Caucus day: On architecture and politics

A collage of the Republican candidates' houses from the New York Times

In honor of Iowa caucus day, I think the architecture of the Republican candidates’ houses is worth considering. An in-depth breakdown after the break.

First things first: all information and images for this piece come from the New York Times’s recent news report on the same topic.

Now for an overview: these people live in invidious suburban palaces. They have no taste, and, for reasons beyond that — though embodied in that — they all deserve to lose today’s caucuses (I know it’s not really possible to lose the caucuses).

*     *     *

Now, for my politics (if you just want to see the houses, scroll past this):

So whom would I like to see get first place today? Rick Perry.

Why? Well, first off, I do believe that today’s caucuses are important, and I do support Barack Obama for 2012. Which is to say that I do not want Romney to receive the Republican nomination. Of the other Republican candidates, I believe Rick Perry has the best chance of winning the nomination. He has money, can generally appeal to social conservatives who are frightened of Romney, has some establishment support and has a (BS) record of job creation in Texas that he can trumpet. He does, however, have some major flaws — most notably, in his inept performance at debates. But with those directly addressed and behind him, Republican primary-goers might just might be willing to vote for him. In order for that to happen, he would need momentum. And to get that momentum, he’d need to win a high-profile early state. Like Iowa.

But what about electability? Don’t Republicans want someone they can count on to beat Obama? Actually, I don’t think so. If that’s what they wanted, then they’d go for Romney. Instead, they’re looking for a right-winger who has a solid record of right-wing policy in a right-wing state. Which sounds a lot like Rick Perry.

None of this is to say that Perry would have an easy time getting the nomination if he did win Iowa, or even that he has much of a shot at Iowa (Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has his current chances at — drumroll! — 0 percent!). But I really would like him to.

More realistically, we’re going to see Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney or Ron Paul take Iowa. That’s really too bad, since neither Santorum nor Paul could take on Romney, and, well, a victory for Romney would be just that: a victory for Romney (and a potential problem for Barack Obama).

But I prefer to play the role of idealist. So go Rick Perry!!!

*     *     *

Architecture time. One quick note beforehand: my judgements here are quite rudimentary and are based only on images and descriptions I could find online. Accordingly, I’ve tried to assess just what I can clearly understand from those images and descriptions.

First up: Michele Bachmann!

Gross, gross, gross — from the pointlessly profligate rooflines to the fake stone to the faux slate to the precious landscaping to the oversized lawn. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a McMansion. It is insular and provincial, just like Bachmann herself. Its large size also tells of a materalistic person without much ability for subtle thinking. Again, Bachmann in a nutshell. You can learn a lot from architecture.

Next up: Ron Paul!

This house is really quite uninteresting. Unlike Bachmann’s or many of the other houses to come, its landscaping isn’t disturbingly perfected or overdone, and its size is not obnoxious. This house tells of a man comfortable with himself and with his views. There is no question that Ron Paul is principled, and I think that in a way this house reflects that. Its suburban location and sprawling nature, however, tell of Paul’s strong views on individual liberty. This is the house of a man who values his rights and isn’t interested in the business of others. Also, I can picture Ron Paul sitting in a lawn chair in front of it and shouting at kids to get off of his lawn. Can’t you?

Next up: Newt Gingrich!

Just look at those plants. What is going on there? Who could possibly think such landscaping is a good idea? Moving beyond the plants: this is a classic 1980s suburban house that pays lip service to architectural theory in its postmodern details (note the window above the entrance), but is ultimately pretty icky. The brick veneer screams fake-ness, and the greenish glass is best described as garish. The signs of architectural intelligence here seem to me commensurate with Gingrich’s own occasional intelligent insights (like his sensible views on immigration). But the lowdown is that this is another big suburban house for someone uninterested in the innovative or the interesting and wedded to false, materialistic notions of American life and the ‘American dream.’

Next up: Rick Santorum!

Let’s all take a collective moment to say “Ew!” OK, that done, let’s examine what precisely it is that makes this house so unpleasant. 1. The oversized third floor windows. 2. The faux-old brick and copper (this house was built in the 1970s). 3. The size. Who could possibly need a house this big? 4. The SUV next to the house. Whew. I cannot find anything nice to say about this house. This is the house of a thoughtless and self-centered man with pretty much nothing to recommend him. Both he and the house are best summed up by Dan Savage’s appropriately crass definition of the word ‘Santorum.’

Next up: Rick Perry!

Really, New York Times? The best picture you could get (yes, this is a staff photo) is of the gates of his gated community? I expected more. The Times reports that Perry is currently living here while the Texas governor’s mansion is renovated. Fortunately, we don’t need to see the house to know what its issues are. It’s in a gated community, so like most of the other candidates’ houses, this one is most likely oversized, suburban, faux-old, covered with icky veneers and generally isolated. Rick Perry, as one might expect, has a materialistic and simplistic view of architecture that pretty much mirrors his views on economic and social issues.

Next up: Mitt Romney!

This is actually kind of tough, since Mitt Romney owns a good number of houses. This one here is in a lovely location and is nicely landscaped. It’s quite new, which makes its attempts at looking old (pitched roof, paned glass, exterior stone), irritating, but on the whole this is not at all a terrible house. I can imagine spending time there and not hating it. The house is clearly custom designed (it’s by Brattle Architects, actually), and its integration into the landscape is really quite nice. It’s not hard to see that Mitt Romney is a smart man; this is just further evidence of that. Its isolated location and large size do tell of wealth and materialism, though — again, no surprises there.

And last, but really not least: Jon Hunstman!

Not bad at all. It’s quite interesting to note that Hunstman is the only candidate who actually deigns to live near other people (imagine that!) and not in an isolated bubble of material wealth. I can’t tell if this is legitimately old or not, but my guess from the pattern of the bricks is that it’s pretty new. Too bad. Still, not bad at all. Interestingly, I also found this brochure about Hunstman’s previous house’s interior design. A brief peek at that reveals lots of wealth and overdone decoration, but some good design sense. Hunstman’s taste is one of a reasonable fellow with thoughtful sensibilities. Even if I don’t agree with him on many economic and social issues, I can respect our disagreement. The frightening thing is that he, this sane, traditional Republican, has pretty much no shot at the nomination.

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