Category Archives: 2012 Election

Life is Full of Whiners

By John Stang

Matt Lewis notes that having a prolonged primary fight matters which side of the party you’re on:

Hiding these concerns would not have made them magically go away. Conservatives who are now skeptical of Romney would still have been skeptical of Romney — they would have just had no release valve to express their dissent. Sure, it would have all looked better to the outside world, from a public relations standpoint. But the anger would still be there — simmering below the surface. And it would have also deprived Romney of the yet-seized opportunity to fine-tune his message — and win over his skeptics. As is often the case in politics, where you stand on this debate probably depends on where you sit. The conservatives who opposed McCain in 2008 (and favored Mitt Romney, instead) would probably have preferred to see the race continue. Some might even still argue Romney would have been a better opponent for Obama in the fall. (Now, the pro-Romney forces long for the good old days and the good old rules.)

Essentially, there would have been kveching no matter when Romney won the primary, so even if he cleaned house now (as I think it’s pretty much over for Santorum and Gingrich), people still would have complained.

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Being the Anti-Christ is Not New

The Economist argues:

Today it is all culture war, all the time, but not in the way anyone envisioned there. It’s not the issues that define culture war now; it’s culture war that defines the issues. As Newt Gingrich spoke today at a rally in suburban Atlanta, supporters held up signs with a gas pump, and “$2.50/Newt” on it, a reference to Mr Gingrich’s promise to reduce the price of gas to that level under his administration. And why are gas prices so high now? Because Mr Obama’s “secretary of anti-energy”, as Mr Gingrich called Steven Chu, wants us to pay European prices. Why? Well, it has something to do with Mr Obama bowing to Saudi kings and apologising for soldiers who burned Korans and “following a foreign policy trapped in various international interests and biases.” Mr Gingrich’s support of vigorous drilling for oil and gas was met with rousing cheers. And who knows: perhaps we ought to allow more drilling for oil and gas. Perhaps it really is worth the environmental costs.

But that’s not really what the audience was cheering for, nor was it what Mr Gingrich was really talking about. Support for oil and gas exploration is American, period. Opposing it is European. Just like the argument over Obamacare is not really a debate over how to ensure that as many Americans as possible have access to affordable and at least adequate health care. Obamacare is “European socialism”; opposing it is American. Anything less than a full-throated war against Iran is appeasement, as is negotiating with the Taliban; never mind how America will pay for a war with Iran, or what its consequences will be, or whether Mr Gingrich’s stated goal of leaving Afghanistan and leaving it safe could be furthered by finding some common ground with the Taliban. Outside America it is Europe in 1939; in Washington it’s Haight-Asbury in 1968. To quibble over policy is to side with the enemy.

While I agree with the sentiments and I don’t think everything (or anything for that matter), the president does is “unAmerican” or an assault on the American culture, the Economist acts like this is a new strategy.  It’s called a narrative and a grand strategy.  Every presidential candidate has one.  It’s a way to make the American public understand understand complex policy debates and put them into five second sound bites.  Tying culture to policy ideas has been apart of the American political lexicon for generations.

To take recent history, remember “Restoring Integrity to the White House,” basically George W. Bush’s strategy that he would never get a certain “job” in the Oval Office or be part of a culture that ruins the moral fabric of America.  Jimmy Carter promised that he “Would Not Lie to You,” portraying himself as not one of the crooked Nixon-Washington insiders that got involved in such activities as “ratfucking” elections (look it up).  During the Bush years, Democrats were insistent on taking down the Republican agenda of Christianizing the entire world through the Neocon nation building strategy and anti-science public policies.   The list can go on for pages.

In fact, culture wars appear to be what we as a nation do best.  Is it dangerous to draw your political foe as the anti-Christ who stands against everything you despise in life?  Probably.  Certainly, it does not help advance the conversation in any way or end our current polarization.  But “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” because both sides revel in it and it’s not going away anytime soon.

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Rick Santorum and Other GOP Abortion Flip-Floppers

By Luke Brinker

Rick Santorum, the arch-conservative former Pennsylvania senator and GOP presidential hopeful, has earned a reputation as a hard-line culture warrior. Not only does Santorum oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest, he also inveighs against “the dangers of contraception.” But Santorum hasn’t always been such a down-the-line social conservative.

This week, the Huffington Post dug up a statement from 1995 in which Santorum confessed to having previously been a pro-choice Republican. The revelation puts Santorum in an awkward position, given that he’s portraying rival Mitt Romney, a former pro-choicer himself, as an inconsistent and insincere social conservative. That the two leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination used to support abortion rights is instructive: even some of the most stridently anti-abortion Republican politicians have histories of endorsing a woman’s right to choose.

