This is a crazy week here in the American capital. First, we have a significant earthquake. That alone counts as a change in the laws of nature as we knew them. And now, we have a hurricane that is supposed to bring dangerous winds to a radius of something like 5 quintillion miles of the east coast. My daughter was booked to perform at a winery today in north-central Virginia from 2:00 to 6:00. So far the show hasn’t been cancelled. So … if I end up going, and if I happen to be blown into the Potomac River on the way back home, it’s been nice knowing you all.
Yeah, I know. If I were the Grim Reaper, I’d consider that last sentence pretty cocky. “Who is this punk Spiro to tempt fate like that? Does he not think I’m capable of blowing his mini-van off the road with gusts of 50+ miles per hour? Just because it has ‘SPINOZA’ license plates, why should that make me think twice about playing havoc with that vehicle. Anybody who would drive on a highway during a hurricane deserves whatever’s coming to him.”
All true. But what the Grim Reaper may not be recognizing is that this week in Washington is also about celebrating cockiness. It’s the one characteristic that best describes our newest flavor of the month – the man who is increasingly being spoken about as the next President of the United States. The man who, in college, got 2 As, 10 Bs, 12 Cs, 6 Ds and an F – and who laughed that off, entered the field of politics, changed political parties, ran for election after election and never tasted defeat, and now finds himself overwhelmingly ahead of the entire Republican field almost immediately after throwing his hat in the ring.
What was in that hat, anyway? Nuclear weapons?
Michelle Bachman? See ya’. Give my regards to the good people of Stepford. Mitt Romney? On the ropes, and seemingly incapable of defending himself. When you figure out what color to turn before the next campaign, let us know. Barack Obama? No sooner has the Great White Hope entered the race than our current leader finds his approval rating down to 38%. That would be cause for concern if he were running against Rick Santorum – or for that matter, Rick James. (I can just see Rick James entering the stage at the Republican National Convention to the words of “She is such a kinky girl. The kind you don’t take home to mother.”)
Unfortunately for our President, he won’t have the fortune of running against Rick Santorum or Rick James. But increasingly, it is beginning to look like he will have the misfortune of running against another Rick. Some of you might be rolling the ol’ eyes right now, or at least wondering what I’ve been smoking. Rick Perry is an extreme conservative, you’re probably thinking, who has taken on Social Security and believes that climate change is a hoax. Why wouldn’t Obama jump at the chance to go to the mat with this guy – and, in particular, to compete for the independents, conservative Democrats, and moderate Republicans who tend to hold the balance of power in any Presidential election? Clearly, their views are much, much closer to Obama’s than Perry’s.
Then again, Americans might not be electing a President whose views on public policy issues are most like theirs. If that was what they cared about, they wouldn’t bounce from Bill Clinton, to George Bush/Dick Cheney, and then to Barack Obama.
Personally, I’m beginning to see a pattern. We look at whoever is manning the store at the moment, decide if he’s taking that store in the right or wrong direction, and if we don’t like what we see, desperately search for the opposite. We saw Bush and Cheney as a couple of cowboys whose constituents were all millionaires and the fools they were able to bamboozle. And so we elected a professor – open-minded, compassionate, progressive … in short, the un-Cheney.
And now, with the unemployment rate hovering north of 8% despite record deficits, and with a President who is viewed alternatively as the “Capitulator-in-Chief” or as one who “leads from behind,” America may be looking for big, brass cohunes. Ideally, we could elect someone like the Baltimore Raven’s Ray Lewis, a hard-hitting middle linebacker who has been convicted of obstructing justice in connection with a murder. Now that’s the kind of leader who wouldn’t take any guff from the bozos on Capitol Hill, right? But Lewis isn’t running. Nor is any actor who plays action heroes in the movies. So we might have to settle for the next best thing: a big strong Texan who is willing to spit in the face of conventional wisdom, vilify our top government officials, uproot the federal bureaucracy like a bunch of weeds, and challenge America to act first and ask questions later.
To much of America – and perhaps most of coastal America -- Rick Perry sounds like a goofball. But I still remember the way the chattering class spoke about “Ronald Rea-guns” circa 1979, and yet he was elected a year later as the un-Carter. Quite obviously, Perry is now running as the un-Obama, and his strategy has been solid gold. I don’t doubt for a second that after four or eight years of a Perry presidency, we could be back at the well, falling in love with a clone of Adlai Stevenson. Instead of an Aggie with a 2.2 GPA, we’d be electing a Swarthmorean was a 3.95 in Art History (and whose only Bs were in macroeconomics).
But 2016 or 2020 is not my concern right now. I’m focused on 2012. I’m thinking about how Barack Obama, he of the 38% approval rating and the Congress that seems hell-bent to keep it that low, can get back the big Mo and win this next election. For starters, he best not underestimate Rick Perry. But most importantly, he must think about precisely WHY Rick Perry has all of a sudden become so popular.
If I had a chance to talk to our President, and I had the stones to “tell it like it is,” here’s what I’d say:
“Take a look at the mirror, Mr. President. America isn’t liking what you’re looking at. And America is telling you exactly what it wants to see. Be a bit more like Perry. Take some bold steps – some audacious steps, to use a word that you used to be able to say with a straight face – and stop fearing the price of failure. When Perry puts his foot in his mouth, he acts like he doesn’t care, and quickly the media forgets what he said in the first place. He’s got the swagger you want. And he’s got the testicles you need. What he doesn’t have are your brains. Their your edge – but they’re worth nothing without the whole package.
“You’re still in the driver’s seat, Mr. President. So after the vacation is over, let’s see what you got. As for the rest of us, we can pretty much tell what we’ll get in 2012: either Obama or the un-Obama. And his name is Rick Perry.”