Home / Culture and Society / Take it from Gatsby: Why Repeating the Past in Politics is a Bad Idea

Take it from Gatsby: Why Repeating the Past in Politics is a Bad Idea

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The party was a smashing success.

With virtually every member of Long Island’s A-list in attendance, it had been the foremost event on midsummer’s social calendar. From the entertainment provided to the food served to the weather conditions, all aspects of the festivities had gone without a hitch. Many had such a good time that they did not leave until just before dawn, drunkenly singing and laughing as they poured into their respective automobiles.

Nonetheless, the man responsible for the bash, a lonely, reclusive billionaire, felt strongly disappointed at what had taken place. Voicing his feelings aloud as his trusted, and only, friend walked up alongside him, he declared that the now-married love of his life, whom he invited, did not have a good time. Determined to, in his own words, “fix everything” by recreating the era in which they both were in a relationship, he first stops to hear a few words of advice. “You can’t repeat the past,” his friend warns. Taken aback, the billionaire replies, “Can’t repeat the past? Of course you can!”

So goes the story of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway. In the end, of course, as anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal 1925 tale of the American Dream gone awry very well knows, the former pays the price in kind for his ruthless pursuance of that which is already far behind him in life. The moral of The Great Gatsby applies to today’s political landscape, particularly regarding the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, with frightening accuracy. It appears that with each passing day, Sarah Palin is increasingly considering making a go at the White House. While there is only a minimal chance that she could conceivably claim victory in most of her party’s state primaries, and absolutely no chance of her defeating Barack Obama in the ensuing general election, the fact that so many who participate in our country’s electoral process somehow believe her to be qualified for the presidency is more than slightly disconcerting.

As poll after poll has shown, Palin’s base lies almost squarely within the GOP’s lower socioeconomic strata. Unlike their more affluent or educated counterparts, fiscal issues are of only marginal concern to these voters. Many of them, who live in rural, isolated areas of the South and Midwest, are searching for the same thing which Gatsby was: the past. A great deal see Palin as a throwback to traditional American values or whatnot, generally meaning Andy Griffith’s Mayberry on a national scale. Of course, no such environment ever truly existed, and even in an alternate reality in which it did, Palin, considering her seemingly turbulent family life, would most certainly be no purveyor of it. Try telling that to her pseudo-religiously devoted band of groupies, though, and the result would be strongly negative, as both she and they so obviously base their political stances on emotionalism; not logic or reason as everybody undeniably should.

In the event that a majority, or even a strong plurality, of the Republican primary electorate were to follow in Gatsby’s footsteps, throwing Carraway’s words of caution into the wind, then they would effectively bring about the GOP’s untimely demise. The last grand ball which Gatsby threw was outstanding to be sure, as was the Republican party’s performance in the 2010 midterm elections, but, as the old adage goes, “The higher one rises, the harder one falls.”

Attempting to repeat the past will only guarantee the GOP a fall of unimaginable proportions. Let us hope that such a catastrophic scenario never sees the light of day.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Cannonshop

    Early Prediction:

    It doesn’t Matter who the Republicans put up for the white-house in 2012, they’re going to lose it-but Barack Obama’s “Coat-tail” effect is NOT going to elevate a Democratic Majority in the House-if the Congress had remained in single-party hands (Democrat hands), then it wouldn’t matter who the GOP put up for the white house in 2012, because he’d be evicted.

    An opposition congress allows the presidency to shift the blame for any failure, while reaping the rewards for success.

  • Arch Conservative

    Mr Cotto asserts that conservatives are seeking the return to some Andy Mayberry, hay day utopia that never existed.

    I would claim that the left is racing toward some government engineered socialist utopia that can never exist. A bland socialist utopia where big brother knows best and the discussion of concepts such individuality, merit and the reality that some do in fact have more to offer the world than others are crimes of the highest order.

    Leftists claim that any and every idea for change is for the better as long as it’s come from the mind of one who subscribes to the leftist world view all the while demonizing those who do not subscribe to the leftist world view by routinely lobbing politically correct, socially stigmatizing semantic hand grenades such as “racist,” xenophobe etc…..

  • Leftist, Rightist, it’s all bullshit.

    In many countries it almost doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum wins, we still end up with bigger government and more laws.

    What we actually need is a better form of governance that doesn’t make our societies top heavy with regulation and the policing thereof.

