Posts Tagged 2012 Presidential Election
As the 2012 Presidential campaign grinds on, many questions have been asked about Mitt Romney. From his record as governor of Massachusetts to his involvement with Bain Capital, Romney has had a lot to answer to. However, one important question has not been asked: Why is this man so strange?
Certain presidential candidates come across as unlikeable or make the occasional gaff, but nearly everything Romney says is bizarre. It’s not that he’s saying anything incredibly offensive, it’s just that every time he opens his mouth he does not sound human.
“I only like to hunt small game; a critter, if you will,” Romney said in 2008. You couldn’t come up with something more stereotypically aristocratic if you tried, and most human beings would know that. Clearly, Romney did not, because he said it again in 2012.
Given Romney’s proclivity for talking like a top hat-wearing plutocrat sent from central casting, it’s easy to see why people think he is out of touch with the average American.
“I thought he was in sport but he wasn’t in sport,” Romney said of an especially tall chap he met on the campaign trail. Was he born in 1889?
Sometimes, though, Romney says something so odd that it goes beyond stereotypes, like when he said he liked being in Michigan because the trees were the right height.
Romney’s interest in tree height isn’t the only strange thing about him; his behavior is also very odd. He infamously strapped his dog to the roof of a car, which doesn’t sound like a case of animal abuse so much as an indication that Romney doesn’t know much about pet ownership.
Then there’s the Romney family’s involvement with dressage, or “horse ballet.” It may be an Olympic sport, but this seems like a pretty esoteric interest, even for people with plenty of money to blow on esoteric things. Also, who names a horse (or anything) Rafalca?
All of the evidence points to one conclusion: Mitt Romney is an alien posing as a human being in a quest for world domination. It was a nice try, but Romney (or whatever his real name is) is still a fake. After all, what human being has such a giant head, and hair that never moves? It’s time we force this invader to come clean and end this threat to our planet.
Every political party has members that it is ashamed of. The Democrats have Lyndon Baines Johnson and, to some extent, Jimmy Carter. The Republicans have that incompetent oaf William Howard Taft. However, the GOP’s biggest political bogeyman is Richard Milhous Nixon, and not just for the obvious reasons. Republicans could probably excuse Watergate, but they could never excuse Nixon’s love of big government.
Today’s Republican Party is obsessed with small government, but few presidents have done as much to expand government power as Nixon. Like any power-hungry leader, his foreign policy was a one man show. Nixon made many controversial decisions, such as the Christmas Bombings and the invasion of Cambodia near the end of the Vietnam War, unilaterally. “Tricky Dick” was also pathologically secretive. He sent Henry Kissinger to negotiate secretly with China, a move that would surely be out of line in a party that believes the president shouldn’t even raise taxes.
When President Obama authorized air and cruise missile strikes against Qaddafi loyalists in Libya, the right wing decried his actions. They said Obama was overstepping his authority by authorizing military action without consulting Congress, and accused the President of dragging America into another war. Those are valid points, but Obama didn’t do anything Nixon wouldn’t have done. American troops did not invade Libya, but they did invade Cambodia.
Nixon was also a fan of big government in domestic policy. He may have thought everyone under the age of 30 was a filthy hippie, but he also created the Environmental Protection Agency and approved the Clean Air Act. Most Republicans believe the government should spend less, but Nixon authorized massive agricultural subsides, so you can thank America’s 37th President for all the high-fructose corn syrup in your food.
In a stump speech, Newt Gingrich implied that all African-Americans are lazy, and the conservative backlash against birth control made the Republican Party seem a tad misogynist. In that context, the current frontrunners would be appalled by Nixon’s platform. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia plan, the first major federal affirmative action program. While he was not exactly a feminist, he also supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
Clearly, a lot has changed since 1974. Today, Republican candidates are encouraged to take a more absolutist view, saying “yes” to tax cuts, “no” to health care reform, and leaving it at that. Nixon, who ran on a “Southern Strategy” meant to play on whites’ opposition to the Civil Rights movement, but also supported affirmative action, seems much more rational and nuanced than his successors. How could that be?
Many people shudder every time Newt Gingrich talks about the biased liberal media, or when Rick Santorum talks about religion or family values, but they were nothing compared to “Tricky Dick.” This was, after all, a man who kept a list of enemies. Nixon cut his teeth politically in the “Red Scare” days of he 1950s, and thought he could convince North Vietnam to sign a peace treaty by dropping more bombs. There was that whole Watergate thing, too.
