Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Handicapping the 2012 GOP Field

The silly season is upon us--time to pick a candidate to run for president against Barack Obama.  It's amusing to watch all the pundits bloviating about who does and does not have a chance.  I might as well do my own bloviating.  At least by putting these predictions out here early, I earn the right to say "told you so" in the off-chance that I am right.  In the far more likely case that I am dead wrong, at least I'll be in good company.

For starters, Huckabee, Trump, and Daniels are out.  Trump was a clown from the beginning.  I'm happy to see Huck go; his personal charisma and evangelical bona fides would have made him too much of a spoiler, and almost certainly would have resulted in what I would consider one of the worst scenarios coming to pass.  I wasn't a huge Daniels fan, but I have to admit that a guy who chooses not to run because he's unwilling to put his wife through the hassle is probably more qualified, character wise, than some of these folks who have wanted to be president since middle school.

Technically, Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachman are not in yet, but most folks expect them to be.  The Jury is still out on Sarah Palin.  If I'm Palin, I don't run.  I've blogged previously on my feelings about Palin, but from a pure math perspective, she occupies the same electoral space as Bachman and Herman Cain.  Even if she comes out on top in that semi-final bracket, it cripples her chances against the more "mainstream" or "establishment" side.  If I were her, I'd get behind Cain and try to play kingmaker.  (More on him later.)

Bachman is basically the "poor man's Palin," but I don't give her much chance.  She's already been pilloried as stupid in the media (despite her multiple law degrees), and doesn't have a big enough megaphone (like a Palin or a Cain) to fight back against that.  She's also widely known as a "tea party candidate," but most tea partiers like Cain a lot better.

So what about Cain?  I like him.  A lot.  The knock on him is that he is the novelty candidate who cannot win, largely due to his lack of prior elected office.  This disregards the fact that he has MUCH more genuine executive experience than either of the nominees last time, and also that just one cycle ago we elected a novelty candidate who had been a senator for about 14 minutes, 8 of which were spent campaigning for president.  All the "smart" people saying he has no chance also act like Huntsman is a serious candidate, which says more about their own so-called smarts than it does about Cain's qualifications.  If he can get the "tea party" populist side of the ticket to unite behind him, especially if he gets a Palin endorsement, he becomes a really interesting factor.  At the very least, he could wind up VP.

That leaves the more mainstream folks.  Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Huntsman.  Let's start with Gingrich: not a chance.  Done. Toast.  Even before his most recent gaffe-fest, the whole embrassing soap opera personal life made him toxic.  He will be interesting in the debates, though.

Huntsman keeps popping up as the flavor of the month for "sophisticated" folks.  I don't get it.  If you want a RINO with good hair, there's Romney.  I think the only reason anybody is talking about Huntsman is that nobody knows enough about him yet.  Once we know him as well as the others, we'll dislike him, too.

Romney is the heir-apparent in the sense that he lost the last time.  He's also got good looks, crossover appeal, business sense, a history of good management, and a ton of money to spend.  Unfortunately, he's also got Romneycare as an albatross around his neck.  If not for that, he could overcome the "Ken doll" vibe and the overall sense of RINO squishiness.  And perhaps if that were his only weakness, he could finesse it somehow.  But the combination is fatal.  I think all those who have annointed him the front-runner completely fail to understand the tea party phenomenon.  Indeed, if he emerges as the nominee, unless he somehow manages to get a Cain or a Palin as a running mate (darned unlikely), he may be the last Republican nominee--the populist wing would likely split.

That leaves Pawlenty.  He's boring.  But boring can be good!  We've had a celebrity/demigod president, and how's that working out?  We have our own drama queen (Palin), and I think most folks can do without that.  Indeed, if you go back all the way to the Clinton years, we're coming up on 20 straight years of the president being flatly hated by near half of the US population.  I think a boring, wonky, "Minnesota Nice" candidate could be a welcome change from that.  He's got solid executive experience, has demonstrated that he can do budget math, and has a solid conservative record without being a firebrand.  He's evangelical without giving off the Huckabee televangelist vibe (and yet also hasn't run away from social issues like Daniels did with the "truce" idea).  I think on the "establishment" side of the bracket, he probably emerges as the un-Romney, and unlike Romney, can plausibly reach out to the tea party side.

At the end, I'll bet we get Pawlenty, preferably with Cain at the bottom of the ticket.  But the other direction would suit me fine, too.


