Up is Down, Down is Up: Romney is Liberal

There’s something weird going on in politics this time around and its been nagging me for a few weeks.  Since the conventions I’ve been trying to articulate exactly what’s been bothering me and I think Mitt Romney stumbled into it or at least 47% of it.  When the video surfaced of Romney at a May 2012 fundraiser talking about “victims” and “dependents” and how many people may or may not be off-limits to him, he also revealed a subtext that has flipped the two political parties on their heads.

Republicans are advocates of change.

Granted, Romney was not saying he thought more of the 47% should pay their “fair share.” Perish the thought.  No.  Romney was saying 

(or wasn’t saying) that 47% of the people who don’t pay personal income tax have no vested interest in lower taxes.  This was made even clearer by a witty New Yorker blog post thoughtfully sent to the Pickle by a die-hard reader (thanks, TBS).  The author argues that its not so much that Romney was wrong as it is he didn’t make the whole point.  The lower taxes argument does not mean a whole lot to people who do not pay taxes.  Obama’s response – make the millionaires pay their “fair share.”

Essentially, let the Bush tax cuts expires and keep everything else pretty much the same.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran on “change.”  He meant – change Washington, change politics, and change hearts and minds.  Classic Democratic rhetoric.  Apparently he’s realized that it’s difficult to change to Washington from the inside.  So, what’s he advocating? Slow, reasonable and practical growth.

What’s Romney pushing? Repeal, overturn, reform and redo

If you define “liberal” and “conservative” as “demanding change” and “maintaining the status quo,” I would argue that Obama is conservative and Romney is liberal.

Yeah, Mitt Romney.  Liberal.  I know.  It’s weird, right?  I mean, he was governor of Massachusetts but still, he’s as vanilla as they come.  And yet, he is the candidate trying to convince Americans to reverse progress, upend government programs and agencies, repeal legislation and let American companies fail in order to restore the market balance. 

In many ways, Romney is risky.

Romney is not interested in stability or consistency.  

Romney is liberal.  Change.  Kinda ironic, isn’t it?

Obama, on the other hand, is making the level-headed appeal for rationality, common sense and normalcy.  Obama is conservative by nature.  Despite what you might hear at a local Tea Party rally, Obama is moderate.

We used to think about liberal and conservative in terms of how much government was involved in policy choices.  This is an old and out-of-date definition.  The government is everywhere and in everything.  Romney is not gonna change that.  Romney is government.  He lived it in Massachusetts and he’ll embrace the role of government should he ever assume Highest Office.  

The true definition of liberal and conservative should be in terms of risk vs. stability.  How much risk is a candidate willing to take? How turbulent to the economy and other areas will a candidate’s policies be?

In that context, I would argue that the Republicans have become the rowdy activists and Democrats the somber wonks.

Republicans are looking to rock the boat this election.  Voter ID laws.  Women’s rights.  Deregulation.  Climate denial.  I’m sure Democrats will read this and immediately point to the fact that Republicans are conservative because they are trying to take the country back to the 18th Century.  But that’s not what I’m saying.  It’s clear that Dems still value progress on social issues.  No question.  But more and more, social issues are not dominating elections the way they were in the late 80s and 90s. 

Instead, millennials (and everyone outside the top tax bracket) are increasingly voting on economic and fiscal issues.  Employment.  Taxes.  Job creation.  Cost of living.  Energy. 

I voted for President Obama in 2008 and my expectations were high for what an Obama Administration would mean for the political climate in this country.  In that regard, I was wrong.  President Obama did not fundamentally change how we interact with our government or politics.  He just didn’t.   From where I sit, he made emergency decisions in 2009-2010 to try to salvage the autos and banks.  Besides political risks on health care, he played it right down the middle.  Even health care wasn’t that risky, Massachusetts had already gone there!

So what?

I don’t know.  And that’s the truth.  I don’t think defining Romney as an activity or Obama as a moderate is going to change anyone’s vote.  I don’t think the term liberal really even means change anymore.  It means Left, as in politically left of center. Similarly, conservative means traditionalor small government. It does not really mean status quo.

