A Last Gasp

At one time, frenzied throngs of them filled the streets and frightened the establishment, although they always seemed more circus than menace to me.

They waved signs with nonsensically and humorously over-inflamed rhetoric (I mean, really, who can take the threat of domestic Communism seriously these days?) and carried a rag-bag mix of symbols from a wildly inacurate Disney-fied version of our historical past. Tri-corner hats and powdered wigs. The famous “Dont Tread on Me” Gadsden flag. Historical re-creation (and more modern) firearms carried in plain sight at public events. Unintentionally hilarious Biblical misquotes and anachronistic appeals to “traditional family” values.

“We want our country back!”

They stacked and thuggishly hijacked public meetings. They prevented the business of government from happening. They shouted down elected officials. They browbeat and coerced shaky-legged politicians with unsubstantiated accusations and seemingly limitless vitriol. They would not be talked down, placated or reasoned with.

The major political party with which they affiliated bowed to their will because they could turn out the votes like nobody’s business and, well, there was also all the money. Freakishly radical candidates were selected in primaries that came to resemble the stilted surrealism of a Dali painting mixed with the broad caricatures and pre-scripted inevitability of Kabuki theater.

“Restore America!”

Their anger had been purposefully fed, of course, by a centralized, well-financed and coordinated effort of white multi-billionaires who did not want their cozy-happy era of unchecked dominance to pass.

However, after all the red-faced screaming (not to mention the expenditure of untold billions), the sound and fury has, indeed, come to signify nothing. Our country’s demographics are, in fact, our destiny. The Christian church in America is shrinking and the electorate will not be majority white for long. Those are the dead-certain facts.

Even the scale of money used in this past campaign can only buy so much, it turns out. With this election, we may have finally seen its concrete limits.

The Tea Party, and the vision of America it represents, is in its final death spasms. And there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Good riddance.

Energy Independence And Other Fantasies

The people who should know best think it beyond our abilities, American energy independence. Yet, politicians trot out the idea constantly. To the right audience, one that is looking for reasons to further despise the current president, it is red meat.

At the GOP convention, former senator and current political hack, John Sununu, asserted that his party’s candidate, Mitt Romney would, if elected, “…unshackle our assets and lead us to real energy independence.”

Despite the archaic language (“unshackle our assets”?), it played well in the hall but it is complete crap.

The United States will never be energy independent. Never. Not ever. The goal is unrealistic, no matter what national policies are implemented or who occupies the Oval Office. The CEO of one of the world’s largest energy companies has said so. So have most other informed and honest energy analysts and economists.

John Sununu may himself know this. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he does. In that case, he’s posturing for political advantage.

If he doesn’t know America’s true energy reality, he’s just an ignorant fool.

Newt or Newt?

[This isn’t a post about substantive policy positions.]

Newt Gingrich, as anyone who might possibly care knows by now, has withdrawn from the race for the Republican presidential nomination or, in current political speak, he has suspended his campaign.

I’ll miss him. Or, to be more accurate, I’ll miss half of him, because Newt Gingrich is really two Newts: there is the grandiose, didactic, more-conservative-than-thou joke who barely made a dent in the campaign, but there was also the old-school politician who visited zoos and shook hands and connected with people in a way his major competitor Mitt Romney can only dream of.

The first Newt acted like he was smarter than everyone else, floated bizarre ideas as if they were normal as walking across the street,  and never fully rose to the challenge of running for president. No one in their right mind would miss that Newt.

I met the second Newt a few years ago and was surprised at how much I liked him. He was friendly and accommodating when he had no self-interested reason to be. He spoke to my son, then 10 years old, about this country and its politics in an engaging way that few adults would have taken the time or energy to do. He was funny in an unstudied and understated way that few people of power and fame are.

As campaigns become more corporate and more directed toward electronic media and mass marketing, I’m sorry to see the old-style, human-scale and humane Newt leave.

Goodbye, Rick

I’m a dad myself, and I’m deeply sorry Rick Santorum is wrestling with all that comes with having a sick child. I sincerely wish his daughter a speedy and complete recovery. And I wish him well in his life.

That said, I hope he now goes to a dark and private place. I hope he is never offered a television soap box of the type given to Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and all of their ilk.  I hope American political life is never again required to deal with Santorum. He was a divisive candidate, deliberately so, because it served his personal political interests. He expressed the desire to run our country on the basis of his particular and peculiar interpretation of the Holy Bible, which I find to be both frightening and profoundly un-American.

He was both smart and capable enough to inflame his slice of the Republican electorate and unethical enough to actually do it. He made the venerable Republican Party teeter on the edge of a terminal abyss, from which it may yet never recover.

So, I’m sorry for the personal challenge your family is dealing with, Rick. Now, please do our country a favor and just disappear.

But I Don’t Love Him

Republican voters in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia gave majorities to Mitt Romney today in their primaries. He is now more than halfway to gaining a majority of convention delegates, the number necessary to secure the party’s presidential nomination.

