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Last Man Standing: This Week it's Rick Santorum

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Another week, another GOP presidential primary to note before moving on to the next inconclusive one. And so it goes on the long trail a-winding to exhaustion or Tampa or both.

This week congratulations go to Rick Santorum, I guess. He's this week's non-Romney, which is a kind of revolving trophy. Newt Gingrich had it for a fleeting moment after the South Carolina primary and has been hanging around the campaign trail ever since. No matter how many times he's asked to leave. Like a guest at a party who just won't go home. All his presidential campaign has proved to date is that, as South Carolina goes, so goes Georgia. He represented a congressional district there a couple of decades and political ages ago.

Oh, the man's still got a thousand ideas a minute, and there's even a winner in there somewhere, but, unfortunately, you've got to go through the first 999 to get to it. Meanwhile, the whole Gingrich for President enterprise consists of little more than a well-financed ego trip -- a thousand variations on Look at Me! Look at Me! Which is a sure sign not many people are looking.

When I look, all I see is another Harold Stassen. He wouldn't go away, either. A perennial presidential hopeful long after any such hope had faded, Mr. Stassen seemed to have taken up running for president as a kind of retirement activity. And, at that stage, he was about as convincing as his bad red wig. At least he stayed busy.

George H.W. Bush, aka Bush 41, had this way of stringing cliches together in telegraphic succession ("the vision thing"). He also used to talk about the Big Mo, meaning political momentum. Rick Santorum now has emerged from two Southern primaries -- in deepest Mississippi and Heart-of-Dixie Alabama -- with what might be dubbed the Little Mo. Whatever little it consists of, the odds are somebody else will have it next week.

This year The Little Mo tends to be passed around like a bottle of Crown as the GOP's presidential race more and more comes to resemble a 1920s-style marathon dance contest. It seems to be run on the same theory: The prize goes to the last couple of contestants standing, who'll be left to hold each other up, maybe on the same disjointed ticket, a la Reagan-Bush or Kennedy-Johnson.

But how sustain interest in this nigh-endless contest till then? Another name for those old dance marathons was walkathons -- for obvious reasons. At the end, the final contestants weren't so much dancing as dragging each other around the floor, like the last survivors crawling out of some disaster that refuses to end.

Week by week, this presidential race transmogrifies into a presidential schlep. Like the kind of Broadway show that never makes it to Broadway but is stuck in Philadelphia or maybe Poughkeepsie, where a new team of writers has been called in to save it, and the understudy and leading man keep changing places in hopes of something magic happening. It doesn't.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul is still backstage lurking. Like a little old man who runs a dusty antique shop in the middle of an otherwise busy block where the occasional visitor can see period pieces from the turn of the century -- the last century. Wind up the old music box in the window and hear populist themes circa 1898 -- the charms of isolationism, the beauty of the old gold standard, a medley of sentimental tributes to a perfect past that never was ... but business is always slow.

Politics and showbiz are not entirely dissimilar enterprises, which is why some of us gluttons for ennui find ourselves following every twist in this year's repetitive plot. Even as the theater grows emptier every performance. And all look forward to the highlight of the show: when the curtain falls. If it ever does.

. .

How restore the sense of elevation that great drama affords when the country is stuck with this weekly game of musical chairs? For that, we have to look not to our politicians but our poets, thinkers, fabulists. To a writer like C.S. Lewis, who left us this reliable standard, this sure guide to go by when judging the passing hurlyburly of politics, and maybe even rise above it:

"It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects -- military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden -- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time."

Maybe those simple words of C.S. Lewis's -- like all genius, simple -- will afford some perspective and even guidance as we go on to the next presidential primary and the one after that and the one ... till the tumult ceases and we are left with our own thoughts. And duties. And satisfactions. For it is the little things that may turn out to be the great ones, the lasting ones.

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