What I do think is that Obama is safer than Romney.  I know that flies in the face of many voters, whether in the 47% or not, that believe Obama is the dangerous candidate. 

What would Obama “do” in a second term?  What’s he capable of?

I think those sentiments are ridiculous.  Fundamentally, I think its Romney who wants to take risks.  He’s the investor.  The venture capitalist.  I know his speeches are filled with traditional American values.  But he is looking to halt the slow creep of the government and make dramatic and dynamic changes to the way we do business and perhaps live.  That sounds liberal to me.

Some might read this as a reverse endorsement of Romney/Ryan.  I assure you that’s not how it was intended but then again, I didn’t build it.

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Why hasn’t anyone called Mitt Romney the Antichrist?

In campaign for the Presidency in 2008, I spoke with many evangelical Christians and conservative Republican voters in Central PA.  Having grown up in a Congressional district where the Republican candidate often won 90+% of the vote, it was not surprising that then-Senator Barack Obama was not popular.  In fact, many voters were downright scared.  Most Republicans were scared of his progressive message and his potential.  A few brought up Obama’s meteoric rise to fame, his (then) somewhat confusing background and his ability to excite large groups of people.  A few of those individuals even mentioned similarities that his rise and personality could have with certain passages from Revelation in the Bible about the Antichrist.  Many interpretations of Revelation say the Antichrist will be presented to the world as a public figure who comes in the name of peace and unites the peoples of the world in harmony (and possibly currency) before revealing evil intentions.

All that to say – Obama’s charisma, connection with people and reliance on government brought out fears of what is essentially the fundamental “bad guy” of the New Testament.  In 2012, no one is calling Obama the Antichrist.  In fact, no one is even calling him a socialist much anymore.  I’m not sure Obama changed all that much.  Instead, voters have gotten to know him better and honestly, he hasn’t been as unifying and harmonizing as his ’08 campaign implied.

But when watching the Republican National Convention this week, my wife and I heard a commentator say that Rick Santorum was speaking to let evangelicals and Catholics know that it was safe to vote for Mitt Romney.  Safe? Safe?!?!?! My reaction was to laugh.  Mitt Romney is one of the safest (read, most harmless) candidates in a long time.  What the commentator really meant was that social conservatives should not worry about Romney’s religion.  Apparently among the coded messages at the RNC was that social conservatives should accept/welcome Mormons into the fold.

I immediately thought back to 2008.  If Obama was potentially the Antichrist for believing too strongly in government and showing the potential to harmonize many people in America and abroad, why aren’t these same people saying similar things about Mitt Romney?  Obama’s background seems more public (and accessible) than the money and power controlling the Mormon church.  I don’t know much about the internal politics of the Mormon church, so I could be off-base, but it seems to me at least, like the public leadership of the Mormon church plays it closer to the vest, so to speak, than those leading evangelical and Catholic institutions.

Yet, we heard from Rick Santorum that it’s a non-issue.

In reality, this blog post and Mitt’s problem has nothing to do with religion.  No one is saying anything about Mitt Romney being the Antichrist because he’s not interesting or charismatic enough to fit the mold even if you stretch the interpretations.  No rise to power – he’s been running for President as long as Suri Cruise has been alive (maybe longer).  He’s not coming in peace – granted, he’s not coming in the name of war either but the campaign is not a positive one. He’s not harmonizing – Romney’s campaign has been just the opposite actually.

It would almost be better for Mitt Romney if there were whispers of his being the Antichrist because it would mean that people can see his charisma, potential and power.

I’d like to think these whispers do not exist because people are becoming more familiar with the 24/7 cable news cycle and we no longer jump off the handle with wild comparisons anytime a bright, young Senator runs for President.  But we all know that’s not true.  We love hyperbole and we love drama.

So, it must be that Mitt is just not that interesting.

