THE POLITICAL THEATER, PART III

The Human Conspiracy Blog

January 17, 2008

A print version of this piece is posted at –http://jaygaskill.com/PoliticalTheaterIII.htm .

THE POLITICAL THEATER, PART III

It seems clear beyond doubt that the republicans will have a brokered convention requiring several ballots and no small amount of horse trading before their nominee is selected. Don’t believe the conventional wisdom. This will probably be an advantage. The democrats will have nominated Hillary or Barak beforehand. This gives the GOP an opportunity to size up the opposition and nominate accordingly. The GOP convention will be great theater and – by then – the candidates and their aides decamp will be on their best behavior.

Expect a record television audience.

I don’t think it matters one whit which of the three presumed frontrunners – Rudy, Mitt or John – wins the republican nomination (or if Fred somehow gets it), provided that Hillary is nominated. The visceral opposition to another Clinton presidency is so strong among the party faithful that all ranks will close around the nominee.

And… if the GOP movers and shakers are particularly astute, Secretary Rice will be in the number two spot.

An Obama nomination is a wild card, one that would unite the democrats, turn out the base in droves, and – just possibly – carry the day. That outcome depends on the durability of theme two (Hope’s Coloring Book, below).

There are three neuroses; and there are three elephants in the smoke filled room (they are the third rail policy conundrums).

THE CAMPAIGN NEUROSES

First, let’s review the three psychological themes, those dysfunctional mind-sets that tend to distort the merits:

1 — The P C Train Wreck –

Why the democratic race is trapped in politically correct dogma.

It was inevitable that identity politics, based on the myth of ongoing victim-hood as a political force, would pit one core democratic constituency against another. Mrs. Clinton is now trapped in the collision of her own PC dogma and raw ambition. To win the nomination, she needs to “take that upstart Senator Obama down several pegs”, but avoid a blowback from Barak’s fellow black Americans.

It remains tot be seen how much this sorry primary spectacle will tend to depress the democratic black vote in the general election. But don’t believe the analysts who think that these two candidates have reached an actual truce. The Clintons are prepared to win whatever the short term cost. Expect a victorious Clinton to offer the number two spot to Barak.

Expect the offer to be refused.

2 — Hope’s Coloring Book –

How Barak is our projection screen.

Politics is just like one of those failed romances when the disenchanted lover is drawn to someone who appears by virtue of apparent contrast to have all of the virtues in which the Ex was so deficient. It is human nature to project unreasonable hopes and expectations onto the unknown new lover or fresh candidate. This is why, in almost every case, the initial favorable poll numbers for that charismatic fresh face tend to erode, once the actual positions and track record of the candidate are better known. But the contrast effect is a powerful aphrodisiac. That was how we got Jimmie Carter – that aw shucks peanut farmer – instead of the competent, but tainted “business as usual” Gerald Ford.

3 Character Envy –

Could Perfection be Romney’s Achilles’ Heel?

Don’t for a minute think that we voters are comfortable with someone who seems actually to be morally superior to the rest of us. Yes, we are willing to tolerate some virtue in our presidents, but we find ourselves irritated, put off and, yes, a little afraid when confronted with really virtuous leaders. The problem has gotten worse in the post WW II culture as cynical members of the intelligentsia have worked overtime to tear down our popular heroes. We profess (and actually entertain) admiration for leaders we can “actually look up to”. But, in general, people detest judgmental moralists and fear moral examination (whether threatened or real).

Did I suggest that we are consistent? Recall the topic – we’re talking neurosis here.

Enter Mitt Romney, the virtuous Mormon with perfect hair, a perfect marriage and a perfect family. And – worse still — he’s not a victim. Two things are happening, psychologically speaking:

Many voters are operating in the “too good to be true” mode, looking for the inevitable disclosure of scandal or character defect.  These people are more comfortable with someone like “good ole President Bill”, a man for whom the whiff of scandal is part of the charm.
Many of the others are just waiting to be lectured to or put down because of their own failings. In part this is fallout from the hectorings of the politically correct left and the ultra moralistic right.

I grew up around Idaho Mormons, some of whom are great friends. They do not hector. We who drink, smoke, swear and otherwise engage in disreputable conduct are simply treated with respectful affection; we are never lectured or condemned. I wish our PC nanny’s could be so authentically tolerant. This is not an accident. Every young adult Mormon does a two year missionary assignment, almost always out of the country. Knocking on thousands of doors, getting thousands of rejections not only builds character, it builds functional tolerance.

