Thursday, November 13, 2008

Political ambivalence unleashed

I am going to take one last hack at the election and try to look forward a bit. Like many, I am in equal parts elated and deeply worried about an Obama Administration, especially given that the Democrats have significant majorities in both the House and the Senate. Regardless of which party it is, I am deeply skeptical of one-party domination. I live in a state that is overwhelmingly controlled by the Republican Party. We pay a high price for such unquestioning party loyalty. More specifically, my worries about the Democrats being in charge are the possibility of the liberalization of abortion with the enactment of the ghastly Freedom of Choice Act and the possibility of the repeal of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which passed into law into 1996. The Defense of Marriage Act is what allows states that do not legally permit same-sex "marriage" not to have to legally recognize same-sex unions that occur in states that do allow them. In an increasing number of cases, many states constitutionally define marriage as being only between one man and one woman. In addition to the obvious moral issues that are at stake, the enactment of FOCA and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act would be very un-democratic. In the first instance, FOCA would wipe out all state restrictions on abortion (i.e., parental notification, etc.). These restrictions have all passed judicial and constitutional review. The second would effectively seek to federally impose something on many states that is against the expressed will of citizens of those states, who, in the vast majority of cases, passed amendments to their state constitutions defining marriage by large majorities. So, in addition to going against what is in the interest of the state, such moves would also be a violation of states rights as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

It is necessary here to touch on the “civil rights” argument. There are times when genuine human and civil rights are at stake that the federal government has an interest in overriding states, as with the unjust situation in many states with regard to African-Americans during the civil rights era. At street-level, the demand for same sex "marriage" is not seen as equivalent to racist policies. This is demonstrated by the fact that minority voters voted significantly in favor of California's Proposition 8. Suffice it for now to state that marriage is not a right of that kind. One does not have the human or civil right to marry whomever one wants, or even to get married at all. Nothing is more deleterious to our present civil order than the employment of confusing language about rights and freedom.

This brings us to the question, where do the Republicans go from here? Well, this week at the Republican Governor’s Association meeting Miami, this is the question of the day. Perhaps more specifically, the question of the day is two-fold: where does the GOP go and who will lead it in that direction? Of course, the spotlight very much remains on Governor Palin, who, yet again, failed to distinguish herself this morning during a joint press conference with thirteen other governors. She was the focal point and was asked four questions by reporters. While her answers were an improvement over the ones she gave to Katie Couric, she still lacks substance. The lack of substance is due to what can only be described as her demonstrated shallow understanding of the issues of the day. Her apparent lack of discipline and curiosity stands in stark contrast to the focus and depth exhibited at every turn by President-elect Obama.

That Gov. Palin continues to be seen as a future national leader, if it does not defy reason, certainly defies good polling. Brian Goldsmith, formerly a political producer for CBS News with Katie Couric, writing for Politico, accurately points out that McCain chose Palin for two reasons: to energize the Republican base and to "attract key swing voters, including women, independents, suburbanites, and younger parents."

On the first count, "Republican turnout declined by 1.3%" nationwide from 2004. To highlight the McCain campaign’s failure to energize the base, despite picking Gov. Palin, Goldsmith looks at Ohio "where Obama won despite earning almost the same number of votes as John F. Kerry." Joe the Unlicensed Plumber aside, "300,000 people [in Ohio] who showed up for Bush/Cheney decided to stay home for McCain/Palin." Nationwide, Obama won the female vote by 13% and independent voters by 8%. What is significant about these numbers is that he won both of these constituencies by larger margins than the 6.7% by which he won the popular vote nationwide, making 2008 the worst performance among all these groups by any Republican presidential ticket in the history of the GOP since such polling data has been available.

