So is this what we are resigned to – those of us in search of fresh, new faces to boldly challenge entrenched politicians – a steady diet of excuse-making when our developing heroes mess up?
It will take a lot of energy and talent under the best of circumstances to bring the change that so many people seem to want. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d rather not waste valuable time explaining the latest dumb thing my candidate just said or why my candidate can’t seem to match up to a hair-sprayed TV news anchor or a radio talk show question.
Call me greedy, but my search for rogue, grass-roots game-changer candidates includes an attribute that many say I dare not require: I want them to be as sharp as a tack.
That means they can give it right back to interviewers who try to trap them. From Katie Couric’s demand for a reading list to Charlie Gibson’s vague “Bush doctrine” question, I wanted Sarah Palin to give answers that showed doubters she can skillfully stand up to hostile media types, which one hopes she can do if she seeks a job that involves standing up to a hostile world.
And just to finish with the good ex-governor, whom I still admire greatly, it means they can address perceived and real affronts without adolescent overreaction. From the stupid David Letterman joke about her daughter to the even stupider Rahm Emanuel “R-word” moment, the Palin camp squandered potential good will by exaggerating those offenses beyond what they actually were.
This is not a small thing. A vital part of wisdom is having a reliable barometer on just what people are saying and doing, so as to avoid overreaction and underreaction – another skill we should require at the highest levels of statesmanship.
Another necessity of high office is a general awareness of, for want of a better term, the world out there. Yes, campaigning is grueling; novices can stumble. We should offer promising newcomers a deep well of benefit of the doubt as they navigate those waters.
But when rising Texas gubernatorial hopeful Debra Medina didn’t have the presence of mind to dismiss the instantly dismissible, that’s a huge problem. Glenn Beck’s question about the reprehensible 9/11 “truth” movement was as direct as it could be. It required a direct answer: instant condemnation of a hateful cult.
Her shocking answer that these sociopaths have made “some very good arguments,” even if not evidence of alliance with them, is evidence of a brain misfire that might mean it will be another race at a future time that will put her in some important office that she will have earned with more experience and poise.
Meanwhile, I don’t want to hear complaints that this was “coordinated” by her opponents or protests that this was a “setup.” Guess what? Life, especially in politics, is full of setups, potholes, surprises – countless moments requiring agility, not whining.
And let’s be bipartisan about this. Bill White is a fine mainstream Texas Democrat, but is he all the state party can offer for governor? His only noteworthy competitor, Farouk Shami, enjoyed a certain American-dream businessman appeal until he threw down his own bizarre truther props, coupled with an attack on the work ethic of white people.
In my search for poise, sharpness, quickness, whatever you want to call it, I’m not an elitist, especially in the Obama era, which threatens to give eloquence a bad name.
I will continue to admire the views and energy of people like Sarah Palin and Debra Medina. But I simply have to ask of them, and all who seek to claim that Tea-Party-Grass-Roots-Rogue-Common-Folk mantle: Can you please get better at the things that will expand your appeal beyond the base that already loves you?
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