What I cannot figure out is whether this is good or bad.  On one hand, it’s been a turbulent 10 years and perhaps uninteresting is what this country needs for 4 years.  On the other hand, uninteresting does not inspire people, does not impose political will and does not win votes.  And yet, with his choice of Paul Ryan as VP and his essentially having the stage for 4 nights this week, Romney seems to be gaining momentum.

Ultimately I think Romney still has not overcome his safe approach.  He’s unwilling to take chances…he’s unwilling to take a stand.  Mitt Romney would benefit by becoming more personal and more dangerous.  In order to beat the incumbent, a presidential candidate has to overcome major disadvantages particularly that the opponent is already the President of the United States.  It takes a special candidate and some help from the economy/world events.  Reagan and Clinton has both of these in common.  Both candidates possessed incredible personal charisma and both entered the race during times of economic struggle. Romney has the economic struggle piece well in hand but, until now, has not connected with voters.

I didn’t see all of Thursday’s speech yet.  The parts I have seen left a little to be desired.  It was a good speech.  It wasn’t a great speech.  Romney will have every opportunity to build a narrative over the next two months that brings in voters and energizes the American people.  Maybe he’s capable of this.  Maybe his campaign is, as a good friend of mine would say, “a slow burn.”

But I don’t see it.  I don’t see this election getting any closer than it is right now.  Romney chose Ryan.  Romney had the stage.  And he did alright.  Unfortunately for him, ok isn’t good enough in this political climate if you’re attempting to unseat an incumbent.

Can “a slow burn” win my vote? Absolutely.  But in this case, I still haven’t seen Mitt’s Presidential Moment.  I haven’t seen him say anything particularly interesting.  Safe, steady and lower taxes.  I get it but he hasn’t won my vote.

The campaign begins in full force on Tuesday.  The convention is over.  The summer is over. Kids are going back to school.  People are starting to pay attention.  Starting Tuesday Mitt needs to parlay this momentum into votes.

No one is going to mistake Mitt Romney for the Antichrist but he could make things a lot more interesting by making himself a little more interesting.

Senator Lugar, You Said It.

For the first time in about 3 years, I sat down at my laptop this morning and did not have anything law school-related to work on.  No internship applications, no cases to read, no papers to write.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to blog a little. What better to write about than last night’s votes in North Carolina and Indiana.  The two leading headlines – NC voters approving a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and long-time Senator Dick Lugar losing his primary to no name state official.

The first issue requires less attention than even I will pay.  I mean, if I was looking for “a pickle” in the proposed North Carolina amendment, I would say that it shows the tension between individual states and the country.  This country was designed to allow states to be “laboratories of public policy” as one Supreme Court justice put it.  If that’s the case, we have to accept it when a state, here or there, goes off on a public policy goose chase.  We certainly don’t have to praise NC for proposing and passing this but we don’t have to view it as the downfall of Western liberal thought either.  Many on Twitter or Facebook are saying hurtful and inappropriate things about North Carolinians, others are more appropriately describing themselves as “disappointed,” and still others have decided to just ignore the uncomfortable issue altogether.  The bottom line for The Political Pickle is – is this the best way to be doing this?

We will agree that there are major disagreements between the two major parties about gay marriage.  No question.  I would say moderates and independents lean to the Democrats on this issue.  So, on the gay marriage issue, there are two main camps roughly represented by the two main parties.  Supporters of gay marriage believe its a civil rights issue and that doesn’t leave room for debate.  Similarly, opponents of gay marriage believe it is a moral issue and that doesn’t leave much room for compromise.  So, what do we do? While we wait for a national majority of people to push the cultural tied one way or the other, we let states have their day.  In Connecticut, where I write this blog, gay marriage is legal.  North Carolina has gone the other way.  And, based on how we make law and policy in this country, we just have to deal with it.  It’s kinda like a parent who knows that their child is going to get hurt but allows them to make a mistake or endure bad news.  “It’s for your own good.”  We have a little federalist tough love going on.  We love this country enough that we watch as states make bad decisions.

