Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Iowa Caucuses and the GOP Tragedy

The State of Iowa plays the opening role in America's Presidential election years. It is a farm state with a population of just over 3 million, most noted for its rich soils and agricultural productivity. Despite that over 60% of its citizens now live in urban areas.

When Iowa became a state in 1846 (notably, a "free" state, one prohibiting slavery) the Whigs were slugging it out with the pro-slavery Democratic Party. When the Republican Party formed at the far-left of the American political spectrum in the 1850's, Iowans embraced it. In 1856 Iowa voted for the first Republican Presidential candidate John Fremont. The Civil War cemented the Republican triumph. Although the Democrats returned in strength during the Great Depression, afterwards Iowa reverted to the Republican fold.

Of late the Democrats and Republicans have been more evenly balanced in Iowa, with Clinton and even Al Gore carrying the state, then it switching to George W. Bush. Most recently Barack Obama captured the state in 2008, but Republicans captured most statewide offices in 2010.

Next week Iowa will hold its partisan caucuses. These require more of citizens than just showing up and voting; they have to actually sit through a meeting. The process amplifies partisanship, since only the most committed partisans are willing to engage in it.

No one substantial is challenging President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination this year, despite his unpopularity in his own party. That leaves us with the Republican lot of would-be Presidents.

Pretty much all of the Republicans are more experienced than Obama was when he became President. On the whole the problem is not the candidates, though I have enjoyed criticizing each of them individually. The problem for America is the Republican activists who will dominate the caucuses.

Historically, there is a lot good to be said about the Republican Party. They abolished slavery and tried to make the former slaves equal in the eyes of society and the law. They treated the American Indian tribes much better than the Democrats ever had. They tried to do something about America's alcoholism problem. Excepting the Spanish American War, they were the anti-war party until President Eisenhower retired in 1960. The Republican core values of being an economically responsible, law-abiding, moral citizen and good neighbor are hard to argue with.

Where did the people who dominate the Republican primary process come from? It is as if the doors of hell have opened and the legions marched forth. Instead of taking responsibility and building an economically strong, just, and durable America, they want to blame anyone but themselves for their troubles. They don't want to pay taxes even though Iowa is probably the most heavily subsidized state in the nation. Iowa's relative prosperity is propped up by food stamps (which prop up grain prices), ethanol subsidies, and direct crop subsidies.

The Christianity of these people makes Islam and atheism both look good. It is a narrowly-constructed Christianity, carefully avoiding entire directives from God himself. Jesus said to pay your taxes and stop complaining ["Give unto Caesar ..."]. He said to be kind and charitable. He asked Christians to find a way to feed the hungry even if only a few loaves and fishes are available. The activist Republicans instead want to regulate birth control, deny human rights to women and homosexuals, and let the weak starve and freeze.

The Republican activists pretend to be supporters of free-market capitalism, but mainly they have a criminal mentality that should frighten all decent American citizens. They want to make money by destroying the environment, destroying the health of their neighbors, and endangering the lives of workers. Why not just sell crack or weed or untaxed bathtub gin, if you need money?

I'm not saying that every government agency or regulation is necessary, but I do know that the threat of enforcement deters crime. Have we had too little economic crime these past 10 years? Too few Madoff's and mortgage derivative scams? Too few nuclear reactor meltdowns? Too few oil spills? I think not.

I know there are plenty of sensible Republicans out there. It is still a big party. With a little bit of reform—throwing out the Tea Party mad dogs and the corporate security state operatives—it could be a beloved American Party again.

But who could those sensible Republicans vote for in Iowa?

While I like Ron Paul's stance on dismantling the U.S. global military empire (which would straighten out the federal budget deficit pretty quickly), his love of nutty, discredited ideas like the Gold Standard limits him to being my second choice.

I think Mitt Romney is by far the most competent of the Presidential candidates in the field. This might seem like a dangerous thing to Democrats, who would prefer an less competent opponent, like Michele Bachman. But consider:

When highly competent people have been elevated to being President of the United States they have usually stepped outside of the narrow interests of their pasts. It Mitt's case, I don't think his Latter Day Saints upbringing or Bain Capital days will prejudice him.

I think he is the kind of individual that will try to serve all of the American people if elected. He won't just serve his Wall Street friends, or any particular constituency. He'll do what a President can to get the economy humming, without disregarding environmental or consumer safety. He'll stand up to corrupt interests in Washington, and to the worst impulses of the Tea Party.

Let me repeat: Romney excels in competence. He didn't use his family fortunes to put coke up his nose and then party on borrowings against his inheritance. He got both an MBA and a Law Degree from Harvard in just four years, no easy feat. He excelled in business and then served as governor of Massachusetts.

Romney makes me think of Joe Kennedy, the father of President John Kennedy. In his early life Joe was a lot less ethical than, but just as competent as, Mitt Romney. Joe got rich on Wall Street and was notorious for his slick dealings that made him a billionaire (he even sold his stock holdings well before the 1929 market crash). When it was time to reform Wall Street, President Franklin Roosevelt chose Joe Kennedy to be the first head of the SEC. Having used every trick in the book himself, Joe was able to create a set of regulations that served American investors, large and small alike, from the 1930's until a new wave of mischief was invented in the 1980's.

Of course, there is the opposite story of competence, Robert Rubin, U.S. Treasury Secretary from 1995 to 1999. He used his position to gut regulations, including the Depression-era Glass-Steagall act, thereby heavily contributing to the economic calamities of the following decade.

So, if Mitt Romney becomes President, let us hope he turns out to be a Joe Kennedy, not a Robert Rubin.

In any case, it would take three or four Barack Obamas to match the competence of one Mitt Romney. Muddling through is not what we need right now. Four years of that is enough.

I am not, however, endorsing Mr. Romney. He is still part of the two-party, corporate security state system. I will probably support the Green Party nominee, Gill Stein, or an independent candidate, depending on who emerges. Mitt is just the best I think we can hope for out of the old, hopefully dying, two-party system.

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