“HERE I AM SPEAKING REASONABLY!” Huntsman roared, tearing off his jacket and lighting several old-growth forests on fire with his touch. “BEHOLD THE WRATH OF A CANDIDATE SCORNED!” (Cheryl Senter/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

But it seems that Jon Huntsman has shed his mild-mannered, reasonable, perfectly coiffed exterior to reveal — a mild-mannered, reasonable, perfectly coiffed interior. Sure, the interior is strongly pro-science and doesn’t think you can lower gas prices to under $2 by presidential fiat, but this is hardly the stuff of revelation.

He is a candidate from whom a barbaric yawp would come as a positive relief.

We were hoping that when he took off the jacket he might have slipped below the dress code. The polite manner that he wore in general company would turn out to have been a mere facade, and he would come bursting on to the national consciousness, roaring, baring his chest and screaming something about a flat tax rate. The economy would cower at his frown. He would shoot beams of fire from his beetled brow, and the horses of moderation, reason, politeness and sanity would sweep across the land, destroying everything in their path. He would go from 2 or 4 percent in the polls to a whopping 62 or 64 percent, in a sort of deranged reverse-Howard-Dean effect.

He is, bless his heart, trying. He is like your dutiful husband of 18 years who hears that you are supposed to spice things up once the kids leave and comes home dressed as Conan the Barbarian.

“Oh,” you say. “Dear. Well.” You restrain an urge to giggle.

You think he is attempting to growl, but it sounds as though he has indigestion.

At least this was how I felt watching the much-ballyhooed HUNTSMAN! FINALLY UNLEASHED AND OFF THE CHAIN! this weekend.

He seems resolute in his refusal to slide slightly to the left on the evolutionary scale, in spite of how much easier this might make debating.

 The most radical things he said were to say that he thought the other candidates in the race were saying things that were too radical.

Asked about Rick Perry’s “treason” comment about Ben Bernanke, which Larry Summers (never noted for his temperance) called “primitive,” “abhorrent” and “the least responsible statement in the modern history of presidential politics,” Huntsman said:“Well, I don’t know if that’s pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas, but in any event, I’m not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.”

And he meant it to sting!

On Bachmann’s promise to bring gas back to under $2, he said, “You know, I just — I just don’t know what — what world that comment would come from, you know? We live in the real world. It’s grounded in reality. And gas prices just aren’t going to rebound like that.”


He made a few scalding remarks. But they somewhat fizzled in the tepid lake of his insistence on a return to reason. And in spite of what President Obama said during the debt-ceiling debate, it would be difficult to argue that anyone in America is really marching to Washington and demanding aggressively that we BRING BACK MODERATION AND COMPROMISE! Jon Stewart tried that last year, and look what happened.

“But it gets to a broader of, you know, the fact that, you know, we’ve had so much hope and hype in politics the last little while. We’ve found ourselves at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. And people are crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility.”

Well, sure. I often run into pitchfork-toting crowds at rallies, and I assume that the discontented muttering coming from their direction is the sound of a nation “crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility.”

But you see his difficulty.

Just as typing in ALL CAPS tends somewhat to undermine even the most convincing argument, “I AM CALM AND REASONABLE!” sounds less convincing at a high volume. This is exactly Huntsman’s dilemma.

What’s sad is that this is what it’s come to. Yelling is exciting, we’ve decided. And calmly stating that, yes, you still believe in civil unions but those who don’t aren’t wrong is somehow — yawn-inducing. It shouldn’t be.

The trouble is that when you raise your voice, more people tend to listen. Currently, Huntsman is left gently murmuring reasonably, if a tad snarkily, to his crowd of 23,000 Twitter followers (fewer than my college roommate).

True, if Tim Pawlenty is any indication, trying to yell when it doesn’t come naturally never yields optimal results. And Pawlenty got more votes in Iowa by an order of magnitude.

But if that was Huntsman’s version of yelling, it was — to borrow a phrase from Churchill — like being savaged by a dead sheep,

“The roaring ocean doesn’t roar,” Oscar Wilde noted, disappointedly, after crossing the Atlantic to visit America for the first time.

The same might be said of the roaring Huntsman.

Maybe Huntsman believes that the elusive Center-Right Americans will vote for him, but just because he believes in a thing doesn’t mean it will help him in the primary. Take evolution.