As a lawyer, though, I cannot help thinking of both sides of the argument.  Yes, on one hand, we stand by and allow states their sovereignty, even celebrate the “laboratory theory” of public policy.  On the other hand, states cannot go too far (see the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s).  So, however you feel about the legal status of same-sex couples and their right to be married, remember that states can only go so far. I don’t think North Carolina is going about this the right way, but I also think we have to swallow it until such time as minds can be changed or democratic majorities can be organized.

For a party that believes in small government and individual rights, this is a funny issue to make a national story.  What’s more personal than marriage? But, I digress, my intention wasn’t to try to air out all the conceivable attacks and defenses of North Carolina’s amendment.  My intention was that even if we think it’s wrong and/or the wrong way to go about governing, the silver lining is that states are wrong all the time.  That’s what makes them states and that’s eventually what sparks national majorities to make progress.  Unfortunately for some of the citizens of North Carolina, this is how we make progress.  One step back, two steps forward.

In related news, I thought that Senator Lugar’s concession speech and the corresponding coverage of it this morning speaks exactly to this point.  Senator Lugar a known moderate, bi-partisan and practical politician was upset in his state’s primary last night by the State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.  Sidenote:  An impressive jump to be sure –   state treasurer to United States Senator.  Nevertheless, Mourdock’s campaign promised “stand-your-ground confrontation” on Republican orthodoxy.  And won.   I guess we’ll have to start calling that “stand your ground”  legislating.

Oddly appropriate.

While that sounds great on the campaign trail, Lugar makes an even more important point about reality.  “This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve,” said Lugar.

I had so much to say on this race and this whole idea of “compromise” being a dirty word.  But Senator Lugar already said.  Last night.  And better than I could have.

Here’s more from CNN’s coverage:

“Parties don’t succeed for long if they stop appealing to voters who may disagree with them on some issues.”

And he didn’t stop there.

His stinging words about today’s divisive politics were reminiscent of moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe’s open disgust for what the process has become when she announced she was retiring.

“I don’t remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc,” said Lugar.”

I’ll say this.  Lugar is not without fault.  He’s been in the Senate for 36 years.  36 years! That is a long time to have 1 job and sometimes I think that does put you out-of-touch with voters.  So, I’m not writing a defense of incumbents or a pity party for Dick Lugar.  At the same time, he lost for being reasonable and trying to get things done in Washington.  And that rubs me the wrong way.  Because, again, as the Senator himself said, ideology cannot be a politician’s only quality.

“Ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively, and for the fortitude to sometimes disagree with your party or even your constituents,” he said.

Senator Lugar is out and only time will tell if the next Senator from Indiana will be successful in our most prestigious legislative body.  Indiana had two, reasonable and widely-liked Senators not to mention that both were willing to reach across the isle in order to see legislation through to law.  Senators Bayh and Lugar have both been ousted in the last 2 Senatorial election cycles by more conservative right-wing candidates.  Indiana is embracing political orthodoxy rather than practicality.  Though I’ve always encouraged practicality over ideology, this is the political culture we live in and I’m not sure there’s any changing it at this point.  Extremist win and moderates are beatable.

Which is fine, we just cannot expect anything to change.  Don’t expect Washington to fix anything when each side has decided to “stand-its-ground” and anything in between is considered weak and politically dangerous.  The good news is that if anything does get through Congress and is signed by the President, it can be challenged as unconstitutional and spend several years reaching the Supreme Court.  In this way, we have an extra layer of protection to make sure nothing gets done.  And I’m not really even talking about healthcare, although I do think something needed to be done there.  And I’m not talking about social issues either which I would prefer that the US Senate isn’t spending valuable time debating to begin with.

I’m worried about financial issues, industrial issues, technological issues and environmental issues.  Those things that supersede the “states as laboratories” model.  National issues that require national attention.  Debt. Deficits. Trade. Security.  We’re going no where fast and we’re ousting the few people who dedicated their lives to trying to assist progress.

