Sunday, April 15, 2012

The big duds

I haven't blogged nearly as much about Election 2012 as I did four years ago on Election 2008. One reason for this is I'm waiting for the "spring training" phase of the process to move into the "regular season" and that doesn't start until after the conventions. But the truth is I have wanted to blog about the presidential race for awhile now. Only every time I pause to give it some consideration I end up uninspired by any of it.

With Rick Santorum’s final “Gettysburg Address”, the contested part of the Republican primary process has come to an unofficial end. Mitt Romney will almost certainly be their nominee and will face President Obama in the fall 2012 election. What, if anything, have we learned?

First of all, the republicans are a fragmented bunch. Roughly speaking, Romney's support came from “the establishment” republicans, what’s left of the traditional Eisenhower-Reagan core of the party which, judging from the primary results, makes up roughly 30%-40% of the party depending upon the state. Then you have the evangelical Christian republicans who firmly supported Santorum, roughly another 25%-35%, given the primary/caucus. Then there are the Newt Gingrich supporters, roughly another 10%-25%, who are mostly (ironically) tea-party enthusiasts. Finally, Ron Paul brings up the rear of the pack with the Libertarian component of the party at a paltry 5%-15%.

Ron Paul is the candidate I voted for in my state's primary. The Paul campaign began with a lot of optimism and hope in the pre-Iowa days. Then the primaries and caucuses started and it soon became clear that the Libertarian component of the Republican Party was trivial and meaningless. So, I guess the media was right and proper to largely ignore him.

My vote for Paul was along the lines of applauding the guy's integrity, consistency, and willingness to stick to his ideas regardless of what the latest political polling might dictate. That is a rare thing in US politics today. Being a democracy of uneducated, unsophisticated common voters (the opposite of the Jeffersonian Ideal), candidates dumb everything down and flip-flop by necessity to get the votes they need to win. There are no other lofty principles or visions of hope, despite the cleverly scripted rhetoric. It's all "tell them what they want to hear" rather than lead them based upon personal conviction. Perhaps it was always this way.

I have some concerns about Ron Paul and his brand of Libertarianism. I am pro-choice, he is not. I am generally pro-environment, even above the liberties of individuals. He would never go that far. I think the National Park System is probably America's crowning governmental achievement. Paul would rather the parks be privatized. I am in favor of certain wars. I support the current timetable for the war in Afghanistan and believe we were right to kill Osama bin Laden. Paul would disagree with me.

Still, I have to consider Ron Paul in total. There is more that I agree with him on than disagree. He understands the US Constitution better than any other candidate. Much of our trouble today comes from straying too far from the balance of powers and specific structure of the original crafted document. Paul would strive to correct this. Paul has a rare, broad vision. He would protect the rights of gay people (though he does not go so far as to endorse gay marriage) as well as gun owners. He would protect our individual privacy in opposition to greater government surveillance of the private sphere. He would deal directly with this country's most fundamental economic problem - fiat currency by, among other things, abolishing the Federal Reserve. For these reasons and others Paul is the most interesting politician in the arena today. He confuses many voters because he votes for and advocates policies that transcend all two-party lines.

So there is much to support and certainly Ron Paul has generated much enthusiasm in the 2012 campaign, especially among younger voters. But, nevertheless, his campaign is a dud. It never really took off. His delegate count is laughable for someone as well organized with the ability to raise funding as he was in the beginning. Of late it is difficult to even find Paul mentioned anywhere. Of course, the mainstream media has always treated him as illegitimate. He has more or less suspended his campaign without announcing as much. Everything just sort of faded away for Ron Paul.

So, the Paul campaign turned out to be a big dud; along with the campaigns of Gingrich (the ultimate Washington insider) and Santorum (the anti-progressive Neanderthal). What we are left with is an even bigger dud. Veteran readers will recall that I was anti-Romney in 2008. I am still anti-Romney. Not because he is Mormon. I have no such prejudices. I am anti-Romney because he is the republican's most plastic candidate. His "grooming" for the presidency is almost as nauseating to me as that of another former Massachusetts governor back in the 1980's - Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was a huge dud. Every time I hear Romney speak I think this guy is a wax figure from a museum or a cardboard cutout of too many conflicting focus groups. He is a nothing man. I can’t tell that he believes in anything that matters.

Apparently, the Republican Party itself has the same issue with their soon-to-be nominee. He has never generated the degree of enthusiasm among his supporters that either Paul or Santorum have among their constituents. His support among a number of voting segments is lack-luster. Now, given the fact that Romney is challenging a president that is teetering on the edge of illegitimacy (yes, Obama is a dud too but more on that in a moment) maybe the blasé take on Romney isn’t that big a deal. But, Obama still has a strong, enthusiastic base. I’m not sure the republican Libertarians and evangelicals will back Romney with the enthusiasm sufficient to offset the energy Team Obama will ultimately generate.

Right now, the fragmentation and lack of fervor within the Republican Party is Obama’s best chance for re-election. But, certainly Obama has problems of his own. What has he accomplished in his first term? Well, he did give the order to kill Osama bin Laden. That will play well in the fall I’m sure. He got us out of Iraq with dignity – easier said than done. He has focused us appropriately on Afghanistan and we have fought a pretty good war there to date (if only US troops had not burned many copies of the Koran - an unforgivable sin- and if only a murderer had not run amuck killing innocent Afghans, America seems to have perpetual difficulty in not pissing off the locals over a prolonged indigenous struggle). He has appointed two liberal judges to the Supreme Court, which I support even though most people either don’t agree or are clueless on the issue.

America has seen nothing tangibly positive come from the Obama Administration. The economic stimulus may have lessened the Great Recession but that was started by George W. Bush and was ultimately a waste of money anyway. It will prove to be a revealing flaw of Keynesian economic philosophy. His signature domestic program, Obamacare, could very well have the rug jerked out from under it by the Supreme Court. I will blog more on that important subject another time. The fact is, if Obamacare is taken away or watered-down then the president has nothing really to point to in terms of domestic accomplishments except an anemic economic recovery and that is what wins or loses presidential elections. It truly is the economy, stupid. Do enough voters believe his decisions have saved the economy? I doubt it, especially if economic momentum slows before November.

I get the feeling that the American public is non-plussed by any political choice. Which is strange given the fact that we live in extremely polarizing political times. It is almost as if there is no “mainstream” America anymore, everyone is driven to extremes at precisely the moment that we have nothing but a bunch of duds as presidential options. Perhaps this is the ultimate symptom of democracy. Over time the voting population votes themselves a bunch of entitlements and leaders reach ever lesser levels of mediocrity.

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