such a loyal and hardworking member of the administration. It could also be spun out as a sort of Hail Mary play by a desperate candidate and put the new Obama/Clinton campaign on the defensive from the get go.

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the administration had weighed their options and decided that the switch was both possible and worth the risk. Hillary Clinton would have to leave the State Department before the swap was announced because, by law, a Secretary of State can not play a role in domestic politics. Her pretext for doing so is anyone’s guess, but it would not be due to any difference of opinion between her and the White House, obviously. She’s mentioned retirement enough that an announcement to that effect might be the way she’d go, take a couple of months off to rally her people, and then, on some beautiful afternoon in the Rose Garden, there she’d be – as Barack Obama’s new running mate. Immediately the question would be raised – the question that is always raised where Hillary Clinton is concerned. What about Bill?

In the years since he left office, Bill Clinton has become an elder statesman par excellence. His foundation is involved in numerous charitable endeavors the world over and his annual Clinton Global Initiative event is such a big deal that he has to hold it on the same week as the UN General Assembly so as to be more convenient for his international attendees who are going to the UN anyway. He also has a Global Initiative specifically for undergrad and graduate students interested in NGO work which his daughter play a significant role in. He was named the Obama Administration’s Special Envoy to Haiti after that country was decimated by an earthquake. He has appeared several times in support of the President’s economic agenda and has proven to be a rather good surrogate seeming to have learned from his mistakes in his wife’s presidential bid. He has also written two books. In short, he’s got a lot going on and some of that work might present a conflict of interest if his wife was the vice presidential nominee. He had to make significant changes in order for her to become Secretary of State and I imagine that he would have to make more if she was second in line to run the country. My feeling is that he’d leave most of the foundation’s operations in someone else’s hands. In addition to getting rid of any perceived conflicts, it would also be a sort of trial run for the organization to see how it would operate when Bill Clinton retires. During this time the foundation could be prepared to run for decades and become a part of Bill Clinton’s legacy as opposed to his pet project. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the globe-trotting former president held a press conference, heaped praise upon his wife, headed out on the campaign trail, and then to DC. His elder statesman skills might come in handy and he could prove to be an asset to the administration, a kind of Eleanor Roosevelt to Hillary’s FDR.

I’ll end my completely amateur, uninformed, armchair analysis by saying that this whole thing is about as likely as me appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition… or voting Republican. It’s all conjecture and the conjecture of someone with no inside information, but I’ve heard too much about this idea being entirely bogus and it’s not. It’s certainly unlikely, but it’s not bogus and that’s why I sketched it out this way. Hillary Clinton would be good for Barack Obama in the same way that New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is such a good surrogate for Mitt Romney, another “Mr. Cool, Calm, and Collected”. She is a veteran of many partisan fights and would make a good “Iron Lady for the Middle Class” if that’s what the administration thinks they need in 2012. I think this issue is hinged on what the traveling circus that is the Republican primary constructs for a message and a ticket. If it’s something like Romney/Christie, there might be a new, and yet very familiar, running mate for the President.

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Wedding Season Political Junkie Style

13 07 2011

There are a few things that are clear this fine summer evening – we are in the midst of “wedding season” and that our politicians will fight rather than compromise on any issue, however large or small, for as long as they can stretch it out. Seriously, House of Representatives?! Light bulbs?! Pictures are fun (especially while I sort out a more substantial post), so I’ve combined these two topics for your amusement. Here are a collection of wedding pictures of people who would be political players some day.

John and Jacqueline Kennedy. Is there any picture of them that doesn’t look like a scene from a movie?

I couldn’t find a picture of Lyndon and “Lady Bird” Johnson’s wedding, but this them as newlyweds.

I’m not posting a picture of the Nixons’ wedding because I didn’t find one. This is a photo of them dancing at their daughter Tricia’s White House wedding.

I did find a photo of Gerald and Betty Ford on their wedding day. How ’bout those socks, huh?

This is Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter and they look about fourteen. It’s kind of creepy.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan cutting the cake. Nancy Reagan’s hat reminds me of Princess Leia’s hair. Just thought I’d share that observation.