  • Arch Conservative

    “In many countries it almost doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum wins, we still end up with bigger government and more laws.

    What we actually need is a better form of governance that doesn’t make our societies top heavy with regulation and the policing thereof.”

    Have I stepped into an alternate universe? The Jerry Seinfeld bizzarro universe perhaps?

    Seriously… someone’s slain Christopher Rose and is now sitting at his keyboard pretending to be him.

  • No Archie, like many people you just like the sound of your own voice more than you like listening to others. We all have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion…

    I have been opposed to leftist/rightist politics for many years now.

  • Baronius

    Joseph, I’m almost on board with this article. Like you, I don’t believe Palin to be qualified for the presidency. But you didn’t explain why she isn’t qualified. Instead, you seemed to say that she’s unqualified because her support comes from social conservatives who don’t care about fiscal issues. How does that make her unqualified? Is she wrong on fiscal issues? It’s like you promised to shovel the walkway, but shoveled it only as far as your car.

    The first reason that I consider her unqualified is her lack of experience. As I’ve said many times on the boards, I want a candidate with a minimum of 8 years in a top position: governor, senator, general, et cetera. You can make that case against Palin without getting in a squabble about issues. I’ll give you credit, though, for brining up her inability to win the general election. That’s another reason that people can agree on, without having to set up a social/fiscal fight.

    That leads to the big question: of the stated or probable candidates, who would you support?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    This is the second article in a row that you’ve written with which I strongly agree. Of course, that means that if you keep going down this road of clarity and common sense, you’re going to find yourself persona non grata with a few (but not all) of the BC conservatives….

    When it comes to Ms. Palin, she reminds me a great deal of this guy who worked for me who had a bad case of narcissistic personality disorder. He was very, very skilled and quite charismatic…but his absolute belief in his own infallibility and his determination to discredit and diminish everyone whom he perceived as a threat eventually worked to the demise of his own career.

    Anyone who ever has to work with someone like that has my sincere sympathies.

  • From Comment # 6, The first reason that I consider [Mrs. Palin] unqualified is her lack of experience. As I’ve said many times on the boards, I want a candidate with a minimum of 8 years in a top position: governor, senator, general, et cetera.

    From Comment # 7, When it comes to Ms. Palin, she reminds me a great deal of this guy who worked for me who had a bad case of narcissistic personality disorder. He was very, very skilled and quite charismatic…but his absolute belief in his own infallibility and his determination to discredit and diminish everyone whom he perceived as a threat eventually worked to the demise of his own career.

    Compared to whom? Certainly not President Obama, who came to office with a wealth of such experience as a . . . . well, something doubtless relevant, and has shown humility commensurate with his vast experience.


  • El Bicho

    Baronius didn’t vote for Obama. Try to keep up

  • Cannonshop,

    While I find your prediction to be well founded, I believe it to be a bit premature. If we Republicans can nominate a personable, mainstream candidate for the presidency, then we will be in good shape. The key, of course, is finding such a candidate.

    Arch Conservative,

    I never remotely implied that all self-styled “conservatives” are seeking the fictional ideal of Mayberry. That would be a decidedly hypocritical statement as I myself most certainly am not. All I said was that the American center-right simply cannot look to the past and expect our future to be in line with its sociopolitical norms. As for all change not necessarily being of a positive nature, I fully agree. The change which the United States will experience, for instance, should the President be elected to a second term, would be nothing short of disastrous. This is why the GOP must find a credible nominee to go up against him, hence the point of my article.

    Christopher Rose,

    I do not believe that there is a lack of difference between leftist and rightist politicos. I am, however, of the opinion that when any politician betrays the promises upon which he or she was elected, many begin to understandably adopt your point of view.


    Glad to see that we can come to agreement on most of which that I wrote. I did not beat the proverbial dead horse on Palin’s multitude of shortcomings for the presidency because, well, I would have been beating a dead horse. I have written many pieces in the past on why I think that she is both unelectable and unfit for the Oval Office, though a recent contribution to my case against her is that she seems to be playing the role of political diva; keeping the center-right of the Republican Party hanging on a string while she decides whether or not to launch her own rendition of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, apparently for nothing more than the enrichment of her own ego. This conduct, as I am sure that both you and I can agree, is unbecoming of anyone harboring serious desires to lead our nation.


