Jon Huntsman and the Munsters
Funny how the mind works: I was making preparations for Halloween earlier this week and ended up thinking about GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Let me try to explain the connection, because I assure you there is a connection.
I was filling a tray of goodies for the local trick-or-treaters when I started reminiscing about The Munsters. No surprise there. Everyone of a certain age remembers that short-lived ’60s sitcom about the endearingly ghoulish family who lived in the decaying mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. There was Herman Munster, the goofball Frankenstein monster lookalike, and his vampirish better half, Lily. Her father, known simply as Grandpa, was a plump Transylvanian count who sounded something like former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The couple’s young son, Eddie, had vaguely pointy ears and a hairline that suggested latent werewolf tendencies.
Then there was Marilyn, a poor relation who happened to be a comely but otherwise conventional blonde of college age. The other Munsters pitied Marilyn. They confided to one another that such an ungainly lass would never land a boyfriend, but they treated her with the delicate respect that well-meaning souls generally reserve for the severely handicapped.
You can safely conclude that Marilyn was the least popular member of the cast. In fact, when the original Marilyn quit midway through the first season and another young blonde actress took her place, hardly anyone noticed. Everyone was so smitten by the more grotesque Munsters that poor Marilyn barely registered on the radar.
Now can you see why I started thinking about Jon Huntsman? It should be obvious: he’s Marilyn Munster. No disrespect to his manly credentials. No disrespect at all, in fact. It’s just that the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls looks increasingly like a collection of monstrosities from the old Universal Studios back lot. Rick Perry, the hirsute Texan who denies evolution and makes George W. Bush look like a Fulbright Scholar. Herman Cain, the singing pizza tycoon with the gimmicky 9-9-9 plan and the badly handled sexual harassment rap. Slick Mitt Romney, the shape-shifting pod-person who never met a prinicple that couldn’t be modified for higher poll ratings. Then we have Ron Paul, the gnomish ideologue, the libertarian Yoda of the bunch. Newt Gingrich, about two-thirds as brilliant as he’d like us to believe, and even more ruthless. Rick Santorum, another fellow who gives us Ricks a bad name. And of course Michele Bachmann, who’s just too scary to contemplate. Excuse me while I pull the nearest blanket over my head.
Then we have good Jon Huntsman. A rational conservative with moderate tendencies… armed with a mindbogglingly impressive resume that includes experience as governor, corporate executive, ambassador and (can you believe it?) rock musician. Not a hyperpartisan. Worked for four presidents (three Republicans and Obama). Speaks Chinese. Not averse to science and evolution. Telegenic, sharp and articulate, with an engaging (if sometimes peculiar) sense of humor. A little too pro-business for my liking… but unquestionably a first-rate man, and exactly the kind of candidate the Republicans should be nominating.
So where do we find Jon Huntsman ranking in the current GOP polls? Dead last, of course, with between one and two percent support. With all those Munsters hogging the screen at the Republican debates, Hunstman looks too sensible, too bland, too Marilyn. He’s obviously out of his element… and, given the comically grotesque qualities of the other GOP candidates, you’d think that would be a good thing. But it’s not. How can he possibly compete with that Munsterish crew?
The Republican faithful are clamoring for someone who will let out a few war whoops and stir up the base. Huntsman is simply too rational, too intelligent, too normal, too genteel to rouse today’s foaming-at-the-mouth conservatives. Yep, he’s Marilyn Munster all right.
Just as Marilyn couldn’t vie for attention with the more outlandish members of her clan, Huntsman can’t seem to make himself heard over the squawking extremists, kooks and slickers who currently dominate the Republican field. And maybe that’s for the best.
After all, a presidential race between Obama and Huntsman would present thinking Americans (and especially moderates) with a real dilemma: the decent, intelligent, benevolent but hopelessly stymied incumbent versus the decent, intelligent, benevolent but relatively untested challenger from Utah. Both are devoted family men, members in good standing of the establishment, unlikely to galvanize us with outside-the-box remedies for our current ills. It would be a choice between two worthy but fundamentally conventional men. As I said, a real dilemma for thinking voters.
But run any of the other Republican hopefuls against Obama, and I’d shudder at the possibility that one of them could take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (They’d fit in better at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Herman, Lily, Grandpa and Eddie.) I’d look past Obama’s rudderless leadership, his dithering, his lack of clout in Congress, his unkept promises, his emotional remoteness, his peculiar amalgam of liberal sensibilities and excessive coziness with Wall Street. Then I’d think about the alternative — a bona fide Munster in the White House — and wouldn’t hesitate for a second to press the button next to the name of our beleaguered president.