Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My First Official Election 2012 Rant

First, let me just come out and say it: against all expectations, Barack Obama has turned out to be the most boring President since George Herbert Walker Bush.

That's not necessarily a compliment, nor is it a criticism. And it's partly a function of the modern news media. When you compare what Obama has actually done and how he governs with the ridiculous heroic image his more fervent supporters once had of him, he seems rather... dull.

The same goes if you compare the real Obama with the hyperbole that you hear from his more preposterous professional haters on TV and the Internet. He just can't live up to the image of an atheist elitist snob who wants to impose Sharia law in an effort to transform America into a European socialist state. Maybe nobody could.

And so now a large portion of the people who voted for Obama in '08 are disappointed, and peeved at him, and ready to sit 2012 out.

After all, what's the worst that can happen? President Romney?

In the general election, it'll turn out that Romney's chief advantage is he's perceived as a stereotypical politician. It's hard to loathe Romney, because he's not substantial enough to loathe. He says objectionable things, but that's because these things are what he thinks Republican primary voters want to hear, so the fault really lies with those primary voters, not with Romney himself.

A Romney Administration won't break the country. President Romney will be an excellent foil for the political left, but he won't actually destroy everything they hold dear. (A win-win situation!) Even among Romney haters, the sense is that our country has had worse guys in office, and it came through battered but basically OK.

In other words, the threat of a President Romney won't be enough to get left-leaning voters out of the house to vote for Obama in large numbers on Election Day. This is why, for all of Romney's essential doofiness that often comes across loud and clear on TV, he's still got a good chance of beating Obama.

And what do I, personally, think? I'll dutifully go and vote for Obama, but the idea of a Romney presidency doesn't exactly keep me up at night quivering with fear. I don't like Romney, but our country really has had worse presidents, and has recovered.

And that brings me, of course, to Rick Santorum.

Unless something extraordinary happens, such a major third-party challenger, I do not believe Santorum is capable of defeating Obama. Remember all those lefty voters who couldn't be bothered to vote for Obama against Romney? If Santorum wins the GOP nomination, they'll be tearing open their checkbooks and writing checks to Obama's reelection campaign, their fingers shaking with abject terror. And they will go home at night and pray to God to help Obama win and to stop Santorum. That includes most of the religious Catholics I've known back in the States.

So it sounds simple. If you want Obama to have at least a semblance of a fight on his hands this November, root for Romney. If you want Obama to have an easy reelection, root for Santorum (or Gingrich, whom Obama would also squash). Right?

Also, you've got the view, articulated most recently by John Helleman in New York magazine, that if the GOP runs Romney and loses, the crazies are likely to take over the party and nominate someone truly unacceptable in 2016. But if Santorum runs and loses, the GOP may well return to sanity.

What that would mean for the GOP would differ wildly depending on which of the two current front-runners, along with the coalition that elevated him to the nomination, is blamed for the debacle. “If Romney is the nominee and he loses in November, I think we’ll see a resurgence of the charismatic populist right,” says Robert Alan Goldberg, a history professor at the University of Utah and author of a biography of Barry Goldwater. “Not only will [the grassroots wing] say that Romney led Republicans down the road to defeat, but that the whole type of conservatism he represents is doomed.”

Goldberg points out that this is what happened in 1976, when the party stuck with Ford over Reagan, was beaten by Carter, and went on to embrace the Gipper’s brand of movement conservatism four years later. So who does Goldberg think might be ascendant in the aftermath of a Romney licking? “Sarah Palin,” he replies. “She’s an outsider, she has no Washington or Wall Street baggage, she’s electric—and she’s waiting, because if Romney doesn’t win, she will be welcomed in.”

But if it’s Santorum who is the standard-bearer and then he suffers an epic loss, a different analogy will be apt: Goldwater in 1964. (And, given the degree of the challenges Santorum would face in attracting female voters, epic it might well be.) As Kearns Goodwin points out, the rejection of the Arizona senator’s ideology and policies led the GOP to turn back in 1968 to Nixon, “a much more moderate figure, despite the incredible corruption of his time in office.” For Republicans after 2012, a similar repudiation of the populist, culture-warrior coalition that is fueling Santorum’s surge would open the door to the many talented party leaders—Daniels, Christie, Bush, Ryan, Bobby Jindal—waiting in the wings for 2016, each offering the possibility of refashioning the GOP into a serious and forward-thinking enterprise.

Only the most mindless of ideologues reject the truism that America would be best served by the presence of two credible governing parties instead of the situation that currently obtains. A Santorum nomination would be seen by many liberals as a scary and retrograde proposition. And no doubt it would make for a wild ride, with enough talk of Satan, abortifacients, and sweater vests to drive any sane man bonkers. But in the long run, it might do a world of good, compelling Republicans to return to their senses—and forge ahead into the 21st century. Which is why all people of common sense and goodwill might consider, in the days ahead, adopting a slogan that may strike them as odd, perverse, or even demented: Go, Rick, go.

That makes a lot of sense. It's logical.

But I can't put my heart behind it. I'm not feeling it.

Part of it is that I have a hard time believing future hypothetical scenarios, especially those worked out by confident experts. The future hasn't been written. We don't know what game-changing unexpected events will happen. Analyses of what a political party is likely to do years down the road in scenario A as opposed to scenario B can be useful food for thought, but perhaps should not be used as the basis of decision-making. Plans and predictions have a tendency to come undone.

And what's more, on a purely visceral, emotional level, I don't want the GOP to nominate Santorum.

I don't want to run the risk of him winning. I don't believe he can beat Obama in a 2-way race, but throw in a third-party candidate who might divert votes from Obama, or some other game-changing event I can't anticipate, and anything can happen.

But more fundamentally, I don't want the media narratives between now and November 2 to be about Santorum's pet issues. I know there are people who say that we need to have a serious national conversation about gay marriage, about church and state, about abortion, about feminism, etc. And I agree. We do.

But we won't if Santorum wins the nomination.

Once you put things into the language of political discourse, you're no longer having a serious conversation. You're just sniping at each other's strawmen. You're talking in the language of emotion rather than rationality. You're making yourselves out to be victims solely for the purpose of making the people you want on your side feel embattled and belittled and defensive. I hate that.

Romney's pet issues aren't really culture war issues. They don't come pre-loaded with emotional resonance for people. Having a Romney-centered general election campaign won't result in millions of dollars being poured into unnecessarily tearing apart American social fabric.

Moreover, if Santorum wins the nomination, everything he says until the nomination is going to get reported around the world with the weight and gravitas of a major-party nominee for President. Yes, every national politician in the United States has said some, irresponsible, crazy stuff, and maybe I am getting a skewed view of Santorum's vocal utterances because the media tends to focus on the more objectionable things he says. But the thought of the news media around the world running Santorum's talking points with the implied weight of half the American electorate behind it makes my skin crawl.

But then, maybe it doesn't matter if the GOP nominates Romney or Santorum. Maybe, to appease the base, Romney would need to pick a Santorum-like VP, if not Santorum himself. Which would result in just as unpleasant a general election. In which case, all I can do is watch from my perch outside the USA, enjoy the wild ride, and remember to send in my absentee ballot for Obama.

1 comment:

Kathmeista said...

Hey I didn't even know you had a blog! I have just officially nominated you my "USA Elections 2012 opinions person". I am interested in American politics but admit I don't have a fabulous grip on it all but having just read a couple of your posts about it I feel like I might be able to at least nod in the right places of an intelligent conversation about it :)