If we can get through the last of the Pundit Primaries, the actual Republican voters can get on with the business of choosing the man to liberate America from Barack Obama. But the path to presidential power is strewn with little rocks who imagine they’re mighty boulders.
The “debates” — it’s an insult to the memory of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to call them “debates” — are actually only occasions for television moderators to parse, preen and demonstrate how little actual wit and learning you need to pretend to have knowledge of public affairs. The “debates,” with their emphasis on the unimportant, have taken the selection process away from the party without actually shaping either the race or the candidates.
The flickering television screen, which is all about illusion, is thus allowed to define what passes for reality. The candidates get their 15 minutes of fame, which isn’t much, but it’s all most of these worthies will ever see of presidential fame.
The television talking heads who parse the answers to their questions then decide who the winners and losers are. The candidates and their handlers retire to the Spin Room at the end of the “debate” to tell their version of who won and who lost. We’ve gone through 17 “debates” so far, and so far the voter has not had anything to say about what’s actually on his mind. All he knows is what the pundits, pollsters and spinners tell him about what he’s thinking.
The only actual winner so far is Barack Obama, from the perch in the catbird seat reserved for incumbents. He has set out his campaign theme unmolested, wheeling the big artillery pieces into position for the coming class war between “us” and “them.” This is the kind of campaign we’ve never before had in America, setting the “rich” against the “poor,” but it’s the only way Mr. Obama can hope to win, and after that execute the grand scheme for making America an irreversible welfare state - Greece, Italy and Upper Slobbovia on the Potomac. The politics of resentment has never worked here, and maybe it won’t this time. But Mr. Obama intends to give it the old college try.
It’s a strategy of breathtaking cynicism. Mr. Obama is the favorite son of Wall Street, the love object of “the 1 percent” and the big-bucks contributors to his campaign. The Republican pretenders have let Mr. Obama get away with it, consumed as they are with trading barbs and jabs with each other, as if auditioning for a stand-up gig on Comedy Central. Fluff and trivia is all the talking heads can deal with without bringing on a migraine.
One press account of the most recent debate concluded that Newt Gingrich dominated the evening by keeping his ego in check, breathlessly reporting that he winked twice at someone in the audience “as if to signal ‘no worries.’ ” Two winks a victory makes. But the media highlight of the evening was Mitt Romney’s playful offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 that he hadn’t written anything in his campaign book, “No Apologies,” endorsing the individual mandate in Obamacare. An inspection of Page 177 of Mr. Romney’s book revealed that he would have won the bet. But the offer was important only because it gave everyone the opportunity to tut-tut Mr. Romney for being so rich that he could afford to risk $10,000. The shame - the shame! - of a candidate for president of the United States actually having ten grand in the bank when all about him are men, women and little bitty children trying to scrape up enough to buy a Big Mac.
Neither the candidates nor press and tube have done anything to make the Pundit Primary serious and consequential. The top-waters of the media — so bereft of weight and consequence that they can’t sink — don’t know how to get serious and pursue fluff and trifles because fluff, gaffes and trifles and are what they can understand.
Mr. Obama says “it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is gonna be,” so pleased is he with his wonderful self. He may be right, but not necessarily for the reasons he imagines. “Anybody but Obama” has led the prospective ticket in several public-opinion polls. Not good Obama news. But the Republicans themselves speak for the first time in Iowa on Jan. 3, and then in quick succession come New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Then, and only then, we’ll see who’s on top, and who’s not.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.