Saturday, September 1, 2007

Favorite Sons

In the late 1780s, William Safire reports in his "Safire's New Political Dictionary", George Washington was referred to as "Freedom's Favorite Son." In the 1830s, Martin Van Buren was "New York's favorite son", and a few years later, Henry Clay was the same for Kentucky.

Throughout the succeeding century, it was an American tradition, as Safire explains, for the leading politician of a particular state to go to the national convention as the "favorite son" and control that particular state's delegates; the purpose was not to gain the nomination, necessarily, but to promote his particular state's interest.

The phrase -- and the gambit -- has gone out of style in the last few years, and as almost all state's delegates are elected by direct voting, it seems unlikely to return.

But two GOP candidates have taken the demise of the 'favorite son' gambit to an extreme: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have made an art of running against their respective home states.

Romney has famously been running against Massachusetts for the last several years.

"Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts," [Romney] told a GOP audience in South Carolina, "is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."
Needless to say, his former constituents (aka, citizens of Massachusetts), are less then enamored with Mr. Romney's current assessment of the state.

Guiliani's indictment of New York City is more nuanced. He does not so much criticize NYC, as (apparently) stand aside while conservative Republicans around him do so:

Speaking before the Alabama legislature this spring, he received a standing ovation, and Governor Bob Riley told him, “One of these days, you have to tell me how you really cleaned up New York.” To conservatives, pre-Giuliani New York was a study in failed liberalism, a city that had surrendered to moral and physical decay, crime, racial hucksterism, and ruinous economic pathologies. Perhaps the most common words that Giuliani heard when he travelled around the country this spring were epithets aimed at his city (“a crime-infested cesspool,” one Southern politician declared), offered without fear of giving offense. Giuliani cheerfully agreed.
Giuliani so far has avoided direct criticism of his city; Romney does not bother so limiting himself.

Candidates' background has already become something of an issue in this election. Barack Obama is a Senator from Illinois, but was born in Hawaii and grew up (for a few years) in Indonesia. Hillary Clinton has made claims to Illinois, Arkansas, and (now) New York, where she serves as a Senator.

The trend towards nationalization of the election means that viable candidates are becoming 'citizens-of-the-world', or at least citizens-of-the-entire-nation. If Romney or Giuliani are ultimately successful, it will accelerate that trend. At the very least, it shows that the 'favorite son' gambit is probably a distant memory.

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