My friend Peter Keating had just picked me up at the airport in Albuquerque, and we were enjoying a late lunch on the patio at La Crêpe Michel. I was enjoying a cool bowl of vichyssoise and sipping a dry Bergerac, having just returned to New Mexico after a two month sojourn in Provence. Peter and I had tickets in Santa Fe that evening for La Bohème.
“The last few months have been an absolute disaster for our man Barack,” Keating continued, “yet you’re almost giddy. What are you up to?”
Peter knew that on my way back, I had stopped off for a series of high level meetings with top officials in Washington – David Axelrod and Wesley Mouch from the campaign, Andy Stern and Cuffy Meigs from the unions, Warren Buffett and Orren Boyle from the business community.
“Ellsworth,” Peter whined. “Tell me what’s going on. The Progressive movement is on the verge of annihilation, and you’re sitting here calmly sipping your soup.”
“Don’t be so hysterical, Peter,” I replied. “Your leaders in Washington know exactly what they’re doing. Orren tells me the big money corporate socialists are lining up nicely for the upcoming campaign. Most of our successful business tycoons are like Warren and Orren — not sociopaths like Hank Rearden or Howard Roark. Cuffy says our union friends are grumbling a bit, but they’ll be on board. We should have well above a billion dollars in campaign cash.
“You needn’t worry too much, Peter. The President is well on his way to re-election. And, if it all plays out as planned, our gal Nancy Pelosi will be restored to her rightful place as Speaker of the House.”
“Ellsworth,” Peter sighed, “you’ve been in France too long. Maybe you haven’t heard, but Obama has only a 40% approval rating. He was rolled by the Tea Party in the debt ceiling negotiations last month. All the Progressives are mad at him, the right-wing lunatics hate him, and independents are deserting him in droves.
“Obama’s done, Ellsworth,” Keating cried. “I can’t believe how far down he has fallen, but I don’t see how he can be re-elected. To be honest, given his lack of leadership on any of the issues we Progressives care about, I’m not even sure he’s worth re-electing.
“Oh grow up, Peter,” I said sharply. “I’ve come to expect tripe like that from the great unwashed in the blogosphere, but you’ve been around me long enough to know better.
“Let me explain this to you – again. Petey, the one and only thing that matters is winning the 2012 election. The country, quite frankly, can go to hell for the next year and a half for all we care. If economic disaster and a little starvation wins us the election, and we remain in power for another four years, it will all be worth it. The great thing about a catastrophe is it makes it easy to scare the crap out of your average voter. Nothing motivates the electorate like fear.”
I paused and slurped my soup. Keating was aghast.
“How do we win, you ask, with the President so far down in the polls? He doesn’t take a controversial position on anything. We give America a year and a half of bromides. Taking a tough stand ‘for the good of the country’ makes enemies, Peter. The rabble may say they want the hard truth, but they don’t. We’ll let Republicans do that. Let them emulate Profiles in Courage. We won’t make that mistake.
“Just look at what happened to Paul Ryan when he stuck his neck out on Medicare. Virtually every Republican in the House joined him, on a useless vote that we will wrap around their necks in 2012.
“That commercial we used last year, dumping grandma off a cliff, was child’s play. Wait until you see the barrage we have planned against all those Republican incumbents who took the plunge on that vote come next year.
“But playing it safe isn’t good enough for you, Peter? You want Obama to show political courage? You want him to be a leader? You want him to play Leonidas?
“Do you know what happens to heroes, Peter? They get slaughtered.”
“As always, Peter, our salvation will be the Republicans,” I replied. “The race for the Republican Presidential nomination is down to three candidates: Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney.
“What about Rick Perry, you ask? Perry has the Texas swagger of George W. Bush — on steroids. He makes W the ignoramus look like a Rhodes scholar. Global warming is a hoax, he says? Evolution is just a theory with lots of holes, he adds? Comments like that will win you the bible belt, but will lose every single swing state. Perry is a coyote shooting nut case. He can’t win a general election.
“Michele Bachmann? She is Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Engle and Sarah Palin rolled into one. She became a tax lawyer out of obedience to her husband? That loses her most of the women’s vote. She can’t win either.
“Mitt Romney? The establishment might swing the nomination to him as a last resort, but the tea baggers will never go for Mitt. He reminds everyone of the stuck up rich kid they hated in high school. His habit of switching positions kills him with the right-wing base.
“That leaves the Repubicans with nothing. I hear that when Karl Rove was in town last week for Heather Wilson, he was still lamenting the decision by Mitch Daniels not to enter the presidential race. Peter, Karl can say all he wants on his website about Governor Perry being a plausible nominee, but it rings hollow. Karl knows Perry can’t keep his mouth shut, and he knows he can’t win. Karl also knows Rick Perry will turn the race for the nomination into a bare-knuckled brawl — a divisive Texas ugly blood bath.”
“Folks might be disappointed in Barack Obama, because it ends up he is not The One they’ve been waiting for. Still, Barack is smooth and glib, and most voters still like him on a personal level — whatever the hell that means, because no one really knows the man. With Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie out, the Presidential race is over. In a few months, we can start focusing on the down ballot races, like winning the open Senate seat for Martin Heinrich.
“As long as Barack plays it safe, we can sit back with our big pile of money and mop up after the Republicans destroy themselves.”
As an added bonus, here’s a clip the Santa Fe Opera’s production of La Bohème: