With Turkmenistan's presidential election now behind us and the country finally getting a chance to calm down from all the excitement, I can cast my eye upon the current American political landscape. Suffice to say, what I see is deeply dismaying. It might even be humorous were it not for the seriousness of what is at stake. My interest is obvious enough for while I do not live there at the moment (you got that IRS?), it is my homeland and I expect to live there again in the future.
Watching the Republican primary unfold from afar is both troubling and further reaffirms my abandonment of the Republican Party and political right a few years ago. (In may ways, many of the feelings I went through when I wrote that post two years ago are resurfacing again as another election cycle rolls around. It is fascinating to see how little has changed, both with myself and the system.) I am not certain if large swaths of the Republican party have fully embraced the irrelevancy of being right out of genuine belief or if they are simply cynically preying on the basest fears of the electorate. Either way, it is something I want no part of. While it is not the entire party that's gone astray, enough of it has and isn't being sufficiently called-out by more moderate members that it gives the air of tacit approval by them. The end result is a somewhat moderate candidate (in relative terms) besieged by a has-been former House Speaker and a man who lost his last election by 17 points. And yes, also Ron Paul, lest we never forget him.
Despite his foibles, Mitt Romney strikes me as a pragmatic person. To govern a relatively liberal state like Massachusetts as a conservative requires that pragmatism and mostly sound policy making trump partisanship. This has been the core appeal of Romney. He is moderate enough to be electable and he appeared to combine enough conservatism (fiscally so) and "family values" (whatever that means) to appeal to the primary voters. However, that's gone sideways now.
It is almost cringe-worthy to watch Romney attempt to shuffle to the right and proclaim that he is "severely conservative" in his attempts to thwart first Gingrich and now Santorum. He's being pushed off his talking points by social issues in a country where the economy is always paramount. Of course, he isn't helping himself with his inability to relate to those of us who do not treat ~350K in speaking fees as "not very much". At least W. was able to play up the regular guy role despite being the son of a President and grandson of a U.S. Senator by clearing brush at his ranch. Power tools Mitt. Use them. He's so disconnected from most people that I half-expect working in an office with him is like working with Gob in Arrested Development.
Santorum's staying power in this primary speaks to something that goes beyond him as a candidate. It is something far deeper about the American populace and not about the leadership and the candidates. Fundamentally, there is a problem with the people. If a man who says such bizarre things can have this much appeal to the country, and this much popular support, what does that say about the American people? Rick Santorum is practically the dream candidate for the Democratic Party. He lost his last Senate re-election by a large margin in a swing-state, has a serious internet search term problem, has a strange and very public obsession with your sex life, and again, he just says crazy stuff. And not Joe Biden crazy, but actual crazy crazy. And yet he could win the Republican nomination and be the next President of the United States. He has a lot going against him, but the fact that he's even making it close is what is troubling. There is a saying that in democracy we don't get the leadership we need, but instead get the leadership we deserve. Apparently, a lot of people deserve Rick Santorum as their leader.
Like always, this election will hinge on the economy more than anything else. Remember 2004 and how generally unpopular Bush was for dragging things along in Afghanistan and then Iraq and his general level of Bush-ness? But the economy was recovering (sort of) and that's what carried his reelection. This year will be similar. If the economy is doing well, Obama will be reelected. If not, he's looking at much slimmer odds. Meanwhile, the Republicans have a semi-legitimate chance of nominating a crazy person. A crazy person who could be President, not because he is a great or in any way capable of leading, but because people actually think his craziness has merit.
It's undoubtedly a quote that will haunt me in my future political career 28 years from now, but the American people are kind of stupid. The frequency with which people vote against their own best interests is staggering. Of course leadership will not represent you when they never had your best interests in mind. We should not be surprised this is what happens when so many people are low-information voters and even misinformation voters. The question becomes not what is wrong with our leadership, but what is wrong with our people?