The Republican Party of 2012 is very ideological; its members adhere to certain ideas and believe they are non-negotiable. Nixon was the same way, which is what drove him to act unilaterally. He sent Kissinger to meet with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in secret because he did not want to deal with opposition from Congress and the media.
Nixon could be just as stubborn as any current Republican candidate, but he was also more interested in holding onto power. Anyone in 1968 could tell that supporting peace in Vietnam would garner a significant number of votes, so that’s what Nixon did. In office, he supported liberal policies because he knew it would give him political credibility beyond the Republican base. In other words, Nixon was a real politician.
That level of activity is in stark contrast to the current Republican strategy, where members of Congress stall debates and candidates spend more time talking about what they disagree with than what they actually plan on doing. When Richard Nixon starts looking like a big government liberal in comparison, America is in a very scary place.
Nixon’s abuse of power was a clear demonstration of how badly things can go when a Commander-in-Chief shuts out the voice of opposition. Yet Nixon was able to acknowledge that opposition, at least for his own selfish political reasons. Even that is too much compromise for today’s Republican party.
When Rick Santorum said he wanted to “throw up” after reading John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech “The Religion Issue in American Politics,” it was, to say the least, controversial. How could a Catholic presidential candidate be so disgusted by the only Catholic president’s campaign statement on religion? Santorum thought Kennedy was trying to subvert religion and, as I shall try to explain, this is not the first time that mistake has been made. However, in today’s highly polarized social climate, it may have very different consequences.
Kennedy gave his speech on April 21, 1960 to answer anti-Catholic statements. His opponents argued that Kennedy would always put his religion first and thus would not represent the values of the majority of Americans. Kennedy answered with an endorsement of religious plurality. “For voters are more than Catholics, Protestants or Jews. They make up their minds for many diverse reasons, good and bad. To submit the candidates to a religious test is unfair enough – to apply it to the voters themselves is divisive, degrading and wholly unwarranted,” Kennedy said. Bringing religion into a presidential election only created false divisions among people who voted for a variety of reasons, not just religious ones.
Not every American practices the exact same religion, or thinks of everything in religious terms, but Santorum’s reaction to the Kennedy speech is not the first time someone has confused that statement for anti-religious sentiment. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” When Jefferson became president, his Federalist opponents used those words against him.
Federalist newspapers published editorials declaring Jefferson an anti-Christian and thus unfit to lead the nation. Again, an endorsement of religious plurality was viewed by some as an attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; in this case, Jefferson’s reference to “twenty gods or no gods” was twisted into proof that Jefferson was either a polytheist pagan or an atheist.
However, the Federalists’ propaganda would probably have been viewed differently in the 1800s than Santorum’s statement is in 2012. Jefferson had worked with the men that eventually became the Federalists to draft the principles of the new American republic; it is unlikely that their positions on religion’s relationship with politics differed enough for the Federalists to honestly argue that Jefferson’s policies threatened Christianity. Instead, this was good ‘ole character assassination, an attempt to paint Jefferson as immoral and thus unfit for the Presidency.
Santorum’s reaction to Kennedy’s speech has a much broader tone. He obviously wasn’t trying to say that Kennedy was immoral or unfit to lead, why would he? Instead, Santorum seemed to be trying to prove his chops as a defender of the faith in a Republican primary where conservative Christian votes matter.
In that context, it’s no wonder Santorum started feeling sick when he read the Kennedy speech, because he is doing exactly what Kennedy warned against: creating false divides based on voter’s religious views. Criticizing candidate Kennedy for acknowledging that people vote for non-religious reasons will only anger those people, and set them against Santorum’s supporters, whose fears of religious persecution are stirred up when the candidate talks about one of his fellow Catholic’s most important speeches as a threat to religious freedom.
The stakes are a lot higher than in Jefferson’s time. The author of the Declaration of Independence could shrug off an attack on his religious views, and return the favor in kind. The Federalists were attacking one man, Santorum was attacking a large segment of the electorate. In politics, some things never change, but the context does.
The entire American system of government is based on one essential truth: the two political parties absolutely hate each other. First, it was Whiggery versus Democracy, and since the Civil War, Democrats versus Republicans. This conflict is what keeps the American political sphere balanced. However, with each 2012 Republican presidential debate, the difference between the two parties seems to have less to do with politics.
