As a lifelong admirer of American culture and institutions, I find it painful to follow the 2012 political cycle. What malign convergence of forces has left the Republican Party with the pathetic array of would-be leaders now seeking the presidential nomination? Lined up in a row of seven or eight on a stage in somewhere like Ames, Iowa, or Orlando, Florida, they make an appalling spectacle — though they are not the worst problem facing America at this moment.

These hopefuls are a solemn, unimaginative lot. They apparently have little on their minds but themselves, their enemy in the White House and their hope of tricking one of their competitors into making an embarrassing gaffe or confession.

Two leading candidates, Governor Rick Perry of Texas and House Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, both express wildly optimistic ideas about what they could do in White House. They’ll cut taxes, cut the public sector and have the country prospering in no time.

Perry and Bachmann, proud Christians, have followers belonging to cults that might generously be described as eccentric. For instance, C. Peter Wagner, a Colorado evangelist who took part in Perry’s prayer meeting (“for a Nation in Crisis”) at Reliant Stadium in Houston, advocates Christian control of government; he also wants to burn the statues of Catholic saints. Perry doesn’t necessarily agree with people like Wagner but he says he’s glad to have their support and he certainly won’t say a word against them.

Mitt Romney, who is now sometimes mentioned as the inevitable nominee, lost the nomination to John McCain in 2008 and has been running this time for a year. But after all that strenuous effort he’s not impressed most of his fellow Republicans. About a fifth of them support him, the same proportion he had on his side a year ago.

He’s bland, almost as if determined to be ordinary. He remains widely unloved. A Washington Post story expressed this in extreme understatement: He “has stirred only limited passion.” Anyone with a TV set knows why. He’s smug and priggish, annoyingly condescending. He knows he’s the smartest man in the room and finds it impossible to keep that opinion to himself.

Reluctantly, the Republicans seem to be accepting him, as their not-too-bad candidate. David Brooks, whose New York Times column often projects a lively and original view of the future, considers Romney the man for the moment. He’s a technocratic manager, an effective executive, an Organization Man. He’s sophisticated enough to work the system and put through the policies the current crisis calls for.

It’s sad t see Brooks settling, 13 months before the election, for the minimum candidate. Apparently he believes the U.S. has had enough excitement and too many failures. He’ll be satisfied with a politician who can deliver what Canadians traditionally expect, what the British North America Act calls “Peace, order and good government.”

Most Republicans expect they can beat Barack Obama and he’s done little to demonstrate that they are wrong. Even among Democrats, only 58% think Obama will be re-elected. About six out of 10 Americans disapprove of the way he’s handling the economy and seven out of 10 say the country is on the wrong track.

Confidence Men, Ron Suskind’s recent book about economic arguments in the White House, depicts Obama as a novice manager unable to deal with serious trouble. Suskind quotes Lawrence Summers, the senior economic advisor: “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge.” He’s denied he said it but those words not only sound like Summers, they sound like the truth. The Democrats are led by a man who knows little about management and apparently has no interest in learning.

Still, political leadership isn’t America’s core problem. The paralysis now afflicting the U.S. is the result of many Americans believing that they can spend more money they have and defer repayment indefinitely — a governing principle that operates as much in government as in private households.

Most of the West (including Canada) makes the same mistake, sometimes with dire consequences. But in America everything happens on a grander scale, with gargantuan results. And any serious failure affects much of the world.

The American fiscal tragedy is American made, the result of chronic long-term thoughtlessness. Do the Americans know this yet? Apparently not. Leaders brave enough to break the news to them might be able to lead the country toward better days but no such leaders are on the horizon. A close study of those now offering themselves provides, in this melancholy year, no clear basis for hope.

Robert Fulford
National Post
Oct 8, 2011

1 comment:

Dan Zwicker said...

David Brooks was wrong.