Saturday, June 11, 2011


Fewer than 18 months to go until the last ballots are cast in the 2012 election. The outcome is, of course, impossible to predict. In some states in which Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches, they are doing everything they can not only to redistrict seats to improve their chances of electing Republican Congressional representatives, but also to restrict the franchise among groups—seniors, youths, and minorities—most likely to vote Democratic. In fairness, when Democrats get the same chance, they redistrict to improve their chances, but they try to expand, not restrict, the franchise.

The flat-out truth, which the mainstream media refuses to step up to stating: Republicans are abandoning all but the pretense of adhering to democracy. They have long feared and now despair that demographics are against them and the doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism is inoperative. Fear and despair make them desperate that their only hopes for electoral success are efforts to target reductions in the franchise, to intimidate minority voters who are predominantly Democratic, to engage in dirty tricks, to spend obscene amounts of hidden special-interest money on candidates and advertising, and to throw truth and decency aside in national, state, and district campaigns of lies and smears.

If they succeed, Republicans will do in other states and in the federal government what they are trying to do, with some success, in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, among other states—namely, legislate Democrats out of meaningful participation in the political process. After running on the slogans of, say, jobs, as they did in 2010, they shall, if elected in majorities, implement their stealth agendas of economic benefits to their special-interest contributors and of moral, religious, and lifestyle restrictions on those who are not “real Americans.” (Attacks on women’s abortion rights will intensify, and attempts to reverse same-sex legislation and policy will increase.) In short, the run-up to and the election of 2012 will see a Republican effort at an electioneered coup ending democracy as we have known it.

Come we then to the candidates for the highest office in the land. On the Democratic side, there is, of course, only one (but, starting now, the party should hedge its bets): President Barack Obama. Frankly, the longer he serves in office, the less I understand what public-service reasons he had for seeking it in the first place (except to prove that he could seek and secure it). The more he makes fine speeches, the less he makes good sense in addressing the nation’s needs. At another time, I shall dissect by elaborating earlier criticisms his failures at home and abroad. But not just now. Suffice it so say, as they used to say, Obama is not only Bush-lite, but also Bush-bad. He may be moderate, but he is certainly Republican in his top-down approaches to the economic problems. So he fixed banks and big businesses, and forgot about jobs and homes. Given most of his competition at this time, I have to hope that he wins, but, if he loses, as the chances of his doing so improve with every dodge and dither, he will have earned his defeat.

Many are beginning to think that his re-election, far from being a done deal, is doubtful or doomed. I agree. An Obama campaign based on an it-could-have-been-worse theme is not going to beat an opponent’s campaign based on an I-can-do-better (much better) theme. Given an economy still muddling along, with high rates of unemployment and foreclosures, and high gas prices—not to mention a slide into the second dip of a double-dip recession—Americans may be willing to vote for any warm-blooded alternative, even defective candidates far worse than Bush or McCain, whom Obama followed or defeated.

So it is hard for me to get excited about a candidate whose chief recommendation for re-election is that he or she is not Barack Obama. The current candidates who advocate Tea Party or other hard-right positions offer nothing which can appeal to most Americans. Michelle Bachmann is a lot smarter than most pundits give her credit for being, but she may be too cutesy-clever by half. Sarah Palan is a lot dumber than they give her credit for being, but she has the “reality” show audience on her side. Both of these darlings of the Tea Party have taken positions from which they could never back down without triggering a vociferous and possibly enervating backlash. Neither of them seems to have passed high school history or high school civics—which makes their misunderstanding of America’s past a sign that they misunderstand America’s present, and misunderstand its Constitution to boot. By contrast, Newt Gingrich, who, as a professor of history, has presumed to be an intellectual and has coasted on that reputation for years, is slowly being exposed as an imposter and poseur.

Two other candidates on the hard right appealing to the Tea Party go in very different ways. Ron Paul is a smart guy with a clear and consistent libertarian ideology, which appeals to the streak of American individualism in us all, but which disqualifies a true believer from high office in a government which must meet the needs a society, whether conceived in democratic or capitalistic terms. Rick Santorum has proven so morally absolutist and callous that his former constituents want nothing to do with someone who prefers the purity of ideology—on abortion, no exception for the health of the mother—to the sanctity or wellbeing of adult life; and thus resistant to the very facts which he has demanded in debate and has received in disproof of his doctrine.

I give great discredit to panderers to the Tea Party like Tim Pawlenty, who has not only flip-flopped—he is not alone to do so—on abortion, but also advanced such a retrograde prescription for economic disaster that I expect him to encounter so much trouble from the less hard right in the party that he tries harder on the harder right of the party. He looks weak and is weak and will remain weak—not the kind of leadership which we need.

To his credit, Mitt Romney is smart enough to keep quiet, build a campaign coffer, and outwait and thus outlast the incandescent burn-outs who will titillate us for a few weeks at a time; and who is starting to move furtively toward the center. And, then, there is the sleeper: Jon Huntsman; keep an eye on that boy, he’s a smart one. (Sorry, Gary Johnson is comatose). So, on the Republican side, I prefer the two Mormon candidates for the Republican nomination. Perhaps Mormons are the country’s last best hope of moral rectitude and political moderation. Whether someone is waiting in the wings at this stage for this lot to falter remains to be seen. If it is Rick Perry, perhaps 49 states should secede from Texas!

In any event, Obama will have his hands full. His record on the matters which count—killing Osama bin Laden aside—is not one with great voter appeal. Why a smart guy could not learn the simple lesson—it’s the economy, stupid—I do not know. Of course, the appeal of voting for our first black (actually, bi-racial) male president (I do not forget fully black Shirley Chisholm) and the thrill of electing him are gone and cannot be repeated (you get to be first only once). Indeed, I worry that Obama has done so badly that, though he remains personally popular and likeable—I like him and Michelle, too—he may prompt suspicions, especially in those who struggled to overcome, or over-compensate for, their prejudices to vote for him, that he has not been up to the job because he is half black—dreadful racist thought. But we are thinking many dreadful thoughts just now about far more important and truly dreadful things.

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