“Congratulations on your wedding, Morris. In later years you will look back on this moment as the happiest day of your life.”
“But, Uncle Izzy, I’m not actually getting married until tomorrow.”
“I know, Morris, I know.”
This classic gag reminds us that sometimes the next step forward can land you on the down escalator, and that it can be better to dream alone than to awaken in a hostile crowd. Mitt Romney’s victory in the Iowa Straw Poll may or may not be hollow, depending if the straw came from the barn or from the bar, but one thing is for sure. He is now the official prime target for vitriol lobbed laterally from his compeers, who are also his competitors.
It has long been my belief that running in primaries, although theoretically less significant than being on the Election Day ballot, is a much more psychically draining experience. First of all, it features an imbalance between the stakes that depresses the passion for victory; if you win you haven’t won yet, but if you lose you have totally lost. It reminds me of my Army experience, where they punished you for miscues but did not reward success. All in all a very uncomfortable plateau on the incline of human striving.
But the most gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, back-breaking, mind-numbing, soul-searing aspect of the primary race is the fact that all the attacks are being leveled from the flank. Granted it is never fun to be excoriated, vilified, execrated, castigated, scourged, mortified, imprecated, or even called an insensitive heartless bigot in a jesting sort of way, but when it is done by some creep or creepette from the other party it is endurable. After all, you know in your heart those guys deserve to be excoriated, vilified, execrated, castigated, scourged, mortified, imprecated and joshingly dubbed insensitive heartless bigots, and you are just the man for that job.
When it really bites is when it comes from your own team. When some party comer accuses you of being a partygoer, it makes you feel like Nicole would have felt if O.J. had done the thing his book describes he would have done had he done the thing he didn’t do. When the guy who worked with you on the correction to the amendment to the supplemental to the budget chides you for missing too many votes, you feel like the Swift Boat guys would have felt if Kerry had exaggerated his exploits to get his medals and then told Congress they were a bunch of rapists and war criminals. Remember how betrayed Caesar felt when he was knifed at the Boston Tea Party and he instinctively protested: “I too brew tea.” Or am I mixing up my history again?
Seriously, if you examine the political landscape you will discover that real feuds exist most often between members of the same party, and they usually are rooted in resentments over remarks bruited in the brotherly brouhahas we call primaries. This invited infighting may work to pick out strong candidates to go up against the other camp but the bloodletting involved is anything but sanguine.
To take the most recent examples, many Reagan loyalists never forgave George H. W. Bush for deriding their hero’s economic program as “voodoo economics.” Although the Prez was cordial to the Veep during their eight years in the White House, a lot of the former’s aides treated the latter like he had AIDS. When Bush 41 began his campaign afterwards by promising to be kinder and gentler, that was the last straw: Reaganites treated him unkindly and ungently ever after.
On the other side, Clinton disliked Gore for barbs he had tossed his way in earlier jockeying for party position. They kept a frosty businesslike distance through their terms. Later, when Gore picked Lieberman as a running-mate, that was the last straw, too. Lieberman had berated Clinton on the Senate floor, and choosing him was an implied rejection of Clinton. In the last days of the 2000 race, Clinton hardly campaigned for Gore. The official explanation was that Gore had asked him to keep a low profile. I had an impeccable source inside the campaign who told me the real reason.
Bearing this in mind, Mr. Romney is in for a rough ride. He’ll hear ’em on the subject of his grandfather’s polygamy, as well as on his choosing choice before living life changed his mind. Not to mention anything else he has ever done, plus anything he ever hasn’t done. Sorry, Mr. Mitt, welcome to the rest of your life.