None of this can be laid solely at the feet of Gov. Palin. Who knows how much worse a McCain/Romney ticket would have fared, especially given that the religion issue would have hurt them in places like Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, the latter of which Obama/Biden made competitive, but which the McCain/Palin ticket ultimately managed to win? Also, let’s not forget that Romney made his fortune by being a venture capitalist. On the other hand, who knows how much better a McCain/Huckabee ticket would have done given Gov. Huckabee’s personal charm and charisma, his solid social conservatism and his economic common sense, which was a better message than supply-side, trickle down, big government, ownership society even-you-can’t-afford-it, consumeristic Bush-o’-nomics. Huckabee, for my money, represents a good alternative for Republicans in these bleak times.

In addition to pointing out that Gov. Palin was unable to accomplish what she was brought on board to do, which was no small task, given Sen. McCain’s fading appeal, even among the GOP faithful, Goldsmith cites CBS News polls showing that she "never earned a majority favorable rating." From the time of her surprise selection until 4 November, "Palin’s favorable number dropped seven points, her unfavorable rating almost doubled, and her positive number finished no higher than her negative number." Contrast this with her VP-nominee counterpart, who is known to take a misstep or two himself from time-to-time, VP-elect Biden, whose "positive-to-negative gap exceeded 20 points". As Sharon pointed out in her post The Savaging of Sarah Palin, in no wise can the loss be blamed on Sarah Palin. After all, choosing her was Sen. McCain’s judgment, which proved to be poor and even reckless, causing many leading conservative intellectuals, even some who initially supported him, to jump ship.

All of the above has now passed. So, we turn to her insistence on putting herself forward as a/the future leader of the Republican Party and of social conservatives. This represents yet another poor judgment. I mean, if the best answer the Republicans can come up with in the wake of getting their asses handed to them electorally, is either Gov. Palin or Gov. Romney, my concern spills over from the Democrats to the Republicans. Never have we needed more intelligent, educated, disciplined, consistent, articulate, and inspiring people of character to champion in the public square what we hold most dear: the inviolable dignity and sanctity of every human being, the importance of the family, letting parents, not the state, decide how best to educate our children, etc.

I do think Huckabee has a winning formula by standing for what we hold most dear and by challenging GOP economic orthodoxy. To succeed nationally, he also needs to take on the immigration hard-liners and healthcare special interests, both for humanitarian and economic reasons. Apart from being a human right, healthcare costs are a drag on our economy, hindering the competitiveness of U.S. workers. The bottom line is that if a Republican candidate has to sell her/his soul to “the base” on economic issues, immigration, and health care (i.e., pretending it is not a crisis), and adhere to the outdated idea of U.S. exceptionalism and unilateralism abroad, they will continue to lose. I also doubt that Republican opposition to helping the U.S. automakers, thus saving jobs that directly and indirectly make up 10% of all jobs in the U.S., is going to help them win again in Michigan and Ohio, or help them continue to win in Indiana.

For too many lawmakers, as well as the current administration, the only jobs and assets worth saving are those of Wall Street executives, like Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former chairman of Goldman-Sachs. Over eight disastrous years it has become all too clear that they could care less about workers and average homeowners. In their view we are but consumers, programmed to mistake what we want for what we need, the result of which confusion only serves to put more and more money into the pockets of the wealthiest of the wealthy, thus increasing the gap between those who have and those who have not. No longer does anyone worry about savings rates, about putting and keeping our economy on a solid footing, an endeavor in which we all share responsibility. Of course, we bear no small of amount responsibility for this state of affairs. No one can take away our freedom. Hence, we bear responsibility. As Pres. Carter once pointed out, the American people will have no better government that what we deserve. In nothing is this lack of concern and discipline made more apparent than in the unprecedented ballooning of government spending, even once the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan are subtracted. How about encouraging people to pay off debts and begin, again, to save money and stop telling people to spend their money as quickly as they earn it, as if an orgy of consumption is what our economy, the world, and the environment need?

We can only hope that now the Democrats control the levers of power that the so-called Blue Dogs will finally assert themselves and make common cause with Republicans against their party, including their president, on abortion, the family, and embryonic stem cell research, and education. Looking on the positive side of my ambivalence towards the rapidly approaching situation, I am encouraged by what I think will be better and fairer economics, good environmental stewardship, as well as a more engaged and engaging foreign policy by the Obama Administration.

No comments: