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PRUDEN: Anybody but Obama takes the lead

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The conventional wisdom, which is usually but not always wrong, holds that Rick Perry is ahead of the field: He looks asleep, and that's where everybody else yearns to be. The prospect of President Romney is bor-iiiing.

So far as we actually know, this reflects only the conventional wisdom of pundits, television's talking heads and the other gasbags who always dominate the Pundit Primary. The various polls, earnest though they may be, are little more than straw polls. In the long scheme of events, straw polls taken now are not worth much. The road through the caucuses and primaries is a long one, paved mostly with killer potholes big enough to swallow in one gulp a candidate the size of Chris Christie.

Mitt Romney, like Hillary Rodham Clinton before him, seems to be the inevitable nominee, but the campaign has been a search for an alternative to the inevitable, a quest for a tastier flavor of the day/week/month. Anything but a boring grape soda called Mitt.

Rick Perry was supposed to be Dr Pepper, good for you at 10, 2 and 4, a Texas tonic to light up taste buds from coast to coast. This lasted until the first sip, and then the conventional wisdom found it as exciting as lemon-lime without the fizz. The next flavor up was a big, bold razzberry from Jersey, prescribed by the remnants of an unreasonable facsimile of what's left of the Northeastern liberals who presided over the decline and fall of the "old" Republicans. The latest favorite flavor is a punch that tastes strangely of pepperoni, interesting in its way but scorned by conventional wisdom as bellywash worth about 9 cents a swig. So we're on the way back to the grape soda. Still boring and going flat.

But boring has its fans. There's a little buzz among the boys at the back of the bus about Warren G. Harding as the model - without the scandal, of course - of the modern boring president. The Weekly Standard even has a cover story celebrating "how a much-derided Republican president actually succeeded in cutting the budget and fixing the economy." We're supposed to see a parallel here (I think) to one of the current candidates. For decades, Harding, a senator and a newspaper publisher nominated in 1920 as a boring compromise, was generally regarded by historians as the worst president ever - until Jimmy Carter happened. His brief administration was incompetence followed by scandal wrapped in corruption, remembered mostly for a row over oil leases in the Teapot Dome reserves in Wyoming. Harding was a gift of hot copy for his fellow newspapermen, with a domineering wife, two mistresses and gossip about his ancestry.

He cut taxes and restored a failing economy, won great popularity, died unexpectedly at 56 after serving just over half his term, and left a small-government legacy that could be a conservative mantra today.

"There has grown up the idea that by some impossible magic a government can give out a bounty by the mere fact of having liberty and equality written over its door," he said in a campaign speech from his front porch in Ohio, "and that citizenship need make no deposit in the bank of the common weal in order to write checks upon the bank. Here at home we have had too much encouragement given to the idea that a government is a something-for-nothing institution. ... It is only in a country where the merit, capacity and worth of men and women are recognized and rewarded that merit, capacity and worth are developed. You and I, and good Americans of whatever color, blood or creed, know that the aspiration of all men is equal opportunity, and that no injustice known to man can be greater than that of the tyranny and autocracy that enslaves all men, all their ambitions and all their freedom."

None of the aspiring Republicans, all professing to be card-carrying conservatives, has said it better. Some, not necessarily including Mitt Romney, have lived it better. Some, definitely including Mitt Romney, have sometimes professed the creed and acted otherwise. They might have "jumped the fence," as Warren Harding would put it. Hence the prospect that the Republicans will crown their candidate with rousing reluctance in the fragile belief that "Anybody but Obama" will be enough for this season.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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