If there is any agreement among the polarized factions in the current political spectrum, it is that this year’s crop of Republican candidates for the Presidency is one of the weakest in years. That Mitt Romney could not immediately dispatch the likes of Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich leads one to question his strength in the general election. Whatever you think of Barack Obama, he has demonstrated that he is one tough, savvy politician. GOP characterizations of him as a “Chicago politician” would only seem to underscore that point.
So we should expect that the eventual GOP nominee is going to deal with an opponent who will not favor colonizing the moon, banning contraception or being able to identify agencies of the United States government or countries where American service people are involved. It is becoming apparent that any effort by the President to raise an issue will be met by the rote response that it is not a “real issue,” an argument that may not be that far removed from the efforts to suggest that Obama is not a “real American.” Here are some of the issues that are not “real:”
- Rights of women: If memory serves (and it often does not), when the “Tea Party Congress” came to office in 2011, one of their main issues was limiting the right of women to choose an abortion. While they had not campaigned on this, preferring instead (and inconsistently) to focus on too much “big government,” abortion rights became a major matter. We have since seen a flurry of activity on this, including the repulsively intrusive requirement that women undergo vaginal ultrasounds before exercising a Constitutionally-protected right to terminate a pregnancy. Then there was the flap over whether an employer (not just those affiliated with a religious institution) could prevent insurance carriers from covering contraceptive services, which 98 per cent of American women of child-bearing age have received. What was the GOP response? John McCain, as quoted by Irin Carmom in Salon, said this “distract[s] citizens from real issues that really matter.” Upset about vaginal intrusions? Romney backer Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania advised women to “close your eyes.” (From Evan McMorris-Santoro in Talking Points Memo.)
- Fairness of tax code: While there may be universal agreement on the need to change our tax code, there are sharp differences between the parties on the best way to do that. The President has proposed the “Buffet rule” that would ensure that millionaires pay at least as much as middle-income tax payers now do. When confronted on PBS’ NewsHour with the statistic that the top 400 earners in America pay an average rate of 18% – less than many middle-income earners – Republican strategist Douglas Holtz-Eakin who was a top adviser to George W. Bush and the McCain campaign – decried the “pointless battle about fairness.” And let us not forget Mitt Romney’s statement that the growing inequality among Americans is a matter best discussed in “quiet rooms.”
- Interest rates on college loans: I found it remarkable when I learned that the total indebtedness on college loans now exceeds that of credit card obligations. It is well-established that the unemployment rate for recent college grads exceeds that of the population in general, so the notion that interest rates would double on July 1 would seem to warrant some discussion. Not to House Speaker John Boehner who referred to the President’s speeches at college campuses last week as a “fake fight,” ”pathetic” and “beneath the dignity of the White House.” Speaking to voters on an issue that affects them is “beneath the dignity” of the President? Perhaps he shares Romney’s concern that such matters only be discussed in the “quiet rooms” frequented by Republican donors.
There is, of course, a raft of nonsense that passes for political discourse in our country. While selection of Romney’s choice for the Vice-Presidency is a significant matter – just look at the last two Republican nominees – there is no news about it, just pointless speculation. That beats, however, the complete foolishness about who will be the parties’ nominees in 2016. Chris Matthews was positively giddy in raising the possibility that Hilary Clinton would face off with Rick Santorum. All of this is much easier than an informed, fact-based discussion of real issues, even those Republicans would like to ignore because they are inconvenient.