This Disaster Averted

Thanks to many articles and posts being shot around the online world by rabid supporters, I’ve read a lot lately about the size of Ron Paul rallies, especially in contrast to the size of Mitt Romney rallies. In light of Romney’s primary successes, many postings posit a coordinated and conscious media and political establishment conspiracy to keep Paul away from his due, which is to say the Republican presidential nomination. (Why do we Americans never seem to tire of conspiracies? Frankly, they exhaust me.) Here’s a YouTube video that makes that case; the Michigan crowd looks particularly large and excited.

If rallies were convention delegates, there might be something to talk about. But, of course, they aren’t, so there isn’t. Michigan, the location of that especially stirring rally shown in the video (above), is an interesting case in point: Paul got a little over 11% of the Michigan vote, Romney a little over 41%. Did bigger rallies really matter? Exactly.

Here’s why I think the Paul 2012 campaign has floundered: his policies would be a complete disaster for America and, thank providence, enough Republican voters were able to recognize it.

Throughout American history, we have balanced the competing impulses of individual liberty and collective responsibility more or less within a sustainable range. Paul would push the balance so far in the direction of personal freedom (as he conceives freedom, that is) it would be nearly impossible to keep this society together.

Some examples:

Income tax: In an interview with The New York Times, Paul said: “I want to abolish the income tax, but I don’t want to replace it with anything…We could eliminate the income tax, replace it with nothing, and still fund the same level of big government we had in the late 1990s. We don’t need to ‘replace’ the income tax at all. I see a consumption tax as being a little better than the personal income tax.”

First, the personal income tax funds over half of federal government operations. Can more than half of what the federal government spends possibly constitute waste or misapplication? Let’s see, that would be, like, Social Security (21%), Medicare and Medicaid (23%) and interest expense (6%). Take those off the books and we could come out where Paul thinks we should be. Do we really want to do without them? Would we or our fellow citizens be better off? Of course, Paul thinks these programs are unconstitutional anyway; he suggests the federal government has no right to collect income tax, and has violated the Constitution by doing so since 1913. Second, the so-called consumption tax is regressive; it hits the poor hardest because a higher percentage, nearly 100%, of poor budgets go to necessary consumption, like food and shelter.

States Rights: Paul believes the Constitution lays out the full responsibilities of the federal government, literally and comprehensively. If it isn’t specifically written in the Constitution, he believes, the right to set policy reverts to the individual states, not the federal government. Voting rights. Contraception. Marriage. Environmental policy. Disabled accommodation. Paul believes there is no federal right to ensure equal protection for all Americans, that it should be up to each individual state to decide. In other words, we’d be doing something vital, like environmental policy, by crazy-quilt.

Voting Rights: The men who actually wrote the Constitution intended and expected only white men to have the right to vote. Sorry to you, women and people of color. Most believe our definitions of personhood and suffrage have evolved since the Constitution was initially written, but not Paul. Paul called the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1964: “a massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society,” and said he would have voted against it had he been a member of Congress then.

“Streamlining” Government: Under a Paul administration, the federal government would lose the following agencies and their programs, in favor of allowing “market solutions” to work: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor. We’re going to depend on market solutions to address environmental issues, education inequities, health challenges, workplace inspection and safety? Seriously? To believe it, one must be dangerously unaware of the true character of modern American life, and/or want to create a radically different society.

Hands Off? Sometimes.: For all his libertarian talk, there are some absolute limits of libertarianism for Paul. While he does advocate legalization of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other harmful and addictive drugs, and the abolition of the FBI, the CIA and the IRS (Individual states fighting terrorism?), Paul is much less hands-off when it comes to women’s bodies. As a member of Congress, he introduced legislation that defined life as beginning at conception and granted legal rights to “people” from that moment onward, including the right to be free from harm (a euphemism for abortion, plain and simple). Paul signed the “Personhood Pledge” published by PersonhoodUSA. This pledge says in part: “I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting ‘the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,’ and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I ‘support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.” When it comes to women making decisions about their own bodies, Paul believes the government should have a very substantial and active interest indeed.

Yesterday morning, just down the street from my son’s school, I saw the pitch-perfect totem for Paul’s campaign; it was an $78,000 Range Rover with a Ron Paul bumpersticker. Federal government hands off my gas-guzzler!

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

A March to Nowhere

Last night, Mitt Romney won the GOP’s Nevada Caucus. Someone else finished second. A completely different person finished third.

On February 7, Colorado and Minnesota will hold their caucuses and Missouri will hold its non-binding primary.

On February 28, both Arizona and Michigan will hold primaries.

On March 6, primaries or caucuses will be held in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, and a whole bunch of other places.

Later in the year, there will be other primaries in different states that will mean about as much as the color of the housecoat my 86 year-old mother will wear today to clean up her kitchen.

Let’s be honest. The other candidates may cobble together enough resources to continue (or not) but the race for the Republican presidential nomination is over. We know who will win it. Why, then, are we all behaving as if any of this Kabuki theater had any relevance to anything? Why all the breathless TV punditry? Why the handwringing over misstatements and their effects on polls?

These questions are rhetorical, of course, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers. The problem isn’t that we don’t know the answers but rather that we can’t face them.

In American politics today, money wins – not just for candidates and officeholders (obvious – look at the data), but also for the politics industry (campaign managers, pollsters, advance people, speechwriters, lawyers) and for the political media (pundits, columnists, networks, advertising). And all these stakeholders, whose livelihood depends on the continuation of and interest in campaigns, will do everything they can to make sure this essentially meaningless march not only continues but does so in a way that is as entertaining as possible. Their incomes depend on the fact that you’ll continue to watch.

So, send out the memo:

  • Cue today’s gaffes…
  • Show new polls…
  • Make mountains out of molehills…
  • New hairstyle on the spouse…
  • Wicked-cool 3-D graphics…
  • Find scandal…must find scandal.

End of the day? Means nothing.

Money has already won. End of story.