The Devil You Know
I haven’t been completely disappointed by the GOP primary circus these past several months.
In the fall, things seemed so promising. We had the likes of Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry still in the race–with Sarah Palin not yet totally out of it. But Ms. Palin proved no more than a chimera (go figure), and the other three, along with Mister 999–Herman Cain–each disappeared after one hot minute under the kleig lights of honest-to-goodness fact-checking and reasonably clear-eyed analysis that sometimes infects media coverage in a major political campaign.
So we’ve been left for months with just Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney trying to muster a challenge to Barack Obama from the disparate yearnings of, as Hendrick Hertzberg recently put it in the New Yorker,
[the] excitable, overlapping assortment of Fox News friends, Limbaugh dittoheads, Tea Party animals, war whoopers, nativists, Christianist fundamentalists, à la carte Catholics (anti-abortion, yes; anti-torture, no), anti-Rooseveltians (Franklin and Theodore), global-warming denialists, post-Confederate white Southrons, creationists, birthers, market idolaters, Europe demonizers, and gun fetishists
who make up the Republican “base” today.
And, like I said, it hasn’t been completely disappointing.
The presumed eventual candidate, Mr. Romney, has graced us with fairly excellent one-liners, including the one about his not being “concerned” about the very poor, the one about his having been a “severely conservative Republican” governor, and the one about his wife, who drives “a couple” of Cadillacs. I managed a satisfying grin in the wake of the rain-delayed Datona 500 last week, when Ol’ Willard tried to connect with the NASCAR voting bloc by first, making fun of their impromptu plastic-bag-pancho rain gear (“really sprang for the big bucks there”), then letting them know that “I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.” A real man of the people that Mr. Romney is.
In the Mike Huckabee role of the 2012 GOP campaign, Mr. Santorum upped the ante, impersonating a veritable 13th century firebrand to re-educate the nation as to who were the aggressors during the Crusades, with the media reminding us that he believes (like many Americans, apparently) that Satan is real and after our very souls. His backward-looking messages threaten hell-fire and damnation to every woman who so much as thinks about contraception, not only scoffing at the idea that taxes should ever go to fund its distribution but endorsing the idea of state-sanctioned rape to ensure no genetically defective fetus might ever be aborted. Mr. Santorum believes higher-education is an elitist conspiracy to “indoctrinate” young people into the apostasy of secularism. Concern for the environment, questions about the costs and benefits of industrial pollution, these amount, in Mr. Santorum’s view, to “radical environmentalism” rooted in “some phony theology” not based on the Bible. One thing you have to give Mr. Santorum credit for is making it clear he’s offering American voters an opportunity to elect their very own sweater-vest wearing Ayatollah.
Proving it’s possible to be even further unhinged from reality than Mr. Santorum, Newt Gingrich promised to abolish child labor laws and build colonies in space when he’s President. Trading on his laurels as a published historian and self-proclaimed intellectual who “thinks too much,” Mr. Gingrich branded the Obama administration “the most anti-religious” and Mr. Obama himself “the most dangerous President” in modern American history. The thrice-married career politician, who justified his infidelities as something born of his “passion…about this country,” envisioned the America his grandchildren will live in as “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists,” unless he becomes President. Think about that for a moment. A secular, atheist country dominated by radical Islamists. It’s as if he tried to coin a scenario using every distasteful attribute on the tip of his tongue. Mr. Gingrich may indeed think too much.
Last, but not least, is Ron Paul, who’s consistently touted an eclectic blend of anti-war rhetoric, Libertarian philosophy, and Gilded Age economic policy for 40 years and seems to have captivated the tender imaginations of a smallish but vocal cadre of (primarily) young voters who want, more than anything, for the world to be less complicated than it’s proving to be. Uncomfortable revelations about strains of racism in some of the writings he used to expound upon his ideas in the past, together with even more uncomfortable descriptions of the economic landscape his policies would create make it unlikely, yet again, that Mr. Paul will be on the ticket come November but he gets points for sticking around to let the air out of the balloon his co-candidates seem intent on floating.
So, like I said, not completely disappointing, though the view from here still looks like a landslide for the incumbent come the general election.
Which brings me to the salient point: is there something to be happy about in the current situation? Democrats, liberals, and progressives have relied, as long as I can remember, on the mantra “just think how bad it could be” to both defeat Republican challengers and excuse criticism of Democratic candidates. This time around, the GOP has obliged by making it easy to see “how bad it could be.” And I want to preface what’s to come by saying that Barack Obama seems to me a respectable man, a good father and husband, a man with a conscience and a reverence for faith, who has managed to stand tall amidst the festering pit of toxic policies and poisoned institutions of government left him by the previous abomination of an executive administration. But here’s how bad it is:
The people in charge of setting economic policy learned about finance and economic policy working for the same companies that created and abetted the global economic crisis that reached its most recent peak in 2008 and plagues the American middle class today. The people in charge of setting Food and Drug Administration policy learned about food and drugs working for the same multi-national conglomerates responsible for the unavailability of inexpensive vaccines and drug treatments in the parts of the world where they might do the most good, the same multi-national conglomerates responsible for the privatisation of natural processes and the industrialization of the food supply. The people in charge of setting energy policy learned about energy working for the same giant corporations responsible for poisoning the environment and exacerbating the effects of global climate change. All of these people and all of the polices they are in charge of setting are driven by one overarching goal, which is to profit the corporations they serve. And Mr. Obama appointed every one of them.
Yesterday, another Obama appointee, Attorney General Eric Holder, gave a major policy speech affirming the current administration’s position that the US Constitution only applies to the American citizens it wants the constitution to apply to. All others shall have their “rights,” “protections,” and “remedies” decided in secret by executive fiat; the constitution’s guarantee of “due process” does not mean “judicial process” according to the current administration.
So, yes, we could have as president a billionaire who doesn’t think a $350,000 annual income is “really all that much.” We could have a hypocritical religious scold. We could have a self-important nut-case with no moral compass. We could have an avuncular do-nothing who would dismantle the entire apparatus and let the pieces fall where they may. Or we could have a smart, cheerful guy with good taste in music and a thing for Apple gadgets, who’s happy to promote the corporate, wealth-friendly policies of his predecessor and prop up the legal justifications for turning America into a police state.
Ain’t it grand?