Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Republican Candidates Stand For... Nothing?

If you follow the debates, the news coverage, the analysis of the Republican primaries, you might get the sense that you're dealing with a wide set of issues and solutions. If that's what you think, look again.

The debates turn largely on personality, not substance. The only candidate who offers a materially different perspective is Ron Paul. Otherwise, while might hear suggestions to the otherwise (e.g., Santorum advocates for the working masses), there is very little difference between the candidates. Their policy proposals vary only in the details. None question party orthodoxy. I can give Huntsman some credit for acknowledging the reality of global warming, or for accepting the science behind evolutionary theory, but I haven't heard how that acknowledgment translates into different policy.

What position do the non-Paul candidates take on taxes?1 They all want to cut taxes for the rich, debating only in relation to how much the cuts should be. Reproductive freedoms? They all claim to be pro-life, arguing only about whether a rape or incest victim should be permitted access to an abortion. Immigration? The status quo, with debate only over how aggressively to deport illegal immigrants. Entitlements? Cut 'em....

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the campaign is that the undisputed frontrunner, the guy who is all but certain to take the nomination, is widely considered to be a liar. He cannot get the religious right to rally behind him because they don't trust that his conversions on their litmus test issues are genuine. Meanwhile many on the political left view him as the least offensive candidate because they assume he's lying about his present policy positions and that if elected he will reveal himself to be politically moderate - or perhaps I should say, will govern from the center out of the belief that it's the best way to get reelected.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates take it for granted that they can make absurd claims and lies about President Obama and his administration and get away with it. So far they're right - the media is not holding them to account.

Were Romney an honest man and consistent in his position, no matter where on the political spectrum he stands - I would feel reasonably comfortable about the possibility of his becoming President. He's stiff in his public presentation? Sometimes puts his foot in his mouth? Seems more comfortable with his family than when schmoozing? None of that bothers me - I can empathize on all counts. But unless you believe that he truly has had a miraculous transformation in his core beliefs that just happens to bring them into alignment with (a) the opinions of Republican primary voters as measured by polls, (b) positions sufficiently consistent with the litmus tests applied to Republican candidates, (c) and the positions of the other candidates competing for the position, you have to accept that he's a liar. And that if he weren't a liar, he would already be out of the race.

How sad is that?
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1. Paul often stands with his Republican colleagues on the issues. I except him from this list not because he necessarily differs from the others, particularly in relation to allowing states to deprive citizens of their rights and freedoms, but because I am describing the uniformity of the other candidates.

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