    Glad to see that you agreed with my point as well. I do not believe that any of my fellow conservative regulars here at Blogcritics would object too strongly to points of view differing from theirs, so long as they are aptly articulated and not of a bawdry nature. I too have dealt with a handful of extreme narcissists, including one that to this day I firmly believe is a genuine sociopath, and they are almost impossible to be in the vicinity of, let alone productively work with. I do not believe Sarah Palin to be one of these, however. I view her as more of a lifelong attention seeker and grifter who is lapping up her unfortunately extended fifteen minutes of fame. My instincts tell me that she will adopt the persona of one on the verge of launching a presidential campaign in order to sell more of her books and speeches, then abruptly announce that, for “the good of her family”, she has decided to remain in Wasilla. Then again, I might be completely wrong. We shall find out, eventually.

  • Palin is about pageantry, not presidency. Government is about bureaucracy. Its first rule of order is “never lose budget.” The bureaucrat who suffers a decrease in budget suffers the end of their career.

    As to the GOP suffering a fall of unimaginable proportions and hoping that such a “catastrophic scenario never sees the light of day,” that’s just tough. They haven’t been out of power long enough to return.

    By the way, “catastrophic” pertains to events in Japan, not to the fate of a political party.


  • Arch Conservative

    Well Joseph….who amongst the current crop of GOP wannabees do you like most.

    I’m fond of Chris Christie myself.

  • Baronius

    Darn it, Joseph, just when we’re about to agree on something…

    It’s 604 days until the election. I have no problem if a potential candidate hasn’t made a public announcement about his/her intentions. I mean, in 2008 we didn’t know what the central issue of the campaign was going to be until the economic shock of mid-September. If the Republicans had that decision to do over again, don’t you think they’d have run Romney rather than economic dynamo John McCain? But that’s a digression. The point is, even though I’m a political junkie, I don’t need to know who’s going to be running yet.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Me, I wanna see Palin get the GOP nod.

    Or Bachmann.

    Or racism-weren’t-no-problem Barbour.

    Or my-patriotism-made-me-cheat Gingrich.

    In all honesty, Huntsman is y’all’s best shot.

  • I suspect Marco Rubio [like Christie, probably] is biding his time until 2016. Obama has a better than even chance of re-election, and it’s wide open after that. And Marco will be all of 45.

  • Joseph, the differences between left and right are becoming so slight as to be meaningless. A pox on all their houses…

  • Tommy,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion of Palin. I do not, though, regard your assessment of the Republican Party’s possible implosion being of small consequence as accurate in the least. If this were to happen, then America would have to credible opposition to the Democrats, therefore ushering in one-party rule. This, as I am sure we can agree, would be an unmitigated disaster for our country.


    I can see where you are coming from about presidential candidates not jumping into the fray too soon. While I do not like to see rushed campaigns, your position on this issue is most definitely worth consideration.


    I think that Romney would probably be the GOP’s best shot, followed closely behind by Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, and, I know many here will be absolutely appalled by this, Donald Trump.


    Rubio does not yet have the experience necessary for a presidential run. In a few years, though, should he tone down his fiery rhetoric on certain social issues, he will be the undisputed star of the Republican Party. Then he will be in a prime spot to seriously campaign for the White House.


    While we may disagree, I nonetheless appreciate your opinion. A pox on all of their houses indeed for those politicians who renege on their word.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    In all honesty, Jeb Bush would’ve been a great candidate, with appeal to moderates from both parties…except for what his brother did to the country. Because of what Dubya did, no one from the Bush family stands a ghost of a chance for the next generation.

  • Jos.,

    What the country needs is smart opposition. Right now, the only credible GOP candidate is (wait for it) Condoleezza Rice, the 66th United States Secretary of State.

    Unfortunately, she is smart.


  • Clavos

    Baronius didn’t vote for Obama.

    Good for Baronius!!

    A shame so many did…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Tommy –

    She’s actually not a bad idea. And I stated many times to my friends that if Colin Powell had run, he would’ve easily had my vote over Kerry.

    IMO, he’s the only Republican that would stand any real chance of beating Obama…because – depending how he came out on the issues – Powell still might have my vote in a contest between the two.

    And NO, this is not because Rice and Powell are black, because I think that Michael Steele and Allan West are complete idiots and tools…and Steele allowed himself (KNOWINGLY) to be used as a blatant example of tokenism.

