Well, the most disgusting, craven, shameless political ad of the election season has just come out in time for Christmas - and, no, it's not from Mike Huckabee. It's from Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee's ad has gotten all of the attention because of its alleged "floating cross" masquerading as a bookshelf (or vice versa) and its overall 700 Club Christmas Special feel. But you know what? There's no public policy involved in his ad. Sure, there's a dose of Christian identity politics - more than a dose according to some - but no one following the race is particularly stunned to find out that Mike Huckabee is a committed Christian. His ads say he's a "Christian leader" and that his faith "defines" him.
I'm not thrilled by the explosion of Christian piety in Republican politics, particularly with Huckabee's version of it, but nobody's fooled by it either.
Now look at Clinton's ad. Gussied up a bit like Martha Stewart, a chipper Hillary sits on her couch, arranging all of her Christmas presents to put under the tree. "Carol of the Bells" is playing on a harpsichord in the background. She's trying to find the right cards to put on the right packages. One is labeled "Universal Health Care," another is "Alternative Energy," another is "Middle Class Tax Breaks." And then the supposedly hilarious kicker. Wringing her hands and furrowing her brow with maternal angst, she exclaims, "Where did I put universal pre-K?"
And then, scanning the giant pile of presents - all for you, the voter, of course - a warm smile comes over her face and she says, "Ah, there it is!" She tucks the card under the ribbon, the music fades away, and the screen turns oddly black with a ghostly and gothic "Happy Holidays" message. (In fact, there's something about the harpsichord music that gives the whole thing a Vincent Price spookiness.)
Of course, pandering is nothing new in American politics. "If there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country," H.L. Mencken complained of Harry Truman's 1948 presidential campaign, "he would have promised to provide them with free missionaries fattened at the taxpayers' expense."
But if you take Hillary's ad remotely as seriously as many are taking Huckabee's, you're left with a disturbing glimpse of not just Hillary's politics but her vision of government. Her programs, which would cost billions and billions of dollars by even the most generous accounting, are simply "gifts" for the American people. No sacrifice, no cost, no strings attached at all - save the price of your vote.
The implication is that the only thing standing between you and Hillary's trinkets is a president who doesn't want you to have 'em. This is monarchical thinking; good ruler throws loaves of bread to the peons and asks for nothing but love in return.
The truth, as Clinton knows very well, is that it's not so easy. To govern is to choose. "Give" the people X and it will come at the expense of Y. Indeed, until recently, Clinton's whole schtick has been to emphasize that change is hard work, requiring sacrifice and compromise. She'd lecture Iowa audiences that real change comes from fighting for it. Now that she's on the ropes, it's all yours for the asking.
It's a profound commentary on the state of our political culture that Huckabee's ad is the controversial one. Huckabee promises nothing, Hillary everything.
The contrast between the Candidate of God and the Candidate of Goodies should remind everyone of P.J. O'Rourke's timeless book "Parliament of Whores."
"I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat," wrote the indispensable O'Rourke.
"God" he explained, is "a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well being of the disadvantaged. ... God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God's heavenly country club."
P.J. continues: "Santa Claus is another matter. ... He's nonthreatening. He's always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without the thought of a quid pro quo."
"Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one," O'Rourke concluded. "There is no such thing as Santa Claus."
P.J.'s right. But you won't be hearing that from Hillary this holiday season.