Why Obama Will Win Again (and Why I’m No Longer Donating)
[For a recent post explaining a simple way to cure our national short-term-thinking disease, click here.]
We humans are strange creatures. We fight, we struggle, we strive until the very end, even when the outcome is plain to see from the beginning. It’s almost as if we thrive on turmoil, conflict, struggle and suffering for their own sakes.
Any neutral observer could have predicted that the North would win our Civil War. It had the population, the industry, the wealth, the technology, the discipline, the willing manpower (as distinguished from slaves) and the world’s sympathy—not to mention right on its side. But we had to endure what is still our bloodiest conflict, despite all the agony since. The only reason it took so long was that Robert E. Lee, probably one of the best generals in American history, fought on the wrong side.
World War II was similar. No informed observer would have predicted that the Axis—Japan and Germany—could fight the whole world and win. The only thing that might have made a difference was Germany getting the Bomb first. But our winning that race was foreordained, too, when all of Europe’s best physicists came to our shores to avoid being trampled by the Nazi heel. Nevertheless, it took some six years and 50 million deaths to prove the point.
Runnymede was a rare counterexample. There King John looked around, saw he was outnumbered, and made a deal, which we call Magna Carta. So much quicker and less painful than war. So much more sensible. Maybe that single act of common sense and bowing to the inevitable was what led our Anglo-American culture to dominate the world.
Some elections now, especially our own, have become the moral equivalent of war. And they reveal the same phenomenon: die hards never admit how hopeless their position is until the very end.
The 2008 election was like that. The Republicans picked an aging, unstable, irascible economic illiterate, who had come down on the wrong side of every economic issue. Worse yet, they picked him as their champion in an election that was all about the economy.
When their opponent turned out to be half black, they called him every name they could think of. And they used the greatest propagandists in humans history, Fox and Rush, to try to make the name-calling stick. But they failed because the President had (and has) the knowledge, the intelligence, the character, the dignity and the grace. McCain won in a few backward places, but Obama took the nation’s productive heart by storm.
So he will again in 2012. Mitt Romney is younger and smarter than McCain. He knows a lot more about business and economics. But he’s unelectable.
Why? Let me count the reasons.
First and foremost, Romney is a jerk. He just can’t help it. When reporters asked him why none of his five strapping sons had ever served our country in uniform, he replied that they were serving it in his campaign. Apparently he had no idea how that remark might sound to people who had suffered unspeakable hardship or wounds in combat for country, or who had seen their buddies or loved ones suffer and die.
During the 2008 Republican debates, Mitt accused the President of being like Jane Fonda one day and Dr. Stranglove the next. You had to be a Baby Boomer just to understand the chop. Fonda was the liberal actress who had gone to North Vietnam illegally during the Vietnam War, and Dr. Strangelove was the bizarre character in the 1960s movie of the same name, who sought nuclear Armageddon.
In that chop, Romney made fun of talking to our enemies, which was precisely what had helped end the Cold War without a shot fired. He also ridiculed our embarrassing failure to get bin Laden; but, as it turned out, the very policies he ridiculed—pursuing Al Qaeda Central in Pakistan—were the ones that just put bin Laden away.
Mitt’s a smart guy who’s made a lot of money. You would think he might have learned something about politics in his career. But no, he’s just a good ol’ frat boy who can’t resist the glib one-liner. Recently he quipped that he, with all his millions, is “unemployed.” I’ll bet that got a nice laugh in the nation’s country clubs. But what about the bars and pool halls where real unemployed go to nurse their grievances?
Democrats and their political consultants have just endured three years of the most relentless, vitriolic and unprincipled name-calling in the history of American politics. They have learned from the best. Among other things, they have learned how to tar even admirable human qualities like education and intelligence as “elitist” and turn them against a candidate. By the time they get through with Mitt in the general election, he will be sausage, neatly packaged in bright red plastic, labeled “jerk,” “elitist” and “loser.”
And that’s not all. Mitt’s a prodigious flip-flopper. He has done triple backflips on the very issues that matter most to today’s know-nothing Republican base: abortion and so-called “Obamacare,” a version of which Mitt himself enacted as governor of Massachusetts. I’ve already written how that sort of flop-flopping looks to me. The same probably applies to most Republicans, who are much less troubled by nuances.
Based on his weathervane history, Mitt will be as easy to toast as Wonder bread. No matter that his earlier, more thoughtful positions on each issue were right. The Tea Mobbers and the party faithful don’t want thought or nuance; they want blind obedience.
