We’re into the silly season, a time wherein a horde of presidential candidates promise to campaign until they drop or the electorate stops listening. In what have been called debates presidential hopefuls are given minutes to frame discussions that only occasionally touch upon important issues or inform the public.
In the most recent event at the Reagan library Republican prospects invoked the name of President Reagan so many times it became a beside-the-point exercise in attempts to affiliate with the past as progenitor of better things to come. We learned that three candidates do not believe in evolution – – Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo – – and that religion is an important gauge of how good a politician or president is. Never mind that the Constitution says “no religious test” shall ever be required to hold office in our government. It is also deemed appropriate that this gaggle of men, except for Giuliani, think they should project their particular set of ‘principles’ onto the decision-making process of women.
But we live in an age of anomalies. The party that lionizes Reagan fails to recall or chooses to ignore a president who traded arms for hostages, countenanced the activities of death squads in Central America, appointed anti-environmental James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and was known to doze at cabinet meetings during the latter days of his presidency. He did also at times confuse movie scenarios with real events, but perhaps his supporters thought this was all part of his charm, preferring to dwell in the land of nod where tax cuts and huge deficits pass for constructive economic policies.
And how in the world do Republicans maintain the fiction that they are the party of Lincoln with a straight face? It is a nominal assertion to be sure, but apparently these days it sounds good on the campaign trail. Somehow, however, a party whose members only became Republicans in response to the civil rights struggle embraced by Democrats and who clung to a heritage of racial bigotry and abuse well into modern times seems an unlikely claimant to the party of a president who freed the slaves and dragged the south back into the Union. We owe “Presidents’ Day” to a Deep South that never accepted Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday along with Washington’s, preferring instead to honor Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
What about Republican’s southern strategy’ moderator Chris Matthews might have asked rather than some of the questions he chose? Putative “hard baller” Matthews elected instead to dwell on a lot of the social issues and even at one point to ask the ten men what they thought about the possibility of a Clinton White House. Could there have been anyone in attendance or watching at home who couldn’t have known beforehand what the likely response to such a softball question would be?
Not present but very much in Republican thoughts is Fred Thompson who seems to have captured a need in the party for someone Reaganesque, sort of. He’s an actor, and he thinks the country is in dandy shape – – none of that down-in-the-mouth claptrap from the Carter days for him. He stands tall and is a no-nonsense kind of guy. We know that because of his roles in lower-tier movies but mostly because he’s that stern District Attorney on TV’s Law and Order. If those aren’t qualifiers this isn’t America.
This vague but vitriolic cast of characters will keep churning away for the foreseeable future. Some of them will disappear as their funding runs out, but there will still be enough of them to assault the airwaves and muddy the waters of true debate. It could be that substantive positions will begin to form in the future, but for now it’s silly time.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the young prince sought to avenge his father’s death at the hands of his uncle who took the throne of Denmark by force “The play’s the thing”, Hamlet said, “wherein (to) catch the conscience of the king.” Unfortunately, at the moment we have a bunch of second-rate actors and our king has no conscience

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