Ronald Reagan, a secular saint among conservatives and renowned in pro-life circles for his authorship of Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act as California governor in 1967, six years prior to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. With the ascendance of the Religious Right in the 1970s, Reagan switched to a staunchly anti-abortion posture. Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush, entered politics in the 1960s as a vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood. Prior to joining Reagan’s ticket in the summer of 1980, Bush maintained a pro-choice stance on abortion.

Contemporary examples of pro-choice-turned-pro-life Republicans include former Minnesota Gov. and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (whose failed 2008 presidential campaign centered on the abortion issue). Perhaps these men underwent sincere conversions to the anti-abortion cause, but it’s not insignificant that their flip-flops dovetailed with the position of the preponderance of the Republican base. (To be fair, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Richard Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, and Ted Kennedy are but a few Democratic politicians who switched from anti-abortion to pro-choice positions at some point in their political careers.) The last pro-choicer to win the Republican presidential nomination was Gerald Ford, in 1976 (and even Ford equivocated on the issue during that campaign; he only became more forthright in his pro-choice views well after his political career ended). Rudy Giuliani valiantly tried and spectacularly failed to secure the GOP nomination as a pro-choice moderate in 2008. Republicans with national ambitions have, no doubt, taken heed of Giuliani’s example (and that of Arlen Specter in 1996 and George H. W. Bush in 1980 before him). Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, one of the GOP’s rising stars, is currently pro-choice. If he aims for higher office someday, don’t be surprised if he abandons his current position.

Republicans’ storied history of abortion flip-flops makes Romney look fairly typical in his position switch on the issue. Of course, what makes Romney stand out isn’t just that he’s changed his position on abortion; he’s also been on various sides in debates over climate change, gay rights, gun control, the Reagan presidency, Afghanistan, taxes, and more. But considering that social issues lie at the heart of his main challenger’s campaign, it’s unclear whether former pro-choicer Rick Santorum is social conservatives’ optimal messenger to take Romney on.

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A Hollow Michigan Victory for Romney?

By Luke Brinker

The latest polls out of Michigan show that Rick Santorum’s once robust lead over native son Mitt Romney has vanished. But while Romney’s chances of eking out a win in the state on February 28 look increasingly good, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to convert a Michigan victory into a win in the swing state this November.

NBC and Marist, whose latest poll  gives Romney a narrow 37 percent to 35 percent edge over Santorum, also polled voters on their preferences in general election match-ups. President Barack Obama trounced Santorum by 26 points, 55 percent to 29 percent, underscoring the right-wing former senator’s significant liabilities as a general election candidate. Most striking, however, was the size of Obama’s lead over Romney, whose father was governor of the state and who is generally considered the most moderate candidate in the GOP field. The president scored 51 percent to Romney’s 33 percent, calling into question Romney’s swing state appeal.

It’s worth noting that Michigan has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, the year of President Ronald Reagan’s re-election landslide. Still, the long-suffering state is widely seen as a key battleground, given its status as the birthplace for the so-called Reagan Democrats. Until quite late in the general election season, Sen. John McCain made a concerted play for the state in 2008, and the state was heavily contested in 2004, when Democrat John Kerry won the state by a mere three points over President George W. Bush. With an unemployment rate pegged at 9.8 percent — well above the national figure of 8.3 percent — the state had looked ripe for a Republican win in 2012. As recently as November, polling showed Romney leading Obama by five points in the state.

What accounts for the GOP’s reversal of fortune in Michigan? Put simply, it’s the auto bailout, stupid. While he supported the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout in the fall of 2008, Romney infamously penned a New York Times op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” in November 2008. (Santorum, despite his blue-collar image, also opposed the bailout.) A managed bankruptcy — not federal support — was the best way to revive the sagging auto industry, Romney argued. Romney now asserts that because General Motors and Chrysler eventually did enter bankruptcy, he was right all along, but this oft-repeated talking point ignores experts’ assessment that absent the initial infusion of $80 billion in federal funds, the auto companies would never have been able to emerge successfully from the bankruptcy proceedings. With both GM and Chrysler now posting healthy profits — something few could have foreseen in the dark days of 2008 and 2009 — the bailout is generally seen as having worked.

Voters don’t often do counterfactuals, but in Michigan, voters appear to appreciate that the auto bailout headed off a disaster scenario in which the auto companies, their suppliers, and the numerous jobs in local communities dependent on Detroit’s carmakers collapsed in the absence of federal support. The psychological impact of such a catastrophe in the midst of the economy’s gloomiest days would have been devastating, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that the NBC-Marist poll finds that 63 percent of Michigan voters consider the bailout to have been a good idea. Without federal action, it’s a certainty that the state’s unemployment rate would be far greater, and even Rick Snyder, the conservative Republican governor and a Romney supporter, has had nice things to say about the bailout. Running against the bailout may not do as much damage in a GOP primary, but a general election candidate will have a hard time explaining to Michigan voters why Goldman Sachs merited a bailout but General Motors didn’t.

