I’m not happy about it, obviously, but I have a hard time seeing how grassroots progressives (absent the President discovering his progressive conscience or the DNC doing something other than making childish videos and statements while raising money and eschewing debate) can pull off a victory for Obama. Such a victory would, in any case, be entirely pyrrhic given that the President has us embroiled in conflicts in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and undertaking covert actions in Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else, all the while pandering to the financial and energy industries and failing to make any headway against a resurgent Republican Party.
Here’s my second prediction: our President in January of 2013 will be Mitt Romney. If I were on autopilot and if I could only hear a candidate’s voice and not all of the dangerously deluded things, if I had only a visual and a series of tones to go on and not the outlandish assertions and destructive ideologies, I’d probably vote for Mitt Romney myself.
Being a glutton for punishment, I forced myself through the two most recent Republican Debates. The Elephants at the circus had snapped their shackles and were dashing about, upending everything within range, maddened by the noise of the spectators. I found myself flinching away from my computer screen as bizarre ideas, bigoted remarks, heartless policies and warped views of the world hurtled past me.
The first debate takes place around a table, presided over by Charlie Rose, who looks like someone has pumped him full of embalming fluids, and who has the irritating habit of emphasising every fourth word. He's very proud of his table, is Charlie. “This debate is different and distinctive”, he proclaimed. I can just hear the audience. “Did you hear that, John? Not only different, but also distinctive!?” “We’re in for a wild ride, Harriet. Cover your eyes and I’ll tell you when it’s safe to look!”
For a few moments it seems as though the table arrangement would have a calming effect on the herd. Romney is almost comatose when he suggests that we needed compromise and some “good Democrats” (i.e. those who agree with him). Michele Bachmann is strangely sedate when she describes with horror how the federal government had forced those poor mortgage companies to make tons of money and lower their standards to entrap people. Even Huntsman, almost touchingly desperate for attention, speaks in a softened voice when he suggests that the United States was the only country in the history of the world to master the art of innovation.
The Newt breaks the spell, cannoning into the debate to howl, steam and jab his finger at the panel and audience about the “left-wing agitators” in the Wall Street protests who, he told us, operate in stark contrast to the “decent responsible citizens [who] pick up after themselves”, and are close to the Tea Party. The Newt also mentions the P-word, and says that a certain ex-Governor of Alaska was right to raise the issue of death panels. I now realise that The Newt’s candidacy consists of constantly saying, “Lemme just say one thing...” and launching into diatribes about the way that Washington works. I’m also convinced that he realises that his candidacy is dead in the water and that he could be beat by a dead-man lying down six feet under (as long as his name was Ronald Reagan), and that he’s angling for the VP spot. He keeps saying nice things about all the competition.
I don’t know if these people or their campaigns are talking to each other, but they are clearly developing new arguments, refining their illogical positions w/ each debate, coming up with novel ways to spin their dogma. The race will undoubtedly get nastier as it gets narrower, but even so the fact that they are mounting such a consistently concerted (if uninformed, unhinged and wide-of-the-mark) assault on Obama and progressivism means that their views are getting far better a hearing than the social democratic, progressive alternatives. The DNC, the President and institutional progressives (such as exist) are nervously twiddling their thumbs in the barn, listening to the horses whinny with fear, while the ever more extreme right is assembling its flame throwers just outside.
All of the Republican candidates have a strange obsession with revenue and spending (they’re against them), but never stop to think about the benefits that accrue to people from the raising and spending of revenue. During 2008, 2009 and 2010 I used to wheel my grandmother (who was born in 1917) around the streets of San Leandro. We’d invariably pass a WPA stamp on the sidewalk, and she’d shake her head and wonder, “Why don’t they do something like that today? Why won’t the government do more to make sure people can work?”
But this crowd won’t be the ones to put the welfare of our people first. Herman Cain, who appears to have performed a Rumpel Stiltskinian awakening from a decade-long sleep, is suggesting that we need more risk and uncertainty in our economy (something I can’t imagine a working or unemployed voter agreeing with): “Risk-taking drives growth!” Cain shouts.
But the insurgent candidate, who likes simplistic solutions for complex problems, doesn’t have things all his own way. Bachmann says, “When you take the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside-down, I think the devil’s in the details”. And she giggles in a way that makes a chill run down my spine.
Perry (teetering towards irrelevance) pipes up with one of his gems: “What we need to be focussing on is not whether we’re going to have this policy or that policy, but on how we’re gonna get America working agin’”. Right. Policy, bad. Planning, bad. Think happy thoughts.
Rick Santorum scares the bejeezus out of me. He rants, dementedly, “I want to beat China. I want to go to war with China.
Then, the candidates get to question each other. I can only imagine the tortured deliberations within the campaigns as to who it was in their candidate’s interest to go after.
Bachmann questions Perry. Cain questions Romney. Gingrich questions Romney. Huntsman questions Romney. Paul questions Cain. Perry questions Romney. Santorum questions Cain. The effect is to focus attention on Romney, his affable demeanour, his ability to handily swat away the attacks and his confident replies. Gingrich’s question begins, “One of the features of Obama in his class-warfare approach is to talk about going after people who make over $250,000 a year and divide us...” Romney replied, “I’m not worried about rich people, they’re doing just fine. The poor, they have a safety net. But the people in the middle...” and then off to talk about the endangered species called the middle class, ignoring the fact that they’re all hell-bent on destroying the safety net of the poor and further empowering the rich.