    The reason I am comfortable with Rice or Powell is because they are by nature moderates, and I’ve seen no tendency in either one of them to shift their policies just to kiss up to this or that constituency.

    But the Republican Party of today – indeed, since Bush Sr. left office – is largely bereft of moderates. Indeed, Ronald Reagan would be cashiered, railroaded out of today’s Republican Party…and until the GOP relearns the importance of moderation in ALL things, they will NEVER have my vote.

  • El Bicho

    “A shame so many did…”

    Right, because things be so vastly different under President McCain.

  • Cannonshop

    #10 Your optimism is amazing, but IMHO, dead wrong. Single-Term presidencies tend to be rare in the U.S., and usually marked by some late-term political disaster (Ford was an exception-he wasn’t elected, he got the job because Nixon got into trouble and bailed out…)

    for a recent example from the other side of things, consider that Bush, with low approval ratings and a constant barrage against him only marginally more vitriolic than the barrage against Obama, still defeated John Kerry, a man selected to be a “Bushkiller” in terms of cosmetics (better speaker, decorated veteran, long public service record…)

    Fact is, the Republicans this time around don’t have anything but sacrifice candidates-same as they had in 2008-candidates running a race the party is likely to lose, with the hope of providing some kind of energizing to the base for the legislative and mid-term elections (which the Palin half of McCain Palin did in abundance.)

    For a Sacrifice Play, you pick a firebrand that gets people talking, and more important, thinking.

    Sarah Palin was the only reason McCain polled half so well as he did-and the Dem leadership knows it, too-which is likely the root of the constant, post-election witchunt directed at her, the Republicans really don’t HAVE anybody to run in 2012, the party is that depleted across the nation. There are a few who might be able to make a go successfully in 2016, mind you-New Jersey’s governor comes to mind for that-but the GOP as a whole is so badly damaged at this point, that there really isn’t anyone who can both energize the Republican voters, while being moderate enough to be palatable to the vanishing number of independents and moderates out there.

    In a way, organizationally and philosophically, the GOP is in the same condition its predecessor was in 1856-the party is falling apart and riven with conflicting philosophies, just as the Whigs were, and struggling with its identity in a world very different from its heyday.

  • Clavos

    Right, because things be so vastly different under President McCain.

    “Vastly?” Probably not.

    But better?

    How could it be any worse; this guy is a train wreck.

  • Baronius

    Two years away from the 1992 race, all the big-name Democrats stayed out of the race because GHWB was unbeatable. A lot can change in two years.

    It is true, though, that the GOP has more potential leaders (2016, 2020 types) than current leaders. Christie, Rubio, Jindal, Ryan, maybe Brown or Walker – they all appear to have political futures, but are too green to run in 2012. Of course, many a rising star has taken off his pants in the wrong hotel room, so you can’t start writing inauguration speeches just yet.

  • Republicans have one other thing that they must do: get their legislative house together. Supporting DOMA because the administration isn’t, proposing budget cuts for Planned Parenthood or Public Broadcasting get headlines, but that is all they get.

    The cult of personality is better suited for the likes of Charlie Sheen than for the party Tea Party players. The GOP appears to be a pack of mavericks. On issues, the Republican Party lacks consensus.

    At present, the GOP presents an disorganized opposition to the incumbent party. It might just as well run Scott Walker in 2012.


  • El Bicho

    “How could it be any worse”

    McCain would have us involved with Libya already. I have no crystal ball but I think that would be worse, considering our current Middle East entanglements

  • Clavos

    McCain would have us involved with Libya already.

    “…would have…”

    Only an assumption..

  • El Bicho

    “Only an assumption.”

    Based on his repeated calls for a no-fly zone. I am taking the man at his word he thinks we should be involved.

  • Clavos

    The Fat Lady hasn’t sung in Libya yet, EB. I’m expecting Obama to get us involved there.

  • There is involvement and there is involvement. The US could turn a new leaf and start supporting democratic movements worldwide, regardless of how such a policy would affect US interests. But I don’t expect that to happen during the princely reign of our opportunistic leader.

    Interestingly, David Cameron’s statements on the international situation in the Middle East are a welcome change of pace, hopefully suggesting that the English want to distance themselves from the US, though I suspect they’re also motivated by distinct political interests.

    Even so, it’s a welcome development, especially when compared to Tony Blair’s obnoxious stance of playing a lap dog to George W.