Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Copyright © 2012 Sun-Sentinel
Far before presidential politics ever caught my eye, I vacationed each summer with family in Ocean City, Md. I have fond memories of walking the boardwalk along the ocean searching beachside stores intently for stereograms, posters with hidden three-dimensional images that could be seen only if one took time to practice peering patiently into large, computer-generated pictures for camouflaged objects that appeared to float mid-air within the confines of cheap plastic frames.
I remember the feeling of angst as I searched, until overlapping images blurred hidden items into focus, beneath clear acrylic surfaces. I also remember the anxiety of feeling that I might be missing something that someone else could see, wondering if I was unable to distinguish images right in front of my face. Those precise feelings are similar to the ones I experience as our presidential primary season continues to unfold. The five remaining candidates appear more like those stereograms, portraits of a political calculus obvious and orchestrated, yet disguised in an image digitized by polls into a language as simple as Morse code.
Jon M. Hunstman has left the presidential field, but not before capitalizing on his brief boost in popularity by telling voters “it is time for Republicans to rally around a candidate who could beat Barack Obama and turn around the economy.” His candidate of course is Mitt Romney, the man he accused one week ago in New Hampshire of having an attitude that reflects why our nation is so divided. People may remember the applause Huntsman inspired and maybe the moment he stood up against the partisan divisions the “American people” are tired of, but most won’t remember he called out the very person he endorsed as he leapt out of the presidential race days later.
Newt Gingrich is now neatly poised to the right of Romney, to keep Republican voters from feeling like their only option is too close to center, since most cannot stand how mushy Mitt is as he muddles around the middle. Rick Santorum is on the field to keep “conservative social issues” hot, especially in swing states where pre-planned ballot initiatives related to abortion, gay marriage and immigration will compel conservatives to march, lock-step, to the polls, just as they have for decades. And Rick Perry’s job seems easiest of all: keep Texas within the Republican border, be more of a clown than any frontrunner to distract from gaffes, and let Gingrich and Santorum court states that are feeling blue because they didn’t go red in 2008.
Ron Paul, much to the dismay of the Republican establishment, appears to be the key to unlock the twittering twenty-somethings who could turn on Obama. That is why he continues to go unscathed by his peers, no matter how extreme his positions, or how much he stutters his delivery. The fact remains that swing voters are dominating social mediums more than ever and it only takes a hash mark to see that Ron Paul’s supporters could win the day for Romney.
As in 2004, no one person will cross the finish line in a general election with an “anyone but Obama” platform alone. So in this mess of obscure politico-dots, I can see the solid picture swingers want to see: Ron Paul could be the grand excuse for many to hold their nose to vote for Romney because Paul’s libertarian positions related to size of government and foreign affairs could be Romney’s move to stage right in a general election.
It is important to remember that the real race has not yet begun. This is just a Republican polo match. The men remaining abandoned running against one another a couple of primaries ago, and they are now running alongside one another for the sake of their party. Their game involves more maneuvering due to space limitations of the arena since they must play most of the game in states like South Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, but if you look for the picture inside the picture, you can see this whole game is just Super PAC sport. The real competition hasn’t even begun.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.