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Building the Frankencandidate

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Get real about homeland security. In the furor over the Dubai ports deal, we witnessed a perfect object lesson in bipartisan dysfunction: While both Democrats and Republicans beat their chests over a nonissue, the real crisis was left utterly unaddressed. As Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley noted recently, the federal government’s abdication of providing resources to big cities for the actual securing of our ports has been so complete that O’Malley now assumes he’s on his own. The Purple Party would put an end to that, abandoning the fiction that Topeka and Tupelo are as equally at risk from terrorism as New York and Los Angeles are, flooding our big cities with the cash necessary to gird themselves against assault—and prepare for the worst.

Refuse to finger hot buttons. On scalding social issues, the Purple Party would be avidly new-federalist. South Dakota wants to ban all abortions? California wants to allow gay marriage? Fine and fine. Though the candidate may disagree in particular instances, his position is one of principled deference to state governments—which, being more attuned to local sensibilities, are the proper venues for deciding such matters—and let the chips fall where they may.

No doubt our man (or woman), if he were elected, would lose some of these fights. But in waging them, he’d be standing foursquare against the culture of make-believe that prevails in Washington—what policy maven Matthew Miller calls the “tyranny of charades.” And he’d gain the allegiance of great swaths of the electorate in the bargain.


Or would he? Doubtless there are innumerable political professionals who would contend that the answer is no. Who’d argue that presenting an agenda like this one would amount to electoral suicide. Who’d sagely point out how easy these positions (not to mention the candidate’s unbuttoned-down demeanor) would be to tear to shreds. How, with the help of a few million bucks’ worth of negative ads, voters would come to see our man as hopeless, helpless, and goofy—a “Froot Loop story,” as Perot used to put it.

Maybe they’d be right. For the past three decades, American politics has been run by a consultantariat whose fundamental premise (though they’d give up their expense-account lunches at the Palm before admitting it) is that voters are entirely malleable, endlessly spinnable, infinitely manipulable. Stupid, in a word. And the consultantariat has a considerable body of evidence to work with.

But maybe that evidence is misleading. Maybe another reason our politics are so dumb is that it’s not in the interest of either party to assume or act otherwise. So what we have is a system whose essential dynamic is: garbage in, garbage out. The candidate, however, exists to test an alternative hypothesis. That the voters are more wised-up that the political professionals assume and that they can be wised-up even more.

The candidate cites a story the other day in the New York Times about support for a federal gas tax. Referring to a poll conducted by the paper, the story reported that, yes, it’s true, fully 85 percent of voters are against being compelled to pay more at the pump. But once the hike was explained to them as being part of a comprehensive strategy to end the country’s crippling dependence on foreign oil, the numbers did a backflip—with 55 percent saying they’d be in favor.

You might wonder why no presidential candidate has ever before framed the issue thus. Our candidate wonders, too. He senses that out there, on the hustings, the appetite for a grown-up conversation about where we are and where we need to go is palpable, bordering on ravenous. He believes that the polarization of our politics has finally run its course. That people—not all of them, but very, very many—care less about right and left than about conviction, imagination, and competence. The promises he makes are simple and direct: No more lies. No more Kabuki. No more false choices.

2008, here he comes.


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