Huntsman, Stevenson and the Politics of Ignorance


A fan of the late Adlai Stevenson once shouted to his hero at a campaign rally that he’d be elected president because “all  thinking people” in America supported him.

The erudite and quick-witted Democrat, whose two White House bids were snuffed by Dwight Eisenhower and some guy named Nixon, famously replied:

“The trouble is, I need a majority.”

Adlai’s lament (h/t Paul Begala) repeatedly has come into sharp focus during the season series of the reality TV show that is the race for the Republican presidential nomination, never more clearly than when the alien life form known as Michele Bachmann offered this suggestion at the most recent GOP debate:

If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps. If you look at China, they’re in a very different situation. They don’t have AFDC. They save for their own retirement security. They don’t have the modern welfare state. And China’s growing. And so what I would do is look at the programs that LBJ gave us with the Great Society and they’d be gone.

Putting aside the small matter that the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was ended 15 years ago, let’s recap the Bachmann Doctrine:

1-Obama is a socialist, just like Lyndon Johnson.
2-Socialists support food stamps, Social Security and other forms of rob-the-rich welfare.
3-The U.S. must become more like China, a model capitalist society administered by the Communist Party.

Bibo ergo sum.

Low octane cigars: Our point here is not to impugn the intellectual credentials of the gay-curing, zero-taxing, vaccine-bashing congressperson from Minnesota, who needs no help on that score.

Neither to dwell on the fact that, compared to Rick Perry and Herman Cain, the two rivals who have succeeded her as the Tea Party favorite in the field, Bachmann looks like the president of Mensa.

Nor even to recall that the noted historian and newly anointed right-wing champion Newt Gingrich, who loves to wallow in his own alleged brilliance, believes the nation’s problems began in 1975, when the CIA was banned from using poisoned  cigars to eliminate unfriendly foreign leaders, and whose intellectual oeuvre has been compared by fellow conservatives to “an attic of throwaway, unusable and downright goofy ideas, piled high like newspapers in the room of a troubled subject on Hoarders.”

Why bother to do so, when the blogospheric conservative commentariat itself wonders in amazement, if not embarrassment or downright shame, at the low-octane intelligence of so many GOP wannabes, as in this essay by the Washpost’s Jennifer Rubin:

Republicans have sometimes mistaken anti-elitism with anti-smarts. Put differently, Republicans should not have contempt for the voters or for ideas, lest they be judged unworthy of serving in office. It’s one thing to heap scorn on liberal elites who parrot unsupportable leftist dogma or who show contempt for ordinary Americans’ values; it’s quite another to celebrate ignorance…

But what if, for example, a really smart Republican with a great track record, lots of policy ideas and the ability to counteract the stereotype of Republicans ran? Oh, maybe there already is one or two in the race. Maybe there could be more, and perhaps conservatives would be relieved not to have to make excuses for candidates who think ignorance is virtue and intelligence is a vice.

To which we say: what ever happened to that good-lookin’ fella from Utah?

A question of values: At first glance, former Beehive State Governor Jon Huntsman seems to fit the Rubin profile of “a really smart Republican with a great track record…”

With the looks and stature of a central casting commander-in-chief, Huntsman is informed and articulate about domestic matters, experienced and well-versed  on foreign affairs, and fits the hard-line conservative profile of a 21st century GOP candidate.

Despite millions and months spent campaigning, however, Huntsman has failed to gain the slightest political traction (although his 2.2% composite Real Clear Politics score this week pushed him soaring past the repulsive Rick Santorum by a full 0.04).

Part of Huntsman’s dismal showing no doubt stems from his weak performances in the first few debates (which clearly weren’t the right venue for Kurt Cobain jokes), and his Mormon doppelganger resemblance to front-runner Mitt Romney probably doesn’t help much either.

His domestic policy prescriptions may not be our favorite cup of Earl Grey, but they sure are well within range for Tea Party types: down-the-line pro-life and anti-gun control, he’s for a flat tax (a form of which he put in place in Utah), repealing Obama’s health care and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms (Hello Michele!) and eliminating the capital gains tax as part of a detailed “jobs plan” that the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subscription) simply gushed about.

