You have to hand it to Anna Wintour at Vogue. She knows how to pick them. Last March, as you may remember, I drew attention in a post entitled Tyranny’s Allure to the fact that she had done a lavish spread entitled Asma al-Assad: Rose of the Desert complete with a puff piece on Asma and her husband Bashar al-Assad and that she had had timed it perfectly – on the eve of the butchery in Syria that continues to this day.
That piece, which was soon flushed down the memory hole, began in the following fashion: “Asma al-Assad, Syria’s dynamic first lady, is on a mission to create a beacon of culture and secularism in a powder-keg region – and to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.” And it continued in a manner suggesting that Ms. Al-Assad is everything that Vogue readers admire: “glamorous, young, and very chic – the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the counture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her ‘the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.’ She is the first lady of Syria.”
Well, the talented Ms. Wintour (pictured below) has done it again. This time she has produced a spread on Jon Huntsman, Jr. and his family with a profile by Jacob Weisberg of Slate, entitled Jon Huntsman: The Outsider, and it is no less fawning than the piece that Joan Juliet Buck did on the Syrian tyrant and his wife.
You see, Huntsman is as handsome as Ms. Al-Assad is beautiful, and Annie Leibovtiz is a whiz with her camera. Even more to the point, Huntsman is the sort of fellow whom left-liberals like Weisberg call “a moderate Republican.” His like-named father is a major donor to the Democratic Party and to candidates such as Charlie Rangel, Evan Bayh, Tom Harkin; the family contributed to the campaign war chest of Harry Reid in 2010; and, as I pointed out in a post back in June, Reid has endorsed Jon Huntsman, Jr. for the Republican nomination. Huntsman is, moreover, the kind of nominal Republican who enthusiastically embraces the global-warming scan and writes gushing, effusive letters to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in praise of their accomplishments.
Here is the way that Vogue wants you to see Huntsman:
This directness and level of comfort around all kinds of people may be born of Huntsman’s diplomatic experience or his years knocking on doors as a Mormon missionary. His left eyebrow is pitched slightly lower than the other, and the eye below it has a slight squint. This gives him a perpetual expression of thoughtful engagement, the look of someone listening intently to what others are saying. Which—unlike most other presidential candidates I’ve observed over the years—he gives every indication of actually doing.
It is only by ignoring a series of conventional political assumptions that Jon Huntsman finds himself on the primary trail here in South Carolina. One is that there’s no demand for Huntsman’s brand of moderation in today’s GOP—a view supported by what Huntsman calls his “margin of error” status in the polling to date. Another assumption is that a mannerly, civil campaign can’t succeed. Huntsman has rarely criticized President Obama or his Republican opponents directly, though he does pepper his remarks with occasional digs at Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner.
Then, after introducing the readers of Vogue to Huntsman’s family (an exceedingly handsome lot, as you would expect), Weisberg continues in the same vein:
You wonder: Why would these nice, mentally healthy people want to spend the next year or more traipsing through the fever swamps of American politics? Huntsman’s explanation is the message of his presidential campaign: America is off course. He argues that we are passing on an unsustainable level of debt to our children, that we need to restore America’s manufacturing base through a new “industrial revolution” and reorient our foreign policy around competing economically with Asia. To the first challenge, Huntsman brings his experience as a fiscally responsible governor of Utah; to the second, his years working in his family’s chemical business; and to the third, his career representing America’s interests in the Pacific.
As you listen to Huntsman’s blunt assessment of the country’s prospects, it’s hard not to notice the commonalities with the man he would challenge in 2012—the hazard Obama hoped to forestall by sending him to Beijing. There is, to begin with, the physical resemblance. Huntsman is slender, athletic, and stylish, with a winning smile. Huntsman is 51, Obama is 50, and both have an unusual reserve, a cool unflappability. More important is a shared fundamental outlook: substantive, patient, with a preference for compromise over confrontation, and a pragmatic rather than ideological approach to politics.
Pause and savor Weisberg's assessment of the man responsible for shoving through the trillion dollar stimulus, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank monstrosities and for demonizing those who have the effrontery to disagree with him: “substantive, patient, with a preference for compromise over confrontation, and a pragmatic rather than ideological approach to politics.” I do hope that Ms. Wintour paid him handsomely for that. It is as fine a piece of flackery as ever I have seen.
But there is more. On the off-chance that readers of Vogue entertain a bias against Mormons, Weisberg stokes their bigotry, then tells them not to worry. Huntsman is not really one of those people. He is not the genuine article like Mitt Romney. He is more like a cafeteria Catholic. His is the acceptable face of superstition:
People tend to see Mormonism as a binary, you-are-or-you-aren’t question, but Jon Huntsman is something more like a Reform Jew, who honors the spirit rather than the letter of his faith. He describes his family on his father’s side as “saloon keepers and rabble rousers,” and his mother’s side as “ministers and proselytizers.” The Huntsman side ran a hotel in Fillmore, Utah’s first capital, where they arrived with the wagon trains in the 1850s. They were mostly what Utahans call “Jack Mormons”—people with positive feelings about the Latter-Day Saints church who don’t follow all of its strictures. “We blend a couple of different cultures in this family,” he says.
You’d never hear a phrase like that from Romney, who has raised his sons as Mormons and sent them on missions. Nor would you see Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, or Craig Romney in a hotel bar, sipping a glass of wine, as you might see one of Huntsman’s adult children. The difference in attitudes between the two Mormon candidates is encapsulated in the football rivalry between Brigham Young, where Romney went to college, and the University of Utah, where Huntsman went (before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania). BYU is an institution grounded in Mormon theocracy. The University of Utah is a state school that happens to have a lot of LDS students.
You get the picture – and, if you don’t, read the whole article and examine the photographs. There is, I think, a subtext. It amounts to a hint that Barack Obama might profit from ditching Joe Biden and putting Jon Huntsman on the ticket. He is, after all, “a thinking person’s candidate whose candor shines a light on the evasions of his rivals, even if it fails to change the outcome of the race” – which is to say that Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan are anything but candid and never gave a thought to anything. “If Romney,” the unacceptable face of Mormonism, “stumbles,” Weisberg writes, “Huntsman could emerge as an electable alternative.”
But I very much doubt that electing a Republican President is what Weisberg really has in mind. He suspects, as I suspect, that Huntsman is positioning himself to bolt from the party and denounce the eventual nominee as an extremist. Why else would someone – who can think of no grounds on which to criticize the incumbent – run for the office he holds?