Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Worst American Birthdays, Vol. 47

Let’s say it’s mid-August 2008. You’re a nationally unknown governor from a geographically large, demographically insignificant state. It's true, of course, that you possess comically errant beliefs about science and the environment, and your reputation as a "maverick" has been oversold by half.

But you’re young and chipper, you’re overwhelmingly popular with your constituents, and you have a bright political horizon before you. In the very least, you're a dead-lock for re-election as your weird state's chief executive, and you might even be looking forward to an eventual move to the US Senate one day. Or perhaps you might even vault to the US House when your state's only representative is eventually remanded to federal custody. Your reputation as a clean-government reformer has been dented somewhat by summertime allegations that you fired a state commissioner after pressuring him to fire someone you didn’t like. But you’ve pledged to cooperate with the investigation, and — let’s be honest — even if you’re judged to have abused your office, very few people are likely to hold any of this against you in 2010.

Then let’s say you receive a surprising offer to serve as the vice presidential running mate for a very old man with a history of health problems. You earn this opportunity in no small part because a group of pathetic, right wing men met you on holiday a year earlier and sprouted chubbies in their shorts. Fulfilling the role that traditionally suits the vice presidential nominee, you agree to be the campaign’s attack dog; though you lack the information to develop original broadsides against your opponents, you’re competent with a teleprompter and are capable of cracking wise about pit bulls and lipstick and such. You fib mightily about your record as governor; you struggle with your native tongue in media interviews; you complete a televised debate, using occasionally-complete sentences but treating facts and figures as if they’re foreign objects to be dislodged as quickly as possible from your throat. You wink and smile. Mooseburger, hockey, maverick — drill, baby, drill. And then, as your campaign slips farther behind in the polls, you resort to portraying the other party’s candidate as a consorter with terrorists and as a scary (cough, negro, cough) man with alien values and a loathing for the country he seeks to lead.

Let’s say you do all these things while refusing to cooperate with a legislative investigation at home. You allow your running mate to send a squadron of lawyers to manage the state’s executive branch in your absence. You allow them to describe a former commission head as a backstabbing “rogue” who deserved his professional head upon a platter; you allow them to misrepresent the nature of the investigation; you allow them to portray the legislature as a hive of Obama supporters. You issue a report clearing yourself of any wrongdoing. When the legislature releases its own report, you pretend that it clears you as well.

You lose the election. You are a laughing stock. You'll probably be back in four years, and you'll probably lose again. Meantime, you'll earn at least $11 million from the labors of a ghostwriter.

But why sweat the little stuff? Today, on the third anniversary of the Great Quail Hunt, America wishes you a happy 45th birthday.

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