Senator Lugar made a career of putting people and progress over politics.  I don’t feel bad for him, he had his 36 years but I do worry about the message we’re sending to our politicians and our perspective politicians.  As CNN wrote, “Not always politically expedient or strategically smart, but, from his perspective, principled.” Don’t we want more Lugars and less Mourdocks? I guess not.  At least in Indiana…and North Carolina.

Republicans are secretly voting for Obama

All across this country in primaries like the one held this week in Illinois Republicans are voting for President Obama and some don’t even know it! I know.  Hard to believe.

“But PPP, I thought the Republicans hated President Obama?”

Ah, dear Reader (I can say Reader cause I only have 1…Hi Mom!), that’s what they want you to think.

It’s like high school.  Everyone is trying to be tough, or cool, or hip, or artistic, or athletic, or stylish.  And if your identity is threatened, you argue and stress all the more how No, I really, really am cool. I hate anyone who isn’t uncool.  I’ll prove how cool I can be.  And then you tell a dirty joke or embarrass a younger or quieter student or do something stupid in front of a teacher, secretly feeling really bad about it but outwardly showing off how cool you are.

And that clumsy analogy brings me to Republicans in Illinois and many other reasonable states who’ve yet to hold primaries.  Despite supposedly hating Barack Obama (outwardly), Republicans are not voting for Mitt Romney.  Not only are they not voting for Mitt Romney but they are actively not voting to beat Obama either.  They claim they are.  They claim they want nothing more than to unseat Obama in November.

But Republicans, I’ve got news for you – actions speak louder than words.

Your actions tell me that deep down you’d rather not vote than vote for Romney. If that’s true and voter turnout continues to be incredibly low in large, swing states, then Obama can win easily.  These people are not going to vote for Obama in November; they just won’t vote.

And a Republican not voting for Romney might as well be a vote for Obama.

Is it possible that though not excited about the Romney-Santorum-Gingrich circus, these voters will suddenly rally and come together for Romney in mid-to-late October? I suppose.  Anything is possible.  But that isn’t how politics and voting have work for the last 200 years.

I’m not surprised that a Republican anywhere would want to stay home this time around.  I get it.  Two smart candidates who are vocal advocates of “conservative values” but whose names appear in the dictionary next to unelectable.  One reasonably smart candidate who is so bad at appearing natural as a politician that his own campaign thinks of him as the human Etch-A-Sketch.  The only problem with that characterization was that it is so ridiculously accurate regarding Romney’s changes in tone, message and purpose over the past 10 years that you’d think the Gingrich campaign came up with it.  Anytime you confirm the thing voters’ fear most about your ability as President, you’ve already lost.  (See Dean in ’04 (out-of-control), Gore in ’00 (out-of-touch), and Palin in ’08 (out-of-answers)).

Romney is the “I’ll say whatever I have to say today” candidate and the Etch-A-Sketch remark confirmed in everyone’s mind that Romney thinks of himself the way everyone else thinks of him too.

The only problem is that leaves Republicans with nowhere to go.  Santorum and Gingrich lose dramatically in a general election and probably manage to embarrass the GOP along the way.  Romney loses with a bit more dignity but is so transparent in his false attempts to win loyalty and support that Republicans have decided to stay home.  At least, they’ve stayed home in places like Illinois and, I predict, more of the same to come.

Republicans that loyally voted for George W. Bush twice and even found a way to support McCain/Palin will now stay home because it’s not like they’d actually vote for Obama.  Come on.  But they won’t vote for Romney either.

Instead, Republican voters have subconsciously decided to re-elect President Obama.  You just won’t hear them admit it.

Happy Presidents’ Day! I’ve yet to read this entire article, but the first half is interesting enough. Enjoy.

Global Public Square

Editor’s Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.

By James M. LindsayCFR.org

A few presidents have loved the job. Teddy Roosevelt said “No president has ever enjoyed himself as much as I have enjoyed myself.” Most other presidents, though, have found the job demanding, perhaps too demanding. James K. Polk pretty much worked himself to exhaustion. Zachary Taylor, the hero of the Mexican-American War, found being president harder than leading men into battle. Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack from the stress of leading the Free World.Many presidents express relief once they can be called “former president.” This trend started early. John Adams told his wife Abigail that George Washington looked too happy watching him take the…

View original post 2,126 more words

Really?!?!?