Romney himself poses his question to Bachmann. It’s a positive one, asking her what she would do to help people. He can afford to be generous. Or maybe he’s thinking, “let the lunatic talk and watch her poll numbers plunge”. We immediately learn that Bachmann can’t add, for she claims to be the mother of 28 children—22 foster kids and five biological kids (and perhaps one extraterrestrial?).
For a moment, I think we’re going to get a moment of sanity from the unlikeliest of sources: Santorum, who notes that what he calls “income mobility” is greater in Europe than in the United States. Apostasy! String ‘im up! But of course no one draws the logical conclusion from this that social democracy works, and that a country needs to invest in the health and well-being of its people.
This week’s debate is nastier...they’re getting tetchy with each other, the novelty has worn off. Cain gets testy whenever someone questions him, and resorts to a childish “My study is better than yours” response.
There’s another one of these moments when I can hardly keep track of the debate’s trajectory (Anderson Cooper is a particularly lousy moderator) for all the rhetorical gems whizzing past me:
Bachmann raves about a 90% sales tax!
Santorum is on about The Family. We need to breed!!! He also says “Catholic” instead of “Catholicism”.
Rick Perry says (in relation to what I have no idea) “You’re fixin’ to give ‘em one!” and keeps calling Herman Cain “brothah”. He also says “diggunity”.
Ron Paul wants to eliminate the income tax.
Bachmann shrieks about Anchor Babies, and I imagine a line of little pink, undifferentiated blogs crawling along, dragging ten-tonne ships’ anchors behind them.
Romney suggests that we sub-contract our humanitarian aid to the Chinese.
Bachmann actually goes after Obama because some of his relatives entered the country illegally.
The crowd also has its moment of madness...applauding the possibility of frying people along the fence Cain is going to build along the border for Romney to sit on...yelling their approval when we hear the list of departments that Ron Paul wants to cut...cheering when Cain tells people it’s their own fault that they’re unemployed: “Wall Street didn’t put in failed economic policies, Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t do any good, Wall Street isn’t going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion”. No, but Wall Street lobbied for all of these things, and bought itself little wind-up politicians to do it for them. The kind who are proposing tax plans (9-9-9) which would shift the tax burden to the less well-off.
Things calm down a bit, and I’m able to regain my sense of direction. We’re talking about healthcare. The Newt says that the problem with ‘Obamacare’ is that bureaucrats are coming between people and their doctors. I assume that he means ‘government’ bureaucrats, because under all of the Republican plans, it will be an insurance industry bureaucrat. And I’d take the one whose purpose is ensuring access and affordability over the one whose purpose is ensuring maximum profits to his or her industry any day.
More illogical statements along these lines. Romney says that the trouble with Washington is that people there think that they know how to run the economy better than markets. Golly, I should hope so! Markets don’t actually exist outside of our imaginations. They don’t think. They don’t have morals. No one has ever hired a market as CEO of a company. I’ve never even seen a market interview to toss fries at Burger King. And another thing...if corporations are seen as capable of planning an economic program, why aren’t other people?
Romney is winning this debate though. He actually gets the crowd on his side when defending himself against attacks from Perry over immigration issues.
Perry senses that things are going against him...perhaps irreparably. “Predator Drones!” he roars. “Texas Ranger Recon Teams!” “Aviation assets!” he bellows.
Bachmann pledges to build a fence along the entire border. Big Government?
Two-thirds of the way in, I realise that for some reason Jon Huntsman isn’t on-stage.
One of the scariest moments in the debate comes when the subject of faith arises. Normally this isn’t something I pay much attention to. I happen to disagree with Christopher Hitchens when he says that Romney needs to explain his religion, and that a candidate should be held responsible for every tenet and each practise of their chosen faith.
But then The Newt pipes up: “Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others and the way that they approach God. [But] how can you have judgment if you have no faith and how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? .... The notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America”. As I understand this statement, no one who is an atheist or an agnostic has a place in this Republican Party’s version of our country. Neither atheist, agnostic nor anyone who believes in something other than a Judeo-Christian God has a place in our politics or public life, or a right to full membership in society. That’s a scary thought, and nobody called Gingrich on this. He’s peddling another kind of bigotry here.
On to foreign policy, one of the most cringe-inducing parts of the debate. Bachmann has a problem. Iran isn’t respectin’ us. She also takes issue with Obama’s despatch of troops to central Africa. “He put us in Libya. Now he is putting us in Africa” she shouts. I suspect that just out of camera range, an aide is pointing furiously to a map of the world.
Cain, who earlier said he would agree to a swap for prisoners at Guantanamo for U.S. soldiers, says, “We do not negotiate with terrorists”. Ron Paul points out that the people we’ve locked up in Guantanamo aren’t terrorists because we haven’t convicted them of anything. Bachmann, yammering about the “historical nature of the United States”, tries to one-up Cain: “We do not negotiate”.
But Paul isn’t easily squashed: “We have an Empire, we can’t afford it. Empires always bring great nations down. We spread ourselves too thin around the world... We’re doing it to ourselves”.
Santorum snarls, “The first duty of the President of the United States is to protect us”, and therefore we cannot make military cuts. It is really extraordinary that these people don’t see the connection between our militarism, our foreign wars, and the threats to our security. Reflecting that his last remark wasn’t quite idiotic enough, Santorum now goes on to accuse Iran of wanting to be the Supreme Leader of the Islamic World and of the Secular World. I guess this is what The Newt is talking about when he references the godless secularist movement to turn the United States into a part of an Islamic Caliphate....
Paul makes one more effort, pointing out that we can blow up the world twenty times over and probably have more weapons than the rest of the world combined. Surely we can afford some cuts here?
When I switch off my computer after the debate, I find that I’m twitching.