Each state’s results tell a story I’ve written about before; namely, the Republican party, as well as the country as a whole, is deeply divided. Urban and suburban dwellers tend to favor a candidate like Romney, who is fiscally conservative, corporate, almost painfully mainstream. Rural and exurban Republican voters care much more about “values” issues articulated by Rick Santorum and others: same-sex marriage, abortion, creeping “socialism.”

With victories today in these three primaries, the other remaining candidates have fewer realistic opportunities to prevent Romney from winning the nomination outright at the convention – although, they’ll keep trying. There is certainly a Republican constituency that will keep after them to keep trying. The “values” wing of the GOP has never warmed to Romney, thinking him a rich fake, not truly committed to their causes. These voters want the convention deadlocked, all the better to force a back room coup or a compromise candidate who might share their positions on the issues that interest them most (Ready in the wings, Governor Palin?).

Romney may win his party’s nomination but it’s become clear he will never win its complete love.

What’s Important

Reflecting the GOP’s current plunge from major political force to laughingstock, there are essentially now only two ‘serious’ active candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. They are, at this moment, shooting at each other in baldly personal ways, trying to capture for themselves the position of most-high arch-conservative national overseer of faith, while simultaneously plotting for the increasing likelihood of a party convention that finds itself unable to select a presidential nominee in the usual fashion.

The prospect of a brokered Republican Party convention is something that should cause paralyzing fear in the hearts of all good Americans. What as-yet-unspoken attacks might be unleashed? Who might emerge as the compromise candidate to break an electoral stalemate? What promises might be made to whom in order to secure enough votes to win? How low can these people go in their pursuit of our nation’s highest office?

You don’t want to know.

Or maybe you’ve seen HBO’s ‘Game Change‘ and you already do.

‘Game Change’ is the story of Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate and her preparation for and participation in the campaign. A couple of things become obvious fairly early in the film. First, McCain was headed to certain defeat without a dramatic choice of running mate; he had become almost irrelevant to the presidential election. Second, Palin was a completely irresponsible choice for Vice President (Only one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency, one wag says in the film.); she was totally unprepared for the job and jaw-droppingly ignorant of governance, diplomacy, finance, or really anything about the nation she sought to govern. Furthermore, Palin was both proudly and willfully ignorant; she was deliberately deaf to experts who were brought in to help her prepare.

All this is, of course, old news. What’s most striking about the film is the fact that McCain’s campaign people knew Palin was a bad choice on so many levels, but kept working to elect her anyway because, hey, that’s the job. John McCain’s presidential campaign communications director, Steve Schmidt, said in a recent interview about the film, “When you have to do things necessary to win…” shit happens, or words to that effect.

So Schmidt and the rest of McCain’s campaign team would have put Sarah Palin in the next chair from the president despite the fact that they knew she would have been a complete disaster for our country. They even had the nerve to wrap their work in the star spangled banner of patriotism, much as today’s generation of Republican candidates continue to do.

Why should we fear backroom deals at the GOP convention? Here’s one reason: Schmidt et al. are still around and still pursuing their ‘profession.’

Now What, GOP?

Let’s lay some things on the table to start. I’m not a registered Republican. I’m not professionally involved in any political campaigns. I don’t expect to be offered a job come November, no matter who is elected. I have no skin in the game, except as an American.

I know a great many Republicans; I’ve worked for some, others are close friends, former classmates, neighbors, colleagues, and so on. Most of these are from what is called now the corporate wing, as opposed to the social conservative wing, of the party.

I value the Republican Party, its contributions, its historic leaders. Further, I believe, and I’m not afraid to say it out loud, that our country is better off with healthy political parties of diverse philosophical stripes.

Now, let me say, I am concerned for the Republican Party.

What’s become clear to me is a growing, unhealthy and emotional division in the party between (1) the good-government, main street and corporate, power elite, fiscal conservative party establishment, and (2) the evangelical, social-conservative, grass roots party rank-and-file. And this division is not only unhealthy for the Republican Party, but also unhealthy for the country.

Super Tuesday results show that it is increasingly unlikely there will be a first-ballot selection of a presidential nominee at the convention. This opens the door for all sorts of bad outcomes: back-room deals, drafting another candidate (e.g., Sarah Palin anyone?), swinging the party platform even farther to the right – especially on social issues.

There’s irony here: yesterday’s exit polls, cited in The Hill, showed that voters are most concerned with economic issues. In other words, by staying with what has been the successfully established Republican identity, the party could conduct a campaign with a reasonable probability of connecting with the issues that matter most to Americans. This could be an absolutely winnable election for Republicans.

Instead, Republicans are allowing their primaries to be swallowed up by inherently divisive candidates and the social issues they crow about, like the New Testament foundations of American government, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc.

Who benefits from any of that? Neither Republicans nor our republic.