And you don’t have to be a political consultant to know how to throw these bombs at Mitt. You just have to have the street smarts of a country lawyer.
“Now, Mr. Romney, were you a liar and an idiot then, or are you a liar and an idiot now? And if then, how can you assure us you won’t be a liar or an idiot some time soon again?”You see, the GOP and their propagandists have established an iron rule of inflexibility. The only thing that excites their base is absolute orthodoxy, without the slightest thought, nuance, or amenability to change. Measured against that standard, no sentient being, let alone someone like Romney, can win.
Romney will fail the loyalty test that has become the GOP base’s sole concern. And independents and Democrats won’t vote for him because: (1) he’s a jerk, and (2) at the end of the day, despite all their pissing and moaning, they will come to understand that the President has done a pretty good job under impossible circumstances.
Could the GOP do better with someone else? Not with Tim Pawlenty. Garrison Keillor and his “Prarie Home Companion” have taught us what a unique and beautiful culture Minnesota has. Derived from Scandinavian immigrants, it took a spot with absolutely miserable weather and turned it into one of our best places to live, raise a family, and do business. Part of the secret of its success was an eagerness to help one’s neighbors and a willingness to bear taxes, miserable weather, and other hardships without complaining. Keillor taught us to laugh with and love the stoicism of his “Norwegian Lutherans.”
In his two terms as governor, Tim Pawlenty did to that beautiful state what “Neutron Jack” Welch once did to GE. He “downsized” and plundered it and its infrastructure for short-term dollars without a thought to what had made it work or anything of enduring value. Like most GOP pols today, Pawlenty rode a wave of private greed. He cut government and taxes by hiding debt in obscure boxes that Minnesotans will be stumbling over for years.
It will take some time to get that story out, but out it will come. And the true leaders of that lovely state won’t be bashful about telling it. When it does come out, Pawlenty will be toast.
Oddly enough, the only GOP candidate who might have a chance to win the general election is the one least likely to be nominated. That’s John Huntsman, Jr. He has three attractive attributes, none of which the GOP has seen in its presidential candidates since the Elder Bush, who left office nearly two decades ago.
First, as the President’s ambassador to China, Huntsman actually learned something about the world outside our borders. And what he learned is critical to our future. China likely will become the world’s number-one economy during the next presidential term. Already it’s our most important trading partner and bilateral relationship, by far. Thus Huntsman satisfies my first vetting criterion of actually knowing something useful.
Second, Huntsman is unique among our politicians in another respect. He actually speaks a foreign language fluently. Not only that, it (Mandarin) happens to be the official language of what will soon become the world’s most important country.
I have written how important understanding foreign cultures is in keeping us safe. It is equally important to success in the hyper-competitive global capitalistic economy now under construction. That’s one reason why I supported the President’s 2008 candidacy so strongly: his childhood experience in Indonesia gave him early and acute insight into how much culture matters.
If campaigns were rational exercises, Huntsman could one-up the President in both the currency of his language and cultural skills and their strategic importance. But it’s hard to do that in a party that has spent thirty years bashing the UN and foreigners and consistently pandering to our worst xenophobic and jingoistic instincts.
Finally, and most important, Huntsman possesses a quality that makes him unique among all GOP politicians. He’s a diplomat.
Roughy speaking, that’s the opposite of a jerk. Imagining Mitt Romney as a diplomat is funny enough to dispel, for a moment, my lingering depression about the state of our society and economy.
By training and experience, a diplomat like Huntsman focuses on substance, assuages bad feelings, and knows how to make people comfortable despite differences in world view and policy. That’s, of course, exactly what the President does. Huntsman could fight fire with fire.
So, unbeknownst to our chattering classes, Huntsman appears to be the only potential heavyweight in the GOP lineup. But he has a little problem of culture. Like nations and ethnic groups, corporations and political parties have culture. It’s much more important than a platform or what any candidate says.
For thirty years now the GOP have built the ugliest, least diplomatic, most negative and counterproductive political culture since the pro-slavery Democrats, if not in American history. They have purposefully attracted every racist, xenophobe, conspiracy theorist, gun nut, anti-abortion fanatic, selfish and clueless petit bourgeois, demagogue, and unthinking Joe and Mary six-pack they could find. That’s their base.