George and Barbara Bush. It seems odd seeing them as young people.

You can’t mention the name “Clinton” and the word “marriage” without pissing someone off, so I’ll say as little as possible on the topic. The bride’s hairstyle is a bit much, but it was the seventies so I can’t hold the fro against her.

Bush wedding 2: The Dubya edition.

Barack and Michelle Obama have supplied the cutest photo of this post.

There’s not much in the way of non-Presidential political wedding photos (as it should be, frankly), but I looked anyway because I saw this one in a political ad and wanted to have a reason to add it. Herman Cain, Republican presidential candidate wins the award for most awkward looking groom, but we are a country that has elected some odd-looking gentlemen.

This is Mitt Romney before he looked like what designers at Mattel would create to fill a box with the word ‘President” on it.

As a sort of flashback, this is John and Cindy McCain.

When Nancy Pelosi was poised to begin her four-year stint as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a lot of biographical pieces were done on her and this photo is from one of them.

I will end this rose petal-sprinkled wander through recent political history with this photo of Texas governor Rick Perry. So far he just the Republican governor of Texas, but the are presidential campaign rumblings once again coming from the Lonestar State. I think we’ll soon be seeing much more of him.

Enjoy the wedding season/political spitball war that is this summer!





Admirable Women – The Real Trailblazers

25 02 2011

2008 brought a lot of attention to the role of women in the highest levels of elected office. That’s great – I’m all for furthering gender equity – but we got a bit caught up in how historic a moment it was for women. “Oh. My. God. A woman senator is running for President. A woman governor might be Vice President. Oh, we’re soooooo enlightened.” Yeah, not quite. We’d forgotten that we’ve seen women as governors and senators for a while now and we’d seen them running for President and be nominated as vice presidential candidates before too. Time to take a serious look at all the ’08 hype before we get buried in BS of 2012. I’m not trying to diminish the accomplishments of either of these women, but there are a few things that need clearing up.

Hillary Clinton was sworn in as the junior Senator from New York in 2001 and served in the Senate for 7 seven years until 2009 when she was asked to become Secretary of State by President Obama. So, she served a full term, was re-elected, and was then picked to fill a position within the incoming administration. Yes, that’s impressive. What it isn’t is unheard of – at least the different pieces of it aren’t. Let me explain.

  • Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-AR), after serving in the Senate for a year to fill the seat left open by her husband’s death, won a special election in 1932 and became the first woman elected to the United States Senate. She won re-election in 1938, but lost the 1944 primary.
  • Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for the office of President of the United States… in 1872. Some say the she doesn’t count because her name was never on the ballot.
  • Ok, if you want to be one of those picky people, fine. Belva Ann Lockwood ran in 1884 and 1888. Her running mate in her first attempt also happened to be a woman.
  • Frances Perkins was the first woman to be appointed to a position in the US Cabinet. In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt named her Secretary of Labor, a position she held until 1945.
  • *In 1972, Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) became the first woman to get delegate votes at national convention for a major party. To date, six women have had that honor – Shirley  Chisholm in 1972, Barbara Jordan (D-TX) in 1976, Koryne Kaneski Horbal (D-MN) and Alice Tripp (D-MN?) in 1980, Martha Kirkland (D-AL?) in 1984, and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in 2008. * (Updated as promised.)

Hillary Clinton is admirable – she’s done a lot and I’ll get into that in another post – but not for being the first woman to run for president, or becoming a famous senator, or being asked to be a high-ranking official in a presidential administration because she wasn’t first. She’s the one that got the farthest along thus far, but there were many who came before her. She took the individual achievements others had attained and strung them all together in one ten-year period – a feat that in itself is admirable.

