Texas Rep. Ron Paul, from left, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Herman…
Is it just me, or does the GOP candidate pool remind you of "We Are the World," the 1985 charity single made under the name USA for Africa that featured dozens of pop artists singing about how to "make a brighter day" and "stand together as one"? I'm not talking about the message itself — though, admittedly, both the "We Are the World" lyrics and most of the Republican talking points lean more toward platitude than poetry — but rather about the way nearly every candidate has had a chance to grab the mic and spend a minute in the spotlight belting out a semi-intelligible solo before retreating back into the chorus or disappearing altogether.
Think about it: First there was Mitt Romney. Like Michael Jackson, whose vocal imprimatur is the driving force of "We Are the World," Romney is polished, impenetrable — and possibly a cyborg. Though constantly metamorphosing, he somehow also manages to remain blandly familiar, a combination that long sustained him as something of a de facto King of Pop among the nominees.
Next came Michele Bachmann. Much like Cyndi Lauper, whose vocal-cord-ripping high notes make up perhaps the most memorable moment in the song, Bachmann is clownish and derivative (what Lauper is to Madonna, Bachmann is to Sarah Palin). She is also strangely unforgettable, and not just because, like Lauper, Bachmann is arguably the most eye-catching member of the group. It's because when Rick Perry roared into town and parked his monster truck on her political turf, Bachmann graciously stepped back and let him do his thing.
And that thing was really — something! Like Willie Nelson, whose body language in the "We Are the World" video suggests he just got high in the parking lot and isn't entirely sure where he is, Perry is a Lone Star space case, an endearing bumbler you might not trust around heavy machinery — and that includes teleprompters.
Lest you thought this analogy couldn't be taken any further, in recent days it seems more resonant than ever. That's because Herman Cain, after several weeks of gruff yet rapturous incantations on center stage (he's got the vein-popping intensity of Bruce Springsteen, though also — don't deny it — an uncanny resemblance around the eyes to Dionne Warwick), has ceded the spotlight to Newt Gingrich, a man who strikes voters much the same way Bob Dylan struck viewers of the "We Are the World" video. That is to say the effect was not so much "wow, it's Bob Dylan!" but "wow, that guy's still around?"
Though we cannot know what lies in store for Gingrich — it'll take more than a weatherman to know which way the winds of his ignoble personal history, ties to lobbyists and (that ultimate liability) "intellectualism" will blow — it might be worth considering that Dylan's "We Are the World" solo quickly morphs into a duet with a somewhat elderly and gaunt-looking Ray Charles.
This raises an obvious question: Is the similarly elderly and gaunt Ron Paul up next? Will Gingrich prove too monotone and discursive to hold our attention for more than a verse or two? Will Paul perform unexpectedly well in the Iowa caucuses and whip everyone into a frenzy before his close-up fades into yet another wide shot of the whole gang? And at that point will the seasoned, poised Jon Huntsman prove to be the correlative of "We Are the World" chorister (and nonsoloist) Harry Belafonte? Will Rick Santorum correspond to Kenny Loggins, the pallid soft rocker who was among the artists and even had a solo but who most people don't remember as having anything to do with the song at all?
No matter what happens, you have to hand it to these candidates. As was demonstrated last month when they tried to come to Perry's aid after he stumbled trying to remember the three branches of government that he'd uproot, these folks look out for each other. If they weren't afraid of looking gay, they might grab hands and swing back and forth during debates. If they could actually carry a tune, they might sell 10 million records and earn more than $60 million, as the USA for Africa project did for African famine relief.
But there's no danger of that. To date, the GOP candidates have cumulatively raised nearly $90 million just for themselves. That's double-platinum territory.
That makes their spectacle a high-budget, high-stakes production. So sing, Newt, sing! Mitt is lurking in the wings. And he may be wearing a sequined glove.