I love oxymorons.  Jumbo shrimp.  Icy hot.  ACC football.  All good fun!  But I was thinking last week about how we Americans often want things that simply cannot go together.  The push that got this ball rolling was serving as a driver for some nice folks from our local homeless shelter to a free activity at a children's museum.  (Lest you think that my own stony heart came up with this idea, no, my lovely bride was the one who volunteered, but I was happy to be involved.)  Just conversing with a couple of moms and their kids on the ten-minute ride was perplexing.  If you've read this intermittent blog all the way back to the beginning, you know that I struggle trying to balance the requirements of my faith with the realities of this fallen world.  As a Christian, I want to help the poor, but as a teacher of history and economics, I often wonder if our "help" does any good, or even harm.  Well, as I listened to these very-nice folks, what struck me is that they seem completely incapable of making economic and lifestyle decisions in their own best interest.  If only I could help them--not just with a ride, or a handout, or a job, or a place to stay--but with guidance, with the ability to learn from others' mistakes, with boundaries.  I support my children, but I also get a say (the deciding say) in their decision-making.  If I pay the rent, and I buy the groceries, then I also get to make the rules.  But we don't want that for our poor.  We want to help them economically, but not take away any of their autonomy or dignity.  But it doesn't work.

I teach my students in US History that our country values both liberty and security, but that the balance between them is ever-shifting.  Perfect freedom isn't safe at all--imagine highways with no lanes, no speed limits, no rules, and no signals.  But perfect security is not free at all--imagine that same highway with zero percent chance of a traffic fatality, with cars traveling 3 mph and made of bubble-wrap.  Often when we get scared, we trade liberties for safety (whether economic freedoms, or others, like the ability to board a plane without being groped).  Sometimes we go too far and, to our credit, try to go back and make it right (like with Japanese intenment in WWII).  Sometimes we differ over where the balance belongs (how strong a social safety net?  is the Patriot Act a good or bad idea?).  But at least we seem to understand that we cannot have either liberty or security perectly.

Why then, can we not get this logic through our head on other stuff?  We want $1.50 gas, but also don't want to drill where the oil is.  We want high spending and also low taxes.  My school wants to field 58 sports teams and yet also wants them all to be championship contenders.  Pick one!  But stop demanding the impossible!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama, Obama, and Politics

Watching various friends' facebook statuses last night when the news broke that Osama Bin Laden is now at room temp and perforated, it took about an hour before anybody dared to say anything political.  Even then, most of the semi-political musings were from friends who support President Obama, and were along the lines of, "wonder how they can criticize this?"  Nothing rude or anything like that.  A little later, some of the braver pundits were wondering aloud whether this has any impact on the election in 2012.

First of all, there's nothing to criticize.  Indeed, I like Obama best when he dares to "be like Bush."  Whether it was pushing an Afghan surge, supporting Petreaus, keeping Gitmo open, or increasing drone attacks in theater, I have supported him and been pleasantly surprised when he did what I consider to be "the right thing."  In this case, sending SEALs in, without prior notification to Paksitan, and double-tapping OBL is something I wholeheartedly applaud.

There's also a "Nixon to China" element here.  With just a couple of exceptions, there has been hardly a peep from the usual antiwar voices.  What we have here is the use of intel gained from Gitmo detainees, possibly while being waterboarded, used by a special ops "kill squad" who have zero intent to capture, so a targeted assassination, and also a violation of the borders of our putative "ally," Pakistan.  And it was without a doubt a great thing to do.  You won't hear the vast majority of the folks who would have flayed a Bush or even a McCain for doing the same thing talk about "war crimes."  And that's a good thing.

As for long-term political repercussions, I don't think it necessarily changes the picture in 2012 at all.  Think about it.  First of all, it's no "October surprise."  Any bounce Obama gains from this will be long-gone by election day.  It was about this time in 1991 that Bush 41's approval ratings were over 90% as a result of the Gulf War, and we know how that turned out.  There was little chance of this election turning on foreign policy, especially with Obama essentially validating the entire Bush program (even if he has done so while holding his nose).  Those who planned on voting for him anyway will have their resolve strengthened by this.  Those who didn't are likely not going to change their minds over it.  I'll bet that the tiny number of hawks who embrace Obama due to this success will be offset by a similarly tiny number of super-doves who abandon him for the same reason.  At the end of the day, if gas is five bucks a gallon and bacon 6 bucks a pound next year, he's toast.  If the economy is back on track, he's fine.  Pretty much everything else is window dressing.

Regardless, today I don't care anyway.  The idea that the last thing Osama ever saw was a SEAL with a cew cut and an MP5 warms my heart.  Well done, Mr. President.