Sarah Palin has become not only a celebrity, but something close to a deity in the eyes of many of her supporters. I think any sort of rabid political fandom is a little misplaced – they write laws, not pop songs – but the Palin worshipers really take it to the next level not only in their devotion to the former Governor, but also in the level of their disdain for those who aren’t moved to support her no matter how rational or genuine their reasons for not doing so are. To fail to support Sarah Palin is, to many of her diehard fans, to reveal yourself as everything anti-American. Yeah, that’s crazy. So, what has she done. Well, in addition to being chosen by AZ senator John McCain to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election – the event which propelled her into the national spotlight – she served as governor of Alaska from December of 2006 until her resignation in July of 2009. With the fuss that was made over her governorship and vice presidential nomination, you’d think it had never happened before. Well, it had.

  • Nellie Tayloe Ross (D-WY) and Miriam A. Ferguson (D-TX) both became governors in January, 1925. Mrs. Ross, sworn in of January 5th, succeeded her late husband.
  • Miriam A. Ferguson, sworn in on January 25th, succeeded her impeached husband. Her first term was plagued with allegations of corruption and she was defeated twice before winning a second two-year term in 1933. That term was also tainted by alleged corruption. (Might it have run in the family?)
  • The first woman to win a governor’s race without being previously connected to the office by marriage was Ella Grasso (D-CT) who was elected in 1975 and won re-election in 1978. She resigned in December of 1980 due to a worsening battle with ovarian cancer which she succumbed to several weeks later in February 1981.
  • At the time of the 2008 presidential race, Mrs. Palin was one of eight women serving as state governors.
  • The first woman to be chosen as a vice presidential running mate was Marietta Stow, the running mate of Belva Ann Lockwood in 1884.
  • The first woman to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate for one of the country’s major political parties was Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY)in 1984 when she was chosen by Walter Mondale to be his running mate.

Dismiss this all as “Palin Derangement Syndrome” if you will, but while there are some things about her life that are admirable, after comparing her to the other women who actually broke down barriers in politics, I’m not singing Mrs. Palin’s praises. She is also still rather young as far as politicians go, so she may yet accomplish something of merit, but for right now I remain highly unimpressed with the political career of the woman people are comparing to everyone from Washington, to Lincoln, to Jesus. Sorry!

There are many women who have done a lot with their lives before what they did was common or even accepted. Being politically involved and female is a combination that just came about four, or ten, or twenty years ago. We’ve just gotten better at it.

These are a couple other links.

A list of women presidential and vice presidential candidates , a list of women state governors, and a fact sheet about women in government as of 2011 from the Center for Women in Politics.





A Brief Note on the Great American Wedding

1 08 2010

In case you’ve been hiding in a cave or lost at sea all week, I’ll fill you in. Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former president Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, got married yesterday to her longtime boyfriend, Marc Mezvinsky, in Rhinebeck, NY and the whole country is talking about it. The total cost, which designer’s gown the bride would be wearing, and the guest list were sources of speculation for weeks and nearly everyone from style columnists to world news organizations to blogs devoted to the possibility of a “Hillary 2012” presidential run all had something to say about the event. Rhinebeck took all of the hullabaloo in stride and seemed to throw a party of its own in honor of the bride and groom.

In the end, the ceremony was not as opulent or star-studded as some had claimed. The bride wore a gown by Vera Wang. Her mother’s dress was by Oscar de la Renta. Chelsea’s 92-year-old grandmother, seen in the background of the photo above with her daughter, the Secretary of State, also looked great and earns a mention for no other reason than she is the bride’s grandmother and must have been very happy for her. Actually, aside from a few notables like Ted Danson and Madeleine Albright, the guests were unknown to the general public – family, friends, and co-workers of the bride and groom. No Oprah. No big political donors. No random stars. This was not about the bride’s famous parents. This was, as a wedding ought to be, about the bride and groom and everyone looked thrilled for them except one person at one moment. Walking his only child down the aisle, the former president vaguely resembled a man being lead to a firing squad, but I think that’s par for the course for fathers of brides. In this article from the New York Post, the Secretary of State/Mother of the Bride made some comments on this very thing.

“You should assume that if he makes it down the aisle in one piece it’s a major accomplishment,” Hillary Clinton said of her husband in comments to NBC broadcast Monday from Pakistan.
“He is going to be so emotional, as am I, but we’re both looking forward to it and very happy about it,” she said.

Mission accomplished, Mr. President.

