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.

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Newt Gingrich, as anyone who might possibly care knows by now, has withdrawn from the race for the Republican presidential nomination or, in current political speak, he has suspended his campaign.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

Moral Certainty, and Other Fictions

The shadowy group of adolescently sanctimonious hackers known collectively as Anonymous struck at the Vatican the other day, forcing several sites to shut down. In a statement, the group said:

“Anonymous decided today to besiege your site in response to the doctrine, to the liturgies, to the absurd and anachronistic concepts that your for-profit organization spreads around the world.”

This is a philosophy which says: I know unambiguously what’s right and that I will use that consciousness to enforce my greater/better/moral vision upon you. Exactly what the world needs, I’d say. A small group of the self-appointed and self-righteous deciding what content ought to be made available (or not, as the case may be) for the rest of us.

After months of Republican primaries, it’s a principle of behavior the American electorate should be completely accustomed to by now.

Several (all?) Republican presidential candidates have insisted that their particular Biblical interpretations are not only self-evidently accurate, but are also the only possible and appropriate foundations of American public policy. Further, these candidates have expressed the desire to use the full powers available to them, once elected, to coerce behavior they find personally acceptable out of our fellow citizens.

That’s not American, not democratic, and not even civil.

These candidates have a lot in common with the group Anonymous: they believe uncritically in the correctness of their visions and in their right to make the rest of us believe uncritically in them too.

[P.S. – I’m not going to post anything new for the next few days. Don’t take it personally; other pursuits demand my full attention. See you again soon.]

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.

A Super Tuesday? Not So Much.

Today, of course, is Super Tuesday, when Republican presidential primaries are being held in Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska. We’ll know soon enough whether the eventual nomination of Mitt Romney will be again delayed by the fringe of his own party.

Let’s check in about that tomorrow.

Last night, I re-read Choose Me, a wonderful late-night book (lots of pictures, few words) by brilliant photographer Arthur Grace. Grace captures the major presidential candidates of 1988 – you may remember: Bush (senior), Dukakis, Gephardt, Dole, etc. – in searingly truthful and completely revealing portraits.

Look carefully at these photos and see precisely what candidates work so hard to hide: boredom, disdain, insecurity, surrender to the inevitability of loss, lack of focus, immaturity. Grace’s work is an eye-opener, all the better for a bit of chronological and emotional distance from the campaign and the candidates.

Especially in this era of over-produced events, pre-packaged candidates, and sound-bite communication, you can see that plain old still photography gives us a way to see inside someone’s character and intellect that we in the general population don’t often have; short of being on the inside of an actual campaign, this is as close as most people are ever likely to get.

What might unguarded photos of today’s candidates tell us? What do these tell you?

Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul

Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum