Will A  Year of Firsts Yield 
More of The Same Old, Same Old?

January 30, 2008

By RB Scott
Boston, Massachusetts

Note:  RB Scott, a former staff writer and editor at Time, Life, People and Sports Illustrated, frequently writes about national politics.

As  the barrow pit alongside the campaign expressway collects more roadkill  (Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, and Tommy Thompson; and last night Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards while Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul ran into heavy oncoming traffic), the grinding primary election process seems as determined to set a few new precedents as it is to extrude a very predictable result: another election and inauguration of the least objectionable. 

 Could it come down to this? Will the first woman candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, prove to be more or less cloying, irritating and deceptive than, say, John McCain?   It is the kind of lose-lose proposition that drives voters yearning for real change mad, and rends bookmakers bald, bewildered and busted?

It does not have to be that way.  For instance, a general election battle between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney could turn informative, provocative, even inspiring.  It could happen, still.  This has been an unusual election year and it is bound to get even stranger. And nastier too, no doubt.

In the unlikely event that Super Tuesday brings no more big surprises,   what will become of the eventual runners-up, formidables like Obama or Clinton,  Romney or McCain, Edwards, Richardson and Giuliani?

Does the nation not deserve to hear more from such experienced voices?  Are they not worthy counter-balances and backups to the candidates they nearly defeated? And, might the winners reveal something about their true characters, if they not only offer a triumphant handshake, but warmly embrace their challengers and welcome their fresh leadership?

No matter who is in the lead role, a Romney-McCain alliance would be serious competition to the formidable Clinton-Obama team, which would be (Dare I write it?)  almost unbeatable unless they beat themselves to death in the meantime.  Not that he deserves it, but the alliance would also proffer just-in-time absolution for the former President–horndog–and–wannabe–First Man’s premeditated descent into cynical, gutter-ball, racial politics.  

 If the differences between McCain and Romney prove irreconcilable, as seems to be the case, the finalist could use help from someone like the popular, competent and politically moderate Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who for months has been aggressively positioning herself as the antidote to Hillary. Even Romney could use the boost, never mind his long and admirable history of promoting women.

  Likewise, Christine Todd Whitman, the moderate former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and governor of New Jersey, and  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a conservative African American, would, for different reasons, be equally substantial running mates.
Separate editorials in The New Y0rk Times, one endorsing Clinton, the other McCain appeared to be harbingers of the general election.
Its surprisingly unequivocal praise of Clinton, measured the potential of a Clinton-Obama tag team: “…both [would] help restore America’s global image… They are committed to changing America’s role in the world, not just its image… On the major issues, there is no real gulf separating the two. They promise an end to the war… more equitable taxation, more effective government spending, more concern for social issues, a restoration of civil liberties and an end to the politics of division…” 
By contrast, the editors offered no ringing endorsement of McCain.  Instead, they seemed peeved and perplexed that Romney had failed to measure-up to his promise as an acceptable moderate: morally-driven and accountable on social issues; and, fiscally sound and structurally pragmatic on complex trade and economic matters.  It was an odd omission indeed that in praising Clinton’s mature health care plan the editors failed to note it was a virtual copy of Romney’s successful program in Massachusetts.
            In a sense, the piece regretfully reinforced a front page report from the previous day:  “Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked,” possibly because “…he doesn’t play by the same rules…?”  A   week earlier the Times presaged where they may be headed by publishing a thoughtful op-ed, written by a conservative Mormon who had once been Mr. Romney’s driver.  The piece claimed that Romney was once not at all the rigid social conservative he became in a contrived scheme to set him apart from  the presumed early Republican frontrunners, the moderately liberal John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
            Given its extensive and even-handed coverage of Romney and Mormonism’s steady march toward the country’s religious mainstream over the past decade, The Times refreshingly blunt rejection of Governor Mike Huckabee (“His insertion of religion into the race, herding Mr. Romney into a defense of his beliefs, disqualified him for the Oval Office”) was no surprise. 
In the end, The Times concluded that the misbegotten political calculus that persuaded Romney to pander to the Christian right had, lamentably, rendered him inscrutable and quite unreliable. 
            The American majority seemed to agree, although that may be changing because the man himself is changing, perhaps just in time. 
“Iowa was our Zion’s camp moment,” said one Romney campaign official, referring to a sorry aha moment in church history when beleaguered and persecuted Mormon settlers in Missouri came to grips with just how few loyal friends they had left. 
The country’s recent economic “red alert” seems to have cued the inner Romney and pulled him to center stage. 
No one doubts Romney’s grasp of complex economic issues or his skill at unraveling their mysteries for others.  His resume is a testimony to his proficiency at fixing troubled organizations, divining policies that stimulate commerce and create new jobs. 
What people wonder about is what they don’t know about him. He is not known as a man of constant empathy and compassion for the less fortunate.  He is not recognized as a leader with genuine goodwill for people with whom he disagrees. Few seem to realize that the wildly successful capitalist in him is solidly anchored by ethical principles and a profound sense of personal accountability. 
Of course, many of these attributes describe Barrack Obama, even Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain too.  As the inner Mitt Romney finally begins to reveal himself, perhaps the run-up to the general election this year will turn out to be quite a bit more intriguing and refreshing than would be yet another tedious search for the least objectionable.

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