Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sun in His Eyes

I'm not a huge fan of Chris Matthews on TV. He's loud, he interrupts too much, he can be absurdly inconsistent, and can sometimes just grate. Some of his writing is mediocre but at times it's amazing -- in fact, I consider his first book, Hardball, to contain some of the best American folk wisdom this side of Ben Franklin and Dale Carnegie.

His other books are a comparative letdown, and not just in the way it's hard to match a first effort (like the feeling you get from sequels to Ocean's Eleven or with any Wu-Tang effort post-Enter the 36 Chambers). No, his other books are mostly just bad.

He does, however, still come through with the occasional gem, such as the ability to predict the winner of an American Presidential Election based on which candidate has "the sun in his eyes."

Of course, it's not a totally literal expression, but it's what makes Ronald Reagan better than Walter Mondale, what makes Bill Clinton better than Bob Dole, and what makes anyone with a pulse better than Adlai Stevenson. It's the idea that the guy who *gets it* on Main Street, the one who's out there sweating, gripping, grinning, and best able to *connect* with people will ultimately be elected. As Matthews writes, it's the guy with the sun in his eyes.

Looking back, I think this helps me understand past Presidential elections that I've witnessed. It's why a darkhorse Governor from Arkansas beat an incumbent war hero President who didn't understand how the debt might affect everyday Americans, let alone understand how to buy food at a supermarket. It's why an arriviste but not-as-awkward-and-stiff East Coast son of privilege was able to beat two stiffer, more awkward East Coast sons of privilege in 2000 and 2004. It's Reagan's optimism triumphing against dour Dems in 1980 and 1984.

Here's why 2008 fascinates me so much: I don't think either candidate comes out way ahead in this regard.

With Obama you've got youth, optimism, radiance, and the best candidate-as-rhetorician in my political memory. On the other hand, you've got his nightmarish speech in San Francisco about those poor folks in the flyover states who cling to guns and religion in desperation and hold antipathy for others. Ouch.

With McCain, you've got a great sense of humor, natural leadership, experience, and a real track record as a maverick centrist. On the other hand, you have his noticeably less-sprightly gait, not to mention his nightmarish "Bomb Iran" parody of the Beach Boys' song "Barbara Ann" and a handful of other such gaffes.

So which one is more out of touch? Which one has the sun in his eyes?

It's a totally open question, and that's why 2008 is going to be a great race to watch.

It's also why the VP search will be just as fascinating, because it gives both Senator Obama and Senator McCain the chance to cancel out, rather than magnify, their perceived shortcomings.

For each candidate's sake, I hope they get it right.


Matt said...

Right on.

What do you think of James Webb?

The New Englander said...


My first exposure to Webb is from The Nightingale's Song, which is also the first time I ever got the real life story of John McCain, too.

Webb's experience as a junior officer in Vietnam, as an accomplished military author, and as the Secretary of the Navy are the types of things that complement what Obama brings to the table, while maybe offsetting some of his weak points, real or perceived..'s just critical that Obama not choose another person who could be pegged in the same light (elitist and looking down on the folks with the flags on their trucks) -- so just no Howard Dean, no Hillary Clinton, etc. A military figure or someone with previous high-level military experience seems like it would add much more.

I would be pretty disappointed if McCain just ended up with another gray WASPy male that doesn't add anything new or different to his ticket. That's why the Gov. Jindal idea works for me -- he's almost absurdly young (still south of 40), he's neither White, nor Anglo-Saxon, nor Protestant, and he's a hugely popular governor of a southern state.