My friend has a big ol’ cat named Diego. When he senses that a trip to the vet is imminent, he crouches down in the middle of the living room, making himself as small as possible. He thinks he is invisible, but he is a big guy and holding his breath won’t change that. The remaining crop of GOP candidates for president reminds me of Diego. Each one has so many skeletons in the closet that he or she has to stand against the door to keep them all from popping out, but we all know they’re there, barely out of sight. Yet they think if they just don’t mention them, nobody will see them. Have they heard that tale about the Emperor’s new clothes?
In order, from most innocuous to most egregious, let us start with Michelle Bachmann. Rep. Bachmann claims that she was a government tax lawyer, formerly employed by the Internal Revenue Service. In the next breath, she claims that she has worked all her life in the private sector. Does she know that working for the IRS puts her employment history in the public sector? Moreover, by all accounts she actually worked there very briefly amidst maternity leaves. Did she work there long enough to gain a real understanding of the tax code? Furthermore, she berates people dependent on public subsidies even though she and her husband own clinics that have received tens of thousands of dollars in public subsidies. She’ll put an end to that, by cracky! Somehow she escapes the wrath of her Tea Party adherents.
Then there’s Texas’s governor, Rick Perry. His family’s hunting ranch was named Niggerhead Ranch. He claims the rock at its entrance bearing the infamous name was painted over long ago but witnesses claim it was there as recently as two years ago. Even so, whether it was two years ago or twenty, did they paint over it out of a newfound sensitivity to the sensibilities of African Americans or out of the uneasy sense that it was no longer acceptable to be so overtly racist, even in Texas?
The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich is so weighed down with his past sins that he resembles Charles Dicken’s ghost of Jacob Marley. He is the only speaker in the history of the House of Representatives to be sanctioned and fined for ethics violations. He closed down the federal government partly because he resented his seat on a trip on Air Force One. The twice married speaker led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton even as he was conducting an affair with the woman who would become his third and present wife, Callista. Sounding rather like his old nemesis, Bill Clinton, who wanted to parse the meaning of “is,” Gingrich is at pains to differentiate that he earned millions from Fannie Mae for his services as an historian and not as a lobbyist. I’m an historian; perhaps he could do a seminar for his fellow historians to share his money-making secrets. We would all be extremely appreciative but he would have to do it as a professional courtesy because we’d never be able to afford his fees.
Mitt Romney keeps trying to convince his audiences that he’s just one of them, even as he adds a $12 million addition to his house and makes lame jokes about how he knows what it’s like to be unemployed. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
But another Texan, perpetual candidate Ron Paul wins the prize for trying to make his past invisible through his dissembling. There are caches of Ron Paul’s writings that are virulently racist. He claims that they went out under his name but that somebody else wrote them; that he was busy practicing medicine. I'm a writer, if someone put out something under my name, I'd be on them so fast, heads would spin. The thing about writing is that once it’s published, it exists. It’s no longer “he said, she said,” it’s hard copy; it’s in people’s homes and in public libraries. Once it is published, “plausible deniability,” to quote a favorite phrase of another Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is lost. Ron Paul may think his past is invisible but he’s just acting like that big ol’ cat. That his followers are willing to ignore it is no great surprise; if independent voters choose to ignore it, we're in trouble.