Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Brave New World Of Political Campaigns

The pre-nominating convention battle, now in full swing among Republicans, is a painful winnowing process. Already a number of Republican presidential hopefuls – Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, businessman and entrepreneur Herman Cane, Texas Governor Rick Perry – have succumbed to the political grim reaper.

Former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich, Senator Rick Santorum and U.S. Representative Ron Paul have been left to tell their tales. They continue to battle, mostly against themselves, with occasion forays against President Barrack Obama who, one supposes, is enjoying the show – and taking notes -- while political operatives outside the closed circle of his campaign advisers are editing Republican clashes for YouTube. Mr. Paul has a tight-fisted articulate crowd of libertarian admirers following him wherever he goes; Mr. Santorum has done remarkably well among conservative Republicans; Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich have pasts, which continue to haunt them.

The knock on Mr. Paul is that, while his message is convincingly anti-Obama, he cannot win a general election. Mr. Romney has been attacked by both Democrats and BigPAC, money raising groups operating outside the failed campaign financing laws promulgated by McCain-Feingold in the Senate and Shays-Meehan in the House, as a conscienceless corporate raider intent on putting American workers out of work. The same ploy was used successfully here in Connecticut by friends of Dannel Malloy in his gubernatorial campaign against Republican Party nominee for governor Tom Foley. Mr. Santorum has been attacked as a benighted social conservative. Mr. Gingrich, perhaps the most adept debater in the group, has been attacked by movement conservatives as an ambitious faux conservative, by Democrats as a loopy idea man, and as unelectable by scorched-earth conservative Ann Coulter. In his climb up the greasy ladder of political success, Mr. Gingrich has left in his wake at least one wife who spilled the beans to a reporter hiding under the Gingrich marital bed. Mr. Gingrich, those unfriendly to the former House Speaker have intimated, has Achilles’ heels on both his cloven feet.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama delivered his “State of the Union” address, an exercise in redundancy since most everyone in the nation understands that the state of the union, after three years of re-inventive stroking by Mr. Obama, is perilous. The national debt has inched past $15 trillion. The gross debt of the United States as a percentage of its gross national product – the value of everything produced by the nation – is 100 percent; a comparable figure for Greece, the economic basket case of Europe, is 130 percent; in Italy, on its side in the Mediterranean and run up against the rocks of reality, somewhat like the stricken Costa Concordia cruise ship, the rate is119 percent; Asia, led by China, which holds the largest proportion of U.S. Debt, is 41 percent.

Before the State of the Union address, Republican political watchers suspected that Mr. Obama – whose job approval ratings have dipped after his third year in office to 44 percent from a high of 57 percent during his first year in office – would use the occasion as an opportunity to let loose upon the union his campaign script. They were not disappointed. Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address was only a few hours old when fact checkers with the Associated Press, hardly a conventicle of Republican anti-Obamaites, tore it to shreds.

Republicans continue to tear themselves to shreds. At some point, the winner of the Republican Party nominating convention will meet Mr. Obama on the field of battle, by which time super PACs operating outside the party system and beyond the reach of McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan will have assembled enough YouTube clips of Republican Party family quarrels to wallpaper the walls of Hell. Republican super PACs will be doing the same to Democrats.

Everything will be fair game because the money laundering – and, even more importantly, the inventive, semi-fictional narratives captured by partisan non-partisan outliers – will not betray the fingerprints of either party.

Behold the fruits of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which has moved both money and responsibility away from political parties towards the brave new world of bare-knuckle anything-goes campaigning.

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