At the close of last night’s GOP primary debate, host John King asked the assembled candidates what they had learned during the past two hours. No one, to my consternation, slapped their forehead and cried, ‘What am I doing running to lead this party of lunatics?!’ Not surprisingly, their answers ranged from nauseatingly national sycophancy (Michele Crazy Eyes Bachmann: “In the last two hours I’ve learned more about the goodness of the American people”) to repulsively local sycophancy (The Newt Who Would Be King Gingrich: “Once again New Hampshire is proving why it’s first in the nation as a primary because the questions are so good”).
Mostly, I learned that crazy comes in seven different flavours, plus vanilla.
More substantively, I hit on seven take-home lessons about the GOP and its presidential candidates.
1. We met Herman Cain, and learned that he is a bigot who would not feel comfortable appointing a Muslim to his administration, because when he thinks about Muslims, he thinks about “the ones trying to kill us”.
2. We learned that American exceptionalism will be the ruin of us all. So long as Bachmann and her compatriots (and the likes of Marco Rubio) can talk about the inherent goodness of Americans, our country’s “right” to do what it wants, our “can-do attitude”, “the blessings that God bestowed upon this land”, we are never going to have to think about making the sacrifices necessary to develop a sustainable energy program, to adequately fund education, to come to grips with our ruinous foreign policy, to rein in the military industrial complex, or even to think through what the core values around which we should formulate policies actually are.
There is nothing remotely exceptional about being an American. Exceptionalism, of any kind, comes from actions; actions that as a nation, we have repeatedly shown ourselves unwilling to take. To delude ourselves into thinking that nationality in itself makes us special, and that this is a substitute for rational thought and concrete action.
3. We learned that Newt Gingrich is in favour of something like a McCarthyite loyalty oath. His words: “Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favour of saying to people, ‘If you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period’. We did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists … and it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country”.
This is downright sinister. What are we asking people to blindly declare their loyalty to? What, for that matter, constitutes loyalty, or disloyalty? Would conscientious objectors who refused to kill other human beings be declared disloyal? What about those who question or oppose our national security policy (shades of “with us or against us”, but transferred to the domestic arena, this time)? Or those who object to the need of the state to amass powers allowing it to spy and pry on its own citizens?
Defenders of the Patriot Act and its abrogation of people’s rights (funny coming from a party that has become rabidly constitutional in its rhetoric) invoke the supremacy of national security, its fundamental status, or the “If you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to fear” argument.
But surely, our efforts would be better focused on preventative measures? But such measures, critically, would involve some serious thinking about why groups and individuals have chosen to attack the United States, to declare us their enemy (and here’s a hint…it has more to do with our history than our freedoms!). Since 1980, the United States has intervened militarily, to varying degrees, in something like 40 countries (on multiple occasions in many).
4. We learned that Mitt Romney is the most calculatedly reasonable of this foaming-at-the-mouth crowd, and offered what (for a Republican Party candidate) amounted to a spirited defence of cultural and religious pluralism.
5. But we also learned that, in common with his right-wing brethren, logic isn’t one of Romney’s strong points.
Romney, who spent the evening inveighing against “Government” (the GOP’s scapegoat for everything wrong with our country), suggested that we should devolve all power to state or local government or, better still, to the corporate world, to save people money. It beggars belief that someone ostensibly possessed of a reasonable degree of intelligence doesn’t understand that off-loading the responsibilities of the federal government to states, cities or counties won’t save people money. People will still need to pay for services of all kinds. And if those responsibilities are off-loaded to the private sector, people will still have to pay for them.
Only then, the institutions running healthcare, road construction, schools and universities, social security, air and water quality protection will have, as their primary concern, their profit margin. Because the upside of “Government” is that, in the form of the agencies which are relentlessly vilified by the radical Right, it exists solely to do good by the people it serves. Unlike the private sector, which is dominated by personal rather than collective interests, and too often by the large corporations and industries that plunged us into our present economic and social predicament.
And the devolution of power to states and local government would do is strike a blow at the idea of universal good. It would mean that a state’s or community’s ability to provide services for its people would depend on the wealth of that community. Poorer communities, without the benefit of a larger revenue source, would very likely have poorer services. In other words, the differences in wealth that exist today would be dramatically exacerbated. The benefit of federal power is that it maintains a basic minimum standard, to which all states have to measure up.
6. Finally, there is the obvious question of our insane primary system, which privileges Iowa and New Hampshire. Between them, these two states have fewer than five million residents. That is, less than one-seventh of California. Or one-sixth of the combined populations of New York City and Los Angeles (neither of which are located in states with an early primary). In 2010, 2.8% of New Hampshire’s population was Hispanic; in Iowa, 5%. The number for California: 37%. And for the U.S. as a whole: 16%. 13% of Californians are of Asian descent. The numbers in New Hampshire and Iowa respectively are 2.2% and 1.7%.
The largest city in New Hampshire has just over 100,000 citizens. In Iowa, 200,000 (with a metro area of half a million). In California, it’s 3.5 million, with a metro area of 15 million. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, “regional growth [from 2000 to 2010] was much faster for the South and West (14.3 and 13.8 percent, respectively) than for the Midwest (3.9 percent) and Northeast (3.2 percent)”.
None of the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. gets so much as a look in the early primaries. And even if Iowa’s presence means that one state’s micropolitan statistical areas gets a look-in, rural Iowa is very different to rural California, Mississippi, or Montana.
In short, candidates from all parties invest an absurd amount of energy in states that are deemed wholesomely typical, when in fact they are utterly unrepresentative of the United States in the twenty-first century. California and Texas, to name but two of the country’s most dynamic and transformed states, are largely ignored by candidates, their voters virtually disenfranchised by the corrupt process.
7. Last but not least…it’s not easy to migrate to New Zealand. They’re picky.