The Guilfoile-Warner Papers

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be 2008

With Super Tuesday upon us, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner assess the remaining field of competitors, have the audacity to hope, and break down the candidates into the kinds of VHS-or-Beta terms we can understand.


Barack Obama won a decisive victory in South Carolina last week, and in the following days he received high-profile endorsements from Ted Kennedy and Toni Morrison. Every time I see a ballroom full of good people applauding Ted Kennedy, I think to myself, “Have we really forgotten that Ted Kennedy once killed a girl with his mother’s car while driving her home from a no-wives party, fled the scene to his hotel, and didn’t report the accident until the next day—after a fisherman spotted the overturned car and police had already pulled Mary Jo Kopechne’s body from the water? Have we really just forgotten that?”

And every time I see Toni Morrison receiving unqualified adoration on Oprah, I think to myself, “Have we really forgotten that Toni Morrison has admitted to murdering seven men who propositioned her for sex in separate incidents at Florida truck stops?”

Wait a second, I just looked it up. Aileen Wuornos is the Truck Stop Serial Killer. Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature. But my point is: Americans have bad memories. That’s not true for the citizens of other countries. If you go up to a random person on the streets of Stockholm and ask him if he knows which of his elected officials has killed a girl, he can give you the names of all 30 right off the top of his head.

Nevertheless, the Kennedy endorsement is probably a decent one, if only because the Clintons didn’t want him to have it. Allegedly Bill called Ted and tried to stop him from jumping on the Obamawagon, but if there’s anything those Kennedy brothers know, it’s where to find the quality twenty-something tail. Sadly, Bill’s got a pretty good radar for that as well, which is why that must have been one of the saddest conversations between two aging horndogs, ever.

Bill: So…
Ted: Yep.
Bill: You’re gonna…
Ted: Yep.
Bill: God, I wish I was you.
Ted: Yep.

I’m 39 years old and I have never, ever in 21 years—21 years of never missing an election day, never missing a vote—never ever cast an uncynical ballot for president. I’ve never voted for President of the United States without rolling my eyes or holding my nose or crossing my fingers or throwing salt over my shoulder or pouring a 40 of malt liquor on the ground in memory of my murdered integrity. When I vote for Obama in the Illinois primary (and again, I hope, in the general election) it will be the first time in my life I’ll ever feel good when I vote, my frantic text-messaging in support of Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar last year notwithstanding.

Damn, I’m looking forward to that.


* * *


As a South Carolinian, I have already had the pleasure of casting my decidedly uncynical vote for Barack Obama. It felt good. As we drove out of the polling place parking lot, I even high-fived my wife. (Though we discovered that South Carolina uses those no-paper-trail touch-screen machines, so who the hell knows where my vote actually wound up.)

I’ve rarely been as sure of anything as I’m sure that Barack Obama is the best choice for President of the United States. Of course, I also thought that the LaserDisc was going to revolutionize and dominate the home movie-viewing universe. Sadly, for some reason Netflix won’t stock and send something that measures almost a foot across.

Voting makes things so messy and prone to getting things wrong, which makes me think twice about sticking with it as a method for choosing anything. The Starland Vocal Band has a Grammy, but Andre Dawson isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Crash won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005. And while Jennifer Hudson is winning an Oscar and building a movie career, the runner-up from her American Idol year, Diana DeGarmo, is featured on CMT’s Gone Country where she’s competing with Bobby Brown, Dee Snider, Carnie Wilson, Sisqo, and Marcia Brady to get a shot at being the next Carrie Underwood. In 1978 at the Cub Scouts Den 431 cake decorating competition, Billy Rancik’s stars-and-stripes-themed carrot cake won over my chocolate-buttercream tribute to the Schnauzer. It just wasn’t fair—my mom worked really hard on that cake.

