The pundits repeat continually that 2012 will be the ugliest presidential campaign in history. The Republicans have no conscience about vilifying opponents, as the record of Swift boating, Willie Horton, and the smearing of war veteran Max Cleland in Georgia show. With a thousand right-wing radio shows on their side, not to mention Fox News and like-minded super-PACs, the right is poised to take advantage of Tea Party anger and resentment.
Which pushes sane solutions for our country’s problems further away. As Bill Clinton pointed out, reforms should have happened yesterday. They didn’t, and the most irrational excesses of gridlock, like last year’s war over the debt ceiling, are probably not behind us.
The net result is that we must all consider the prospect of Mitt Romney becoming president, not by winning it but by standing by while reactionary forces throw their weight around. In a saner climate, Obama would walk away with the election. Is Romney as right-wing as his rhetoric? The Tea Party hopes he is; progressives can only hope that he isn’t. The primary campaign pushed him much farther to the right than anything he espoused as governor of Massachusetts. Recent polls show that the country is less divided – i.e., more purple – than the extreme partisanship of both parties might indicate.
Even after thirty years of reactionary rhetoric, the U.S. remains a sensible nation – or is that true anymore? Before he died in his nineties, the once-famous Harvard Economist John Kenneth Galbraith said that sanity was waiting in the wings, waiting to repair the damage of the Bush era. He was right in the short run, and the arrival of Obama made some progress in that direction.
But if you leave mudslinging aside, the economic recovery didn’t proceed as the Democrats hoped, and Romney is benefitting from that, which is doubly ironic since he governed progressively (for a Republican) in Massachusetts and has now swiveled to embrace totally wrong-headed policies. A favorite joke circulating a few months back went like this: A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hi, Mitt.”
Bill Clinton cut through the mud, as slung by Democrats, when he said that Romney’s business experience made him competent to be President. This ran counter to the strategy of Obama’s team, which was to discredit Romney as a jobs killer and out-of-touch plutocrat. This misses the major reason to keep Romney out, his flip-flopping, We are throwing the dice to see if he will repeat the successful tactics of George W. Bush and Chief Justice John Roberts, both of whom put on a public face of affable reason while harboring a deeply reactionary agenda.
We can’t afford to let Romney govern according to the positions he is running on. Leave aside his absurdly draconian immigration policy, his tolerance for Donald Trump’s birther craziness, and his rhetoric about going to war with Iran. Romney’s intention to follow in the wake of Merkel, Cameron, and Sarkozy is enough to disqualify him. Europe has shown the folly of austerity and budget cutting as a means to stimulate the economy. America has enough economic mistakes to counter. The Bush tax cuts have been a fiscal disaster. The Ryan plan for drastically cutting federal spending and attacking entitlement programs is a sham; if it were enacted, only sheer luck would save America from plunging into the same recession that Europe is already struggling with.
Under a pall of gloom, it doesn’t matter that Obama’s progressive agenda was the right thing to do, and still is. Forces beyond his control are in the saddle, and a large majority of the country feels that we are headed in the wrong direction. In this case, mass opinion is wrong, as fear usually is. The wrong direction has been clearly mapped out by austerity, massive budget cuts, neglect of infrastructure, drastic cuts in state and federal government, and almost everything else the right proposes. Distressingly, Mitt Romney is poised to repeat Herbert Hoover’s mistakes, and it’s all the worse because we should have learned from them.
I am not giving up hope for Obama’s reelection. It would force the Republicans in Congress to work with him or risk economic stagnation far beyond what we have experienced so far. If Romney wins, in all good conscience the Senate Democrats would have to filibuster against a rampant right-wing House, and gridlock would become worse. It’s no use predicting either future. Between now and November, Romney will be forced against his will to show more of his actual political beliefs. One wonders if he really knows what they are.