Fred Hutchison
October 16, 2004
The man who wasn't there
By Fred Hutchison

"Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there. / He wasn't there again today / I wish that man would go away." Hugh Means (1875 1965)

I have often wondered why there is a natural rapport between Hollywood Stars and Democratic politicians. I now have a theory. Both went into their professions motivated by the desire to be someone else. To some extent, almost everyone has points of disconnection between their public personae and their private identity. But actors stretch the gap between reality and fantasy.

For actors of the English technical style, of which Lawrence Olivier is the perfect prototype, the actor as a person is very far removed from the character he plays. This kind of acting is literally a form of play and it is not far from mime. The mastery of technique is everything in the English style. Olivier was a one man show when it comes to polished techniques.

American method actors such as Marlon Brandon and Paul Newman have convinced themselves that their own emotions are living and breathing through their characters. But this is only true sometimes. When they get deeply into the role, their own identities are set aside, and their identities becomes that of the character. Gerard Depardieu said that he is personally depressed when he steps away from a role. It takes him a month or two to decompress. He stays in costume for a few days. Then he gradually sheds the clothes, the hair, the postures, the milieu and the props of the character.

Peter Sellers was asked whether one among the hundreds of characters he has played was really him or if there is a personality which is his own. He paused and hesitatingly said, "Yes...I think so. But sometimes I get confused." Seller's last starring role was in Being There, a movie about a simple gardener with a blank personality who is thought by others to be a great sage. Everyone projected upon the blank gardener wearing a business suit their own hopes and agendas. Everyone confused his simple and disjointed comments about gardening with cryptic messages of the deepest wisdom. Sellers is my prototype for the man who isn't there.

There are a variety of versions of the man who isn't there. Allow me to examine three Democratic leaders as three versions of the man who isn't there.

John Kerry performing in the English Style

John Kerry is the man who isn't there in the English dramatic style. In the debates, his eye contact, body language, gestures, poise, comportment, voice projection and voice resonance were very good. However, he needs to work on contrasts of volume and tempo and the music of a phrase. He underacts, which one must do on television when one is using this style. The splendid surface presentation is far removed from the man within. Ace pundit Peggy Noonan commented that at times Kerry does not seem to be there. He seems far removed from the action. But the words and techniques continue on without anyone being at home. He is the man who isn't there. I saw the man peering through the set-piece personae one time. It was a faint side glance of calculated craftiness. Then he made a rare miscalculation. It was a comment about Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. It was a major tactical blunder. He might have pulled it off without the sly glance.

In War and Piece, Tolstoy depicts Napoleon as a prototype of total calculation. Napoleon's purpose is to impose his agendas upon the world. Kerry is an inversion of the Napoleonic type. He is all calculation like Napoleon but his game is to let the world impose its agendas and expectations on him. Like Peter Sellers' gardener in "Being There," Kerry presents the world with a tabula rasa upon which they may project the man they hope he will be. He won the Democratic primary by being not Howard Dean. He is running in the general election as being not George Bush. His campaign is mainly a series of reactions to Bush. We have the incumbent candidate Bush and the anti-candidate Kerry. How do you run against a man who isn't there?

Kerry's flip-flopping are tactical reversals so that he can be all things to all men. Whatever you want Kerry to be, he is ready to tactically accommodate you and offer himself as a blank screen upon which you can project your hopes and dreams.

"Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there. / He wasn't there again today / I wish that man would go away."

Bill Clinton, Method Actor

I once was marveling at Bill Clinton's warmth, empathy, and charisma as he dazzled a crowd. The camera did a close-up. His face was shining but his eyes were dead. It was a shock. He is the man who isn't there. Political analyst Bob Morris, who was an adviser to Clinton, said that Clinton is a "light reflector." The light is not his own. It is your own light reflected back. When a deer is caught in the headlights and freezes, its eyes glow like blazing torches from the reflected light of the headlight. Clinton's glow is drawn from the crowd as he basks in the limelight.

Morris says that Clinton lives in the minds of others. He cannot stand to be alone. There must be someone else in the room to react with and to live through. He is the ultimate co-dependant. When he was Governor of Arkansas, he used to go alone to all night doughnut shops to swap anecdotes with the clerk. Comedian Bob Hope did much the same thing after he retired. He visited all night coffee shops and told jokes to the waitresses. The golden secret of access to Clinton was letting him know you can come and talk at a moment's notice in the wee hours of the night. Clinton's secret liaisons with women were probably a desperate quest for human connection disguised as a search for sex. Perhaps there was a cold dinner, a sharp remark and a hard elbow waiting for him at home. Clinton's famous pizza-party jam sessions would stretch out into the night. When his aides fell asleep during the policy wonk festivals, he would venture alone out into the darkness like a lost sheep.

Clinton's friends found the relationship exiting and intoxicating at first. But they would eventually be used up and exhausted and cast out with the empty pizza boxes.

There is no question that Bill Clinton is a political genius. But he has no real values or goals other than to live his life through the reactions others have to him. He had an ad hoc administration. It was a crazy journey of serendipity. Everything was done in reaction to events and in racing to where the action is and to where the audience is. It was the ambulance-chasing presidency.

"Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there. / He wasn't there again today / I wish that man would go away."

Jimmy Carter, High School Dramatics

Carter is a rank amateur as an actor. A movie critic would call his performances "self-conscious," "self-indulgent" and "mugging for the camera." He always gave away the game that he was acting with a sappy smile at the wrong moment. It was that "look mama, see how cute I am," kind of grin. It is the same grin which made me hate Alan Alda (star of MASH). After Alda said something particularly disgusting, he would turn to the camera with an effeminate half shrug and an "ain't I cute" simper on his face. If ever I have felt like slapping a face......

Being a maladroit actor does not necessarily imply that it is a case of a man who isn't there. However, Carter's silly self-pandering vanity was projected to a world stage. It was petty vanity inflated into a giant balloon. That balloon of fantasy is a very great journey from the plain, practical, common sense, and mild-mannered peanut farmer in Georgia.

"Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn't there. / He wasn't there again today / I wish that man would go away."

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Fred Hutchison

Frederick J. Hutchison attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an undergraduate, and Cleveland State University to get his Master's degree in business... (more)


Receive future articles by Fred Hutchison: Click here

Latest articles