And now it’s time for a segment that I like to “borrow” from Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler at Saturday Night Live called “Really?!?!? an homage to Seth and Amy.”

Really, GOP? Really? Rick Santorum?

The other night my friends and I watched Ides of March which not surprisingly led directly into political conversation.  We’re pretty much a political roundtable.  I’m usually both literally and figuratively in the center.  My friend, CFO, is a self-described “Ronald Reagan conservative” and my friend, TBS, is an Obama Democrat.  Since I was sitting between them, CFO on my right and TBS on my left, the conversation went about how you’d expect.  (I’m paraphrasing two separate conversations including Wednesday night’s roundtable in the interest of time):

PPP:  “You can’t actually be excited about Mitt Romney.”

CFO: “Haha, why not?”

TBS: “Seriously?”

PPP: “Because he doesn’t have it.”

CFO: “I know he doesn’t have it.  I don’t have to vote for it.”

PPP: “I only vote for it.

PPP:  “Well, then why doesn’t the GOP just nominate Santorum and go big or go home?”

TBS:  “Cause it’s a guaranteed loss.”

CFO: “At least Romney will make it close, make it interesting and if he can’t pull off the win, he loses with dignity.”

PPP:  “Fair enough.  But why not lose the cardboard cut-out candidate and see if Santorum can’t shake things up.  Unless he doesn’t represent you.”

CFO:  “He doesn’t represent enough of the Republican Party.  It’s a bad idea.  At least Romney represents the traditional center of the GOP. He’s a little old school and not extreme.”

PPP:  “Booooooring.” (Yeah, intelligent, I know. In my defense, it was getting late.)

Look.  The reason I haven’t been blogging as often about this year’s Republican primary is that I didn’t actually consider it a true race.  I thought that the media was capitalizing on the 24/7 news cycle, the general public’s fear of the economy, Twitter, blogs and all the other media tools that have exploded since 2008 and simply trying to make viewers believe there was an interesting GOP primary going on.

In my opinion, it was not that interesting.  I was much more interested in the dynamic between Romney and Obama.  As my best friend wrote on his blog, Romney/Obama represents the clash of two classic views of politics, policy and culture.  That’s the clash I was interested in.

It never occurred to me (after Iowa) that anyone but Romney could win this nomination.  I did my best to keep an eye on the campaigns so that when the candidates or media touched on issues bigger than the so-called horserace, and actually got into America’s values and future, I could make a note or comment or whatever.  But, President Gingrich? President Santorum? Hardly gave it a second thought.

Yet, here we are.

The New York Times noted yesterday that Romney’s “other” victory, Maine, might be stripped by GOP officials running the election up there.  If that happens, even Romney’s perceived lead would still be subjected to the mathematical scrutiny of delegating-counting.

As if that’s not enough, the Daily Beast is writing pieces and tweeting about Romney supporters supposedly backing Santorum.  Even if that’s not the “announcement” the Santorum campaign is about to make today, the story alone gives the appearance of Santorum gaining ground.

Which apparently he is.  A new CNN poll has Santorum leading in Michigan and tied with Romney overall.

Seriously?!?!? Rick Santorum?

Look, perhaps he’s the so-called “red meat” of the Republican Party.  You know, the rare T-bone steak? The bread and butter? Coca-cola? Whatever gastronomical reference you prefer.  He’s the classic conservative.  I don’t happen to agree but maybe that’s why I’m an Independent.

I don’t see it or it, for that matter.

I think Romney’s out of touch – the “I’ll bet you $10,000” jokes or the “I didn’t make that much off speaking fees, I think it was $350,000 or something” references to wealth – but he’s a skilled and smart individual.  He struggles too much with the trying to be a certain type of Republican and “play nice” with the Far Right.  As a result, he appears weak, confused and impersonal.

