Copyright © 2012 by Stephen W. Potts. All rights reserved.
It has been over a year since an editorial appearing here has actually been “NEW!” I have had other writing projects to finish, and other barricades to man — literally, in support of union rights, education spending, and the Occupy movement. As an editorialist, I often find myself haunted by the Cassandra Complex, the conviction that no matter how pithy the analysis or accurate the prediction, it is not going to change anything. Real change begins in the real world. It can end there too.
These words are being written the day after the Florida primary, the week after the South Carolina primary and Obama’s State of the Union address. Though South Carolina gave Newt Gingrich his first win, Florida makes it more likely than ever that Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party’s choice in 2012.
Generally speaking, national election campaigns depress me, as they are all reminders of how loudly money talks in our political system, how unrepresentative our republic really is, and how often the biggest liar carries off the prize. But 2012’s presidential race has been the funniest on record, tailor-made for the age of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher. Who could have asked for a more entertaining trio than Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry, all of them chosen by God to run? How can one not love Gingrich bashing Romney for being too rich, and Romney bashing Gingrich for being an influence-peddling Washington insider, when “vulture capitalism” and inside influence are the two pillars of modern Republicanism? Or the revelations regarding Newt’s endorsement of Big Love, even though Romney is the Mormon? This is the Insane Clown Party at its worst/best/funniest.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul still linger onstage, at the fringes with their philosophies. At least they can both be credited with consistency. Ron Paul may want to take the nation back to the 19th century, but he correctly sees that you can’t have both small government and a big military. Santorum is a consistent cafeteria Catholic, who despises abortion, birth control, and homosexuality, but who shares with the Protestant right the peculiar notions that Christ blamed the poor for their poverty, believed in a strong military (Romans rule!), and healed only those who could pay for it. If there were a hell, it would have an entire ring set aside for these believers.
Devout Republican and former W. speechwriter David Frum addressed this problem in a November article entitled “When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?” — originally published in the New York Magazine and now posted online. Not surprisingly, he attributes today’s Republican politics to the inflation of the right-wing bubble universe by Fox News, talk radio, and the blogosphere. In this alternate world, Obama is — as we have all heard — a Marxist, Muslim Kenyan who is archly defying the Constitution and driving the nation toward a tyrannical socialism. As Frum writes, “No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration.”
Furthermore, the idiocy of the Tea Party candidates of 2011 — Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, et al. — parallels the idiotic scorched-earth politics of the Tea Party class of 2010 in Congress: so entrenched in their peculiar form of nihilism that they couldn’t even consent to raising the debt ceiling last August or to continuing the middle-class payroll tax cut in December. As Frum observes, “The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.”
Republican Old Guards as ideologically separate as Bob Dole and Tom Delay have warned that a Gingrich nomination would guarantee defeat in 2012, all up and down the ICP ticket. As the Washington Post reported on January 28, “Fear of Newt Gingrich has displaced lack of love for Romney as the dominant emotion among these Republicans.” No less a conservative organ than National Review devoted its 31 December 2011 issue to attacking Gingrich, worrying that he has spent his entire political career in Washington, and that he is philosophically consistent only in being an obnoxious egotist with a record of wacky statements. Mark Steyn views him as “potentially the worst of all worlds: a man who embraces big-government solutions to health care, climate change, and all the rest, but who gets damned as a mean-spirited vindictive right-wing hater . . . .”
Despite the fact that Romney has shown he will say anything to get elected, and that no one knows what his core values really are, National Review is nonetheless ready to endorse him on the grounds that he is “the best bet to beat Obama.” As Ramesh Ponnuru concedes, the conservative conviction that American voters want an unadulterated conservative in charge rests on flimsy evidence, “and it is at the very least an awfully risky premise for a nominee to adopt” (23).
Have they actually been watching Romney at these so-called “debates”? Stephen Colbert summed him up perfectly at his own pre-primary rally in South Carolina, when he said that the difference between Romney and a statue is that the statue never changes its position. I have no doubt that, unlike Gingrich, Romney is a decent man in his way, but every word coming out of his mouth sounds like a weasel word, and he totally lacks charisma. As one former strategist for Romney’s 2008 campaign expressed it, he would be good at emptying his “In” box but not much of a leader. If Rick Perry was the candidate for those who thought Bush Junior was too smart, Romney is for those who thought Bush Senior was too visionary. I suspect President Romney would end up having much the same problems with a Tea Party Congress that Obama has had. They don’t like him or trust him, and they would just say “no” to any serious attempts to govern.
So far in this primary season there’s only one clear winner: Barack Obama. The more potential voters see the ICP candidates in action, the higher Obama’s approval ratings go. Obama has always been lucky in his opponents. He was elevated to the national stage upon winning a Senate seat in Illinois in 2006. His initial opponent, Republican Jack Ryan, was forced out of the race when his then wife, Borg Babe Jeri Ryan, revealed that he had tried to cajole her into the swinging lifestyle. The GOP’s last-minute substitute, Alan Keyes, had name recognition only as a conservative Christian African-American who had run for president more than once to single-digit percentages of support.