On foreign policy, far beyond the blathering idiocy of Bachmann about China during the last debate, Huntsman’s specific and sophisticated analysis of U.S.-China relations, and his schooling of Romney on the issue, put the bellicose braying of Mittens about a trade war to shame.

So why, in its unending search for the not-Mitt, does the Republican primary electorate refuse to give the guy a look, let alone a break?

Simply because Huntsman’s problem with the Tea Party has nothing to do with policy or issues; rather it’s all about values, starting with his belief in the fundamental value of governing at all, let alone doing so through compromise and good-faith negotiation.

Huntsman’s style of cool rationality is wrong, wrong, wrong for those who want to burn down the house, while his record is filled with words and actions that are nothing short of heresy

For starters, serving as the Obama Administration’s ambassador to China demonstrated an unforgivable display of bipartisanship; publicly admitting his belief in science — “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” he tweeted shortly after Perry had questioned every natural law except gravity — surely didn’t help matters much.

Scolding Ranger Rick, after the Texas Governor accused Ben Bernanke of “treason” and suggested traveling to the Lone Star State might be unsafe for the Federal Reserve chief, evinced an unfortunate tendency towards civility; his criticism of Michele Bachmann’s fervent call for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling was another buzz kill that showed a clear lack of commitment to ideology. The final straw, surely, came with Huntsman’s expression of support during the last debate for the economic fears, if not the protest tactics, of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Bottom line: Not long before Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels decided not to seek the Republican nomination he delivered a speech to the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in which he said this:

Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our republic saying, ‘I told you so’ or ‘You should have done it my way’…We should distinguish carefully skepticism about big government for contempt for all government.

The unfriendly reception Daniels received for his sentiments, which could not have encouraged his presidential aspirations, also speaks volumes about why Huntsman has gotten exactly nowhere in his campaign.

At this point, Huntsman is running for the exercise. Who knows? Maybe he’s trying to lay a foundation for 2016, placing a long shot bet that the GOP will blow its splendid opportunity to oust Obama and then, chastened, moderate its extremist views.

This time out, though, Huntsman holds zero appeal for those Tea Party voters dominating the Republican primary race who, as comedian Lewis Black said, believe the “’The Flintstones’ is a documentary.”

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There are 11 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    Huntsman is no doubt the best of the field, but he certainly doesn’t represent anything approaching the kind of leadership this country needs. Nor does Obama, for that matter. The focus needs to be on flipping the House. Maybe the 60 new teabaggers got rid of some weak Dems, and by replacing them with bright, honest, visionary Dems — hey, it’s not impossible — we could start getting America back on track.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      But, as the saying goes, it’s hard to beat something with nothing.

      Though laugh-out-loud funny (and I really did roar while reading), the Calbuzz characterization of the cast of candidates is also pretty spot on. Hard to see anything people can actually vote for–aside from absolute stupidity.

      However, it would be a mistake to discount that appeal. As that noted political pundit PT Barnum was fond of saying, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

  2. avatar cbarney says:

    Please! That was H. L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore.

  3. avatar dubiousraves says:

    I do believe Huntsman is laying the groundwork for 2016. And if he wins, he will be our first president who’s a Captain Beefheart fan.

  4. avatar Jim Towery says:

    Mencken’s original quote was “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

    • avatar cbarney says:


      and this version (which, after a brief search, i am persuaded is correct, tho i didn’t find a direct citation) fits the gop slate just as well as the other.

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      I stand corrected. Barnum must have been the guy who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Which also fits Republican voters IMHO.

  5. avatar GeoHagop says:

    Actually, the sucker quote is originally from fellow Binghamtonian, George Hull – whose story is pretty funny:

    Who said “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” ?

  6. avatar Vintage64 says:

    We have met the enemy and he is us – Walt Kelly.

  7. avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

    “The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.”
    – Jane Addams, noted humanitarian and Nobel Peace laureate (1860-1935)

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