Saturday, September 29, 2012

And As They Turn The Corner For Home, Obama Is Ahead By A Length....

As Obama's apparent electoral lead in the Presidential race continues to grow, it seems clear that he has done what he needed to do to win reelection.  Obviously, something could still go wrong (a debacle of some sort, akin to the economic crash of 2008, or a serious mistake in the debates) that could throw things Romney's way.  But as we work through the fall season, it looks less and less like that's going to happen.

That's because Obama has done what he had to do, and Romney hasn't.  The Democratic convention was a tour de force, while the Republican convention was mediocre at best.  The Paul Ryan VP selection hasn't really worked out as well as some people thought, while Joe Biden hasn't botched things again since the summer.  Mitt Romney keeps looking incompetent when it comes to important matters (first and foremost, Libya) while Obama has been coming across as cool, collected, and Presidential.  The '47%' video discovered by Jimmy Carter's grandson has reinforced the already existing stereotype of Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who doesn't care about the average person, while Obama has been hammering home his 'middle-class agenda'.  And, finally, Romney just comes across as a robotic, awkward, Nixonian type of personality, while Obama can sing like Al Green, smile like Mohammed Ali, and, well, I don't know if he can dance or not, but he's just cool!

[In regard to Romney's 'Nixonian' style, I just ran across this quote by Mickey Edwards, a long-time Republican, on how many conservative Republicans viewed Richard Nixon at the time:  "Conservatives had never thought of Nixon as one of them (he was, they believed, the ultimate pragmatist, unburdened by anything even faintly resembling belief or principle)...." (Crisis of Conservatism?, Ed. Joel D. Aberbach, 2011, p. 25)  Sounds familiar, doesn't it!]

As a result, as of today, Obama has a lead in the national polls, and a substantial lead in the all-important swing states like Ohio.  This race, fluid in the beginning, is now firming up, and that spells trouble for Mitt Romney and the Republicans.  The voter suppression efforts of the Republicans in many of the states will probably hurt the Democratic margin but probably won't be enough to carry them to victory.

It looks to me like Obama is really getting his political act together.  He is learning lessons that every President has to learn in order to succeed in that office, and I predict that if he is reelected, then, barring some disaster of the Kennedy kind (God forbid), he should be able to do some significant things.  First on the agenda will be getting to some kind of national fiscal solution along the lines of the 'Grand Bargain' or Simpson-Bowles.  It appears to me that the stars might be properly aligned for this to happen, including the end of the Bush tax cuts on January 1, 2013, and the severe 'sequestration' budget cuts slated to take effort very soon in the new year.  It will require some responsible and sane Republican leaders to repudiate the more radical Tea Party Republicans to achieve this, but it seems possible to me.

Second, you could well see some Supreme Court appointsment come along, which would allow Obama to avoid a further radicalization of the Court to the Right, and possibly, if one of the conservatives were to resign or die, move it back toward a more liberal court.

In terms of foreign policy, 'steady-as-she-goes' would be the order of the day.  It looks to me like Obama has done a good job of steering the 'ship of state' through some mine fields, and if he can continue that, then he may eventually be adjudged to have had a successful Presidency in that important realm of his responsibility: maintain our strong positions in the various global regions, avoid the outbreak of war, contain our potential adversaries while strengthening our alliances, reduce the risk of nuclear war, tamp down Islamic terrorism, and continue to be a model of freedom and justice for the rest of the world.

My guess at this point is that Hillary Clinton will run in 2016, (whoever wins in 2012) and if that is so, she will be a formidable candidate against any Democratic or Republican rival.  That's a long way out, of course, but she has one impressive resume!

On the other hand, what happens to the Republican Party only God knows, because it is such a mess.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Mitt Romney Enigma

The Republican Party desperately wants another Ronald Reagan.  We hear this all the time from the various conservative politicians and media personalities.  Ronald Reagan represents the GOP's ideal of what it means to be President of the United States.  Likewise, the Democrats always seem to want their Presidential candidates to be cut from the same cloth as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (although recently Bill Clinton is starting to become the new model for Democrats, something that was unthinkable only a few years ago, given his 'that woman' problem).

This of course is impossible, because history simply doesn't work that way.  Think back on all our Presidents, and you will find that no two are alike (except perhaps in mediocrity).  The great Presidents--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan--were all outsized personalities and outstanding leaders--but differed greatly from one another in personal characteristics and the challenges they faced.

So the Republicans are looking for another great leader who will lead their party to electoral success and ideological unity.  But what they got this year is definitely not that.  Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan.  But who is he then?

Republican eminence Peggy Noonan commented recently that "Romney looked weak today. At one point, he had a certain slight grimace on his face when he was taking tough questions from the reporters, and I thought, 'He looks like Richard Nixon.'"  I had thought that myself before I heard it from Noonan, because of Romney's awkwardness in public, which was a strong Nixon trait.  (However, Nixon had a foreign policy strength which is totally absent in Romney, so this comparison doesn't go anywhere good.)