Everyone knows each party’s profile: Democrats want social welfare programs, more taxes for the rich, and fewer wars. Republicans love guns, hate abortions, and want fewer regulations. Still, the real difference is in how politicians articulate these ideas.
Democrats are always arguing amongst themselves, because they are obsessed with specifics. In 2008, all of the major Democratic presidential candidates had similar platforms, including promises for healthcare reform. “Healthcare reform” makes a great buzz word: it’s tidy, and both words sound positive and actionable. But Barack Obama couldn’t get away with saying “healthcare reform” over and over again. In the first few debates, he was criticized for not having a concrete healthcare reform plan like his rivals, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Until he devised a specific plan, Obama lagged in the polls.
On the Republican side, details are inconsequential. Republicans see most issues as absolutes (everyone should have a gun, no one should pay taxes, etc.); there’s no need to explain anything further. You can see this tendency in the 2012 presidential race. If every candidate says “I hate illegal immigrants,” where does the debate go from there? If candidates don’t discuss how to implement policies, there is nothing else to talk about. The only way to go is up: candidates have to make extreme statements to show that they are more anti-illegal immigrant than the others. That’s when Herman Cain starts talking about electrified fences.
Details will never hold back a Republican candidate. I’m not saying that Democrats are smarter than Republicans, but they do seem to understand life’s nuances a little bit better.
America is saved! The two parties put aside their differences, making an 11th hour deal to raise the debt ceiling and saving the country from imminent doom. Pundits were eager to depict the possibility of default as an apocalypse, but no one will be talking about the deal brokered by President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner with such hyperbole. What should have been the decisive conclusion to a painfully long debate will only create more questions.
Barring a Mayan apocalypse, the United States will still be around in 2013, but will Barack Obama? If presidential elections were based on logic and reason, the answer would definitely be “yes.” He made significant reforms to the nation’s healthcare system, is pulling American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. His handling of the 2008-09 economic crisis may have been lacking on accountability, but he did prevent a serious catastrophe. Most people have forgotten about Libya (whoops…). In addition, there is no serious Republican challenger: the current crop make Bob Dole look like Lincoln.
However, thanks to his handling of the debt debate, Obama will have to re-win the hearts of the American people. In 2008, Obama portrayed himself as a man who would rise above the partisan squabbling that makes Washington so ineffective. He tried, but his method backfired. From Day One, Obama has been all about compromise, throwing the Republicans bone after bone and hoping that this softline approach would yield legislation that both sides could agree on. The Republicans took advantage of this leniency: as Stephen Colbert put it, they played a game of “you scratch my back, I get my back scratched.” In debate after debate, Republican leaders refused to reciprocate the President’s good will.
After awhile, the American people got sick of compromises and wanted to see their President actually do the things he promised. Obama’s fair weather fans lost faith as their leader watered down his healthcare reform plan and allowed the Bush tax cuts to be extended. Then the Republicans, as part of their ongoing mission to make Obama a one-term president, turned the fairly routine (it’s been done 102 times) process of raising the debt ceiling into a political issue. They had picked the fight; did Obama need to compromise in the face of this open hostility?
Apparently, yes. Obama put welfare programs like Medicare and Social Security on the table, enraging the Democratic base. Democrats have done a good job of differentiating tax increases for the super rich and corporations from general tax increases; the American people were finally on board. But the final deal is almost entirely spending cuts.
Obama’s emphasis on compromise seemed like a way to raise the level of political discourse and get things moving in Washington, but all it has done is make him look weak and give his opponents what they wanted. Obama was never going to be the messiah some voters expected, but this debate has brought him below the expectations of many of his own supporters. Obama told the press that this was not the deal he wanted. Well, Mr. President, if you don’t want it, why should we?
The Republicans have shown that they are willing to hold the nation hostage just to get what they wanted; the time for compromise is over. What the Republicans and their Tea Party cohorts did is much worse than Obama’s inaction, but voters may not view things that way.
Obama may need to lower himself slightly if he wants to be reelected. He may need to become less pragmatic and more stubborn, and win some policy victories so Democrats won’t wonder if he’s secretly a Republican. Fighting is not always the wrong answer: unlike John Boehner, Obama has something worthwhile to fight for. That is not hyperbole.