Saturday, February 9, 2008

Not Smart Enough To See

While I’m not sure about electronic voting machines that do not leave a paper trail, I do emphatically believe that technology has led to dramatic improvement in the American political process. What else could I think as I watched CNN overanalyze every aspect of tonight’s primaries in High Definition? (We political spectators are part of the process, too.) Wolf Blitzer’s well-trimmed nose hairs never looked better than they did tonight on my widescreen HDTV as he interviewed Mike Huckabee about his primary victories. Huckabee’s answers, however, demonstrated that technology has a long way to go before it can make dramatic improvements in the candidates themselves.

At some point amid the usual primary night softballs Blitzer was lobbing, Wolf threw one a teensy bit harder. Huckabee, unclear how to respond, actually leaned in and took it on the helmet. Blitzer had asked the former Baptist minister/Arkansas governor what he hoped to achieve by staying in the race when it was extremely unlikely that he had any chance to get enough delegates to win the Republican nomination or even to keep John McCain from getting enough delegates to force a “brokered” convention. Huckabee’s answer was, essentially, “We’re not smart enough to see that far down the road.”

Sure, Huckabee was right about Republicans wanting a choice of candidates, instead of just accepting the ‘annointed’ candidacy of John McCain. Now they can choose a candidate who’s not very good at making plans to anticipate likely future events and cannot attract campaign staffers who are able to count to 1191. Seven years of George W. Bush’s presidency has taught most of the rest of us that this is not the direction in which we wish to go in 2008.

Mitt Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination because: a) he knew he could not win; and b) staying in would be bad for the party. Despite his “aww shucks” answer to Blitzer’s common-sense question, Huckabee is and will remain in exactly the same position Romney was in because he knows he cannot win and will hurt his party in the 2008 general election by staying in the race for the nomination. Why, then, did he lie to Wolf Blitzer?

The answer lies, I think, in the what the TV news analysts keep saying over and over (as they continue to demonstrate to us all that round-the-clock, minute-to-minute coverage of each primary’s every hiccup is too much coverage). Democrats are coming out to vote in these primaries and caucuses in record numbers, while Republicans…well, not so much. Psychology, economic theory, and common sense all tell us that most people will expend the time and effort to undertake an action like voting if they think they have a chance to make a difference. Democrats, witnessing the ongoing train wreck that is the Bush administration, feel they have the chance to choose the next President of the United States by voting in these primaries. Republicans…well, again, not so much.

I think Huckabee knows the damage that he may be causing his party by staying in this contest is a moot point, because he, like many of the Republican voters that have stayed home for these primaries, doe not believe that McCain—or any Republican nominee—has a real chance in November. So, when McCain loses after failing to “energize the base” of his party, who will be in the perfect position when ‘the base’ goes looking for a candidate to dethrone the Democratic president in 2012?

How will a decision by Huckabee to stay in the race, which winds up hurting McCain in the general election, affect his support among the Christian conservatives that have become such a large part of the Republican base? Answer: Not at all, because they never liked McCain in the first place. They tend to display the same all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to politics as they do in most aspects of their lives.

Huckabee will have counties and counties full of red-state voters, donor lists, and the rudimentary campaign organization he put together for this election just waiting for 2012, tuned up and ready to go by whoever wants to be the next Karl Rove. Unlike McCain, who started nearer the center and has tried unconvincingly to make a sincere reach for the rightward end of his party, Huckabee will start off with the religious right already secured (he is a Baptist preacher, after all) and he will be a lot more convincing when he makes his reach towards the center.

Of course, Huckabee could have been telling the truth when he told Wolf Blitzer that he (and the people who honestly believe that he would be the best person to the next President of the United States) are not “smart enough to see that far down the road.” Unfortunately, even if it is true, it might not cost him a single vote among the Christian conservatives, who have never shown a propensity for selecting candidates based on intellectual ability.

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