February 21, 2008
Whew! After six weeks of non-stop primaries and caucuses, with the candidates frenetically jetting to an upcoming state to give their victory or non-concession speeches for the previous one, a break in the action looms. They’ve got a whole two weeks before the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4, and after that there’s only the Wyoming Democratic caucus on March 8 and the Mississippi primary on March 11 before the perhaps decisive, delegate-rich Pennsylvania primary on April 22. Soon they’ll have a lot of time on their hands; what will they do with themselves?
Doesn’t it make you wonder about these people? Even among your Type-AAA friends, do you know a single one so driven? Wouldn’t you think they’d get tired of hearing themselves talk? Can’t they ever relax? If you managed to get one or other of them to your home for a barbecue, would you find them pacing on your patio, gulping the guacamole and treating your guests like a focus-group? Can you imagine any of them clearing the calendar and getting away for a while, to be silent for even a day or two, to listen and to think? Mike Huckabee, bless his heart, did take off for the Cayman Islands this week, but even that was for a lucrative speaking engagement, and John McCain went home for a couple days, prompting the ever-ironic Huckabee to chide him for "doing absolutely nothing."
But doing absolutely nothing is at times the very best thing to do. Ceaseless rallies before adoring fans have already turned the contest from issues to egos. That’s true for all the candidates, but most particularly for Barack Obama. When he started out, the voice of conciliation and unity crying in the wilderness, the message was all about us; now, as the front-runner basking in uncritical applause, the message is all about him. When he has to apologize for giving a policy speech, you know things are going awry.
Both Democratic candidates will probably maintain their torrid pace during the lull in primaries, trying to sustain or regain "momentum." But they might sober up with a quick check of their Latin dictionaries, where momentum is variously defined as "motion," "impulse," and "moment." Movement caused by impulse is momentary. After over a year of ever-increasing exposure, the candidates’ faces and voices are beginning to wear on the public. For their own good and ours, this may be the time to back off for a while.
Now is their window of opportunity. I’d be most heartened to hear news that a candidate has gone to some humble monastery or Walden-like shack to breathe something fresher than airport air, to face themselves alone, and to put the campaign, their goals and their roles, into perspective.
How can candidates be honest with the people if they are not honest with themselves? And how can they be honest with themselves if they haven’t a moment (momentum) to themselves? How can they develop cogent, comprehensive, and long-range policy positions for the country if they are driven by the A.D.D. of relentless motion (momentum)? One only has to look at the slap-dash, quick-fix remedies for everything from Iraq to the economy to see how counterproductive and possibly destructive the politics of impulse (momentum) can be.
So go ahead, candidates, take a break — and give us one too. You need time to think, and we do too. Turn your Blackberries off and go to a place where you can pick some real ones. Try to become real people again. You’ll thank yourselves for it — and the country will thank you too.