Given that environment and the lack of enthusiasm to trot him out against Obama who is an expert campaigner, I can understand other candidates getting more attention than they deserve.  Exhibit A – Rick Santorum.

Look, I’m not necessarily saying he’s a bad person.  Although, by now, we all know what Dan Savage thinks of Candidate Santorum.  What I am saying, is that Rick Santorum is not the best candidate to represent the Republican Party and he’s not electable.

Simply put, it’s a bad strategy.  Unless the GOP has given up on Mitt Romney and doesn’t mind “losing without dignity” as my friend CFO implied.  If that’s the case, then Santorum could serve a valuable purpose to the future of the Republican Party.  This primary and Romney vs. Santorum can help the GOP figure out who it is moving forward.  How will the GOP represent all the divergent constituents of the party? Is the GOP really one party or is it really two – fiscal conservatives (David Brooks, George Will, Mitt Romney) and social conservatives (Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum)?  If this party cannot find a way to include the Romneys, then that’s a major problem.  If loyal voters are defecting the Romney campaign because he’s not a “true conservative,” then that’s a major problem.

If Romney’s boring and doesn’t have it, that’s fine.

If Romney is no longer considered conservative enough, yikes.

I think that’s my biggest issue with Santorum’s latest surge.  Why is it happening?  The answer to that question tells us a lot about the future of Republican, and American, politics.

In short (as if that’s ever possible here on The Pickle), I do not believe that Santorum wins the nomination and I do believe that Romney becomes a stronger candidate having been through this difficult primary.  But what I once thought was ridiculous – Santorum winning the nomination – looks more possible everyday.  Enough that it at least got me thinking and writing about politics again.

Note:  The Huffington Post link above includes a 44 minute video of Dan Savage interviewing Rick Santorum.  I was only able to watch the first 20 minutes so far, but I would highly recommend watching the interview.  Two men who disagree about almost everything in American society sat down and actually spoke to each other about their beliefs and thoughts without name-calling and without (too much) rhetoric. Check it out. Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/dan-savage-rick-santorum-google_n_1257300.html

State of the Union Reaction: Almost Immediate and Unnecessarily Blunt

Count it.  It was a great speech. Was it epic? No. Will it be remembered forever? No. Will it be remembered in election season? Unlikely.

What makes me call it “great” is the fact that it measured, appropriate and honest.  It was better than good and fell short of “a moment.”  This President is an extremely practical president.  This speech reflected that.  This President is left on some issues, moderate on others and conservative on work ethic and responsibility.  This speech reflected that.  This President sees the government as both a tactical tool and long-term strategy solution without getting anywhere near socialism, communism or whatever other -ism is the critics’ flavor of the week.  This speech reflected that.

President Obama made several outstanding points:

  1. Tax reforms can create jobs.
  2. “Teachers matter.”
  3. Some people need to be reminded to play by the rules. “A return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help us protect our people and our economy.”
  4. “…Washington is broken.” “Can you blame [most Americans] for feeling a little cynical?”
  5. “deficit of trust” between Wall St. and Main St. (thanks to my wife, M, her comment got this one on the list)
  6. Quoting Abraham Lincoln (like Sam Adams) is always a good decision.
  7. “…the State of our Union will always be strong.” (And shame on Mitch Daniels for calling it “grave” and Obama dishonest – all in the same breath).

President Obama made several less-than-outstanding points*:

*Please note that I feel more compelled to defend my criticisms.  The other points seem to speak for themselves.

