Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thoughts on the GOP field...and others

This piece started as a commentary on the end of Gov Tim Pawlenty's campaign.
But as I have discussed issues and opinions over the days subsequent to
Pawlenty's decision, this "piece" has morphed into something bigger. . .and
hopefully better.

First, a hope: that deficit spending quickly goes the way of the do-do. We
need to start paying for the government we have--period.

Second, an assertion: America really is at a crossroads. We are at the
proverbial fork in the road, and here are the two options as I see them:
continued government expenditures at levels that this administration favors; or
a severe cut to those expenditures to no more than the level of government
revenue. (DISCLAIMER: this is also a bit of "hope"; truth of the matter is
that I think this country NEEDS to be at a crossroads so that we can finally
begin down the path of our future. . .so my assertion may well be biased by the
tint of lenses through which I observe the world)

And finally, a goal: what I hope to get from the election in '12 is clarity on
which path this country chooses to go. I hope and pray that '12 really does
turn into a rubber match on the "mandates" of the last two national elections.

In '08, ANYBODY WHO CARED TO RESEARCH HIM had a good inkling that an Obama
administration was going to be expensive. The problem is that not everybody
cared to do the research-we were too swept away with catchy phrases and an
oft-told biography. In truth, an honest assessment of the "mandate" from the
election in '08 is that the country was tired of George W. Bush. Obama the
candidate was able to get away with platitudes because he was everything that W
was not. That Obama has governed the way he has should not be a surprise-but
claiming that he received a "mandate" to govern in such a manner is a bit of a
stretch, IMHO. However, it doesn't really matter in the big picture of
things-let's just say, for the sake of argument, that he was given a "mandate"
in '08.

Far more clear to me is the mandate from the '10 election: government, stop
spending our money!

The result of those two elections? Split government. . .and split government
doesn't solve problems; it simply glosses over the issue and then kicks the can
down the road.
So what we have are two diametrically opposed "mandates"-which just so happen to
coincide with my fork in the road. On one hand, we have a record of government
largesse; in the other corner, we have today's GOP largely looking for a way to
get government expenditures under control.

We need to make sure that the government we have is the same as the government
we want. And what I hope for from the '12 election is a "mandate" on which
fork America chooses to take.

An Obama re-election means higher taxes on those who pay taxes (and even some
who currently don't pay taxes) because we must pay (or start paying) for the
vast programs that he favors. As much as I don't like a higher-tax program, if
that is the direction the electorate chooses. . .so be it. Goodbye part of my
paycheck-it would have been nice getting to know you.

If the GOP challenger wins, then an immediate consequence SHOULD be a cutting of
federal expenditures-which undoubtedly means cuts to entitlement programs.
Again, not something that I "want" to do-but it is a necessity if we are to get
the country's fiscal house in order without an overwhelming increase in taxes.

NOW PLEASE UNDERSTAND that I will vote for any of the GOP candidates I discuss
below. I like all of the GOP players more than our current President (if I were
listing Obama's weaknesses I may type my fingers off!). That being said, I do
have a problem with the GOP field right now: there is no declared candidate who
I think can make this election about the choice that I would like to have as the
main event.

I do not want a challenger of the "compassionate conservative" mold. As much as
I personally admire President Bush (43), I thought his domestic policies were
pretty awful and expensive. An election of someone in that mold, of which I
would include Romney, doesn't provide the clarity necessary to save America.
While he may talk a good game, I am afraid Romney is too much of the "the
government is here to help you" mindframe to enthusiastically tackle our
entitlement programs-and during the campaign he won't be able to credibly talk
about the need to fix our entitlement programs unless he does a strong
about-face on Romneycare.

I am also leery of a GOP challenger that will have problems with the above
message getting overshadowed by personal flubs. This election needs to be about
a way ahead-but the media will try their level best to make this election about
Obama's likeability, and the way to do that is to make the GOP nominee look
unacceptable on a personal level. We can't have anybody who makes the media's
job in this arena too easy, which is a mark against Ron Paul. And I'm pretty
darn close to saying this issue also affects Bachmann, Gingrich, and Governor
Perry, too-at their current pace, Bachmann and Perry will be firmly in this
category by the end of September.

Alas, now we get around to former candidate Pawlenty. He had the potential to
be the candidate for which I yearn. The guy was a successful governor being
himself; he has already articulated an economic position far more clearly than
any of the other candidates (including the sitting President); and the major
personal criticism of him was that he wasn't "dynamic"-which barely scores a
"what was that?" on the personal pain scale. Unfortunately, his campaign was. .
.off-key. I honestly think that authenticity matters to some degree-especially
for a candidacy based on Midwestern values like Pawlenty's--but he was not
authentic in the two most-watched GOP events so far (both debates), and it cost
him the start that he needed. So now I lament the loss of Pawlenty. . .which,
although a good decision because of developments, is a huge loss to the field
from where I sit.

So who's left? Well right now, there's Santorum, Cain, and Huntsman who have
declared candidacies. I honestly don't know enough about any of the three of
them, although I have a hard time believing that Huntsman will be able to
deliver on my hopes for a clarifying election, and I have fears that Cain's
quippiness would lead to some unscripted moments that are cringeworthy. But
these are initial impressions that I will happily modify as further observations
warrant. In short, none of these guys is on my "watch out" list in either a
good or a bad way-yet.

What is interesting to me is the possible candidates still wearing their hats
(you know, because they haven't thrown them in the ring yet). Specifically,
both Governor Chris Christy and Rep Paul Ryan could provide an election with the
clarity I crave. . .but I fear both of them, too, would fall victim of the
personal flub issue. While Ryan is a hard worker on the House Budget Committee,
I was not impressed with his public performances in the later stages of the debt
ceiling debacle. I think it is possible to "stump" him, and I know the debate
moderators will be trying like gangbusters to do just that. Governor Christy
has courage, enthusiasm. . .and is a caricature of a political bully brought to
life. While not unpolished, his greatest moments are his less-polished moments.
. .and given his bravado, there is the possibility that something he says runs
askew of the sensibilities of the day. Don't get me wrong: it is that bravado
that I love about him. But this is a co
untry that 4 years ago voted for someone based (in part) on a three-word phrase
and as few other words of consequence as possible; have we really gone so far as
to elect a candidate that will consistently put out volumes of words of
"consequence", especially if they are as pointed as his past statements?


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