And of course in the 2008 presidential campaign Obama got to run not only against the appalling economic and military legacy of George W. Bush but against a John McCain who had evolved from the “straight talk” maverick of 2000 to an erratic and cranky old man, and whose big decision to choose Sarah Palin as his V. P. proved that he couldn’t be trusted with big decisions. As in 2008, the Republican leadership is leaning toward the “safer” candidate, because that worked so well then.
With the economy improving for somebody, Obama’s biggest problem this year will be convincing his Democratic base that he not only shares their passions but has the fortitude to stand up to Republican obstructionism. Obama hit all the high notes in his State of the Union speech this January, but they may ring hollow to those who took to heart his 2008 mantra of Hope and Change.
It is true that in his first year Obama was credited with the most successful legislative regime since Lyndon Johnson. He universalized health insurance for children, equalized pay for women, pushed an economic stimulus package, signed into being the Consumer Protection Bureau and the Dodd-Frank regulations for banks, and finally got his national health care in the Affordable Care Act. But in the face of the opposition party’s willingness to go for broke — literally in some cases — rather than let Obama succeed, he often seemed to give up too much just to be the reasonable one.
His stimulus package relied too much on tax cuts and not enough on investment, and thus did not inject enough into the economy. He chose his economic heads like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers from the same Wall Street pool that tanked the economy in the first place, and he has drawn other advisors from places like GE and Monsanto and Citigroup. During the health care debate, he threw the public option under the bus, thus guaranteeing that, as his critics on the right predicted, his Affordable Care Act will eventually become unaffordable. It is a government program underwriting a for-profit health care system. So far, as many have noted, not a single investment banker who caused our current crisis through fraudulent financial instruments has been brought up on charges, although Obama’s Justice Department has been vigorous in closing down medical marijuana dispensaries.
Obama is intelligent and well-meaning, but his frequent unwillingness to stand firm suggests that, just as his opposition alleged, he really was an inexperienced politician who was just good at giving speeches. He never really called a congressional bluff until this last December, when he refused to back down on continuing the payroll tax cut for the middle class. Politics may be the art of compromise, but only when both sides are actually compromising. And not all compromises are created equal. Obama needs to fight harder if he wants to look like a leader.
Some of the most pointed critique of the real Obama — as distinguished from the horror-fantasy Obama invented by the Insane Clown Party — comes from liberals. Nobel laureate economist and liberal columnist Paul Krugman has been one of his harshest critics. Writing for the New York Times and his Economist’s View website, Krugman recently suggested that the Republicans don’t need a strong candidate in 2012 as long as they are getting most of what they want from Obama. “Centrism is not an act for Obama; it’s who he really is and when you compromise from the middle, and do so poorly — i.e., give up most demands for one or two centrist bits in the final legislation — the outcome leans heavily to the right” (22 Jan 2011).
Another prominent liberal voice, Bill Moyers, has been highlighting the bipartisan nature of “the Big Fix” that has allied corporate America and Washington against the rest of us. In his current series, which shows on most PBS outlets Friday evenings, he has featured such guests as former Reagan budget director David Stockman, whose recent book The Triumph of Politics outlines the destruction of our republican democracy through crony capitalism. The upshot is that, since the onset of Reagonomics, the class gap has grown under Democrats as well as Republicans, to the point that the U.S. is now in a category with Mexico and Brazil. The Right seems to think that’s just the way it should be.
However, evidence still exists that under Democrats that gap grows more slowly. One is left with the certainty that, no matter how disappointing a Democratic administration may be, one dominated by the Insane Clown Party will be worse. If Obama has appointed too many Wall Street and corporate insiders to his administration, he has also appointed scientists, labor activists, and environmentalists.
I have voted for enough third party candidates in my time to know that doesn’t change anything either, especially when they finish under five percent. The mistake is thinking that casting a vote is the end of the democratic process, when it is only the beginning. Pick the least objectionable of the viable candidates — preferably one who says the right things whether he means them or not. And then join some organization or several who will push that candidate again and again to keep at least some of his promises. It won’t always work: I gave plenty of support — in money and emails — at the end of 2010 to groups who encouraged Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress to stand firm on ending the Bush tax cut for the wealthy, and it made no difference.
But you can’t give up. Doing so is exactly what would help the oligarchs the most.
Fortunately, the Occupy movement is focusing the debate, even if everyone in the halls of power still dismisses it. The media has noticed the spreading American class gap, reporting that we are now in the same category as Mexico and Brazil. Even the conservative Frum echoes Occupy when, in the essay previously cited, he notes that “[i]n the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. And he waxes almost Marxian when he concludes, “it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.”
Frum remembers the lessons of history that crackpot historian Newt Gingrich has forgotten: when so much power and wealth is concentrated at the top, no meaningful change takes place without people in the street. That was true of the labor and progressive movements in this nation in the decades surrounding 1900, and of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. It was true of the Arab Spring of 2011.
Even if Obama gets a second term, the odds are good that one or both houses of Congress will end up in the hands of the Insane Clown Party. Once again the voters of the U.S., in their questionable wisdom, will choose divided government, giving us more gridlock and even more power to those who would rob from the middle-class to give to the rich.
So get ready to defend yourselves. Do not go gentle into that good fight. Rage, rage against the lying of the Right.
Enough said. I have a union action to attend.