It's too early for conservatives to kiss and make up with John McCain,
Valentine's Day or not. We're not ready to give him our unconditional
hearts (or minds). The notion that he's the "presumptive nominee"
eliminates the other suitors, but it doesn't make him more loveable.
No matter how entertaining Mike Huckabee is, strumming his guitar or
showing a wickedly winning sense of humor, the life of the party is
rarely the man to run the student government or the country's
government. John McCain is the serious leader we could vote for, even
if he doesn't have a great personality. If Hollywood should make a
political version of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner," the surprise guest
would not be a mainstream black man that's so 20th century but a
white man resembling John McCain. The conservative parents would object
to the marriage because he wasn't conservative enough and they didn't
think he could make their daughter happy.
Joseph Bottum of the Weekly Standard posits a different Hollywood
analogy, casting John McCain as the marshal of Hadleyville instead of
Gary Cooper in a remake of "High Noon." The bad guys are out to get him,
and the upright citizens spurn pleas to help. They've got their reasons,
which boil down to the fact that they're cowards.
The marshal's wife Amy, a Quaker with a sweet religious disposition
played by Grace Kelly, abhors violence of every kind (just like Barack
Obama and his followers). But she fires the gun that kills the man who
would have shot the marshal dead. She goes against her principled
pacifism for many reasons, not the least of which is love, and because
she understands the stakes. Amy could symbolize the social conservatives
of the modern Republicans. If they don't turn out to vote for John
McCain, no matter how principled their reasons, their enemies win.
This election season cries for metaphor and analogy because there's
such dramatic contrast in the candidates. We're watching great theater,
with multiple plots and a lot of subplots.
The Republicans are looking for Cyrano de Bergerac to feed John McCain
the lines to woo conservatives. But that only happens in literature. Mr.
McCain is no silver-tongued devil, but he does say what he means, and in
watching him give his speech at the Conservative Political Action
Convention in Washington, it was remarkable how he slowly warmed up a
cold audience. He flashed a seductive grin in the beginning when he
thanked the conservatives for their courtesy and said wryly, "We should
do this more often." The only boos answered his opening remarks about
immigration, even though the crowd disagreed with him over a number of
other issues. He quieted them as he reiterated his call for a widespread
public "consensus" that the border be secured before we decide how to
deal with the illegal immigrants in our midst.
In any drama about the McCain campaign, George Bush would get a walk-on
role as supporting actor to observe that John McCain is "a true
conservative." The sitting president has had trouble with some
conservatives himself, and understands that Mr. McCain still has work to
"The Portrait of a Lady," with Hillary as protagonist, couldn't be the
narrative of Henry James about a woman who stays in a bad marriage in
spite of her independent spirit, but one studded with flashbacks of a
woman in a bad marriage who enjoys what comes of her experiences at the
White House. The screenwriters would have to take considerable liberties,
since the Clintons refuse to release the relevant documentation of those
years. Her drama would have to carry the disclaimer: "Some of the
following is based on fact and some of it is not." There could be
dramatic scenes from the Lincoln bedroom, where major contributors to the
Clintons in the 1990s (and today) enjoyed sleepovers, paying hundreds of
thousands of dollars to campaign treasuries. They had to take as fiction
the Clintons insistence that there was no quid pro quo.
More than the other two candidates, Barack Obama's narrative is a "work
in progress." Shelby Steele in his new book " A Bound Man" draws on
Ralph Ellison's novel, "Invisible Man," to describe Obama's difficulty
in separating his authentic self from a mask he wears unconsciously to
please whites: "His supporters do not look to him to do something; they
look to him primarily to be something, to represent something." It's a
provocative notion that bears further illumination, to ask whether
Barack Obama can achieve visibility as an individual with well-formed
ideas rather than as a racial token who pleases whites simply by being
there. Is there a young Ralph Ellison to write the script?
As we move through the scenarios, we see a fascinating tale full of
sound and fury. It signifies something, but just what we yet know not.