Lately, I am feeling a bit more skeptical about politics that usual. I think Republicans generally have better policies, especially about economics, but the dynamics of the race are pushing people to do and say ridiculous things on a regular basis.
I also think the party orthodoxy is not flexible or creative enough to address the size and depth of the problems the country faces (same being true for the Democrats). It feels like we’d be better off with the GOP in charge, but I’m not sure we’d actually be doing as well as we could or need to.
It would take a person with tremendous powers of persuasion (and intellect) to move us collectively towards the nuanced and sometimes complicated positions that are probably in our long term best interest – and neither Romney or Santorum are demonstrating they have those powers.
One of the reasons I voted for Obama was that I thought he possibly had the potential to do this. Turns out he didn’t – or maybe he did, but he never had any intention of doing so and it was just a ploy to get elected.
Whatever the case, it is clear that the Republican candidates, Romney included, are being forced to take very hard line positions across a number of fronts that a) can’t be good for winning the general election, and b) probably aren’t great solutions anyway.
Case in point lately for me is the issue of environment vs. oil/energy. Seems to me the best position is a nuanced one where we acknowledge high standards of environmental stewardship while pursuing an aggressive pro-growth energy strategy. However, the loudest voices in each party push their leaders towards fairly extreme positions – too much environmental stuff from the left, too little of it from the right. It doesn’t appear that anybody can rise above the doctrinaire to speak in the right proportion for each thing without alienating their ‘base’.
I could be wrong (as I was about Obama), but I think in his heart of hearts, Romney wants to be more centrist, but he is simply not nimble enough verbally (and maybe intellectually) to be able to make the case. I think if he had it in him, we’d have seen glimmers of it by now.
For me, that means that even if he wins the election, instead of balanced, nuanced policy, we are going to get a sharp lurch to the right. Overall, that’s a good thing compared to where we are going now, but, in short order, the party will take it too far and make a huge swath of people on the left extremely angry. Which means they’ll soon lose whatever power they had as they get voted out of office. I guess that’s the pattern we are destined to be in for a while – lurch one direction for a while, then lurch the other direction. Maybe it has always been so.
Maureen Dowd’s column today, Ghastly Outdated Party, captures this dynamic fairly well. Naturally, she goes over the top as is her wont, but unfortunately a lot of what she says strikes me as approximately correct.
The second paragraph would be completely hilarious if it weren’t substantially true.
“Republicans being against sex is not good,” the G.O.P. strategist Alex Castellanos told me mournfully. “Sex is popular.”
The paragraph that captures the essence of her point is this one:
The contenders in the Hester Prynne primaries are tripping over one another trying to be the most radical, unreasonable and insane candidate they can be. They pounce on any traces of sanity in the other candidates — be it humanity toward women, compassion toward immigrants or the willingness to make the rich pay a nickel more in taxes — and try to destroy them with it.
Her language is a bit dramatic, but I think it is essentially right.
In watching the debates, time after time, every one of them has taken a hatchet to one of the others for saying something even slightly offkey / nuanced. As this seems to work to kill candidates off, it has forced the remaining people to tow an ever harder line. I imagine if you are even slightly left of center (the people the GOP needs to capture to win), this has to look pretty scary. It often looks scary to me and I’m definitley right of center.
She also writes:
President Obama has deranged conservatives just as W. deranged liberals.
This is also definitely true.
Possibly the eventual candidate can tack back to sanity, but if the nomination race carries on for the many more months as it seems likely to do, he won’t have much time – and the bridges may all be burnt by then in any event.
Sadly, this will not only limit chances to unseat Obama, it could have an dampening effect on all Republican candidates – i.e., for House and Senate. That would mean four more years of Obama and possibly a supercharged Obama. That is a truly frightening thought.
I think a lot of people see this, but the dynamic probably can’t be reversed.