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January 9, 2012

Republican Gong Show

Reuel S. Amdur

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"Yes we can!" With that slogan, Barak Obama excited the youth of America and got himself ensconced in the White House. Getting out of the recession was not quite that simple, and in the effort he poured money in at the top, to the bankers who were largely responsible for the mess in the first place, along with bail-outs for other corporate fat cats. His lack-luster performance earned him a 2010 Republican Congress.

That Congress has been a strange beast, and his efforts to cajole it have been nothing less than a travesty.  Even when he had a Democratic majority in Congress, he had great difficulty delivering.  His complex, convoluted health care required concessions not only to the Republican Senators but also to fellow Democrats, as many Democratic politicians, like Republicans, are beholden to contributions from the health industry lobby.  The Republicans voted 100% against him. 

In Canada, with our system of party responsibility, 100% of the Opposition voting against a major piece of legislation would not be that unexpected.  However, in the United States, politicians are much more independent.  A government does not fall if the President’s program is defeated, and party discipline is much weaker.  It is unusual for all members in the Congressional opposition to vote the same way against the President on a major issue. 

The Republican vote on health care presaged what would happen when they became the majority in Congress. The 100% opposition to Obama program proposals became frequent.  Obama’s strategy did not help him.  As Ed Broadbent commented, he compromises before submitting proposals, so that he starts off on the wrong foot when faced with stiff opposition. 

His signal achievement has been the health care legislation, which he barely got through and only with serious concessions.  In spite of fighting for his law, he compromised and compromised some more.  In spite of this sort-of victory, he has not been a strong president.  “Yes we can?”  Maybe not.

What, then, of his Republican opponents?  In terms of the upcoming November election, things are looking up for Obama.  The rapid rise and fall of contenders for the Republican crown led Ottawa Citizen commentator Andrew Cohen to refer to the process as speed-dating, and David Usborne, writing in the British paper The Independent, asked, “With enemies like this, does the President need friends?”

Herman Cain was seen as a major challenger, proposing a flat-rate income tax.  He was apparently unaware that Cubans speak Spanish.  What really got him, though, was past sexual indiscretions.  After all, the Republicans now rely heavily on Evangelical support.  The trick in the US seems to be to get elected before such things become public knowledge.  In his case, the lid came off too soon.  He was quickly ushered off the gong show.

Another short time star was Texas Governor Rick Perry.  He did himself in when he could not remember the name of the federal department that he proposed to abolish. 

For a while, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann seemed to be on top, ending up with less than 6% of the July Iowa caucus vote on January 3.  Her credibility was damaged by a number of strange comments, such as linking natural disasters to punishment by God for political occurrences and suggesting that mental deficiency could be caused by receiving a vaccination against cancer of the cervix. 

While he got only 13% of the Iowa vote, Newt Gingrich may not be out yet.  He could still pick up support, especially in Southern states.  However, he has some serious challenges.  His angry response to his Iowa loss gives him the image of a sore loser, and his campaign has been undermined by a truly massive defection by his staff who were unhappy with him even before Iowa.  As well, his suggestion that a President could ignore rulings by the Supreme Court, while it might appeal to the Tea Party crowd, gives him something of a crackpot image.

Speaking of crackpots, we come to Congressman Ron Paul, who was arguably a winner in Iowa, coming close behind Romney and Rick Santorum.  Romney topped Santorum by just eight votes in the state.  This is probably Paul’s high water mark.  He wants to abolish the income tax and repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

At this point, it appears that the Republican candidates coming out of Iowa with a crack at the top are Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich, with Gingrich on life support.  Both Romney and Santorum are, shall we say, flexible.  They are ready to change position when it seems advantageous to do so.  Thus, Romney, who as Governor of Massachusetts, brought in a medicare program not unlike the new federal program, is now against Obama’s legislation.  Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who pulled out of the race, called the federal program Obamney care.  Yet, in withdrawing from the race, he threw his support to Romney.

Santorum wants to give states the power to legislate against homosexuality and birth control, regardless of court decisions.  One can imagine that his stand against birth control will be a stumbling block.  According to studies that have been done, not just Tea Party followers whom he courts but even his fellow Catholics use birth control.

A betting man might well put his money on Romney for the GOP nomination at this point, but Romney will be in a tightrope situation.  A moderate, he would be up against Obama, also a moderate, and at the same time he would need to bring along Tea Party voters and hope against hope that Donald Trump will not enter the race with a third party.

One notable feature of the campaign so far: hardly a word about foreign policy.  The United States has faced disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is playing with fire by confronting Iran.  It is losing credibility in the Arab world with its Johnny-come-lately opposition to Mubarak and its hopeless entanglement with Israel.

Its military adventurism has also been an unsustainable burden on its economy, an economy that would in all likelihood be in serious trouble even without the massive military expenditures. 

The United States and Britain brought down the Soviet Union by an arms race that the Soviets could not sustain.  It appears that Chapter II is seeing the United States now in the process of defeating itself by continuing an arms race–this time without any real opposing force.

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