Looked at from this distance, the contest for the 1st Congressional District GOP nomination has looked like a case of Sanford sitting atop the name-recognition hill, and Larry Grooms exerting the most energy trying to take it from him.
A third candidate I keep hearing from (and let me remind you that my perspective is skewed by the fact that I keep hearing from this guy and Grooms; others could be running just as hard but not making the effort to let me know about it) is Jonathan Hoffman.
No, I hadn’t heard of him, either, so of course he’s running a standard “I’m not a politician” campaign. To the extent that is appealing, he certainly has an advantage over Sanford and Grooms.
But this new TV ad tells me next to nothing. It shows him in uniform, and I thank him for his service. It shows him with the last Republican president. He uses the word “conservative” only once in 30 seconds, which by Republican primary standards shows extraordinary restraint. Of course, he uses other phrases that suggest such values to the base, such as “small business owner.”
And he makes the usual dubious claims that Republicans in SC tend to believe as gospel, such as:
- He wants to be elected “to take on out-of-control spending and the growth of government.” Compared to what absolute measure, I find myself wondering. It’s interesting to contrast this belief to what I read this morning in the libertarian Economist, which, after asserting that “By most measures Mr Obama’s positions have been rather moderate,” notes that the public now is in a more conservative mood: “The conservative idea that spending must be cut is taken for granted, even though government spending is already lower in America than in most advanced economies.” Did you catch that? Looked at from outside, the U.S. government is not some out-of-control behemoth. It is only that to people who choose to believe it is.
- Then there’s this chestnut: “let’s get back to constitutionally limited government.” Something that, of course, we’ve never left. He doesn’t have to explain what he means because no on in the GOP base would challenge him on it. Me, I want details. Back during the Bush administration, Democrats would say this very same silly thing. They were usually referring to the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 measures that Democrats as well as Republicans voted for and legally passed, under lawmaking provisions of our, ahem, Constitution. Now, Republicans generally mean something like Obamacare. Which, according to the GOP-appointed Chief Justice and a majority on the Supreme Court, is constitutional. Or is he referring to killing U.S. citizens with drones and without the benefit of due process? If so, I’d like to hear him square that with is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush in fighting the Global War on Terror, which the current president is only guilty of pursuing a tad more aggressively than his predecessor, casting drones far and wide and putting boots on the ground in the very heart of Pakistan.
Mind you, I’m not being critical of Mr. Hoffman. He’s not doing a thing that pols of both parties don’t do in this ridiculously facile medium, the 30-second ad. It would be practically impossible for him to answer the questions he raises in my mind within that format.
But these ads aren’t meant to answer questions. They are meant to communicate, in the most minimalist, Gestalten flicker, a set of emotions along the lines of “he’s like me,” or “I trust that man.” So they deal not in facts, but in presumptions, ones that are shared, even if they fly in the face of reality.
Grooms’ ads are the same. Sanford’s go a bit farther, because so much is known about him, and some of what is known is problematic and has to be addressed. But it is of course addressed in the most emotional, simplistic kind of way, merely communicating, “You must not hold it against him.” Why? Because “I trust that man, despite all.”
But it is on these extremely thin, grossly inadequate bases that we decide elections in this country.