I had the chance to attend an Obama rally the Friday before the South Carolina primary on the Clemson University campus. It was outdoors on the second-coldest day of the year during happy hour and 3,000 people showed up. We left nodding and smiling and our hands hurt from clapping, and based on the kind of response he seems to get everywhere, I can’t imagine Obama not winning. But all the signs are showing that Hillary is not only competitive on February 5th, but possibly ahead—maybe even more so with Edwards now dropping out of the race. This is one of those cases where I just don’t get it, kind of like in 2004 when we managed to re-elect the worst president of the last 100 years, or the continuing popularity of NCIS.

The breadth and intensity of Obama’s support suggests that it may be possible for him to win a significant mandate in the general election. If they substituted “one person, one vote” with American Idol-style voting, it would a landslide of epic proportions, since Obama’s army of passionate youngsters (as well as you, Kevin) can text-message like the wind. I hate to sound like a pundit, but there are only two things that could mend the fractured Republican Party: a Hillary Clinton nomination, or the re-animation of Ronald Reagan’s corpse.

I’m on the record with my anti-Hillary bias, and maybe I’m drunk on Obamamania Kool-Aid, but that Hillary’s supporters tout her as a superior “fighter” who will take it to the Republicans seems like Karl Rove’s final revenge to me. Politics is now defined as a continuous battle against the evil forces on the other side, just as Rove wanted, and Hillary is about to be the chief beneficiary of it. Alanis Morissette has kind of confused me on these things, but is that ironic?


* * *


Years and years ago I had this idea for a website called “Ironyboard” where each day I would find a reference to irony in the media and then determine if the example actually met any of the definitions of irony. This was when back when I was an asshole, and also before I had kids—before I started counting down the precious hours until my death—and had time to sit around all day looking for references to irony. Some troll is now sitting on the URL but all the other ironyboard sites (.net, .org, .gb whatever that is) are still available, so smug and childless smartasses of the world, have at it.

Hillary seems awfully excited about her no-delegate win in uncontested Florida last night, even holding a victory rally in the state. That was weird. What’s amazing to me is that 2.5 million Florida Democrats voted for president in a completely meaningless election. It’s almost as if Floridians, having had a taste of it in previous years, now love to cast votes they know won’t count. Hillary’s win there means about as much as Al Gore’s.

As for the election that counted last night, John McCain grabbed the momentum in a surprising display of electoral sanity and now seems poised to pick up even more ground on Super Tuesday. Of course, who can say how the Florida Republican race would be different if California congressman Duncan Hunter hadn’t dropped out earlier this month. I think it’s symptomatic of the problems faced by the Hunter campaign that I had never even heard of Duncan Hunter until he announced that he was dropping out of the race. He should have run a Time’s Arrow campaign, where you start by announcing you’re dropping out, and then campaign backwards (visit a diner in New Hampshire, for instance, on the morning of the Missouri primary) all the way to the convention, where you walk out to the podium, spread your arms and announce, “I am here to declare my candidacy for President of the United States, Gaywads!”*

(*Since I have no idea what Duncan Hunter looks like, I’m imagining he’s 13 years old. And also that this is 1982.)

This correspondence began with your declaration of intense dislike for Hillary and my declaration of indifference toward her. The way the Clintons have been campaigning, I’m starting to come around to your way of thinking. Bill has been condescending enough toward Obama, trying so desperately to cast him as a token that he’s almost undone all the goodwill I used to feel toward him. The only ballot I ever cast for a Republican president was when I was 20 years old and I voted for George the First over Michael Dukakis. In the interest of honesty, I was thinking last night that if the election were held today, in the mood I’m in right now, I could envision a scenario where I might have to do it again.

I’m going to do all political strategists and pollsters who are busy analyzing the inscrutable but critical almost-40-year-old Midwest writer vote a favor by breaking down my selections under all the likely scenarios. In return, those pollsters have to promise that they won’t call me even once over the next nine months. Seriously. Zero calls. Agreed? OK. Here it is:

Obama v. Romney: I vote for Obama.
Obama v. McCain: I vote for Obama.
Clinton v. Romney: I vote for Clinton.
Clinton v. McCain: I think I might have to vote McCain. Seriously.

