November 13, 2011

Hemingway and the G.O.P.

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The 2012 G.O.P. primaries have reached a point where I feel I can no longer understand them on the basis of traditional political analysis. A palpable split between a diehard anti-Romney faction and Mitt’s supporters, representative of the classic Republican establishment, seems to have developed. And the tension between the two camps has propelled the most unlikely of candidates to the top — first Michelle Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and now, maybe, Newt Gingrich. As we watch each of the former candidates tumble for eclectic reasons (specious claims, poor debate skills and sexual harassment suits among them), the G.O.P. has made clear that at this point the primary is not about policy proposals. Most of what is currently on the Republican table, including flat taxes and the dissolution of huge swaths of government, is unlikely to ever pass through a divided Congress. Instead, the Republican primary right now seems to be a question of style, and so we must turn to allegory to explain it.

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises can serve as a solid metaphor for the election, with the Lady Brett Ashley, the ever-evasive flapper with suitors coming from all directions, symbolic of the G.O.P. nomination and its array of contenders. The social dynamics of the novel mimic the way in which voters — unaware of the intricate workings of policy and the likelihood of Congress’ future cooperative capacity — must make their decisions. One would hope that, in the end, careful reasoning would dictate important romantic and political choices. But Lady Brett Ashley operates in superficial high-society and thus she must distinguish between these men how we must all differentiate between those we only know peripherally: on the basis of style.

There’s Michael, her fiancée at the start of the novel, who seems in prime position to finally tie down Brett. But Michael has an enormous weakness: he’s a drunken idiot and he refuses to calm himself. In his drunken tirades, he’s been known to offend any and everyone around him. Sure, he’s gregarious and most people—with a notable exception—seem to take to him quite easily. But when push comes to shove, Michael is just not intelligent or classy enough for such a fine woman. In this way, Michael can be thought of as a sort of Rick Perry prototype. Perry started his campaign with distinct advantages, but as time went on, his numerous unforgiveable gaffs have made him pretty hard for G.O.P. voters to associate themselves with.

There’s also Robert Cohn, the deeply emotional, Princeton-educated writer, who seems like Brett’s best option on paper. His major drawback, however, is that he’s a total drag. He can’t enjoy himself out with friends, he’s clingy, and he’s acts superior to everyone around him. Sure, he’s a hopeless romantic, willing to fight for the love of Lady Ashley to the end, but he’s just dreadfully pedantic and lacks the persona for a woman like Brett. Cohn seems to me a lot like Newt Gingrich. Sure, voters seem to have propped Newt up after seeing the inadequacy of all of his competitors — much like Brett, who spent a piteous weekend with Cohn before realizing how difficult he actually was. In the end, despite his strong background — which includes a stint as Speaker of the House — Newt just doesn’t have the charm to run a successful national campaign.

Alternatively, there’s Pedro Romero, the handsome young bullfighter. He’s an outsider in the story and doesn’t speak the language of the rest of the cast, making him most akin to Herman Cain. Brett falls for him upon first glance and enthusiastically jumps at the opportunity to court such an unlikely hero, but as she gets to know him better, spending time with him alone in Madrid, she realizes that he too has skeletons in his closet, much like the sexual harassment allegations that have plagued the Cain campaign. Before long, Lady Ashley flees and returns to her other options.

And so who’s left for Lady Ashley? In the end, she calls upon Jake, the story’s protagonist, to come meet her and and discuss the potential for what could have been. Jake’s really an ideal match for Lady Ashley. He’s handsome, likeable and able to mediate between the other characters with aplomb. There’s just one gaping issue preventing their happiness: Jake’s sexual organs were injured in WWI and he’s unable to consummate his love for her. In this way, Jake resembles Mitt Romney. Sure, Mitt is a likely choice for the nomination and he seems to be on a relatively smooth road towards a showdown with Obama next year, but his flip-flopping and endless pandering have taken the chutzpa out of his candidacy. Yes, Jake ends up with Brett at the end of the novel, riding away into the night, but he is unable to do anything with the woman he loves. Romney, likewise, has spent so much time figuring out which inauthentic positions will allow him the maximum chance of winning office that even if he wins and ends up with the nomination or even the presidency, I don’t think he, or anyone in the general public, will have any idea what he would do with it.

Although I know that The Sun Also Rises is by no means a perfect model for the Republican race, I think employing it as a lens does yield some results. Mostly, I just enjoy the image of a President Romney, sitting in the Oval Office in January 2013, much like Jake when, sitting inches away from Lady Brett Ashley, wonders to himself, “Alright, so what do I do now?”

Original Author: Adam Lerner