Among the losers Tuesday night in Iowa was the late Leslie Poles Hartley. He was the British novelist who began his best work, “The Go-Between,” by saying, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Now we know, so does the Republican Party.
Watching the returns come in last night, skipping from channel to channel in search of material worth commenting on, I chanced upon an all-important endorsement Rick
Perry Santorum was getting. It came from Jim Bob Duggar, who, as far as a prodigious amount of research can tell me, is famous for fathering 19 children. He and his wife, Michelle (Why is it always Michelle?), are the stars of a TV reality show called “19 and Counting.” They are deeply pious people, have home-schooled their children — something of an academy right there — and their endorsement might have helped to account for Santorum’s pretty amazing showing — just eight votes shy of a tie with Mitt Romney.
Earlier, I had watched a clip of Karen Santorum, Rick’s wife, crying as her husband defended or explained or described how they had handled the 1996 death of their prematurely born son, Gabriel. Karen Santorum wrote a book about the tragedy, “Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum.” They brought the dead child home from the hospital to show their other children, slept with him that night and returned him to the hospital where … I don’t know.
I relate this story without any judgment whatsoever, since I find myself incapable anymore of judging the folkways of the people who live in the foreign country we call the GOP. It is simply a strange place, and the man who took his dead child home and who was endorsed by the father of 19 nearly won the Iowa caucus ... shy by eight votes. (Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Grumpy and Herman Cain.)
The second runner-up was Ron Paul, 76 years old and taken to wearing ill-fitting clothes. He came in third,?? only about 4,000 votes behind Romney, and he, too, lives in a foreign country. He would abolish the Federal Reserve System, yank the United States out of the United Nations, abolish the Department of Almost Everything and, like George Washington, keep the United States free of encumbering foreign entanglements. Washington’s farewell address is Paul’s opening argument. In the strange land where he lives, he got a good deal of support from young people. They clearly know nothing about history. Or economics. Beware, beware.
Paul and Santorum got 46 percent of the votes. Another 13 percent went to Newt Gingrich, who vows to do a Roosevelt in reverse. FDR tried to pack the federal court; Gingrich wants to unpack it to eliminate judges who have the effrontery to disagree with him. In this foreign country, such a proposal is considered conservative.
After campaigning in Iowa for what amounts to eight years, Romney cannot be said to have done well. He got about one-quarter of the vote — a figure he has not been able to exceed in polls all year and a bit less than he got in 2008. But his opposition is weird, underfunded and inconceivable as president. (Only Rick Perry could raise the money needed for a national campaign for the GOP nomination — and Rick Perry got badly beaten.) What’s more, Romney has shown he’s tough and willing — yes, Newt — to lie, the gift of a true politician. While he personally campaigns according to the Marquis of Queensberry rules of politics, he allows his supporters to hit below the belt. It ain’t pretty, but it’s effective. It left Gingrich on the canvas.
Still, in making predictions, it is useful to keep the sagacious Leslie Poles Hartley in mind. What he said about the past is just as true for the contemporary Republican Party. It is a foreign country, and most of us are mere tourists there.