Perhaps Romney resembles one of the many businessmen who were elevated to the Presidency during the long Republican dominance of the White House after Lincoln and before FDR.  I'm not very familiar with Coolidge or Hoover or Harding, so I can't really say.

But perhaps Romney is simply 'sui generis', something unique and different, or better yet, something quite peculiar.  That would be my take on him.  We've not had his kind before, such that if he wins the election, it's going to be quite interesting to see what happens.  Below are some of his personal characteristics that stand out to me as both important and peculiar.

First of all, Mitt Romney comes across to me as a cultural outsider.  The primary form that this takes is the fact that he's a devout Mormon, which means that he has been raised in--and continues to be immersed in--a religiocultural tradition that is WAY outside the American mainstream.  (You could also analyze the way in which his affluent upbringing and current wealth make him an economic 'outsider' as well, but I'll stick to the Mormonism here.) 

Now, I don't mean to say that he's unAmerican, because if there is any religious tradition that is uniquely American, it would probably be Mormonism.  This religious byproduct of the very creative mind of Joseph Smith, in early 19th century upstate New York, is overwhelmingly early American in its nature and characteristics.  The founders of 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints'--Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the other early leaders--took the evangelical, revivalistic Protestantism of their time in which they were themselves raised, crossbred it with the magical, hermetic traditions (crystal gazing, treasure hunting) that were pervasive in the culture of that time, added a pinch of Smithian biblical innovation, a dash of 19th century authoritarian communalism, a huge dollop of 'free love' (in the form of Mormon polygamy), and the bowl of Utah Territory isolation and voilĂ , you have the Mormonism of the 19th Century.

As Mormonism moved into the 20th century, it gave up (mostly) its cultic polygamy and its Utah political authoritarianism, and began to morph into a more normal American religious denomination.  In so doing, it reached the point where, despite its very unusual traditions and beliefs, one of its devoted members could strive for the Presidency without too much discrimination against him.

Still....Mormons are different, no doubt about it, both in how they are seen AND in how they see themselves.  Only time will tell how much this becomes an issue, both in whether Romney is elected, and in how he conducts himself as President if elected.

The second fact about Mitt Romney that stands out to me is that he is a loner, especially in Republican circles.  He has very few friends within the Republican Establishment, which means that if he is successful in becoming President, it is quite unclear as to how he will relate to that Republican Establishment (especially in Congress).

The third peculiar thing about Romney that I would note as important is that he remains undefined as to his true political convictions.  He ran in the Republican primaries as a conservative, saying whatever needed to be said to gain enough support among the various conservative factions of the current Republican Party.  He was against abortion, immigration, taxes, etc.  He is for more military spending and a 'strong' America.  He is for shrinking the national government and increasing the role of business and private enterprise in American life.

Yet the fact is that as Massachusetts governor, less than 10 years ago, he governed as a distinct pragmatic moderate and guided into law the first universal health care program in the nation.  He was pro-choice, pro-environment, and pro-gun control.  Furthermore, his parents were, in the context of the times, moderate-to-liberal in their political views, including on the issue of civil rights.

So which is the real Mitt Romney?  Nobody seems to know.

The fourth thing I would say about Mitt Romney is that he has no military or foreign policy experience whatsoever.  (It was quite jarring to see him and Paul Ryan come running out of that warship at Norfolk when Romney announced Ryan as his choice for VP.)  Furthermore, he has, except for political boilerplate statements about America's role in the world, said almost nothing that would indicate that he thinks about foreign policy or national security issues, which of course are one of the primary responsibilities of the President.

Finally, various articles about Mitt Romney in a number of different journalistic sources have made it very clear that he doesn't let others think for him or make decisions for him.  In other words, when given a job to do, he accepts it, makes his own decisions, and doesn't let others tell him what to do.

Which leads me to say that if the Republican Party thinks it's just going to have a patsy in the White House to sign whatever bills it gets through Congress, then it had better think again.  Mitt Romney will do whatever he thinks is best, WHATEVER THAT IS.

So here's the bottom line for me: Mitt Romney is an enigma and a mystery, who would also be a political force to be reckoned with, if he wins the Presidency in less than two months. 

Who knows, he might accomplish great things if he's elected President.  After all, he instituted Romneycare in Massachusetts and rescued the Utah Olympics.  Maybe he'll lead the effort to renew the economy and lead us into a new American Century of prosperity and peace.

On the other hand, with his inexperience in foreign policy and his weird views as a Mormon, maybe he would inadvertently lead us into a nuclear holocaust.

Or perhaps, with his strange personality and his lack of connection to the Republican Establishment, it could be that he would cause the Republican Party to explode into a dozen different pieces.  In other words, perhaps he's the Anti-Reagan.  (I think that would be a good thing, actually!)

Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I'm voting for Barack Obama, because with all his faults, I think I know what he'll do.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More Mitt? Really?