Romney’s repeated difficulties in relating to blue-collar voters — difficulties compounded by his image as a Mr. One Percent who enjoys firing people who provide services to him and who accuses critics of his private equity record of being jealous of his wealth – will likely carry over into other Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Without Ohio (where recent polling shows Obama narrowly leads Romney), there is simply no way for Republicans to wrest the White House from Democratic hands. While Tea Party types will blame a Romney loss on his allegedly insufficient conservatism, Romney’s plutocratic image and the improving economy will likely do far greater damage in the fall.

So while Romney may well win his home state next Tuesday, his victory there will not portend anything for the fall. “Romney wins Michigan” looks like it’s more and more probable to be the headline next week, but it almost certainly won’t be on the morning of November 7, 2012.

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The Compromise that Hurts

By John Stang

It might seem that I’m obsessed with the issue of the Catholic Church versus the Obama administration on birth control, but that is mainly because I think it opens up lots of ethical and economic questions that have never fully been resolved.  On Friday, the day to make any big announcement in Washington, the president said that all insurance companies would be forced to cover contraception and birth control for women, but religious organizations will not be obligated to do so.  In the Catholic Church hierarchy, the pill is still bitter, but at least its not too zesty to swallow.  Reaction flamed all over the blogosphere.  First, Nicholas Kristoff opines:

Then again, it’s not clear how many people actually are offended. A national survey found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. Moreover, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that even among Catholics, 52 percent back the Obama policy: they believe that religiously affiliated universities and hospitals should be obliged to include birth control coverage in insurance plans.

And:

That makes sense. After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith? What if organizations affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted on health insurance that did not cover blood transfusions? What if ultraconservative Muslim or Jewish organizations objected to health care except at sex-segregated clinics? The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example, even for the pious. Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act.

Andrew Sullivan, a devout Catholic, agrees:

But here’s the problem: these “voluntary communities” aren’t the Rotary Club – they’re employers that wield a significant amount of financial clout. The market, though we refer to it as the “private sector,” is in a certain sense very public: we all have to participate in it. Because in capitalist economies no one has much of a choice about getting a job, all but the most extreme libertarians accept that the government has to set some standards about how employers treat the employed. Allowing “conscience” exemptions whenever an employer doesn’t feel morally clean when complying with regulations in principle neuters all regulation. The argument for allowing Catholic hospitals a pass on covering birth control has to rest or fall on the specifics of the case rather than a general commitment to protecting “voluntary communities.”

Matt Yglesias, again, says:

The point here is simple. While birth control costs more than nothing, it costs less than an abortion and much less than having a baby. From a social point of view, unless we’re not going to subsidize consumption of health care services at all (which would be a really drastic change from the status quo) then it makes a ton of sense to heavily subsidize contraceptives. Now of course sometimes the economically rational course of action (kill everyone in Alberta and steal their oil) is immoral (killing is wrong) and therefore we don’t do it. But just on the dollars and cents subsidizing birth control is a no-brainer. The unfortunate thing is that under the American setup the subsidies tend to be passed through the employer, which has set the stage for this controversy.

The Economist warns how this could open a Pandora’s box:

The Catholic Hospital Association and Planned Parenthood are each apparently placated by the change. On first blush it seems like a sensible solution to a tricky problem. But the fight won’t go away. The religious institutions are exempt because they believe contraception to be morally wrong. What about any individual business owner who feels the same way? Why not apply the exemption to him? Mr Obama may have stamped out today’s fire but it is sure to flare up elsewhere.

My take, the compromise, while not really necessary, was probably a good political decision.  President Obama was getting assailed on by both Democrats and Republicans for the decision.  In an election year, the GOP 2012 crew will try to paint the president as fomenting a war on religious liberty, the merits of that claim are debatable.  But, controversies like this can paint a narrative that will make the president look hostile.  Since the American public is not interested in the wonky world of insurance policy or philosophical debates about the role of insurance, the compromise is an avenue out.  Obama will need to rely on blue collar Northeastern Catholic workers as a voting bloc too.

On the religious side of it, the debate gets murky.  Many Catholics use birth control anyway and yet official position is set by the hierarchy of the Church, a very conservative element I would add.  This disconnect between official polling data and official Church doctrine is a real problem.  On other topics, such as gay marriage, there is a similar divide.  I predict that eventually, there will be some sort of small civil war between those that sit in the pews and listen to sermons and those that give them.  Modernity versus the Church is not a new fight, but it will move quicker than people realize.

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