Weddings are always optimistic affairs. They’re full of hope for the future regardless of who’s getting married. I think the national fascination with the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding is actually good for the Great American Psyche particularly now in the midst of a miserable recession, two long, costly wars, and millions of other more personal problems for those that were paying attention to the news for details of the marriage of two young people in Rhinebeck. The pre-wedding rumors were fairly innocuous considering what has been said about the Clintons over the past twenty years or so. It was mostly about the cost of the event and which rich and famous people would be there. The media coverage was pretty mainstream as opposed to photographers trying to climb fences or repel down from trees – generally a bad idea when the Secret Service is on patrol. Several photos and a statement were released promptly by the family following the ceremony to give the country its fix so those in attendance could party the night away in relative peace. This is that statement which I took from here.

“Today we watched with great pride and overwhelming emotion as Chelsea and Marc wed in a beautiful ceremony at Astor Courts, surrounded by family and their close friends,” the Clintons said in a statement. “We could not have asked for a more perfect day to celebrate the beginning of their life together, and we are so happy to welcome Marc into our family.”

Everyone seemed to respect the views of everyone else. The people of Rhinebeck made a sizable deal out of playing host to what some are calling the wedding of the year but, in the end, they left the family and other guests as alone as they are ever allowed to be. The media didn’t invade Astor Courts , the wedding venue, and the Clintons and Mezvinskys understood and accepted the curiosity of a generally well-intentioned public. The day was beautiful and everything went well and all that’s left to say is congratulations and best wishes to the bride, groom, and their newly-united family.





Another Gold Star For a Government Official

7 07 2010

I saw this video posted here and I felt it was time to give out another gold star.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not accustomed to things not going her way. That’s not me being insulting or anything like that, it’s fact. Just look at her history. Pretty much everything she’s attempted has worked out for her with the exception of her messy marriage and she and her husband seem to have sorted that out, too. It takes two people to make or break one of those and, from what little she’s said on the subject, she’s content with what she’s got in that department. As of her appointment as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she had amassed enough money and clout to ensure that she will in all likelihood be pleased with most aspects of her life from here on out.
The one big thing that she tried and failed to accomplish was to be elected president in 2008. The fact that she’s in his cabinet is not the issue here. The issue is that wherever she goes, even out of the country (this video was taken in the Republic of Georgia) she is reminded of that failure and instead of trying to avoid the questions about what working for the man who defeated her is like, she takes on the topic with grace and, in the process manages to point out some of the finer elements of democracy and the US system of governing. That’s a lot to pack into a minute. Furthermore, this is a conversation she has had before and will continue to have over and over, probably as long as she is in her current position as Secretary of State. Four years is a long time to be repeatedly reminded about your biggest failure.

That type of grace is lacking in politics everywhere. It’s not just Republicans. It’s not just Democrats. It’s not just the tea party people. It isn’t just the US either – ever seen some of the crazy shit that goes on in the parliamentary sessions of other countries? No, well, here you go.

*BEWARE – F-bombs dropped at the end.*

And, because everything is funnier when you add the Benny Hill theme, there’s this.

Yes, CSPAN would be a hell of a lot more entertaining if our House and Senate were like this, but I think graciousness is a quality that trumps my amusement when it comes to sorting out the country in which I reside and its relationship with the rest of the world. So, for combining lessons on democracy, fair elections, duty, and not being a sore loser, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gets a gold star





Joe Biden – World Cup Fan-in-Chief

12 06 2010


South Africa tied Mexico this morning 1-1. The first goal of 2010 World Cup, the first World Cup in Africa, was scored for the home team by Siphiwe Tshabalala and I think it’s safe to say that the whole country saw it and reveled in it. If you went my the books, Mexico should have trounced South Africa, but soccer rarely works that way. It was not, however, for lack of trying and a hat should be tipped to South African goal keeper Itumeleng Khune.
Yes, I know that Mexico made a goal too, but the South African goal was less expected, more hoped for, and made a nation go nuts, so that is why it’s my choice for photo moment of the match.

