Let’s Grow Up

In a nutshell, here’s the pathetic state of political rhetoric in America. We’re good, others are evil. Obama is the new Hitler. We Democrats are at war with Republicans. I’m the only true believer. I’m the only fair one. Presidents control gasoline prices. The right man in the White House could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Judging by the emptiness and stupidity of our political speech, candidates and their highly-paid consultants must think the American electorate is made up almost entirely of know-nothings and simpletons.

Some examples, by no means the most egregious, follow.

Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts:

“I believe America is an exceptional and unique nation. President Obama feels that we’re going to be a nation which has multipolar balancing militaries. I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don’t agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people, that are evil.”

Anti-Obama website:

“Barack Obama, the first black president, proved to millions this year that he is either trying his best to lead the nation during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, or he is the modern-day incarnation of Adolph Hitler pushing his Socialistic agenda. One of the two.

In 2010, Barack Obama made a number of political compromises while still trying to pursue many of the reforms laid out during his 2008 campaign. Also, he was a totalitarian monster comparable to the perpetrator of one of the worst genocides in history…Barack is either a president who passed a comprehensive health care measure despite staunch opposition from powerful private interests, or a radical-Islamist sympathizer bent on systematically dismantling American democracy and eradicating all human liberty.”

James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters:

“Everybody here has a vote…If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize, let’s take these sons of bitches out and give America back to America where we belong…We didn’t declare war on them, they declared war on us. We’re fighting back.”

Rick Santorum, GOP presidential candidate and former US Senator representing Pennsylvania:

“It really has to do with what your principles and what your core is. I have a core…. And that’s a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney, who was for RomneyCare…. this is someone who doesn’t have a core. He’s been on both sides of almost every single issue in the past ten years.”

Barack Obama, president

“Lot of the folks who are peddling these same trickle-down theories, including members of Congress and some people who are running for a certain office right now, who shall not be named, they’re doubling down on these old, broken down theories.”

Newt Gingrich, GOP presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House:

“We paid $1.13 on average during the four years that I was speaker. When Barack Obama became president, we paid $1.89 that week…That’s right, President Obama has taken us from $1.89 to the most expensive gasoline on average we have ever had.”

Mitt Romney, GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts:

“Finally, the president should have built a credible threat of military action and made it very clear that the United States of America is willing, in the final analysis, if necessary, to take military action to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Look, one thing you can know and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon…And our current president has made it very clear that he’s not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from their nuclear folly.”

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 Kinda Country Is This, Anyway?

The results from this week’s Illinois GOP primary tell a story. The one major candidate who has campaigned primarily on economic and policy issues, Mitt Romney, won majorities in areas of high and dense population. The other, Rick Santorum, who campaigns primarily on his Christian fundamentalism and social conservatism, won in areas of less dense and lower population.

In other words, Romney won cities and suburbs and Santorum won farms and exurbs. Here’s the map; it’s especially illuminating if you know Illinois but even if you don’t, the pattern is pretty obvious.

As much attention as so-called ‘values-voters’ are getting in the media these days, demographics and history indicate they will continue to recede in electoral importance. Over 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas now, and the percentage continues to grow.

The GOP’s Illinois primary is a story of the entire country, writ small.  All the campaign talk about self-reliance, and ‘taking our country back,’ and fighting socialism, and same-sex marriage, and banning abortion, and basing national policy on literal interpretations of the Bible are salient to a smaller and smaller proportion of our citizens.

Where the American people live in increasing proportion, how our neighbors choose to live their lives is something of very little relative electoral concern.

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.

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