And now they want to “pivot” in one election cycle and nominate and elect an intelligent, culturally sensitive, “elite” diplomat like John Huntsman, who cut his diplomatic teeth working with what most of the GOP rank and file still think of as lawless, godless, Communist, yellow hordes? Good luck. The mere cognitive dissonance would create tornadoes to rival those that recently destroyed Joplin.
So why did’t Huntsman wait for another four years, when his party might have at least begun the process of reformation that it must undergo to regain the trust of all but the greedy and feebleminded? Probably because he’s an opportunist. The Republican contenders are so lacking in talent precisely because the smart money is all on Obama, literally. Maybe Huntsman thought this would be his only time to make a splash. His name, after all, is hardly a household word, even compared to Mitt’s.
Huntsman and Sarah Palin come from different species and inhabit different moral galaxies. In normal times his resume alone would make him a credible candidate worthy of attention and respect.
But unfortunately for Huntsman (and for anyone who would like to see elections based on quality, not celebrity) the GOP have turned their party into an abomination. They have forsaken leaders like Richard Nixon—let alone Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller—for college dropouts like Karl Rove and slime merchants like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. They have rebuilt a once-great party on a foundation of hate, fear, ignorance, slander and blind loyalty.
No credible candidate like Mitt Romney, let alone John Huntsman, has any chance of winning both the nomination and the presidency while the party remains in that state. The party has to regain the habit of addressing serious issues as if its members and the people it wishes to attract were serious adults.
It will take far longer than eighteen months to do that. It will take years of hard work by men and women of vision, integrity and a sense of common national purpose. Maybe Huntsman is smart enough to begin that work; I doubt Romney or Pawlenty is. And the rest would just dig the hole deeper into the sewer.
As Lincoln said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time.” But betting on Americans continuing to get stupider, cruder, more xenophobic and more ignorant while their country rots away under their feet is not a winning proposition.
Huntsman is, as far as I can tell, a good man. But so was John McCain, once. Huntsman is going to be horrified when he finds out what they did to his party while he was away. When he does find out, as he begins his campaign, he will miss his old job as ambassador in an administration based on facts and reality.
Coda: Why I'm Sitting on My Wallet Now
During the 2008 presidential campaign, I made no secret of my wholehearted support for Barack Obama, including financial support. My wife and I together donated almost $10,000 to the cause, nearly all of it to the President and his campaign.
I'm not one of those childish, fair-weather supporters who have abandoned the President—or have rashly threatened to do so—because he didn’t enact single-payer health care, cure a thirty-year economic disease in two years, or terminate two wars that he didn’t start with the same sort of sudden rout that ended our war in Vietnam.
I understand the impossible position that the GOP's scorched-earth politics and misled voters have put him in. I also know he is not only the lesser of two evils, not only the best candidate from the fields in either party, but also the best national figure whom I could conceive of running for president under any present or foreseeable circumstances.
So, while I’ve had some disappointments with the President, I am still firmly behind him. Nevertheless, despite getting five or more e-mails a day, each one sounding more outraged and desperate than the last, I’m sitting on my checkbook for now. I thought it might be useful for the President’s campaign staff and other supporters to know why.
The post above outlines my first reason. I can’t see any putative Republican opponent laying a glove on the President. He beat the Clinton Dynasty, for God’s sake, at the height of its power and with the many jobs it had created and its nice fiscal surplus still in recent memory. And then he beat the most racist and ugly campaign, by the very best propagandists, in American history. He’s had almost four years to refine his campaign and his message and build up his “ground forces.” You think that Mitt the Jerk or Michele the Moron can beat him? Only their limitless egos entice them to try.
Of course I recognize the paradox in this reasoning. If more people, like me, believe the President’s 2012 victory is foreordained, maybe fewer will donate money or work for him, and his campaign will fail.
Of course I’ll be watching for any signs of that happening. But I don’t see any yet, aside from the GOP hominids’ usual chest-beating. And anyway, I never said I wouldn’t support the President in other ways; I’m just not ready to open my wallet again yet.
My next two reasons are ones that ought to concern the campaign and other Obama supporters. The first is the flurry of e-mails I receive every day. Of course I could filter them or delete them without reading, but I don’t. I want to know if I’ve missed anything in the news. (Usually I haven’t.) So I read the first two paragraphs and sometimes half a page.