It was interesting to hear that the Romney campaign has decided that the answer to their 'free fall' is 'more Mitt'.   That's it?   Really?

Don't they realize that Mitt Romney IS their problem? This guy is a disaster in progress. The high point of his campaign was the day he picked Paul Ryan. Since then, he's like a plane that's lost control and has gone into a death spiral.

Criticism from both right and left is morphing into ridicule.  There is a sense of doom that is beginning to settle over the Republicans, and it will be interesting to see if they can pull out of this.  The alternative could be 'every man for himself', a mad rush to the doors and the lifeboats, before the ship completely sinks (to mix metaphors).

And to think that Mitt Romney was the best of the Republican primary lot.  What a motley bunch that was:  Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry (have I forgotten any of that eminently forgettable crowd)?  The only one worth anything--Jon Huntsman--never had a shot, because he was too classy, too moderate, too brainy, and too bipartisan.

What a party!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Not Ready for Prime Time

With the truly mediocre Republican convention and the superb Democratic convention behind us, it appears to me that this 2012 Presidential campaign is like a cake that's been in the oven long enough to start firming up.  As of the last few days, Obama is now significantly ahead in the big battleground states of Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, anyone of which would put him over the top in November.

After a slight lift in the polls after picking Paul Ryan as the VP a month ago, it's been all downhill for Mitt Romney since then: 

--He went to the Olympics in London and made clumsy statements that caused an uproar. 

--The final night at an okay Republican Convention--where the best speech was given by overlooked VP candidate Marco Rubio--was overshadowed by a rambling, almost demented performance by Clint Eastwood. 

--The Democratic Convention (especially the speeches by Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton) was a magnificently staged tour de force.

--And now Mitt Romney has stepped in a pile of dog poo, by rushing out a partisan attack on the Obama administration's handling of a situation in Libya, just before Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by what is now looking to be a terrorist attack on the US consulate there.  Consequently, instead of appearing statesmanlike, Romney looks like a partisan hack or worse.

All of this has left potential allies of Romney, like 'Morning Joe' host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, sputtering in frustration, angry with Romney for being so inept and unPresidential.

As for me, I've wanted to give Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt, by acknowledging that he has significant personal strengths: strong faith, strong family, significant business experience, intelligent and well-educated.  I've even complimented his governing experience in Massachusetts, seeing it as an indication of how he might govern as President, i.e. as a pragmatic moderate.

Yet it seems that, despite the economic problems facing Barack Obama, and despite all the hysterical and irrational rage and hatred that's been generated toward the President on the Far Right, Mitt Romney is probably going to lose this election.  Why?

In truth, I think the primary answer is that the 'real Mitt' has, once again, been revealed over the last few months.  For years now, we've been watching this man campaign for the Republican nomination, and he could never get any traction, instead just doing well enough to survive.  Every other candidate in the race had their moment in the sun, taking over first place in the polling, with Romney in second place.  And each one faded, with Romney hanging in there.  Finally, when there were no more candidates to challenge him, Romney--looking bruised and battered--staggered across the finish line and collapsed.

The problem is that few people really like him as a person or a candidate.  He comes across as awkward, strange, goofy, clumsy, and ever ready to utter that maladroit statement or show that creepy smile of his.  Even his gait reminds you of the nerd in highschool, who carried pens around in his shirt pocket and wears his pants too high on his waist.  He has few friends in the political world, even among Republicans.  Indeed, one of the strangest things we heard during the primaries was the description of the way other Republicans made fun of him and really did not like him at all.

Though this kind of personal description may seem unfair, I think over time it all adds up to an unacceptable candidate.  And then add in the fact that he seems to have no real principles except his ambition to be President, that he will switch positions on policy and say virtually anything to please this or that group of voters.  In other words, he's a damnable flip-flopper, a wishy-washy, unprincipled politician who seems to have no discernable center, except his desire to accomplish what his father was denied.

I don't know how many conservatives/Republicans I've heard say that they're not so much voting for Romney as they're voting against Obama.  Which of course is why the Right Wing has put such time and money and effort into demonizing Barack Obama into a Muslim Marxist African Radical UnAmerican.  Just so that you are so frightened by this 'dangerous' President that you would accept ANYONE else in his place.

But it appears that this disgusting and pathetic strategy of personal destruction is not going to work.  The American people are not that stupid.  They know who Obama is and what he has done, and they know that he is not a 'Radical Socialist Muslim'.  He may not have done everything right, he may have made mistakes, but all in all, he is likeable and he has done a decent job in what has to be the hardest job in the world.

Basically we have debates to go, and then the voting.  If Obama does well in the debates, which I fully expect him to do, given that all he has to do is talk about what he has done and learned over the last four years, then barring some unexpected event that turns the tide in the other direction, Barack Obama should win approval for another four years in the White House.

And Romney?  I have a feeling that he will come across in the debates just as he has for the last couple of years, and we already know what that is.  Not Ready for Prime Time.