Friday, February 17, 2012

What Froggy And Dolly Know About The GOP Primaries

What Froggy And Dolly Know About The GOP Primaries

When my children were little, one of their favorites was “Froggy Gets Dressed.”  It’s the story of a frog who desperately wants to go out and play in the snow with his friends, even though Mom and Dad are bedded down and trying to hibernate for the season.  Frogs don’t play in the snow-they go to sleep.

Froggy keeps trying and trying-he puts on hat and coat and boots and scarf and mittens and he charges out the door, but each time he hits the surface his Mom yells “Froggy, did you forget to put on your….?” And sure enough, Froggy did, so down he goes, takes everything off, puts on the missing article of clothing, gets dressed again, and returns to his pals, until Mom repeats “Froggy, did you forget….”

I think we may have hit a Froggy moment in this year’s GOP primaries. Too many times changing clothes.  Once again, Mitt’s star has gone into eclipse, and back into the coat closet we go, rummaging through discards and the latest fashions. Rick Santorum is now the outerwear du jour. 

Dolly Parton said “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap”.  But she’s Dolly Parton-she gives us what we expect and honestly, what we want.  Both she and Elizabeth Warren (full disclosure, I'm a fan) have been on Jon Stewart in the last few weeks, and I’m happy to report that there’s still no confusing them.

To an extent, we expect and even want a little Dolly Parton in every election.  We know these folk don’t really believe everything they say, much less say everything they believe.  It’s part of the hokum, the bumper stickers and the funny hats-a willing suspension of our disbelief, because honestly, we really don’t want to see Dolly without her makeup. 

But,  in this election cycle, there’s been a bizarre tendency among the GOP front-runners to do or say something that seems incredibly revealing.  Newt wants to build a moon-base.  Rick Perry says Turkey is the enemy.  Bachmann thinks vaccines cause autism. Romney really enjoys firing people.  My kids (who, sadly may have grown out of the Froggy era) would call this “creepy.”

Santorum, after months of stolid performances, may have just had that moment.  He doubts the role of women in the military “because of their emotions” and thinks they are better suited to the home. And he not only opposes contraception, but has expressed his willingness to use the power of the Presidency to impose his socially conservative values-including that one.  In that, he seems to have a friend in Darrell Issa, who is holding hearings on contraception-stag hearings (no women invited).  And now he's weighing in on universal public eduction-he's against it.

In the general election, these positions might make him radioactive.  On contraception,  a Pew study (done in the aftermath of  Mr. Obama’s very poor choice of battles with the Bishops) shows that only 8% of the electorate sees birth control as morally wrong.  Even among Catholics, the number is only 15%.  But Santorum does think it wrong, and is ready to make his beliefs the law of the land.

Of course, we aren’t in the general election yet, and as Froggy would point out, Rick (or Mitt, Newt or Ron) can’t go out to play until they are properly dressed.  That means getting the nomination, a process much more difficult than anyone imagined. As Larry Sabato happily pointed out earlier this week, love of Mitt remains an acquired taste, and it’s going to be a long slog.  Ron may be a bit out of the mainstream, and Newt may have pushed the self-destruct button one too many times, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is going anywhere for now.  The Fab Four are going to continue.

Now, it’s not as if we have wasted the last few months, twenty debates, and tens of millions in negative advertising.    We have learned at least two things.

The first is the unifying GOP mantra remains Mr. Obama is the worst President in history.  When it rains, it’s his fault, while a sunny day is related to policies that one of them (with Ronald Reagan’s assistance) enacted in the 80’s.  This trope will continue on a daily basis though the balance of the 21st Century.  And the second is that there’s no such thing as “too conservative”.  The more outré you are, the more likely you are to get a bump in the primary polls.

Of course, when the winner pivots to the general election, “outré” has its pitfalls.  In a primary, when a politician announces he wants to cut the tax rate to 15%, and the next one yells “I’ll do 14!!!”, the eyes start the glaze over.  It’s no different than when they get into bidding wars over who would be tougher on illegal immigration, or who would strip-mine Central Park.  Just noise, like Dolly Parton’s warm up band, and maybe you go out to the concession stand until the main event starts. 

But contraception?  That makes you stop, turn around, and go back to your seats.  Dolly just showed up without her makeup on.  And Rick has a problem with contraception; it leads to all types of aberrant behavior.   Anyone going to try to out-do Rick on that one? 

Now Froggy was what pollsters would call a likely voter.  He was motivated.  Up and down he went, putting on and taking off his clothes, until one last time his Mom yelled, “Froggy…did you forget to put on your…”  And Froggy looked down, let out a huge “ooops”, his green face turned red, and back he went to change.

But, by the time he pulled everything off, Froggy was too pooped.  He went to bed, like all good frogs do in the winter.

A lesson to us all.