Governor Romney is an arch capitalist (in my universe, this is not pejorative) in LDS clothing. He has strong personal ethics – stronger, say, that William Jefferson Clinton. This is a problem?

THOSE ELEPHANTS

IN THE SMOKE FILLED ROOM

It is a truism that the really serious policy issues are rarely ventilated in a primary campaign. The three elephants in the smoke filled room are the policy issues so big and so scary that no candidate in her right mind wants to supply more that a few sound bites – hoping to locate advisors and political support for the required heavy lifting or, failing that, to kick the can down the road for the next administration.

  1. China –

Why do we hear only vague, fog-ball solutions?

China is big — really, really big. Its authoritarian and repressive government holds more than a trillion dollars in US currency. We owe them big time. They have the keys to Wall-Mart. China’s growing industries are polluting the planet and we can’t seem to do a thing about it. Their state run businesses have stolen and counterfeited our intellectual property, and we can’t seem to do a thing about it. Increasingly the US economy is a Chinese hostage. Some democracy optimists blithely assume that Chinese capitalism will inevitably mutate into liberal democracy. Don’t count on it. Even if it happens someday, don’t assume our hostage role will improve…

  1. Islamic Jihad

What is the war we dare not name?

Norman Podhoritz, the former leftist intellectual, now a national security conservative (this is what is meant by “neocon”) has written a prescient book, “World War IV” in which he argues – very persuasively – that the cold War was WW III and that the jihad is the next world scale, highly lethal war. Some on the left have called him “the most dangerous man in America”. This is the same thing as saying that, in the 1930’s, Winston Churchill – that unbalanced alarmist who claimed that Hitler must be stopped – was the most dangerous man in Europe.

This makes Iraq into a single battle, much like Korea was. This kind of truth is very difficult to state without invoking a blizzard of politically correct bromides and insults in response. But the facts remain — stubborn as facts tend to be. Embedded in the Pakistan government and in many other Middle Eastern states (overtly in Iran and Syria, covertly in Egypt and elsewhere) are the cohorts who share a common, malignant vision: A new radically fundamentalist pan-Islamic state must rise up in the region to right all the wrongs visited on Islam by the decadent West. It must be nuclear armed in order to join the ranks of world superpowers. To accomplish this, all the non-compliant regimes in the region – and the opponent regimes in the West, principally the US – must be destabilized and eventually overthrown (in the Middle East) or deterred and cowed (in the West).

Mr. Podhoritz is one of Mayor Giuliani’s advisors. Senator McCain has been on the same page for years, and Governor Romney has adopted some of the same policy rhetoric, in his characteristically more muted tones. Senator Clinton has rhetorically temporized to appease the extreme pacifist left in her party, but (in my opinion) has evidenced a basic understanding of the nature of the threat.

  1. Outsourcing America –

This is the problem we don’t know how to fix — or are afraid to try.

Both the republicans and the Clintons are committed to “free trade”. The “rust belt” of abandoned factories, mostly in the Midwest, is just the tip of the iceberg called “outsourcing”. Dirt cheap labor in the second and third world acts like a vacuum sucking any enterprise, manufacturing or business activity into areas and economies where they can be accomplished more cheaply. Even the Chinese economy has begun to outsource some manufacturing functions. Protectionist legislation – high export duties or outright import bans – inevitably lead to a trade war, rising prices because of rising costs.

Americans have been told that the lost jobs are being replaced with even better ones, as we move from a manufacturing to a “service” economy. But that manifestly is not true for displaced manufacturing employees. Even in high tech industries, skilled labor shortages are filled by importing workers from India and other countries with an underemployed intelligentsia.

There are policy solutions, but they are complex and difficult to accomplish. Any politician who advances a program to “fix” outsourcing is met with an avalanche of skepticism and charges of “protectionism”.

Much heavy lifting is required. Consider just two elements of recovery – imagining, if you will, the scope and ferocity of the likely opposition:

(1) A massive national commitment to generation four domestic nuclear energy production;

(2) A huge ramp up in space and aerospace development.

It will be easier by far to reform social security and to reign in entitlements…

There is more to come. Stay tuned….

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