Here is an interesting e-mail from reader Woody:
The buzz surrounding Fred Thompson’s proposed candidacy has got me thinking about an explanation for what is now becoming a familiar pattern: a new name enters the field, generates a burst of excitement, and then fades from view as public ardor transfers to someone else. The phenomenon resembles nothing so much as a shooting star that breaks into bright visibility only to fade in time. When one shooting star disappears from view, another quickly appears to take its place.
David French implies that the Messiah watch provides an adequate explanation for the shooting stars. People who are looking for a Savior to solve our nation’s ills think they have found it, only to discover, upon closer investigation, that the candidate’s record does not match up to the Messiah they had expected. (They expect a Messiah who comes in power, and are disappointed by one who comes in poverty.) On this theory, people lack information on a candidate; once supplied with it, the information cannot possibly fulfill the expectation. Messianic expectations are left unfilled when the candidate is found to be human after all.
The Messiah explanation has, I think, much to recommend it, but I am wondering if there is more to it than that. The restless nature of public opinion–the intense love affair followed by rapid burnout–may suggest that we do not lack information so much as we lack belonging: we are treating our candidates as though they are commodities to be cycled through, rather than as people for whom we feel some lasting affection or allegience or bond. We seem to be treating candidates as we do television shows or fashions: as objects of our own personal pleasure, to be enjoyed for a time, and then discarded when something better comes along. (As one night worker says to the other at the end of The Truman Show, “What else is on?”) We, ultimately, create the shooting stars, which says as much about our own category mistake as it does about the supposed qualifications of the candidates.
Treating our candidates as commodities to be consumed is probably to be expected at this early point in the election cycle. After all, there is a sense in which we are all “shopping” at this stage in the game, trying on styles, figuring out our preferences and commitments. When confronted with a new brand or color, we are at least momentarily intrigued, if only to turn away in the end. But at some point we have to realize that we are settling on a person, not a sweater, and that people, unlike objects, deserve some measure of our allegiance. The ’08 voting booth will ultimately force the choice, but until then, I hope to see people gather all the information they can, throw their energies behind a person, and then trust their intiutions enough to stick with their choice. Ideas and character, not popularity and personality, should lie at the heart of this decision.
As for me and my house, we think Mitt has both the ideas and the character. And we are not to be swayed.