Monday, November 08, 2004

Fresh brie

Political capital is like brie.
Hold that thought.

When it is first made, brie it is mild and firm. No one wants to eat it at this point because it gets better as it ages, like wine or fruitcake. Under the right conditions the cheese becomes soft, creamy and spreadable. The crust loses its snow white appearance as a greyish-brown discoloration sets in. For brie-lovers, this is like the browning of breadcrust or the drying of raisins. At just the right moment, it is time to eat.

What happens to the cheese if no one eats it is a sad tale of wasted opportunity. There is a late stage of ripening in which brie takes on a stronger taste making it taste like camembert, its more robust cousin in the constellation of soft-ripening cheeses. But that stage passes quickly. The progress of the mold that first gave it wonderful flavor profile continues to a rotting stage. The drying continues. Moisture is lost and chemistry progresses until the cheese emits a pungent, ammonia-like stench, not unlike that of a diaper-pail after a day or two.
I am told there are some people who like it like that, but after thirty-five years in the food business I never met one.

Hold that thought, too.

When the president speaks of "political capital" he knows well what he is talking about. Rarely do politicians speak with such candor a language that even the dullest of listeners can understand. In a way it takes away the mystique of the POTUS image, like a magician who allows a deck of cards to drop down from one hand on a string, revealing that what looked like an elegant display of dexterity was really just a clever swirling of cards on a string.

The president understands, as all presidents do, that time is of the essence. That perfunctory phrase which appears in legal documents has its most important meaning in this case. A honeymoon has now begun. A frisson of excitement is underway that will soon pass. Constituents are paying attention to the results of the election in a way that will not repeat for at least two, probably four more years. Winners and losers alike, both voters and candidates, are still engaged in the process in the same way that sports fans are before they exit the stadium.
Now is the time for all good men, etc. etc You know the drill.

Political capital cannot be measured as easily as can, say, the balance of a bank account. A better comparison with financial metaphors is market options futures trading. Puts and calls are bought and sold daily, but every transaction is termed with an expiration date, after which the option expires worthless. That is why I say that political capital is like brie. If you don't eat it at just the right moment, it will spoil.

Point being that political capital has to be used quickly. Like cotton candy or ice cream, if you don't eat it soon, its no good. End of Lesson.

If you recall, one of the first things that Bill Clinton did right after his first election was to go to bat for gays in the military. He carried the flag, plunged into the issue head first, and all he could come up with was "don't ask, don't tell." That was way short of what his gay supporters had in mind, but two realities resulted.
First, none of them could argue that he had betrayed them, since he took the initiative they had wanted. Second, even the most disappointed among them could see that anything further would amount to beating a dead horse. As a result, their political drive was redirected and Clinton got off the hook clean as a pin.

The historic and failed attempt for a national health care plan followed the same course. The political initiative was more comprehensive, but the result was basically the same. The issue was tabled for the next twelve years and is still off the radar, having been seductively replaced by profit-making alternatives devised by insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Having said all that, I can now get to the subject of this post:

We are now watching as the president starts spending his political capital. Drudge leaks today that Bush is considering Clarence Thomas as Chief Justice.

This is a brilliant piece of work. And it shows how swiftly and deftly George Bush can move as a politician. With one gesture he bypasses "advise and consent", ingratiates one of the most important minorities in the country, throws a bone to his conservative base, and sets the stage for placing into nomination a more moderate candidate if that is required for some other political quid pro quo.

Even if it never comes to pass, just leaking the idea is such a clever move I am surprised no one argued it might be a possibility. This guy is good. Really good. The next eighteen months will be interesting, indeed.

No comments: