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21.5.12

Roemer self-deception prepares him to suffer third strike


My first full-time teaching job out of graduate school (although technically still in it: I had just completed my exams and was working on my dissertation) was at the University of Southern Mississippi, where I had the fortune to run into some older students who recruited me for their intramural softball teams. One team played regular slow-pitch, where I pitched and played catcher (never mind I was six feet tall, 130 pounds, with glasses) and managed a high on-base percentage through walks (because I could see so well with the glasses). We made the quarterfinals before losing.

But the other team I was on went all the way to finals. This was the co-ed version, where sexes alternated between batters. Here, I was the pitcher, for a very simple reason: I could put the ball right over the plate almost all of the time, because in this league, you pitched to your own side at bat. The object was to toss as many fat pitches in there as possible. So I'd deliver them and our guys would mash them to the fences, even over them while our gals made contact and looped them over the infielders. The only game we lost was the championship where we got out-mashed and outhit by a bunch of greek guys and gals who these days probably all work for the people I graduated with from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University.

I suspect in his past former Gov. Buddy Roemer must have been an excellent pitcher on this kind of co-ed team, given the number of softballs right over the plate he has tossed during his pseudo-campaign for the presidency. Plan A in regard to that was to get the Republican nomination. When that no longer suited his psychological needs because of its impossibility, he went to Plan B: obtaining the nomination from a quasi-political party called Americans Elect, which was supposed to offer a platform for a candidate that met the group’s funders’ conception of centrism chosen by the masses fed up with the two major parties.


Since this is the post for anecdotes, here’s another: back when I first wrote about Americans Elect and Roemer, I got a call from a very enthusiastic dude who maintained he had been a party activist and attended Democrats’ conventions, who said Roemer or somebody like him would go far in this election because of AE, that the country was hungering for this, etc. Being that this was contrary to my 30 years of studying and writing about American electoral politics both in the popular media and in scholarly settings and journals, I told him it would be a fantastic scenario that Roemer or anybody like him would have even a small significant impact on the contest through AE or any other party.

Last week, AE pulled the plug on the entire operation, due to lack of verifiable interest. It couldn’t even drum up enough potential voter interest to make Roemer (who lead by their interest metric) or anybody else qualify under their rules. Which was entirely predictable: even if we have seen a marked dealignment of the American electorate in the past five decades, where as many Americans now identify themselves as independents as with either of the two major parties, at least one of these two parties on the rare occasions people were asked to think about and act on political belief – an election – satisfied most who bothered enough about politics to want to vote. There’s just not, at this time, a market out there encompassing the ideological spectrum for an alternative (what us political scientists call a) relevant party to emerge.

Neither is there a market for Roemer’s signature issue preference that increasing amounts of money spent on political campaigns had corrupted the system and he was here to save us all from that. That Roemer has been part of the system both inside and outside of politics made him less like he wanted to be perceived, as a knowing convert from evil, but coming off more like a hypocrite who preached this gospel only because he knew he wasn’t going to get mainstream support of that magnitude in the first place so he could rail against it as a political issue.

That hypocrisy narrative became more obvious when he considered dropping his Republican quest – but only until he milked federal government matching funds – and started shooting for the AE nomination – an organization made of big-money donors who Roemer now planned to exploit their resources to get thrust onto near-equal footing with the major party nominees. He then went whole hog, only to find himself now adrift again with two strikes and contemplating putative Plan C to get the Reform Party nomination – only qualifying on a handful of states’ ballots at best through this route.

What has made the Roemer odyssey the equivalent of slow-tossing fat pitches to bust out of the park by writers such as me is his obliviousness to reality in all of this. He thinks his signature issue reflects reality, when it does not. He thinks he’s credible with his message, when he is not. He thinks his message is popular, when hardly anybody buys it or cares. He thinks he is a savior tilting against powerful forces, when instead he deludes himself as to his role and their existence, at least in terms of their abilities to control electoral outcomes. The ease at which he sets himself up for deserved ridicule just makes it too inviting to swing away, producing a cautionary tale about how one must avoid self-deception of the deepest kind as he attributes his campaign’s failures to a number of imagined causes, excluding the only actual one: a weak candidate pushing an issue preference that in the free, uncontrolled marketplace convinced almost nobody.

This is why he soldiers on, inviting more and more rejection without any understanding why, and prompting observers to wonder why he can’t when it is so obvious to everybody else. While this makes him a punching bag, despite its entertainment value this does not automatically entail that we should take a swing – unless there’s an object lesson in doing so. And that is, self-deception of the deepest kind when presented as a political campaign seems less geared to the assistance of the electorate and more to the needs of the candidate himself, which ideally political contests should not be.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buddy is a great guy and always a pleasure to see & chat with at Barnes & Noble near his office in Baton Rouge. For those unaware this is his lunchtime almost daily haunt were he can be seen perusing the books looking for the next purchase. Just a great guy to have a chat with and talk about most anything, but especially politics.

That being said, his quest seemed to be that of tilting at windmills from its very beginning.

Just Diogenes said...

From the beginning of his campaign, Buddy has been working closely with Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law Professor who has recently published a book on campaign finance reform. Roemer gave a very well-written speech on the subject at a special Harvard forum arranged by Mr. Lessig back in March or April, 2011.

Lessig was on the advisory board of Americans Elect and was active there touting Roemer. This is just an educated guess, but I think there was the AE backup game plan from the beginning, and Buddy's reliance on Mr. Lessig to give him the slow pitches may have tied him to the one issue he used as the signature of his campaign--Mr. Lessig's issue.

In comments after one of Mr. Lessig's Atlantic Monthly articles touting Roemer, I engaged in a dialogue with several Roemer supporters. If anyone would care to learn the fascinating political history of Buddy Roemer and his personality defects that impair his perception of reality, you may go to that webpage and read the dialogue. My five or six comments there are under the pseudonym "Say Amen."
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/buddy-roemer-the-anti-spoiler/257101/