But I find them all the same. They all begin with some outrageous act of the GOP, usually one of which I’m already painfully aware. Many exaggerate that act in way that stretches credulity and reminds me of the GOP itself. Then, like some used-car salesman crying “Buy now!”, they impose an artificial deadline on my contribution and try to fill me with an artificial sense of urgency. What they don’t do is promise me any response to the GOP outrage, other than in the vaguest and most general terms.
Reading these e-mail ads, which is all I can call them, makes me feel like a disrespected consumer of a defective product. The fact that I know the President is not defective, unlike nearly all his opponents, doesn’t salve the sting.
Maybe other supporters or would-be supporters react differently. I trust that Obama and his campaigners know what they are doing. But I can only report how I feel: like a watcher of live, digital TV wishing he had a “fast forward” button to skip the annoying, repetitive, instrusive commercials. They don’t strengthen my support but make me think of myself as a pawn in a vast advertising-propaganda war among titans. That’s not a pretty feeling.
The final reason why I’m sitting on my wallet is by far the most important. From my very first, somewhat tentative blog post in support of the President, in March 2007, one facet of him and his campaign especially attracted me. I thought he was uncorrupted and incorruptible. In that very first post, I mentioned his honest family money, from royalties on his books, and his coming Internet campaign, in which I hoped small contributions from many people would help restore a semblance of democracy to the country I love.
So you can imagine my shock and disappointment on reading in the New York Times recently that the President is seeking the financial support of hedge-fund managers and, in return, promising them policies that favor their “industry.” (Mitt Romney is, too, but that’s beside the point of this discussion. Like Jesse James, presidential campaigns go where the money is.)
Now I don’t think hedge-fund managers ought to be imprisoned or their work outlawed. If I were very rich and very busy, I would probably want their services. (As it is, I handle all my own investments and some of my wife’s personally.) But I see them as having a single goal: to make themselves and the rich richer by gambling in our financial markets.
I see no larger social purpose they perform. And there is good evidence that their activities and the amount of money they control increase market volatility, contributed hugely to the 2008 meltdown, and continuously threaten a recurrence.
So I consider hedge-fund managers as dangerous social parasites that, like undesirable speech, we must tolerate in a free society. If I were in charge, I would require every one of them who handles more than a certain amount of money (say $100 million) to help fund a properly programmed electronic reporting system that would report his every trade and his fund’s weekly status, on line and in real time, to the Federal Reserve System and to the public. At the very least, we have to know what these guys are doing in and to our financial system. (And they are all guys: I have yet to hear of a hedge fund run by a woman; I think it’s something to do with a male gambling gene.)
So when I hear that the President is not only taking, but soliciting, campaign contributions from these parasites and, in return, hearing their advice on how to pretend to be regulating their business and derivatives without really bringing them under control, I cringe.
It certainly doesn’t help that I consider the risk of another meltdown in our $600-trillion derivatives market to be the single greatest danger facing our country, bigger even than our ongoing energy crisis. You can think of all those derivatives as a delicately balanced house of cards, ready to fall down at the slightest vibration, such as yet another in the ongoing series of near-defaults by Greece, or a much bigger near-default by our own country, precipitated by John Boehner’s mindless brinksmanship.
Banking and finance are not the President’s fields of personal expertise. That’s why he relied so heavily (and inappropriately, in my view) on the Geithner/Summers team. So the thought of hedge-fund managers whispering in his ear gives me nightmares despite my general confidence in his good character.
I also know that a single one of these guys, by writing a $ 10 million check, can “balance the books” on a thousand supporters like me. It’s much easier to solicit campaign contributions wholesale than retail, and the President’s campaign managers aren’t working seventy-hour weeks to make their own jobs harder.
But the dilemma still remains. How does the President get people like me to contribute when it looks as if people I want as far away from financial policy-making as possible are calling the shots with their money? Until I see a decent answer to that question, I think I’ll continue to sit on my wallet.
Although I have some expertise in analysis, I readily confess that I know nothing about running political campaigns. But it seems to this naive observer that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t run a campaign based on honesty, incorruptibility and the support of the little guy and seek the financial support of hedge-fund managers by promising to see things their way. You just can’t.
If the worst happens and we have another financial crash, any candidate who touched these parasites will be toast. And if I feel this way, you can be sure the Fox propaganda machine will take this ball and run with it cross-country.
I hope the President and his staff will make the right choice, at least before there is any whiff of a risk of their losing this watershed campaign. And if they do, and I hear the word, I’ll open my own wallet again.