  1. “This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.” Really?  I keep hearing this.  (Probably from brillant economists and I’m just the village idiot on this one).  Yet, this feels a bit like relying on the past and reverting to what worked 40 years ago instead of pushing forward to life after heavy industrialized manufacturing.  He didn’t say lets start manufacturing sophisticated electronics, biotech components or tools, or medical solutions; he mentioned cars, roads and bridges.  He did mention new energy solutions, so that counts.  And don’t get me wrong, I want to see I-84 in Connecticut improved as much as anyone.  But somehow this feels like bowing to the conventional wisdom of a previous generation.
  2. Let’s “take on” illegal immigration and write a bill that allows illegal aliens who are currently getting an education to “earn” their citizenship.  Agreed. Sounds great.  From my perspective, that was the extent of the proposal.  It sounded great but did not go far enough in explaining a). what the President supports when it comes to immigration reform and b). what that legislation might look like.  Granted, Congress writes the law.  I get that.  But I still felt like bold statements that are clearly supposed to be a message to DREAM Act supporters did not explain his rationale or strategy to the rest of us.
  3. “That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.”  This one is a tough one for me.  A bit of a pickle, you might say.  Balancing the need for regulation with the free market approach to irresponsible actors has always been a conflict at the heart of our two-party system and cuts to the core of the need for a President and Congress who can work together.  This balancing act between regulation and free market principles IS the basic balancing act we’ve been asking the American government to master since the founding of the Republic.  I’m not expecting President Obama to solve it in one speech or even three years.  But quotes like this make my ears perk up.  Because, while yes, we need smart regulations to curb irresponsible, powerful private actors; we also need to let loses, bankruptcies and market corrections occur when those regulations fail or do not exist.  In the last ten years or so, we’ve had neither smart regulations nor the guts to let the results of bad regulations play out (Republicans and Democrats alike, see W. for TARP1).  So, I support President Obama’s themes around smart government and efficient regulation but I get wary when the President begins to act like we can predict where irresponsible behavior will strike next.  There aren’t enough regulations in the world…
  4. “Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else— like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.”  Rhetorically, I think this is an effective line.  In reality, I do not think either party is being honest about the so-called 1%.  Republican voters do not trust The Government to actually use the money from higher taxes effectively or to address anything other than pet projects.  Democratic voters think that if only The Government had more revenue or all the tax revenues their supposed to have, then programs would operate effectively.  Hogwash.
    1. The question is – do we want to add another tax bracket for earners above $379,000/year? If we do, add one and create a % higher than the current 35%.  If we don’t, then we’ve got some serious cuts to make.  The President is right about not being able to do both.  But perhaps arguing about people who make between $250,000/year and $379,000/year isn’t the best way to frame the argument?
    2. Framing it as Billionaire vs. Secretary isn’t bad but it ignores some giant implications about the capital gains vs. income tax rates.  (Perhaps he thinks Americans cannot handle that portion of the discussion yet?)
  5. “They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to their country’s future, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit. That’s an America built to last.”  A sense of shared responsibility is how we’ll reduce our deficit? Also, isn’t “Built to Last” the trademark of Chevy trucks or something? Did America buy it in the last bailout? (Sorry, cheap joke. Perhaps a bit better than tonight’s joke about spilled milk. Though he did save it in the end.)

Two quick side notes of interest:

  1. “I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”  Those I was watching the speech with tonight and I decided that this means wind power on public land and the first client will be the US Navy? I think I got that right but if someone else heard differently please let The Pickle know.
  2. “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” M is becoming the voice of the people.  Her comment was “I wonder how he’ll define ‘responsible’?”  I agree.  I also wondered if this was a good thing.  Do we want a bunch of people refinancing?  I guess so, but wasn’t really sure why.

As I said, I support many of the themes and perspectives that the President trumpeted tonight.  Innovation.  Authenticity.  Good Ol’ Fashioned American gumption.  Combined with efficiency, incentives and progress.  Yes.  Did I sense hope during tonight’s speech? Yes.  But let’s not forget.  This is a practical President giving a practical speech.  It was just abstract enough to pull in the idealist dreamers out there and just realistic enough to make sense to open-minded, hard-working Americans.  Was it a campaign speech? Not exactly.  Was it a policy speech? Not exactly.  Was it a timeless speech for the ages? Not really.

In the end, it may have been just what the country needed.

Link to text of speech:  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ipL6t6dU4L6bZEJqiSK3XI8VAQCQ?docId=4abd26d5a7de4d55b6b634ff37833b39