- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The coming presidential election of ‘08 already seems old, and it’s still ‘07. It’s hard to work up an interest in the candidates, or — and this is really a sad sign of civic apathy — much antipathy toward any of them. Even the old Hillary-bashers don’t seem to have their heart in it.

Long rows of candidates appear at forums, where they meld into one indistinguishable blob. Instead of judging the contenders by how they stand on the issues, or rather slouch, the whole lineup could be pretty much divided into three categories: dull, duller and dullest.

Maybe it’s the unnaturalness of the early primaries next year that has drained the life out of this campaign. The primary-by-primary suspense of the traditional presidential marathon, beginning in little New Hampshire and working up to New York and California, has been lost. Who’s gonna watch a whodunit if the ending is revealed at the start?

But what’s really killing interest in the Great Presidential Campaign and Anti-Climax of 2008 is the deadening familiarity of the candidates.

Look at the wooden parade of Democratic fixtures like Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd… they all seem as thrilling as tapioca. Even a wild card like Dennis Kucinich, who used to seem strange, now seems only boring.

Ditto, Republicans like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, et forgettable al. Whether good candidates or not, the electorate knows them too well to get excited about them.

Maybe if the rest of the country knew who Mike Huckabee was, the way Arkansas has come to know him, this state’s former governor might attract some attention. But the rest of the country doesn’t — despite his wowing the late-night comics. Result: As a presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee is still the political equivalent of Unidentified Man in Background.

As an unacknowledged candidate for vice president, however, the next Man from Hope (Ark.) is going great guns. It all depends on whether someone quite different from him in political appeal — Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, say — snags the nomination. Then he would offer the kind of political and social balance the ticket would need next year, among a lot of other things.

Why do the familiar political figures have such a handicap in this approaching presidential election and endurance contest? Because this is still a young, dynamic country, and what it seems most drawn to is change. Good or bad, heroic as John McCain or irritating as Joe Biden, none of the above excite. Familiarity may not breed contempt exactly, but rather a lack of interest.

Even Hillary Clinton, who used to draw such strong reactions, positive and negative, now is starting to look like just another U.S. senator — Bill or no Bill at her side. By 2008, the question may not be whether she’s Saint Hillary or Lady Macbeth, but who cares?

We Americans love a mystery. That’s why we’re drawn to the new and unfamiliar in cars, electronic gizmos and presidential candidates. We love the comer, the underdog, the longshot, the dark horse, the little-known entry on the outside rail. Which is why that kind of candidate may emerge from the pack and upset the long-established favorites.

It’s not so much that we find fault with familiar leaders; we just grow tired of them. How many times can you be outraged by the Clintons or listen to John McCain advocate victory in Iraq?

So where’s this year’s Wendell Willkie, Jimmy Carter, James K. Polk, Ross Perot or Bill Clinton vintage 1992? That is, the kind of unknown, untested and soon enough unstoppable candidate who seems to come out of nowhere.

Whenever the country grows weary beyond words with the same old candidates mouthing the same old catchphrases, the electorate gravitates toward the new, the different, the fresh. What makes these new faces attractive is just that — they’re new.

Just about everything else they taught us in Advertising 101 back at the University of Missouri may be dated now in this Age of the Internet, but one thing hasn’t changed: Just about the most powerful word one can use in an ad is new. (The other sure-fire word to use in ad copy, we were told, is you. Sounds right. We Americans are nothing if not obsessed with ourselves.)

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