There are a million variables that could change that. If it were Clinton-Edwards v. McCain-Huckabee, I almost certainly would vote Democratic. (Hillary could pick one of the moms from Wife Swap as her running mate and I would pick them over a ticket that had Huckabee on it.) But the fact that I’m considering it says something. It says that pulling for Obama has given me a taste of what it’s like to be engaged in politics without being cynical and if there’s a more cynical candidate in this field than Hillary Clinton (now that Giuliani is gone, I mean) I don’t know who it is. I will vote for Hillary if they absolutely force me to. I will hold my nose and pull the lever and go home feeling dirty and gross, just like I do every four years.

Except I really want this time to be different.


* * *


I’ve spent the last two nights watching the Republican and Democratic debates respectively and I’m ready to put on my David Brooks hat and offer the definitive analogy for the 2008 election. (If Mr. Brooks wants to take a vacation, I want to let him know that I’m available for ghostwriting duties.)

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are like HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, respectively, Mitt Romney is DVD, John McCain is VHS, and Ron Paul is a View-Master dug out of a box in the basement with a “Great Wonders of Engineering Vol. 12: The Hoover Dam” permanently jammed in it.

(Mike Huckabee is a filmstrip, Fred Thompson was Betamax, and Rudy Giuliani was that never-ending slideshow of that vacation your neighbors took seven years ago with 57 different shots of them “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.)

Republicans have always been fond of their old, previously tested technology: Nixon, Reagan, Dole, Bush I. If it works, why try something else? Ron Paul captured the eBay-ians of the Republican party, but that degree of throwback nostalgia (small government, humble foreign policy, return to the gold standard, crankiness) will attract fervent supporters, but never a majority. The Republicans have (at least until Feb. 5) a perfectly serviceable piece of technology in Mitt Romney, but he’s just not quite up to date, no matter how many new features he adds to the base model (Now Hates Gays!). In the end, it looks like the Republicans have decided to resurrect a dormant product in McCain that the most conservative among them look at a little cross-eyed, but holds a certain amount of basic, dependable, cross-platform appeal. Many of us own both a DVD player and a VCR.

Policy-wise, there’s very little daylight between Obama and Clinton. Her health care plan has mandates, his doesn’t—his also has a shot at passing—but that’s about it. Eventually, though, only one format can stand and the victor is going to be the one that gets the most industry backing (donations, endorsements), which will drive consumers (voters) toward one of them in ultimately decisive numbers.

With an unlimited amount of time, it seems clear that Obama would catch and then overtake Hillary. The crowds at his rallies are amazing, he raised the equivalent of Alex Rodriguez’s salary in donations in a month, and he’s gaining on Hillary in the polls like an American Gladiator chasing a contestant up the climbing wall. Hillary is in her Dean Smith 1980s four-corner offense, trying to run out the clock, and it’s going to be really close either way. Democrats who make their decisions tactically should really think hard about voting for a candidate whose support steadily erodes when she actually campaigns in a state. If she emerges from the primary as the nominee, I don’t like her chances in the general against McCain, particularly if people like you (and me) would consider voting for him.

And here’s one final thought. At worst, Obama is Hillary’s equal, but what if he really is next-generation technology, not Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, but something entirely new, a force that is beamed directly into the limbic portion of our brains, something that the Republicans can’t even hope to grapple with?

This seems possible to me, maybe even probable, but depending on what happens Tuesday, we may never know.

TMN Contributing Writer John Warner is the author of the preeminent guide to winning the race for the Oval Office, So You Want to Be President?, and is Chief Creative Czar of TOW Books. He teaches at the College of Charleston.

TMN Contributing Writer Kevin Guilfoile’s debut thriller, Cast of Shadows, was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star. His humor has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Maxim, and The New Republic. More by Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner