Checkers or Chess?

By - Feb 1st, 2008 02:52 pm
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Maybe no one will win this election

By Donald Kaul

American elections are nothing if not amusing; solemn rituals laced with equal measures of irony and hypocrisy, with a touch of absurdity thrown in for taste. The victory speeches alone are worth the price of admission.

Take for example the statement of Mitt Romney after he’d been declared winner of the Michigan caucuses: “Tonight is a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism,” he said.

Implicit in that statement is the belief, widely held, unfortunately, that optimism is a good thing in and of itself, and that to be pessimistic is somehow un-American. Balderdash. Hogwash. Fiddle-faddle.

There, having exhausted my supply of 19th Century rebukes, let me tell you why the idea is dangerous nonsense. A little optimism is fine, necessary, even. It helps one get up in the morning and face the day. When it reaches the point of self-delusion, however, it masks the real problems one faces and makes a solution impossible.

Romney’s victory took place at the precise moment that the national economy seems poised to plunge into a full-blown recession and in a state that has been living that recession for the better part of a decade. Michigan’s unemployment rate, at about 8 percent, is the highest in the country; its chief economic engine, the auto industry, is reeling from foreign competition and shows little sign of recovering any time soon. Plants, one after another, keep closing.

It doesn’t need optimism; it needs rescue.

Romney says he can bring Michigan’s lost jobs home. By cutting taxes, of course. That’s the Republican answer to Hadacol. It cures all ills. Let me say this about that: Cutting taxes does not necessarily create jobs. Rich people and corporations do not invest in plants and equipment simply because they have the money to do so. There has to be some expectation of profit. And if there’s nobody out there with money to buy anything, that expectation does not exist.

I will never know how Democrats keep losing elections to Republicans. The GOP has controlled Congress for most of the past dozen years and the presidency for the past seven. Having inherited a budget surplus, a boisterous economy and a healthy dollar, they’ve managed to squander those advantages and run the economy into a ditch. And now we’re seriously considering keeping a Republican in the White House? That’s like hiring Michael Vick as your dog walker. On second thought, I think I know how Democrats keep losing elections. Their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is all but supernatural.

Take, for example, the decision of the national party to ignore the Michigan caucuses. Michigan, seeking to achieve some relevance in the presidential selection process, had moved its caucuses up right behind Iowa and New Hampshire. This so offended the leaders of the Democratic party that they punished the state by stripping it of its delegates at the national convention. The major presidential candidates went along with the gag (most of them because they thought Hillary was going to win anyway) and didn’t campaign in the state.

How dumb is that? You’ve got a major industrial state that will be up for grabs in the fall and you turn it over to the Republicans to show off their wares while you sulk in a corner. As a matter of fact, Michigan has a greater claim on being an early primary state than either Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s bigger, more diverse and its problems are national in character.

So Michigan didn’t follow the party rules in moving up its primary, so what? States have pretty much free reign in conducting their elections. What could the Democrats have been thinking of? Sometimes I really do believe that everything the Democrats know about politics they learned in kindergarten. After the Michigan caucuses, the carnival moved on to South Carolina, which the Republican state chairman called “a make-or-break contest.”

The last time South Carolina hosted a make-or-break contest was 1860.

How’d that work out, by the way?

Who destroyed the Republican Party?

By James Joyner

[Political pundit] Billy Hollis recently joined Rush Limbaugh, Peggy Noonan, and other conservative commenters in trying to figure out who is responsible for destroying the Republican Party and which of the potential nominees would destroy it even more.

Hollis thinks that nominating Mike Huckabee would likely lead to “a loss of Goldwater-McGovern proportions.” I’m inclined to agree, especially if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee; I think it would be closer if Hillary Clinton is his opponent. At any rate, Huckabee isn’t going to be the nominee.

John McCain might, though, and that scares the hell out of Hollis. He wrote, in a recent entry on the Q and O blog:

“Nominating McCain signifies the end of the GOP as it’s been envisioned by many since the Reagan years, and only a serious rebuilding effort or a dramatic realignment of political parties will bring back any significant emphasis on freedom, the free market, individual responsibility, and the other principles most of the folks who come around here believe in.

But there’s no point in blaming McCain. He’s just following the pattern laid down by the Bush pair. Talk a good game, pander, arrange “grand compromises” which inevitably lead to expansion of government, and get your place in the history book. Limited government principles? Who needs ‘em?

You would think that their most successful president of the last century [Ronald Reagan] showed them the template they need to succeed, and that they would therefore adopt it. Apparently not. As the old saw goes, they might do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.”

First off, McCain is the fiercest opponent of earmarks and runaway spending in the field by a rather wide margin. He’s the guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts, for example, because they weren’t offset by cuts in discretionary spending.

More importantly, though, I reject the idea that McCain — or Bushes 41 and 43, for that matter — are amoral politicians who simply tack in whichever direction the polls tell them to go. Hell, McCain’s positions on immigration, campaign finance, taxes, global warming, torture and a variety of other hot button issues would certainly seem to provide plenty of evidence for that.

Rather, he’s an 82 percent conservative (if you take the American Conservative Union’s rating system as the proper measure) who simply disagrees with the Movement on some issues.

We have only two political parties in this country and even its leaders don’t agree with everything in the platform. Every deviation from the Holy Writ isn’t apostasy; it’s life under the big tent. Ronald Reagan last ran for president 24 years ago. A lot has changed since then — partly thanks to his policies. We’re not fighting the commies any more. We don’t have marginal tax rates of 70 percent. It’s now been 35 years since Roe v. Wade rather than 11. It stands to reason, then, that the policy prescriptions of 1980 are going to need some updating.

And, frankly, Reagan’s record — as opposed to his rhetoric — isn’t exactly what those who pine for the Good Ole Days seem to think it was. Reagan did virtually nothing to advance the socially conservative agenda he talked about. He appointed Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, two moderate swing votes, to the Supreme Court to go along with Antonin Scalia, his lone conservative appointee. And he signed the biggest illegal immigrant amnesty bill in the country’s history. He allowed spending to skyrocket under his administration, leaving the country saddled with historic debt.

It’s 2008, not 1980. Most women work outside the home. There hasn’t been a military draft in more than a generation. There are significantly more than three television channels. We’ve completed the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. Our political climate has, understandably, changed a little. Goodness, there’s a serious chance that a woman or a black man will be our next president; that was the stuff of stand-up comedy routines in Reagan’s day.

The campaigns of Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Tommy Thompson, and Fred Thompson never got off the ground. If you thought they’d be great presidents, you were virtually alone. Sorry for your loss but it’s time to move on.

The president represents 300 million-odd Americans and is selected through a grueling process that ensures he’s vetted by widely varying constituencies. The primary process runs potential nominees through a gauntlet and then the general election requires appealing to pluralities in enough states to get at least half of the votes in the Electoral College.

Not surprisingly, this means it’s pretty rare for a truly ideological candidate to win the thing. Most Americans aren’t particularly ideological, for one thing, and different parts of the country have very different concerns. So, yes, pragmatism and compromise tends to win the day. That’s not very exciting, to be sure, and it can be frustrating for those of us who have very strong ideas about government. But that’s life.

Unless something very odd happens, the winners of the Romney-McCain and Obama-Clinton fights will emerge to duke it out during the summer and fall. Nobody on that list inspires me to do cartwheels. Nonetheless, I’ll pick from among them and live with the outcome.VS

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