- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008


It’s too early for conservatives to kiss and make up with John McCain, Valentine’s Day or not. We’re not ready to give him our unconditional hearts (or minds). The notion that he’s the “presumptive nominee” eliminates the other suitors, but it doesn’t make him more loveable.

No matter how entertaining Mike Huckabee is, whether strumming his guitar or showing a wickedly winning sense of humor, the life of the party is rarely the man to run the student government or the country’s government. Mr. McCain is the serious leader we could vote for even if he doesn’t have a great personality. If Hollywood should make a political version of “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” the surprise guest would not be a mainstream black man — that’s so 20th century — but a white man resembling Mr. McCain. The conservative parents would object to the marriage because he wasn’t conservative enough and because they didn’t think he could make their daughter happy.

Joseph Bottom in the Weekly Standard posits a different Hollywood analogy, casting Mr. McCain as the marshal of Hadleyville instead of Gary Cooper in a remake of “High Noon.” The bad guys are out to get him, and the upright citizens spurn pleas to help. They’ve got their reasons, which boil down to the fact that they’re cowards. The marshal’s wife, Amy, a Quaker with a sweet religious disposition played by Grace Kelly, abhors violence of every kind (just like Mr. Obama and his followers). But she fires the shot that kills the man who would have shot the marshal dead. She goes against her principled pacifism for many reasons, not the least of which is love, and because she understands the stakes. Amy could symbolize the social conservatives of the modern Republicans. If they don’t turn out to vote for Mr. McCain, no matter how principled their reasons, their enemies win.

This election season cries for metaphor and analogy because there’s such dramatic contrast in the candidates. We’re watching great theater, with multiple plots and a lot of subplots. The Republicans are looking for Cyrano de Bergerac to feed Mr. McCain the lines to woo conservatives. But that only happens in literature. Mr. McCain is no silver-tongued devil, but he does say what he means. In watching him give his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington it was remarkable, how he slowly warmed up a cold audience. He flashed a seductive grin in the beginning when he thanked the conservatives for their courtesy and said wryly, “We should do this more often.” The only boos answered his opening remarks about immigration even though the crowd disagreed with him over a number of other issues. He quieted them as he reiterated his call for a widespread public “consensus” that the border be secured before we decide how to deal with the illegal immigrants in our midst. In any drama about the McCain campaign, George W. Bush would get a walk-on role as supporting actor to observe that Mr. McCain is “a true conservative.” The sitting president has had trouble with some conservatives himself, and he understands that Mr. McCain still has work to do.

“The Portrait of a Lady,” with Hillary Clinton as protagonist, couldn’t be the narrative of Henry James about a woman who stays in a bad marriage in spite of her independent spirit. Rather, it would be one studded with flashbacks of a woman in a bad marriage who enjoys what comes of her experiences at the White House. The screenwriters would have to take considerable liberties since the Clintons refuse to release the relevant documentation of those years. Her drama would have to carry a disclaimer: “Some of the following is based on fact and some of it is not.” There could be dramatic scenes from the Lincoln Bedroom, where major contributors to the Clintons in the 1990s (and today) enjoyed sleepovers, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign treasuries. They had to take as fiction the Clintons’ insistence that there was no quid pro quo.

More than the other two candidates, Barack Obama’s narrative is a “work in progress.” Shelby Steele in his new book “A Bound Man” draws on Ralph Ellison’s novel, “Invisible Man,” to describe the Obama difficulty in separating his authentic self from a mask he wears unconsciously to please whites: “His supporters do not look to him to do something; they look to him primarily to be something, to represent something.” It’s a provocative notion that bears further illumination, to ask whether Mr. Obama can achieve visibility as an individual with well-formed ideas rather than as a racial token who pleases whites simply by being there. Is there a young Ralph Ellison to write the script?

As we move through the scenarios, we see a fascinating tale full of sound and fury. It signifies something, but just what we yet know not.

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