George Will: Warming up for Alibi Ike

By GEORGE F. WILL Published: July 7, 2011
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“If he popped up in the pinch he should of made a base hit and the reason he didn't was so-and-so. And if he cracked one for three bases he ought to had a home run, only the ball wasn't lively, or the wind brought it back, or he tripped on a lump o' dirt, roundin' first base.”

— Ring Lardner, “Alibi Ike” (1915)

The Republicans' 2012 presidential nominee will run against Alibi Ike. Lardner, a Chicago sports writer, created that character who resembles Chicagoan Barack Obama. After blaming his predecessor for this and that, and after firing all the arrows in liberalism's quiver — the stimulus, Cash for Clunkers, etc. — Obama seems poised to blame the recovery's anemia on Republican resistance to simultaneously raising the debt ceiling and taxes.

So the Republican nominee's campaign theme can already be written. In 1960, candidate John Kennedy's theme was: “We can do better.” In 2012, the Republican candidate should say “Is this the best we can do?”

In the contest to determine who will wield those words, there have been three important recent developments: Michele Bachmann's swift ascent into the top tier of candidates, Tim Pawlenty's perch there becoming wobbly, and Jon Huntsman's mystifying approach to securing a place there.

Bachmann has been propelled by three strengths: Her natural aptitude, honed by considerable practice, has made her formidable at the presentational side of politics. She has perfect pitch for the nominating electorate's passions. And she has substantive private- and public-sector experience, as a tax lawyer and as a legislator on, among others, the House Intelligence Committee.

But she also has a deficiency — indiscipline — that can, if not promptly corrected, vitiate her assets. Unprepared for the intense scrutiny presidential campaigns receive, she trustingly repeats things told to her (confusing Concord, Mass., with Concord, N.H., and John Wayne with the mass murderer John Wayne Gacy), and she plunges into peripheral and utterly optional subjects she has not mastered (e.g., the Founders and slavery).



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