Watching the latest GOP Debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, I was struck by how far to the right almost all of the six Republican candidates have gone in order to try and capture the GOP base, which appears to be, in the words of Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, made up by self-proclaimed "religious warriors and anti-government agitators."
One candidate, Godfather Pizza honcho Herman Cain, claimed again that people who were out of a job and weren't rich have only themselves to blame. (Really Herman? In this economy?) That's a but like saying black people were to blame for not being able to vote in the South back in the bad old Jim Crow days. Of course, back when Cain was a young man in Georgia in the 1960s, he meekly went to the back of the bus and waited for others to liberate him. Instead of Dr. King's "We Shall Overcome", young Citizen Cane mantra was, to quote one wag in Newsweek, "Me Shall Overcome."
And Mr. Cain surely is a successful man. But he's also a plutocratic ninny with a boneheaded and regressive "9-9-9" tax plan. This would create a nine-percent sales tax on everything and would, once again, give millionaires more tax breaks than they already have had in the last thirty years. Great. Even Ronald Reagan would have gagged on this plan.
Mr. Cain also has no foreign policy experience or even much interest in the matter. Ignorance of the leader of Kazakhstan is a badge of honor to him. And, to top it all off, his solution to illegal immigration along the Mexican border is to put up an electrified fence and kill people before they cross the border. A kind of reverse Berlin Wall you could call that. (And here I thought there was nothing to learn from the old East German puppet state.)
And this guy is the front runner in South Carolina and Florida? Is it possible the GOP voters are so desperate to get rid of President Obama that they are willing to even support this guy over the conservative-but-sane former Governor Mitt Romney?
And then there is Rick Perry and his new flat tax that is about to roll out soon. And Newt Gingrich who blames the whole of the economic meltdown, caused in the main by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and Wall Street speculators, on...the same "bad big government" he helped make sure was deregulated to impotency while Speaker of the Houe in the 1990s! All for the best interests of multi-national banks and big mortgage outfits like Countrywide and IndyMac.
The federal government in question is filled with officials of both parties willing to do Wall Streets' bidding for plenty of re-election cash needed to get Congressmen and women in office. It also keeps cabinet officials of both parties well represented by friends of billionaire speculators like Tim Geithner at Treasury and Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs, who oversaw that department during the Great Meltdown and bank bailout of 2008.
Of course, some like Ron Paul hate the Federal Reserve and the bank bailout of 2008 , which would make sense if the whole economy wouldn't have collapsed further without it. The thing to do was to regulate Wall Street before the crisis, not deregulate it. And now all these candidates want to roll back the regulations that have been put back into place--over banking lobbyist objections. At least the new Dodd-Frank Law recreates a watered-down version of the old restrictions that kept our economy from tanking for 68 years!
Michelle Bachmann tells people without their old full-time jobs and foreclosure of their homes staring them in the face to "hang on". She offered no explanation as to what she would do however and it appears she too would not dare resort to anything beyond the "invisible hand" of the marketplace to help distressed people.
Frankly this is all very discouraging. The US public does deserve a real choice in 2012 for the next presidential election. But what we are getting from the "loyal opposition" are candidates who represent the top one percent of income and wealth gatherers. They hope to please them and bring the rest of their electorate along on the "wedge issues" like immigration, abortion, getting tougher somehow on China or Iran or something else.
The only Republican I can see who really has a grip on reality is former Utah Governor John Huntsman, who was also most recently the Obama administration's Ambassador to China. "The work of the nation isn't getting done," Huntsman says as he campaigned in New Hampshire recently, "because we got extreme elements on both sides that are barking at each other and the entire middle has been hollowed out."
Huntsman is right about "the hollow middle". But the only extremists who matter in this coming round of Republican primaries are the tea party hard rightists, the reactionaries who have been bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey's Freedom Works lobby. You have to give them credit; they managed to convince millions that the failures of the mortgage giants and Wall Street are the fault of government regulation. (Actually it was the lack of regulation or diligence to enforce same that is clearly to blame.)
It's the soft core pro-corporate Democrats of the Clinton White House and the hard core "ownership society" anti-regulatory and tax-cuts mania policies of the Bush Administration that put us in the great recession. Even if Obama was an effective president (and he surely isn't at this juncture) he is too wedded to the status quo and too hemmed in by the need to capture 60 Votes in the 100 seat Senate to pass anything that would help the average American in economic distress.
Luckily for the candidates for the Republican nomination, their target voters have so far been mostly chumps. The activist/straw poll voters don't care about much more than getting that "black guy with a funny name" out of "their" White House and taking "their" country back. And there's a lot to be said for enthusiasm in a democratic election.
But there comes a point in politics, however, when you try so hard to catch votes on the fringes that you forget that most Americans, I believe, care more about a man or woman who can get something passed in Washington, a pragmatist, than some unalloyed purity-figure.
Or care, paradoxically, unlike the Red State hot heads, to be sure how little experience a candidate can prove he has in elected office.
The GOP has a unpopular President to run against, but so far all their candidates (save the unelectable Huntsman and possibly Romney) are so far right they better pray for another economic meltdown to get themselves into that White House they think is theirs.
There has always been room in both political parties for some extremism. But the last time extremists totally dominated a major political party like this was in 1964, when a surge of conservatives and newly minted anti-Civil Rights former Democrats from the Southern states got together and nominated the states-rights hardliner Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The result was a landslide for Lyndon Johnson, a President who thought he would have real trouble in the election according to the tapes he recorded of himself while serving in the Oval Office while finishing John Kennedy's term.
But LBJ won by a landslide.
But at least Senator Goldwater carried his Grand Canyon State of Arizona and the deep South. History may not repeat itself, but it just might echo like a yell across that big deep canyon.