Sunday, April 22, 2012

Unworthy Contenders

Tell what you know
Do not tell more than you know
Do not tell less than you know
Tell what you know 

This was Gertrude Stein’s advice to aspiring writers, which I have always thought was exquisitely elegant in its simplicity, as well as appropriate for those in other walks of life -- take for example those aspiring to be President of the United States.

Michele Bachmann told us that the shot heard ‘round the world was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, and that the Founding Fathers fought tirelessly to end slavery. Rick Perry told us that the voting age is twenty-one, and that there are eight justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Herman Cain told us that the Taliban would be involved in any newly formed government of Libya. They all repeatedly told us more than they knew. Of course they had to. What they actually did know was not enough to be a serious applicants for the job.

Though we often doubt the intelligence of our friends and neighbors, we are, as a whole, a reasonably intelligent electorate. We have what city people have always referred to as street smarts. As we grow-up (early for some and later for others), we learn to develop our factory installed B.S. detector. To paraphrase the single greatest leader America ever produced, all of us can be fooled some of the time and some of us can be fooled all of the time, but all of us cannot be fooled all of the time.

So, I ask you Mr. Romney, Do you believe in Gertrude Stein’s platinum rule? 

When your lightweight opponents continued to tell us more than they knew, we were more than happy to be amused, though we were more than a little disturbed by them having a seat at the game table in such a high stakes game. They came to remind us of the blowhard at the cocktail party. When we cannot listen to one more word of his nonsense, we slip from his sight and escape to the kitchen to make fun of him. 

Newt still assures us repeatedly that he knows more than most other mortals, including you. He of course knew more than any of the other contenders, though he was careful to explain that you and all of them knew more than the man we foolishly elected to lead us.  Then Newt presented you with the right to laughingly characterize him as “Lucy in the chocolate factory,” when he learned that he failed to get on the ballot in his home state of Virginia. He then called for a write-in vote, but Virginia forbids write-in votes in its primaries. He did not know what he did not know.

And so he promised to give us $2.50-a-gallon gasoline, if we would just give him what was rightfully his – the coveted seat in the Oval Office. He told us he knew how to do it. One problem: we did not believe him, because we no longer believed that he knew what he told us he knew.

And then only one – the holy warrior from Pennsylvania – stood in your way. He must have thrown quite a scare into you, though of course you cannot admit it. He was on your heels all the way, poised to overtake you. Fortunately, he got a little carried away with himself.  He should have beaten you in Michigan. What a blow that would have been – upsetting you in your “home state,” where you were so happy to be back where “the trees are just the right height.”

Yes, he got a little carried away. He is a man who likes to lecture. So lecture, he did. He lectured women on some very personal matters.  Did you believe your good fortune?  He heard the rumblings from the offended gender, but he dug in. After all, God was on his side.  But women were not.  In droves, they deserted him for you. Could you have ever delivered the kind of blow that he landed to his very own chin? You know the answer to that question. If you pack that kind of a wallop, you have not yet shown it. But, we cannot fault your strategy.

You chose to remain silent. You, the victor of bloody corporate battles, understand and appreciate the famous axiom: When your enemy is destroying himself, stay out of his way.

And your enemy was not quite finished destroying himself. He had one more blockbuster punch to land.  He stepped to the center of the ring and took on the memory of JFK. The issue was separation of church and state, but the issue hardly mattered. He threw the clumsiest big time punch we had ever seen, which prompted television news programs to run clips from 1960 of the young contender from Boston addressing Protestant ministers in Houston, displaying his eloquence, intellect, and humility. 

In reality, he was speaking to a much wider audience. He was an American who happened to be Catholic, speaking to Americans who happened to be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Quaker, Baptist, Unitarian, or none of the above. He spoke to our better selves. 

And then we watched the holy warrior from Pennsylvania say, “You bet it makes me want to throw up.”  It was a stunning boomerang-punch that knocked him senseless. He stumbled around and stumbled around and then weakly climbed out of the ring.

So here you are – preparing for the main event.

The Champ is unlike any opponent you have ever faced. He will not give you the gift of knocking himself out. You will not be able to out-spend him, or out-organize him. He will not make the mistakes of an amateur. He knows your weaknesses and will skillfully exploit them. There will be defining debates, where you will face him on camera, mano-a-mano, and eyeball to eyeball.

You have survived a game of elimination. That is all you have done, and it was enough.  You stayed in a crouch, with your hands protecting your chin. At every opportunity, you told us less than you know. So, what now, Governor?  Are you willing to get hit in order to land some blows?  That is what we need to see. Not to take pleasure in seeing you with a split lip, and a broken nose, and purple, swollen eye lids, but to see if you are willing to fight through pain that you have never before felt and exhaustion that you have never before experienced in order to win the right to lead all of the people.

The moment of truth is near. You will finally have to tell us what you know. Your ideas
– which I hope will be brilliant ideas - will be mercilessly attacked and ridiculed, but may very well win the day. 

Be worthy. Be worthy!