France and Uruguay played a much duller game which ended tied as well. The final score was 0-0. The game picked up at the very end, but it was the French game that was so disappointing. Somebody needs to remind a few of their stars that there’s no “I” in “team”. That was the inspiration for my choice of photo moment of the match. Thierry Henry, France’s superstar, having his free kick blocked my a wall of Uruguayan defenders. That’s pretty much that match in microcosm – France would get the ball down the field and be held back by Uruguay’s defensive line. The only other incident of note is that this game brought the World Cup’s first red card. This distinction goes to Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro after, wait for it, 18 minutes of play. He came on as a substitute at minute 63 and got his first red card two minutes later. Sixteen minutes after that he was off for a bad tackle. The drama was the most interesting part of this game. By the way, I’ve posted links to match summaries because I could go on forever. Once again, the soccer photos are from daylife.com.

Joe Biden will be at the US vs. England game representing us – the soccer fans, I mean – and I am so glad about the. Who else in this administration could be an effective fan-in-chief? The president is too reserved and doesn’t get too emotionally charged. I like that in a world leader, but it makes for an awful soccer fan. Soccer fans are a rather intense bunch, and I want the government official representing me to get into the game a little. They don’t have to get fully costumed like the dedicated individuals we’ve become so used to seeing, but jumping to one’s feet and cheering like a frat boy on pledge week would be nice. I don’t see that coming from Obama – at least not in public. The president is not the worst choice for a fan-in-chief though. Hillary Clinton is probably the worst choice for the job. At least the president has a certain “coolness” factor that could work at a sporting event. Hillary Clinton is many things, but she is not cool. Not even a little bit. The Secretary of State goes well beyond just being reserved, she’s never relaxed in public. There never are light moments with her that the public is privy to, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – she’s more than entitled to her privacy – but she’s too sever a personality to be fan-in-chief. Can you see her in the stands? Cheering. Not being at all serious or concerned with her work. The mental image is laughable! I can’t imagine her looking anything but miserable and that is not the look I want to represent my soccer fandom. Besides, pantsuits aren’t exactly proper fan attire. She’d look ridiculous and would you want her singing the national anthem?

That just looks painful!
I have confidence in Vice President Biden’s ability to behave like a fan at today’s game against England. He needs to get himself a USA scarf and cheer and jump around like the rest of us will if the US manages to score against England.

I’ll have more soccer info later today. South Korea is playing Greece now and has just scored at about the seventh minute making it 1-0. Argentina will play Nigeria at 10:00 am and then it’s the USA vs. England. Pre-game stuff starts at 2 pm. I’ll leave you with a look at what is usually referred to as a soccer team’s 12th man – the fans.


South Africa fans.


Desmond Tutu celebrates the South African goal. Behind him is Mexican president Felipe Calderon.


Mexico fans.


An Uruguay fan who is or knows someone who’s really good with face paint.


Fans of France. Love the ‘staches!

This is the strangest fan I’ve seen yet.

Yes, it’s a rooster and yes, I am holding back about a half-dozen jokes. I’ won’t type them out because, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. In case you were wondering…


yes, they were in the stands for the game. I love the expression on the face of the guy in red. I think he sees the comic potential of this situation as well and just doesn’t want to be involved.





After the Glow Wears Off – Why Fandom Doesn’t Work With Politicians

26 05 2010

In the aftermath of the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon – that oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico – and the subsequent ecological catastrophe which is, as of right now, still intensifying something is happening in the minds of many Americans. They are realizing that Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is not a super hero. He cannot take out his Super-Duper Galactic Fix-It Ray and make the problem and all the foibles that come with trying to fix it just go away and neither can Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or anyone else. Winning an election gets you a very big job, a place in the history books, and that’s it. The pants you put on in the morning may be bullet-proof – yes, they do exist – but you still put them on the same way anyone else does.

