To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Sunday, May 19, 2024


McCain’s Gamble, Reconsidered



There was a candidate.

When this candidate was asked about a particular subject matter about which some voters were concerned, the candidate’s response was, basically, the candidate could “see it” [maybe from the backyard].

When pressed with additional, what seemed to be challenging questions, the candidate would seem to play to the television viewer.

What mattered most, the candidate calculated, was what came across as acceptable on television. The candidate, more than anything else, understood the importance of television.

As the candidate saw things, the candidate’s persona was nothing more than what the television cameras with their un-sensing triple lenses projected to the viewing audience. And in the candidate’s case what those lenses projected was an attractive, well-dressed candidate who had the great gift of being natural – the true mark of a leader.


Not having experienced much in the world or not having answers to even the most basic questions from the media – that didn’t bother the candidate. The candidate still projected a superior confidence.

So what if the candidate revealed that reading newspapers was a waste of time. The candidate was still viewed as an emerging statesman. The good ol’ boys were the true phonies.

Besides, even when the candidate’s responses to questions clearly revealed a lack of basic, fundamental knowledge about the world in general or the workings of American government in particular, those sympathetic to the candidate, who did know such things, came to the candidate’s defense.

The candidate’s defenders explained that what seemed to be ignorance on the part of the candidate was actually either a clever hedge [to keep from answering a “gotcha” question from a journalist] or so “off the wall” that they masked a genuine brilliance.

Those who introduced the candidate to the nation [who, it turns out, barely knew the candidate] ended up embracing the words used in the candidate’s speeches, in spite of the fact that the candidate seemed, at times, to be speaking another language.


What did the candidate plan to do about the approaching economic catastrophe, along with the falling market? Not to worry – the candidate would only repeatedly stress, mantra-like, that the head of the ticket knew what to do.

The candidate’s name? Chauncey Gardiner.

Chauncey was the main character in Jerzy Kosinski’s book Being There. [The book was made into a movie with the same title, starring Peter Sellers.]

As described on the book’s cover, Chauncey was “the one everybody is talking about, though nobody knows what he is talking about.” That was because Chauncey, in truth, knew only two things: tending a garden and watching television.

When Chauncey was forced out of the confines of his garden, he ended up impressing everyone he encountered [in the manner described above, all of which are taken directly from Kosinski’s book]. People mistook his imbecility and inane remarks as flashes of brilliance [think how someone could conclude that no one could be that dumb; therefore they must be brilliant].


This literary device is frequently employed by authors of fiction. My favorite is Graham Greene’s The Third Man.

In that story a little-known author of cheap paperback Westerns [Buck Dexter] is mistaken for a noted, serious author who happens to have the same last name. When speaking before a group of Europeans who mistake him for the serious and highly respected novelist, Buck is asked what author most influenced him. He answers, “Have you ever heard of Zane Grey?” No they haven’t [although they begin writing the name down]. The moderator explains that Buck is merely joking and that actually he was referring to the important poet, Gray.

Then a questioner asks Buck what he thought of James Joyce. Buck admits that he has never heard of the author. Rather than react with shock, the audience is very impressed since only a great writer could give such an arrogant response.

In Being There, the president was so impressed with Chauncey’s remarks that he asked him to be his vice presidential running mate. Ring a bell?

In a final bit of irony, just as the nation never really got to “know” Sarah Palin, the characters in Being There never learn that Chauncey Gardiner is not the man’s real name. It is Chance the gardener [much like Joe the Plumber], and a “chance” is just what John McCain took and gambled his entire campaign on when he named Palin his vice presidential running mate.

The author teaches constitutional law at Oklahoma State University

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Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
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Brette Pruitt
Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
The Observer carries on the "give 'em hell" tradition of its founder, the late Frosty Troy. I read it from cover to cover. A progressive wouldn't be able to live in a red state without it.