The Blog

Bottum: The Politics of Non-Politics

12:49 PM, Jan 30, 2008 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Steve Hayes's point is dead on, I think - with the emphasis on dead: Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson murdered their own campaigns with a political strategy that declared themselves the ones who could transcend politics.

Of course, many candidates pose themselves this way: Teddy Roosevelt did, and Jimmy Carter did, and Barack Obama is hot at it even today. One of the weirdest things about the 1952 election is that the
Republican Eisenhower and the Democrat Stevenson both claimed to be breaking the mold of typical partisan politics. But the difference with Giuliani and Thompson is that their actual political strategies depended on their nonpolitical status.

If that sounds like a contradiction - a politics for nonpolitics - it's because that really was a contradiction. The successful candidates who pose at being outside normal politics do so with plenty of political activism and political strategy supporting them. You don't actually break the mold by missing the mold.

Steve Hayes reads the Giuliani and Thompson campaigns as misbegotten from the beginning: errors fathered by hubris and mothered by incompetence. And Steve is right - but there is, perhaps, a further
point to consider. The netroots, the Feiler Faster Thesis, the postmodern present, all things changed: The next time you read someone insisting that politics is different than ever before, remember Giuliani and Thompson. The next time you hear some claim that traditional political campaigns are dead, call Rudy and Fred back to mind. To turn the world upside down, it will take more than a late entry into the race or a campaign strategy that denies the importance of early primaries.

If buttercups buzz'd after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.