Monday, August 13, 2007

If You Don't Like Me Just Pretend You're Voting For Who You'd Like Me To Be

Ah, pity the poor presidential candidates. Here they are running all over the country trying to be who the pollsters and focus groups tell them to be and what do they get? Well, the ones who don't get open derision that is. That's right, ignored, except when the candidates actually pay people to be interested. They've had 437 debates that have been watched by a grand total of six people and a snowman. OK, so that total goes up a little if you count the people who watched because they were playing drinking games, but we're talking serious viewers here with legitimate concerns. Like the gun nut.

What to do, what to do? Well, if you can't make people like you by trying to be what they like, find someone they used to like, and be that person. Brilliant!

Democrats and Republicans alike are frequently invoking the words of Theodore Roosevelt, the nation's 26th president and renowned political maverick as they project a take-no-prisoners image in a time of protracted war and continuing terrorist threats. Clinton campaign aides refused to confirm or deny rumors that their candidate will start wearing a monocle on the stump.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney managed to mention Roosevelt twice during a recent GOP debate. When reporters pointed out to Romney that Roosevelt's 7-1/2 years in office were marked by efforts to break up business monopolies, help working men assert their rights, build the Panama Canal, improve the quality of food and drugs, expand U.S. power in the world and conserve natural resources, Romney replied that "What Teddy Roosevelt did for this country — his vision, enthusiasm, passion and character — are still inspiring to us today. If by inspiring you mean he got to be president. That's inspiring to me. What did you say about working people again?"

One of the most quoted lines — "Speak softly and carry a big stick" — was a West African proverb Roosevelt first tried out as vice president and later adopted as a personal mantra. Rudy Giuliani uses the quote to say the United States must stay on offense against terrorists while reaching out to the rest of the Muslim world. Romney borrows it to describe his plan to boost the size of the military by at least 100,000 troops.

Such references reflect a shallow study of Roosevelt's foreign policy, said Eric Rauchway, a history professor at the University of California, Davis. "Hey, shallow is what we're all about," said spokespeople for both campaigns.

Roosevelt was a deft compromiser who avoided war, said Rauchway, author of "Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America." "He was much less likely to wield a big stick than to try desperately to shake hands on almost any terms," he said. "It's more like, 'Speak loudly and carry a ready handshake.'"

"I can shake hands," said Romney.

"I can shake hands twice as good as you on 9/11 or any other day, responded Giuliani.

Senator John McCain, meanwhile, could be trying to associate himself with Roosevelt's youthful vigor. "I quote him as often as I can," McCain acknowledged in a brief interview last month. "The main reason is because he was a straight talking maverick like I was. I mean like I am. Anyone see where I put my keys?"

For Democrats, Roosevelt is useful to those who want to be seen as tough reformers. Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden have praised Roosevelt for breaking up financial trusts and industrial monopolies. "Boy, he had a pair, didn't he?" they asked reporters. "It would be so dreamy to have someone like that around today."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has been using a Roosevelt quote — "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us" — in laying out economic and ethics reforms. "He favored the growth of government to fetter business and to aid the poor, but he didn't use a kind of what we might call a bleeding-heart rhetoric," Rauchway said. "He used a very manly, forthright rhetoric. He put a kind of macho face on American liberalism."

"Hey, who better to put a macho face on American liberalism that Hillary," said a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign.

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