Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's at Stake in 2012

In most elections, politicians pump up small differences into "issues" to distinguish themselves from the other guys. That won't be a problem next year, as two contrasting visions of America emerge in a contest between President Obama and an unknown Republican who will embody theirs.

In 1960, there was a big debate over what to do about two small islands, Matsu and Quemoy, between mainland China and Taiwan. Nixon accused JFK of weakness by being unwilling to use nukes to defend those dots thousands of miles away.

Eight years later, something real was at stake. With Americans dying in Vietnam, Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey by vaguely promising to end that disastrous war. He won, but it took him five years to do it.

Now, behind all the bombast, the political divide is as genuine as it gets. The clowns (pace Trump) are going offstage, and the knife throwers are coming on.

Enter Gov. Mitch Daniels, the "reluctant" candidate, to defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana. After urging his party to call "a truce on the so-called social issues until the economic crisis is resolved," Daniels is making just such a move. He might as well have thrown in his hat with the announcement.

In the GOP new-face department, Daniels is behind Paul Ryan, the poster boy for heartless budget-cutting, whose charts and graphs conceal a regression to an America without a social safety net. Ryan's "flim flams" and outright lies about deficit reduction will come to the fore if he is on the Republican ticket.

Meanwhile, until or unless Barack Obama turns up the volume, the debate will be about dollars not human life, leaving it to marginal figures such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to remind us on the Daily Show that we "take for granted a Social Security system today which for 75 years has paid out every nickel to every eligible American, has reduced poverty among senior citizens from 50% to 10%.

"You got a Medicare system, it has its problems, but there are millions and millions of seniors today who are alive and healthy because of Medicare...You have Pell Grants which are enabling young people to get a college education that otherwise would not...So while we want to make sure that government is operating efficiently and honestly, let’s not throw the baby out with bath water.”

Sanders will defend his seat next year, just as the President runs to retain his. It would help clarify the national debate if they were both somewhere unashamedly on the same page defending the true value of government

Update: The Mitch Daniels bandwagon starts rolling as GOP strategists bewail "a lack of fizz" and "a flatness to the field" as their first TV debate on Fox looms next week. To offset the loonies and losers, they are beating the bushes for Daniels, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell--anyone plausible enough to make their case to the public on this planet rather than the Tea Party's.

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