Increasing tone-deafness of the dwindling GOP field

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 in Politics

Increasing tone-deafness of the dwindling GOP field

by Gina Hamilton

Rich men run for president.  No one is disputing that, nor is anyone unduly surprised by that.  Poor folk just can't get the means together to mount a run in the current political system.  No problem ... that's just how it is.

But in the old days, those running at least made an effort to understand how ordinary people lived, if only to capitalize on it come the election.  They'd sit in diners with working people.  They'd listen to stories of woe.  They'd use these experiences to establish some kind of camraderie with those who would be voting next November, and use their words to popularize their candidacy. 

Take the 1964 election (yes, dating myself) for instance.  The election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater was an exercise in which kind of populism worked best.  LBJ had Medicare and the war on poverty on his side.  Goldwater's politics were considered extreme by the mainstream (including anti-labor union activities, anti-communism fever, and anti-welfare state politics), but had popular support among Republicans in Congress.  He lost to LBJ by a landslide, and took many Republican candidates with him.

This year may prove to be a re-run of that election.  On one hand, the populist Obama, who, although working his way out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, has a string of populist successes behind him -- a large stimulus package for American workers, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a housing reform package that never quite got off the ground, but is still helping millions avoid foreclosure, the health care reform package, known as the Affordable Care Act, a strong financial services reform law, and a pull-out from Iraq and a timetable for pulling out from Afghanistan.  Republicans of course do not agree that these are "successes", but from a populist perspective, they are.  Obama is enjoying resurging poll numbers as employment is increasing as well, and most match-ups between him and potential rivals are showing him ahead ... not by much, but still ahead.

On the other hand, the GOP process has winnowed itself down to two major rivals -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich -- and Rick Santorum, who still is a minor contender.  Ron Paul will remain in the race to the end, although his strong libertarian policies are unlikely to bring him to the nomination.  The race is likely to go on longer than anyone thought, with more than enough time for the contenders to bloody one another so badly that Obama's campaign strategy will be written for him ... by the GOP.

Taxes, jobs, and cluelessness

After weeks of dithering, Mitt Romney finally released his income tax return for 2010.  He has no plans to release any prior returns, when he was actively working for Bain Capital.  He also released an estimate of his 2011 tax liability.  Romney continues to earn money from investments from Bain Capital, the Boston-based private equity firm the candidate founded and managed between 1984 and early 1999. Under an agreement with the firm when he left, Romney continued to earn "carried interest" on new Bain investments as a former partner in the firm even though he no longer ran the operation. Romney earned $7.5 million in Bain earnings in 2010 and expects to make $5.5 million in 2011.  He paid $3 million on income of $21.7 million in 2010; an effective tax rate of 13.8 percent.  According to his records, he is expecting to have a tax rate of 15.4 percent in 2011.

Romney's Bain Capital did "create" some jobs ... mostly big-box, low-wage, few-benefit jobs, such as those at Staples where the majority of employees make less than $10 per hour.  Despite Gov. Chris Christie's assertion that these are "middle class jobs", they're not.   The jobs that Bain Capital did away with, such as those from UniMac, which had built washing machines for launderettes, usually paid much higher.  Two years after Bain Capital took control of UniMac, the company went bankrupt.

During the South Carolina campaign, Romney met a woman who was unemployed, had a sick child, and was on the brink of losing her home.  "He listened to me and was kind," the woman said.  "He suggested I contact the state for assistance." But Romney did more than that ... he reached into his pocket and gave the woman the cash he had on him at the time ... about $50.  Although the gesture was no doubt meant kindly, there was a tone-deafness in the gift that Romney did not and simply cannot see.  This is a man who made over $21 million last year; he did not offer the woman any meaningful assistance ... such as a job with his campaign, which was her object, she admits.  Giving her a handful of loose bills was the equivalent of throwing the bum a dime when he begged for money, something that Romney decries anyway.  Suggesting she go on welfare was an even more tone-deaf move.  Today, the lady volunteers in Romney's campaign, cooking collard greens for the other volunteers.

Romney doesn't get it.  He is simply on a different planet than the rest of America.  He'll never be a populist because he doesn't really understand how most Americans are forced to live and work. If he should happen to win the nomination, he will have to contend with a politician who spent his entire non-political career helping those who were down and out.

Hypocrisy, thy name is ...

Santorum, whose wife was forced for medical reasons to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester.  If her pregnancy had been just a little more advanced, the fetus would have been delivered feet first, and its skull would have been collapsed to allow it to pass through the birth canal.  Because it was still early enough, the fetus passed through without this procedure, but there is no doubt that the D&X procedure ... the dilation and extraction means of abortion, which most in the GOP refer to as the "partial birth abortion", would have been the result if the labor had begun to go badly.

No one is blaming the Santorums for choosing the life of the mother over the life of the fetus.  These difficult decisions are made every day by families who are sadly watching their dreams of a normal birth and a happy family life evaporate.  But the D&X procedure is used only in these extreme situations.  What Rick Santorum did next was astounding.  Even though early labor induction saved his wife's life, he authored a bill outlawing the D&X procedure for other women, leaving those in such difficult straits with the horrific choice of having the fetus dismembered in utero, or having the fetus reduced by acid until it can be extracted.  Both of these techniques are still legal, but the process that allows a grieving family to hold their baby, name him, and bury him with dignity, is now a criminal act.  Given his way, Santorum would outlaw all abortions.

The Bomb-Thrower

Newt Gingrich, as Speaker of the House, was a known loose cannon.  Despite his rhetoric ... now ... of being able to work across the aisle with a Democratic president to create jobs and reduce the deficit, Gingrich spent the majority of his speakership trying to take President Bill Clinton down.  Ultimately, he presided over an impeachment that alleged improper sexual conduct in the Oval Office; at the same time, Gingrich was cheating on his second wife with his third mistress.  Whether Marianne Gingrich's assertions of Gingrich demanding an open marriage is true or not, the truth of Gingrich's marital infidelities is pretty well documented. 

Gingrich also had ethics problems as Speaker, and had such a bad relationship with his House that his own party ultimately forced him out.  He was brash, rude, and overall, he lost the confidence of his House, and lost the credibility to lead.  The House is a small world compared to the national and international stage upon which Gingrich would be expected to play.  Gingrich tried very hard to reinvent himself as a statesman and historian after his fall from the House, but during a few debates, Gingrich was up to his old tricks ... deflecting sincere questions about his character by going on the attack against the media whose job it is to ask the questions, and against his fellow Republicans as well. 

Gingrich may be more of a populist than Romney is, but in the end, his temper will frighten off independents, many of whom remember full well why Newt isn't Speaker of the House today.

Anarchy in the USA

And then there's dear Ron Paul.  An extreme libertarian, Paul would love to see the state wither away.  He's not shy about saying this, either.  Paul at least has a very consistent message - little to no government, no taxation, with or without representation, and no social services whatsoever.  Paul won't win the nomination, of course.  But there is a reasonable chance that he will ultimately decide to run as a third party, which will draw his Republican constituency, and some from independents and Democrats, from the general election.  The Ron Paul factor is still a vast unknown. 

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