Friday, February 17, 2012

The Cat Is Out Of The Bag

In my last blog I described why Republican leaders and their mouthpieces at Fox News do not want you to know just how responsible they are for the country's economic woes. Until recently they were doing a pretty good job of keeping people distracted from reality, the great foe of Republican politics. But, suddenly, the cat is out of the bag. Republicans' share of the blame for the US economy is a serious election issue. The fun part is that the debate is percolating not out of the Obama campaign or even Stephen Colbert's SuperPAC. It's coming from within the campaigns of Republicans running against Mitt Romney. And, all of a sudden, Romney, easily the candidate with the best chance in a general election, doesn't look like he's even close to being nominated. Why? Well, it turns out that Tea Party members and Evangelical Christians are just not as stupid as the mainstream Republican leadership and major donors seem to believe them to be. It also appears that it really is the economy, stupid, and trying to distract voters with things like the recent flap over birth control is not distracting Republican voters from the fact that they, like the rest of the 99%, have been screwed by their own party.

Much is being made of Mitt Romney's large, continuing income from his days at Bain Capital, a leveraged buyout  ("LBO") firm that he once headed. His Republican opponents have accused him of being a job-killing, vulture capitalist who doesn't care about the common man (i.e., Tea Party members and Evangelical Christians). In a nation where the general election will be determined by independent and swing voters looking for a centrist candidate, Romney has been forced to run further and further to the right. This gets him into more trouble since he really is not and never was a "strenuous conservative."

His opponents forced him to release his income tax returns so we can all see the extent of his ill-gotten gains. From this we know that Romney earns millions of dollars a year but pays a total Federal income tax burden of less than 14%. His adversaries are shocked. Shocked to discover unchecked capitalism in this establishment. This is giving Republican leaders, Karl Rove at Fox News and major Republican donors fits. Even some GOP biggies who are not comfortable with Romney, are urging Santorum, Gingrich, the next "flavor of the week" and their Super PAC supporters to tone it down. Why? Well, because, as discussed in my last blog, the Republicans have spent most of the last 32 years trying to make the world a happy place for the Mitt Romneys while generally screwing anyone unfortunate enough to make less than a million dollars a year.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear, Mitt Romney has done nothing wrong. I won't bore you with a discussion of "carried interest" and how it gets taxed as a long term capital gain. Let's just say that Romney has played by the rules and won big. How much more American can that possibly be? So, why are so many Republican leaders trying to get everyone to ignore this fact? What the Republican leaders and major donors don't want you (particularly if you are an Independent voter or a Tea Party member) to get focused on is that Romney has been playing by rules that have been largely put in place, or protected from the horrors of government regulation, by more than 30 years of Republican control over US economic and fiscal policies. If you don't like what Romney and the rest of the 1% are getting away with your recourse is to elect a President and Congressional representatives who will change the rules. Which is exactly what the people who currently control and fund the Republican party do not want to have happen. The fun started when Newt Gingrich went after Romney as a job killing vulture capitalist. Newt, a hero warrior of the Reagan Revolution who engineered the first Republican House majority in 40 years, didn't bother to mention that he was a key player setting up and preserving the tax and regulatory environment that made Romney very very rich. To make matters worse for mainstream Republicans, Rick Santorum, riding the populist wave that never quite lifts Ron Paul's boat, rolled into Michigan and started talking about how the bailouts of banks and big corporations, but not the little people like him and you, began under the Republican Administration in office before January 20, 2009! 

Now, your typical Tea Party member and most Evangelical Christians are, like the Occupy Wall Street folks, part of the 99%. They are victims of the past 32 years of Republican policies. All of a sudden they have a candidate, Santorum, who really is a "strenuous conservative" and who is committing the political sin of telling people the truth. Add to this the facts that Santorum's positions on subjects such as birth control (forget abortion, the real issue has always been womens' access to affordable birth control) and homosexuality and  family values, as demonstrated by his personal life, are, from a right wing conservative viewpoint, impeccable. this makes him a formidable opponent for Romney.

Romney is a Mormon, which is not a Christian church, according to a lot of Christians. (You have no idea how bizarre that sounds to a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, unless, of course, you are also an MOT.) Romney also managed to actually govern Massachusetts which meant compromising with Ted Kennedy-type Democrats, an unforgivable sin in a Republican primary fight. Gingrich's ties to the Washington elite, his own penchant for cashing in on his public persona and his personal hypocrisy are just too much for him to overcome. Meanwhile Ron Paul, who has been telling the truth about the Republican Party for years just doesn't seem to gain enough traction to be a serious contender. Add it all up and Santorum is the flavor of the week. Maybe even the month and, if he takes Michigan and does well on Super Tuesday, maybe all the way to the convention.

Now, here's the really fun part. Santorum is going around waking the Tea Party and Evangelical folks up to the fact that they are among the minions who have been getting economically screwed by the Republican Party for the past 32 years. Add to this the fact that Republicans, pre-Tea Party, pandered to family values voters to get nominated but, if elected, soon found more pressing matters to take care of and the situation is incredibly volatile. Every actual vote and every poll shows that a clear majority of Republican primary voters do not want Romney. That same majority would vote for a clone combining Santorum, Paul and just a hint of Gingrich (probably so we can go nuke Iran). Which just gladdens my heart. Oh, its not just the schadenfreude of Mitt Romney, a major American success story, falling into disrepute because he is a major American success story, its that Barack Obama's chances of being re-elected have never looked better. The Republicans are eating up huge amounts of media time, inches of newsprint and millions of dollars, running Obama's campaign for him.

Early in his term Obama said that he had two or perhaps three years to get the economy moving again or he would be a one term President. Today the economy is nothing to write home about but it is getting better. As Barney Frank famously said, "No one has ever been re-elected with a bumper sticker that read: It Would Have Been Worse Without Me." But most elected officials do get re-elected if most voters are better off on election day than they were when the official took office. (Reagan's famous quote, "Ask yourself: Am I better off today than I was four years ago?") So, on the economy, Obama has a shot but certainly not a slam dunk. But if the Republicans nominate Santorum, and especially if they come with an equally far right vice presidential candidate (I'm hoping for a Santorum/Bachmann ticket), Obama will win easily. 

About 40% of those who vote in November will vote for the Republican, no matter who he is. Another 40% will vote for Obama, even if we have to hold our noses while we do it. Its the 20% in the middle, voters who describe themselves as independents or as swing voters (a party member willing to vote for the other party), who will elect the next President. These people tend to be fiscally conservative but socially fall into the "live and let live" crowd. Faced with a Santorum, who, in the words of Lewis Black, "demonstrates a level of ignorance that is stunning in the 21st century," they'll vote for Obama simply because he scares them less.

For this blog I thank my most conservative friend. A wonderful drinking companion who, four years ago and to no one's surprise, was all set to vote for John McCain. But one day she turned on her TV and got a good look at Sarah Palin. And Obama got a vote he was never going to get. That's why mainstream Republicans and major Republican donors are having fits and I am really enjoying this election season.

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