In the 2008 presidential election, particularly on the democratic side, much was made of the candidates’ personalities and whether or not they were “likable” enough. If it hadn’t been for that, I believe I’d be sitting here kvetching about the latest mistake President Clinton made – President Hillary Clinton, that is. She had everything – money, connections, experience – everything but a triple dose of charisma and that was her downfall. She couldn’t change who she was, so she lost. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. You have to be “likable” and you either are or you aren’t. For many people Barack Obama was The Man – the man to elect, the man to back, the man you’d want to have a beer with, just the man. In the world of Political High School, he was the captain of the football team and valedictorian all rolled into one while then-Senator Clinton was the jealous, geeky, overachiever on the debate team, and John McCain was the guy who played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. Neither of them had a chance in hindsight.
The problem with popularity in politics is, just like in high school, it’s fleeting. To be known simply as “popular” is to be unknown and invisible in a week’s time. Politics is a business fraught with unpopular positions. With some perpetually contentious issues like abortion, to take a firm stand one way or the other is to alienate a large section of the voting population. The only thing worse than taking a strong stand on a divisive issue is to take no stand at all. That just makes you look weak. If you manage to get elected, a whole new world of “un-likablity” opens up and is furthered by omnipresent mass media. Make one mistake, say one thing out of line, forget to smile at someone and it’s news and news always offends someone. Make a offhand comment about women in the workforce and someone will say you’re against stay-at-home moms and therefore single-handedly out to destroy the traditional American family. Question military expenses and you’re an evil, marxist, terrorist, hippy, America-hater. Innocently point out the good qualities of a colleague of the opposite sex, or of the same-sex if you are known by the public to be openly gay or lesbian, and you may very well end up being dragged by your sinificant other to couple’s counseling and have to explain yourself. Choose not to go to church and you become evil and completely anti-American even though there are plenty of Americans who don’t attend church and are also not enemies of the state.
These things all pale in comparison to what happens when a big problem comes along – unusually polarizing legislation, Supreme Court appointments, some sort of unforeseen tragedy. That’s when that cult of personality really begins to crack under the weight of the task at hand. It becomes blindingly clear that you can’t walk on water or fly or shoot lasers from your eyeballs. You’re still disappointingly human with only twenty-four hour days just like the rest of us. The pedestal you’ve been placed on by your supports erodes away from beneath your feet and you come tumbling down to earth to rejoin the rest of us mortals. People start to ask “What if? What if I’d pulled the other lever or checked the other box?” This is the predicament that our current president finds himself in. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. Presidents seem like they have more power than the rest of us and to some extent they do, but we forget they’re also astoundingly human. I could go into specific presidential examples of human frailty – the same problems we see every day in our own lives – but why bother. It’s all old news.
One would think that, in light of these recent events, we as a nation would be less inclined to idealize our political figures but it seems more prevalent today than it was two and a half years ago. For example, Sarah Palin could make a statement saying something needs to be acted upon and thousands of people would go out and make it happen regardless of what “it” actually is. The task is completely immaterial simply because Sarah Palin said “it” should be and they think Sarah Palin is the best human being that ever lived and is right all of the time. Ron Paul, the Congressman from Texas, has a similarly devoted and vocal following. Hillary Clinton, the current Secretary of State, still has quite a fan base even after her election lose and employment with the Obama administration, and some of them are fiercely loyal. Just search Clinton 2012 to see the kind of rumors bubbling up as campaign season approaches with all of these diehard fans lying in wait, though, historically, a primary challenger to the incumbent president has never won the nomination and only serves to split the party and make an election victory that much harder to achieve. Even so, hope springs eternal for some of her supporters who view her as the best hope for democrats in 2012. I say that’s a long ways off and a highly unlikely turn of events. Her high approval rating will plummet if she turns on the administration who employed her for three years or so. Nobody likes a turncoat not to mention that putting your sense of loyalty into question is never the best political move.
And what about Mr. Obama and his charisma? Well, while he may recover some popularity for one reason or another – these things go days by day – it’ll never be quite the same now that everyone knows he isn’t a super hero or a jedi knight or some other spectacular being. It’s like having a really attractive roommate. Everyone sees them as this Adonis-like figure, but you’ve seen them at their worst – hung-over, unhappy, angry, first thing in the morning – and you know that they have their moments just like anyone else. You can’t idealize someone after that because you know that they are no more or less than human.