Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brutus, As You Know, Is Honorable


Commenting on last night's primary debate, Quinn Hiller (writing for National Review's "Corner") remarked: "Santorum is about the most determinedly anti-political top-level politician I’ve ever witnessed. No matter what state he is debating in, he refuses to find some wiggle room on issues where his position is at odds with a deeply held local position. ... I don't know what to make of it."

Is it silly of me that my gut reaction is to say, in my best New York shoulder-shrugging accent: "This is a bad thing?" Hiller's basic unstated point is clear: a politician who refuses to rhetorically pretty-up his personal opinions will have to be (1) very lucky, (2) very blest, or (3) a loser. Right now, it looks most like Santorum is going to be a loser. But as for not knowing "what to make of it"—it's quite simple, what we should make of it. Santorum is an honest man. He tells what he considers to be the truth, for the reasons he considers it to be the truth, rhetoric and pandering be hanged. Not a strategy I would choose to follow, if I were running for office, nor one that I would advise for any candidate I would like to see win. But it makes the man that much more appealing. I feel a bit like the Speaker of the House in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, watching an honest man who imagines he can get somewhere on his honesty be crushed under the weight of a deceived, demanding, irrational, and easily swayed constituency. Frank Capra pulled a miracle out of the hat for Jefferson Smith. Ah, well ...


Polls can change, and the raw numbers they show are not necessarily determinant of the final results of a race—as the early data from both Iowa and South Carolina shows. But when a poll cuts more finely, the demarcations between candidates can become surprisingly enlightening—not necessarily as to the final results, but as to why those results might be what they are. Two days ago a Florida Newsmax poll showed Gingrich at 34.4, Romney trailing at 25.6, and Paul and Santorum well behind at 13.1 and 10.7 respectively. Generally speaking, the breakdown of the voters polled into age, race, and sex produced results one would expect: e.g., Romney takes 0% of under-30 voters; Gingrich is slightly less popular and Paul hugely less popular among woman than among men. But there were two results took me aback. First, Gingrich won nearly 43% of Black voters polled—a result which I am at a loss to explain. Secondly, and of more interest to me, Santorum's female supporters outnumbered his male supporters by more than four to one. Repeat: by more than four to one. (17.4:3.8)


This is the most ethereal sort of hypothesizing, but I'll take a shot at it.

Everyone likes an underdog, but the kinds of underdog that men and women like are not the same. This is perhaps best illustrated by an analogy to men's and women's matrimonial choices. When the friends of one half of a newly wed couple meet the other half, one of the most frequent of the uncharitable responses takes some form of the following: "What on earth can she (he) see in him (her)?" If the blind wedded soul were to be put the question directly (which, unfortunately, they rarely are) I suspect most men would be at a loss to answer. Their taste—which is first and foremost a matter of looks, and secondly a matter of manners—is so much a part of their psyche that their choice seems perfectly obvious to them, if not to their friends who are possessed of a different set of aesthetic inclinations. But a woman, when she marries, though she does marry on taste, is usually able to give a much better explanation of her taste in a man than a man is of his taste in a woman. To the question, "What on earth do you see in him?" a woman is liable to reel off a whole list of characteristics. Her husband is honest, humble, charitable, just, dependable, likes children, works hard, has a good sense of humor ... In fact, her taste, though no less strong or significant than her husband's, is of a wholly different order.

So the underdogs Paul and Santorum each have their supporters: Paul has captured the men, and Santorum the women. When it comes to choosing political candidates, male voters view male candidates as surrogates. The men who are supporting Paul are supporting the man they would like to be like: scrappy, tough, independent, outsider ... Women view male candidates as surrogates not for themselves but for their husbands. The women who are supporting Santorum are supporting the man they would like to be (or are) married to: honest, humble, charitable, just, dependable ... Boring? Not if you're a woman. Dependability in a man is so rare as to be downright exciting.

This, incidentally, gives the lie to the NOW types who think that Santorum's anti-contraception stance will doom him among our half. Hardly. It won't help him among liberal women, to be sure, but at 17 to 4 it clearly hasn't done him that much damage.

This is also, incidentally again, why I have reservations about the otherwise estimable Mr. Chesterton's views on the female vote. But that is a tale for another time ...

Brutus, as you know, was honorable, and a fool. Marc Anthony was an eloquent scumbag. Brutus died at Philippi, and Marc Anthony's triumvirate won the day. What we need now is not a Brutus, but a Henry Monmouth. Lacking him, however, and to paraphrase the estimable Chesterton,

I would rather fall with Brutus
Than rise with all your pols.

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