Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Americana: Isaac the Angry Uterus

It’s official. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee in the 2012 American Presidential election. It’s been unofficial for some months now, with names like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Thaddeus McCotter, plus token female Michelle Bachmann and token African American Herman Cain all being relegated to the ranks of politicians who didn’t quite make it into the Presidential Race.

Those of us who ignore the mental health advice and watch eleventeen hours of subscription television news each day are only too aware of the Presidential election. For some of us, it’s a perfectly alluring blend of drama, comedy and cut-throat competitive action. No, I’m not being flippant about that; following a Presidential election can be the world’s greatest spectator sport.

Like all spectator sports, you need to be familiar with the rules, understand the language of the commentary team and know the candidates. Unfortunately, you can’t learn everything you need to know from The West Wing boxed set (although it’s a decent place to start, or a terrific refresher course.)

As in the Australian system, there are two major parties. One is to the right of centre; the other is a fair bit further to the right of centre. The incumbent is President Barack Obama, a Democrat, which is the least extreme of the two parties and is symbolised by a donkey. The Democrats are roughly equivalent to the ALP. The more extreme conservative party is the Republication party. They’re known as the Grand Old Party, or GOP, which is roughly equivalent to the Coalition, but with a bit more extreme.

President Obama was elected President four years ago, just about the time the Global Financial Crisis was rewriting the rulebook for the world. His job, to rebuild America’s economy and reputation while fighting the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, was next to impossible, and many Americans see his progress as disappointing. President Obama is phenomenally popular…in Australia, but we’re not allowed to vote. Go figure. His running mate, who will be Vice President if he wins, is the incumbent VP Joe Biden.

Governor Mitt Romney of the Great State of Massachusetts is an entirely different can of tuna. He and Mrs Ann Romney are the Senior Ken and Barbie of American politics. Mitt is independently wealthy, but we’re not quite sure how much moolah he has because he’s hiding his tax returns, but his estimated worth is around $200 million dollars. He has Masters in Business and Law. The Romneys have five sons, all adults. Mitt and his family are practising Mormons. Romney’s Running Mate is Paul Ryan, an even more conservative Republican.

American politics is more conservative than Australian politics, and that could be the problem for the Republicans. How conservative is enough, how much is too much? The spectrum is not infinite, and eventually, the Republicans will move so far to the right that they’ll run out of room to move.

Since Obama’s election four years ago, we’ve seen what can happen when the far right wing of America’s populace get together to oppose the “radical” left. They have a Tea Party, backed by a “fair and balanced” television cable news network. For hard-line Tea Partiers, the standard Republican platform is not conservative enough, but thankfully, the impact of the Tea Party peaked early, fuelled by rage at President Obama’s very existence and egged on by Sarah Palin and the entire Fox News Network: he’s African American, intellectual, and according to Tea Partiers, he’s also possibly Muslim, Kenyan, Indonesian, Alien, Socialist, Communist, Elitist, progressive, Satanist and The End Of Life As We Know It.

A selection of banners from Tea Party rallies during the past four years.

In 2012, the Tea Party is largely without influence, but they are still an important block of voters. There’s no chance that the Tea Party fringe would ever vote for a Democrat; the danger is that if Mitt Romney is seen as too moderate, they might not vote at all. Voting is not compulsory in America: to require someone to vote is an affront to their right to choose not to vote. It’s logical, if your mind is bendy. The bottom line is that Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have to find the balance between being conservative enough to attract Tea Partiers to the polls, yet not too extreme to keep that true moderate Republicans away from the polls – or worse, voting for Obama.

After the GOP Convention in Tampa this week, we’ll have a better idea of where that sweet spot might be – because Fox News will tell us. It’s early days, yet we can be sure that from the safety of our Australian lounge rooms, much of it will sound ridiculous:

"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings, my friend." —GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to a heckler at the Iowa State Fair who suggested that taxes should be raised on corporations as part of balancing the budget, Aug. 11, 2011

"[My wife] drives a couple of Cadillacs." –Mitt Romney, campaigning for president in Michigan (February 2012)

"I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that's the America millions of Americans believe in. That's the America I love." –Mitt Romney (January 2012)

"We have a president, who I think is is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps." —Mitt Romney, who has two Harvard degrees (April 5, 2012)

"I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was." —Mitt Romney (May 17, 2012)

Still, it could be worse. Todd Akin, a Senator from Wisconsin. All but the most moderate of Republicans are “Pro-Life”, which actually means they are against abortion. The further to the right you move, the less wiggle room there is in the argument. Senator Akin was asked whether women who were pregnant as the result of being raped should have access to legal abortions. Here’s his answer:

“Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” – Senator Todd Akin (August 2012)
As well has being factually wrong, it’s also grossly insulting to all women. In fact, some American commentators have referred to a Republican “War On Women”, an emotive catchall phrase to describe various unrelated policies that all seem to restrict the rights of women. These include funding cuts for organisations that perform medical abortions, victim support for women who’ve been physically, mentally or sexually abused. Related issues include workplace discrimination, equal pay for women, public funding for family planning, contraception and sterilization.

Of course, the Republicans have no problem with women. They chose Sarah Palin – a “hockey mom” who served half a term as the Governor of a minor state - as the Vice Presidential candidate just four years ago. Perhaps they’ve learnt something since then. Michelle Bachmann was a nominee to be the Republican candidate to run against President Obama. She dropped out of the race early on, but she left her mark on the political landscape.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending." —Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, suggesting at a presidential campaign event in Florida that the 2011 East Coast earthquake and hurricane was a message from God (Aug. 2011)

Hurricane Isaac: The Uterus of Wrath

Does anyone want to guess at what Michelle Bachmann thinks God’s message must be this week? He’s sent a giant hurricane shaped like a uterus to rain on Tampa during the Republican National Convention. Could it just be that the Republicans need to adjust their attitude to women?

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