The usual suspects

Running down the GOP's rogues' gallery of potential presidential candidates

May 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

The rapture was supposed to happen over the weekend, followed by a series of apocalyptic events. The rapture didn't happen, none of the believers were whisked away, however, the apocalypse for Republican presidential contenders, which started a few weeks ago, is still claiming wannabes.

Real estate developer and reality show star Donald Trump, who trundles around like a petulant Baby Huey, admitted the lie of his media-fronting faux campaign by dropping out when NBC called the question on whether Trump would continue to host the next season of Celebrity Apprentice. Trump opted for forcing B-list celebrities to kiss his backside on a weekly basis rather than trying to become the leader of the free world. Of course, that happened after President Obama took the wind out of Trump's Birther sails by releasing his long form birth certificate (in between meetings setting up the raid the killed Osama bin Laden). Trump puffed himself up about the release, saying, "Now we can talk about oil. We can talk about gasoline prices. We can talk about China ripping off this country." However, rather than continuing the discussion about any of that, he slinked back to his NBC studio to practice glaring out from under his impressive comb-over and saying, "You're fired."

Mike Huckabee, the bass-playing, evangelical former governor of Arkansas, opted to stay in front of the cameras at the FOX network rather than enter the internecine rumble for the honor of running against Obama in 2012. Huckabee was much less flamboyant and entertaining than Trump, but a much more viable candidate. Huckabee's declination leaves the evangelical aura to Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who has found it "interesting" that swine flu only breaks out under Democratic presidents (obviously the wrath of God), that the movie The Lion King teaches gay superiority, and that not even one study "shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas." Well, Bachman is going to be a lot of fun if she actually throws her hat into the ring. It might even be "interesting."

And then there's Newton "Newt" Gingrich, the former congressman and current college professor who says his patriotism made him cheat on his wives (no he's not a fundamentalist Mormon, just the usual serial philanderer). Gingrich seemed like the kind of guy who could bring a breath of sanity to the Republican race — after all, he actually says something based on fact from time to time. And having engineered the Contract with America and the Republican domination of Congress in 1994, it seemed he may know something about political strategy. Of course, it didn't help that he was censured by the House in 1997 for ethics violations and in 1998 resigned from the seat he had just been re-elected to in the midterm elections.

Gingrich's current candidacy is under fire from the Republican side because he had the audacity to speak an unflattering truth about Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial budget proposal that would end Medicare as we know it. Gingrich called it "radical social engineering." Since then he has been kicked by practically every major conservative pundit on the planet (OK, just in the United States, it just seems universal). Newt has backed off, apologized to Ryan, claimed that if he could he would vote for the legislation and said, "Any ad which quotes what I said ... is a falsehood." Nothing I say can enhance that line.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, the guy who took collective bargaining rights away from Indiana state workers by fiat several years ago, chose not to jump into the fray. As has Paul Ryan, although he played coy and left the door open just in case. Sarah Palin has stayed mum, but the pundits seem to think she, too, will stay put in front of the FOX cameras. (BTW, a recent study from Hamilton College on the accuracy of pundits' predictions found that they were accurate only about 50 percent of the time. However liberal pundits were right a bit more often than conservatives and the New York Times' Paul Krugman scored the highest, George Will the lowest. )

Getting back the Republican ire Gingrich faces, there's plenty more to go around.

Rep. John Boehner caught crap from the Tea Party when he admitted that Congress will raise the national debt ceiling. John McCain has caught it again for saying that torture is wrong and useless, as conservatives praised the "enhanced interrogation" they claim led to finding bin Laden's courier.

Whoever emerges from next year's primary season will probably feel like he or she has gone through the end of days, but (sigh) it's just politics.

President Obama caught his own criticism-from-your-base action last week. I'm talking about Princeton Professor Cornell West calling Obama a "puppet of Wall Street" and several other unflattering things.

I've always thought West a fun guy. His flamboyance and audacity have always added colorful entertainment to any panel he sits on, and his unkempt Afro and ever-present scarf add a devil-may-care fashion vibe to the conservative dress of most pundits. Seemingly never afraid to wade into roiling waters, West touched off a war of words among black intellectuals attacking or defending West's views. Unfortunately, the tone of much of this commentary, from West's screed to the back and forth punditry, has been deeply personal. Among West's complaints is the fact that a bellhop at his Washington hotel got a ticket to Obama's inauguration while West didn't.

The fact that there was open argument among African-Americans about Obama was actually a good thing, and got me to thinking about Disintegration, journalist Eugene Robinson's book about the fragmenting of black society published last year. In the book, Robinson argues that black America, formerly a more or less monolithic socio-economic order, has fragmented into four groups. They are: the Mainstream, a working class and middleclass group that by and large works in white America by day and goes home to black America by night; the Abandoned, poor and poorly educated people on the margins of society with few options for changing their lot; the Transcendent, people like Oprah Winfrey, the recently deceased Don Barden, even a Dave Bing who have enjoyed unparalleled success in business, entertainment and politics; and the Emergent, a growing group of African and Caribbean immigrants, and racially mixed people such as Obama, who don't experience black cultural traditions and history in the same way as the rest of us.

Not only does Robinson define these categories, he discusses the dynamics that created them and the fluctuating distances and interactions between them. Whether you think these developments are positive or bemoan them as a black apocalypse, they are part of the landscape of modern American life. West's taking on Obama is a part of that dynamic, as is West's seeming elitism at noting that somehow a bellhop got a ticket to Obama's inauguration while West, a mainstreamer who often walks among the transcendent, was left holding the bag.

There is plenty of apocalyptic fervor to go around these days. I think it has a lot less to do with otherworldly forces and more to do with greed, vanity and the pursuit of power.

Then again, maybe we're just warming up for the next apocalypse — predicted for Dec. 12, 2012. Mark your Mayan calendar.