This year’s GOP primary has been an odyssey filled with sound and fury. But, like elephants who never forget, millions of Republicans are muttering “haven’t we seen this movie before?” Conservatives who were looking for a solid alternative to Democrat Barack Obama are angry and disappointed. The party rank and file was opposed to the nomination of Mitt Romney, seeing him as a weathervane – willing to adopt any position or cause to suit his ambitions.
The Republican establishment, which is dominated by big business and the Wall Street elite, heard the same chorus of protests when Senator John McCain was nominated in 2008. The party elites argue that, as a centrist, Governor Romney has the best chance of beating the incumbent president in the November US elections. They claim that since his term ended in Massachusetts, a left-leaning stronghold, Romney’s positions have “evolved” and he is now closer to mainstream conservatives. Yet, his detractors say fielding a candidate who is clearly unable to articulate any coherent moral outlook is a big blunder.
American voters have not warmed up to the nominee. Since early 2011, Romney support among Republican voters in statewide polls never rose above 20 to 30 percent. In an ABC survey in March – just 34 percent of all voters had a favorable opinion of him. His unfavorable score, nearly 50 percent, was exceeded only by one other Republican, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and by only one top candidate in 28 years, Hillary Clinton in 2008.
It is a mystery how a candidate so unpopular among average voters could remain the “front runner”. In addition, the single issue where Barack Obama is most vulnerable is his controversial national health care mandate. Unbelievably, it turns out that the original model for the “Obamacare” health law was first enacted by Governor Romney in Massachusetts. Both laws require everyone with income to purchase health insurance. As with Obama, Romney’s plan provides free contraceptive coverage, which Catholic and other religious institutions must pay for!
The outcome of the GOP primary season poses the question: is democracy taking a long sabbatical in the country where it all began back in 1776? First, there is the obvious issue of disparity in money. Multi-millionaires like Romney have a tremendous advantage over opponents. At the same time, candidates who are not responsive to the wealthy elite will always be swimming upstream. With access to unlimited donations raised by “SuperPacs,” the GOP winner shelled out hundreds of millions in slick attack ads – helping to vilify his opponents in every state primary. The two expected nominees have already raised a combined total close to US$400 million. Overall spending by both presidential campaigns in 2008 was $1.7 billion, 10 times what it was in 1976, and perhaps this will double in 2012.
A second major concern is how Governor Romney was originally designated as the front runner. Who determined that the Republican nomination was his, unless a challenger could snatch it away? It is hard to escape the conclusion that a corrupt bargain was in place from the start involving the top US elites, the GOP establishment and the national media barons. In modern election contests, the big media carefully frame the race between two poles, the liberal Democrats against conservative Republicans. In the primary debates the media make it next to impossible for a dissenting candidate to get anywhere near the nomination.
From 1970 to 2000, America’s former Christian culture has been stripped away like bark from a tree. As with Sarah Palin – a leading Christian conservative who was nominated for vice president in 2008 – a candidate who openly talks of a serious commitment to Christian or Biblical moral virtues is considered a “cult follower” or extremist.
This year former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum and even Texas Governor Rick Perry were all bullied and ostracized by partisan TV journalists. When Perry or Santorum made foolish statements, the media labeled them hopeless bumpkins who were unfit for higher office.
Mitt Romney’s blunders were criticized but labelled as just bumps in the road. But the front runner made several mega-gaffes where he appeared to be getting coaching from Ebenezer Scrooge. During the worst economic crisis in almost a century, multi-millionaire Romney stated “I am not concerned about poor people”. Elsewhere he bragged about how he enjoys firing people. He described government loans which saved two-thirds of the auto industry and over 1 million American jobs as a terrible mistake. After first stonewalling on his taxes, he revealed that by using loopholes and off shore accounts he paid only 14 percent, a rate well below that of most middle-income Americans.
For independent minded voters, including social conservatives and Christians, there is a temptation to simply avoid the race or to stay away from the polls this fall. The damage done by Obama in the next four years may not be as bad as one or two terms under a slightly less liberal alternative. Before he suspended his surprising campaign, Rick Santorum said the difference between Romney and his Democratic rival is negligible. Arguments about the lesser of two evils, which surface like a swarm of cicadas every four years, are sounding hollow.
As Plato noted in the Republic – in an oligarchy “there is not one state but two, one of the very wealthy, and one of everyone else. “If history is a guide, then Ben Franklin’s remarks at the 1787 Constitutional Convention should be noted. When asked – ‘what have we got?’ – he replied, ‘A republic if you can keep it’.” As in earlier eras, 21st century Americans will have to provide their own answer to his timeless warning.
David J. Peterson is an author and a high school teacher with a degree in economics. He lives in Chicago.