“Idiom: Elephant in the room.
An elephant in the room is a problem that everyone knows very well but no one talks about because it is taboo, embarrassing, etc.”
Definition from www.usingenglish.com
If Barack Obama fails to win a second term in the White House, it won’t be due to a sharp and incisive opponent.
As the vote looms to narrow the Republican party field down to one candidate fit to face the incumbent President in the November 2012 election, it is becoming apparent that it is going to come down to which of those candidates is the least inept.
Laced with sleaze, scandal, gaffs and mud-slinging, watching their increasingly comical campaigns unravel is like watching a race being run by a procession of disabled horses, in which some runners keep hobbling toward the finishing line even after they have been shot. Seeing them embarrass themselves in debates and interviews on live TV is more entertaining than any amount of reality shows you’d care to name. The idea that any of the clowns on offer might be in with a chance of becoming the leader of the world’s largest economy and most powerful country is both hilarious and terrifying.
Why should I care, you could rightly ask? As a left-leaning Brit, what right do I have to comment on the leadership of the political right in the United States? Well, firstly, I’d point out this is just my opinion, and I’m entitled to that. If you think otherwise I’d say that, for a land that prides itself on its tradition of free speech, you shouldn’t be so quick to stifle it in others. Just because you don’t get a vote that doesn’t mean you don’t get a say. Secondly, have you never heard the proverb that observers see most of the game?
I intended, when I started this Blog, that, despite having strong political opinions, I’d try not to get involved too heavily in debates. It’s just one of those subjects, along with religion, that seems to illicit the most impassioned and often unreasonable responses. But the US elections are an event that interests me. I make a point to stay awake until the early hours – the way some Brits do for the Oscars or the Superbowl – when the result is, if not known, at least clearer. I find something compelling in election night coverage, watching the news graphics as the states get marked off, red or blue, like some kind of international bingo.
Before the two parties go head-to-head, the long preamble of choosing whoever will face the President begins, with the declared Republican candidates setting out their agenda and selling themselves as the best prospect for the job. Normally, I’d pay little attention to political hair-splitting between a number of, to me, equally unpalatable choices. But, this year, when the debaters went on tour, the circus went with them.
I’ll not here recapitulate the biographies of the entire field of candidates, complete with their policies, as that is done elsewhere by the better informed, such as in Richard Adams’ excellent coverage for The Guardian. Instead I’ll confine myself to commenting on some of my favourite characters and moments to emerge from the debacle.
If the show truly was a circus, then Herman Cain would be the chief clown. From being an outsider, to the front runner, then back to the bottom of the pack in just six weeks. His campaign has gone from leaping gracefully through hoops to being beached, rotting, and smelling distinctly fishy. His ‘9-9-9’ gimmick – 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent business tax and a 9 percent national sales tax – caught the public imagination, but the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO has since faced a barrage of allegations of sexual harassment, and in the debates against more experienced politicians has been shown to be grossly ill-informed and prone to bluff his way through difficult questions. Faced with such posers as what he thought of Obama’s handling of the Libyan uprising, Cain struggled to recall if the President had supported it or not. That, coupled with his anti-Muslim agenda – he has claimed that most Muslims are fundamentalists, that he would never appoint a Muslim to his cabinet, and even that he refused medical care when he thought the doctor a Muslim – makes it difficult for me to take him seriously.
Jon Hunstman is an outsider, but has appeared well informed and intelligent in debates. He has a moderate and grown-up approach to them, and has refused to be dragged into tit-for-tat arguments with his opponents. He is also one of the more politically experienced candidates, with two years as ambassador to China (a stark contrast to Sarah Palin’s famous reply, when asked of her foreign policy experience, that the state of which she was governor, Alaska, was only four miles from Russia.) He sounds almost qualified, which is why he won’t stand a chance of winning.
Newt Gingrich, a man once handed an unprecedented $300,000 fine by House of Representatives for non-ethical behaviour and giving false information, has risen to the top – like cream, some might say, but I’d say cream isn’t the only thing that floats – by using his experience, but generally sitting on the fence and telling the electorate what they want to hear.
Early in his campaign, Mitt Romney committed the heinous crime of not being a Christian. Devout Mormon Romney otherwise was a potential box-ticker for the conservative faithful, but his religious opinions counted against him. Nevertheless, with the continuing inability of his opponents to keep their efforts on track, Romney has risen to the status of front-runner along with Newt Gingrich. Despite previously supporting an Obama-style healthcare reform, abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change science, he has since reversed those relatively liberal policies to appeal to mainstream Republicans. Is it too devious to suggest that, if it were sure to win him the nomination, he’d change his opinions on God too?
Rick Perry – one of the more offensive of the selection – and Michele Bachmann – the frankly dangerous Tea Party darling – have been responsible for a couple of reputation destroying gaffs and aren’t likely to make the ground they’ve lost back up. The odious Perry – a man against a woman’s right to choose, and who denies climate change to the point of erasing all mention of evidence for it from an environmental report in his state of Texas – endured an agonising almost minute of airtime, when he failed to remember the third of the three agencies of government he would dispose of. It was the department of energy, by the way, which I would expect a man with heavy interests in fossil fuels to remember. Bachmann regularly embarrasses herself by being too eager to open her mouth and score a snappy headline before checking her facts. Her gems include mixing up American presidents, states where historical events occurred, confusing film cowboy John Wayne with serial killer namesake John Wayne Gacy and, most famously, wrongly claiming that a vaccine for human papillomavirus caused mental retardation in young girls – but what else would you expect from a woman who has previously described homosexuality as a ‘sexual dysfunction’ and supports the use of prayer to ‘pray the gay away.’
Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum are also running, but failing to make much of an impact on the media coverage, although that’s mostly probably due to keeping their heads down and doing nothing too stupid or outrageous.
Barack Obama shouldn’t be patting himself on the back for his first term in office. Despite efforts by a Republican House of Representatives to derail his efforts, and the generally poor state of world economics out of his control, so far he can best be described as an under-achiever. But, based on the weak field pitched against him, he must be thinking himself the favourite for next year’s Presidential race.
If the Republicans do succeed in getting one of these candidates into the Oval Office, then the elephant in that room will be a dead one.
Postscript: On Saturday 3rd December, Herman Cain announced he was ‘suspending’ his campaign due to the ‘hurt’ caused by the ‘false’ allegations. It’s about as ‘dignified’ an exit as such a patently ridiculous man could make from the race. In spite of the string of allegations, he maintained a level of support better than many of the other candidates, so it will be interesting to see to whom his supporters decide to switch allegiance.