Not since the cowboy ‘W’ Bush and his race to invade Iraq in ’03 has more of my commentary time been spent explaining to news outlets the current state of affairs in the US Republican/Tea Party. While the consensus is FOX is more comedy than serious news, it seems bizarrely suited for this ‘theatre of the absurd’ drama known as the GOP primary season.
Less than a month away from the “anyone but Mitt” ball, both the musical chair nature of switching front-runners and grossly unqualified candidates is more a cause for alarm than laughter. This is not my father’s Republican Party and because it looks more reality television show than serious discourse, none of the ‘adults’ in the party are in the room.
Now infomercial barker and former disgraced Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich grabs the frontrunner ring from the pizza-lover (emphasis on ‘lover’) Herman Cain, who in turn grabbed it from a drugged or drunk Rick Perry, who grabbed it from the megalomaniacal billionaire Donald Trump, who stole it from the ‘cure the gay’ Rep. Michele Bachmann and perennial candidate Rep. Ron Paul before her. The mixed and muddled primaries looking to nominate anyone but Mitt Romney move to the voting stage in three weeks to see who will face Barack Obama in November.
The Tea Party swept to power in 2010 with 84 freshman House seats and many of those are in trouble as popularity rankings have dropped lower than former Poppy Bush VP Dan Quayle (or is it spelt Quaile?). Yet the entire GOP is deluded into thinking they will regain all three branches of government with a policy of tax cuts for the rich and ignoring the 99%? So their MO is to gridlock any movement in DC. They refuse to work or cast any vote that might help President Obama look good or help the economy – often seen as one and the same.
Their naked ‘defeat Obama at any cost, do nothing to raise taxes on the richest (or face lobbyist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge wrath) and never, never compromise’ attitude has the average US worker facing a $1,000+ per family tax increase and ending of extended unemployment benefits on January 1st. They say they will consider extending the payroll taxes but the trillion dollar Bush tax cuts must be made permanent.
In other words should I shoot you in the head with the .44 magnum or the AK-47?
Most here in the UK actually read newspapers, listen to thoughtful commentary and can concentrate for more than an 8-second sound byte. The question I am most often asked about this GOP field is: Are they serious? I am forced to sheepishly answer in the affirmative and then try to explain campaign 2011-12.
There used to be a process whereby voters in each state, particularly the early voting (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina), got to know and understand the candidates and issues through town hall and face-to-face meetings, often in people’s living rooms. Organisation and ‘boots on the ground’ in campaign offices were key for getting out the vote. Half the money a candidate raised went to organisation and the other half to television adverts. Now it’s all telly all the time.
With the amount of money in the election, candidates need to reach huge audiences. So instead of dialogue, we’ve been subjected to a series of ‘naming rights’ televised debates (Newsmax and Ion Televison – moderated by Donald Trump presents:) that rule the voting process. The press, desperate for ANY story have seized upon each gaffe as a gift from the heavens and so the focus becomes how the candidate recovers from the gaffe rather than on the issues at hand. Too, no one really attacks another republican so 7-9 people repeat the same tired stump speech lines without challenge from the moderator that they answer the question that was asked.
There have been 15 (sanctioned) debates so far with five left in this calendar year and 10 more through the 1st quarter of 2012. The one sucking all the media oxygen out of the air currently is with reality television star Donald Trump in Iowa two days after Christmas.
Indeed the entire GOP campaign has become a reality show and thanks to the designation of corporations as ‘persons’ with unlimited free speech and ability to spend shareholder money at their discretion, the amount of money they can spend on campaigns is limitless. The current projection is upwards of $6 billion US dollars will be spent in 2012 for all 536 national contests or… the annual budget of the NASA space programme.
When I say that, most presenters gasp audibly because MP’s spend £10,000 pounds (about $16K dollars) per member, by law, campaigning. Parties can and do spend more on polling and research. So I am hoping this current trend of reality television US politics is never exported.
Here in Britain voters actually cast paper ballots which are hand counted (including absentee or mail ballots) and rather than try to race towards some arbitrary television news deadline of 11 pm EST, they hand count and recount locally if there is no clear winner. The process takes as long it takes and that is important to all because no one can hack a voting machine or central computer.
That is our reality show.