Archive for category Rick Santorum

Delusional Paranoia

"The UN is coming to git us!"

“The UN is coming to git us!”

Paranoia on the right about the United Nations is nearing the point of clinical insanity.   For some reason the far right sees the United Nations as a dangerous evil organization bent on  implementing some kind of internationalist/socialist world order.  This gives rise to delusional fantasies.

This week the US Senate sought to ratify the UN Treaty on Disabilities, a treaty modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.   It failed by a vote of 61-38.   61 voted “yes,” but in the Senate you need 2/3 of the vote to ratify.   Former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum praised the vote, stating that the treaty would have given the UN power to intervene in the choices parents make about their handicapped children.

dole

Even former Republican Senate Majority leader and disabled Vet Bob Dole’s presence (far right, in a wheel chair) couldn’t overcome Republican paranoia about the UN

The same kind of hysteria made the Senate unable to ratify the Rights of the Child Convention.    The US is joined by only Somalia and South Sudan in rejecting this effort to support children.    The US refused because a right wing group called “Focus on the Family” said that the convention would prevent parents from using corporal punishment (spanking) on their misbehaving kids.  That’s absurd, but somehow they convinced the Senate not to act.

Imagine a scene.   The UN pulls up with some jeeps and a black helicopter sweeping down to a suburban house.  Across the street a neighbor looks out the window, “looks like Ralph spanked his boy again.”    This is a level of paranoia so bizarrely irrational that it defies explanation!

We are to believe that a UN that ignored Dallaire during the Rwandan genocide want to inject itself into American family decisions?

We are to believe that a UN that ignored Romeo Dallaire during the Rwandan genocide wants to inject itself into American family decisions?

The UN can’t do any of that.   These treaties have no enforcement except through the UN Security Council.   The US has a veto on the Security Council.    And earth to self-centered American nationalists:  the treaties aren’t aimed at us!  The treaties are aimed at trying to counter problems in third world states where children and disabled people don’t have the benefits they receive here.     UN bureaucrats don’t care how you are going to deal with your disabled child or whether or not you spank your kids!

When work was done to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to make it easier to go after brutal war lords who get away with atrocities in third world conflicts, the US actively sought to fight that court’s very existence.   Rather than recognizing its use in dealing with groups like the brutal LRA in Uganda or the Janjaweed in Darfur, they were scared that the ICC might arrest Americans and accuse them of atrocities.   They even passed a law in 2002 saying the US could invade the Netherlands to rescue any Americans arrested by the ICC!

Of course, there is no such danger.   Not only is the scope of the ICC limited, but it only gets involved if a state can’t or won’t prosecute its own war criminals.  The US military justice system is one of the most advanced in the world, and it recognizes as crimes the same ones that the ICC deals with.

The Small Arts treaty is aimed at preventing this, not grabbing guns in the US!

The Small Arts treaty is aimed at preventing this, not grabbing guns in the US!

The insanity continues.

After his experience in Rwanda and his struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),   Romeo Dallaire has become involved in effort to end the practice of using children as soldiers in war.   Dallaire had been UN force commander in Rwanda as the 1994 genocide took place.   He had only 240 troops and pleaded with the UN to at least send supplies so he could feed the people he was protecting.   He was ignored.   He has since become an activist against the ravages of conflict in Africa.

One problem he notes is the ease in which small arms flow into combat zones from elsewhere, allowing war lords and other nefarious figures to easily get the means to create child armies.  He called on the UN to work to limit small arms trade, and now they are working on a UN Small Arms Treaty, designed specifically to make it harder to arm combatants in places like sub-Saharan Africa.

Alas in the US the reaction is predictable.   The UN is going to come for our guns!   The treaty will make it illegal to sell small arms, the treaty will undermine the Second Amendment!

The NRA's claim the UN wants to come get our guns is the height of delusion

The NRA’s claim the UN wants to come get our guns is the height of delusion

*Eyes rolling*   Sigh.  No, the UN won’t come for your guns — remember, the UN has no army and can only enforce international law through a Security Council Resolution.   The US can veto those.    The Supreme Court has ruled that any treaty that violates the constitution is invalid.   No treaty can undermine the constitution.

So while the US claims to want to do what it can to prevent children being used as soldiers, support individual rights in the third world, and bring war criminals to justice, an insane paranoia about an organization utterly impotent to do anything against the US prevents the Senate from ratifying needed treaties.

The world is in transformation and only by recognizing our interdependence and need to cooperate across borders can we solve the problems ahead.  A paranoid inward looking irrational nationalism hurts both us and the rest of the world.    The fantasized conspiracies aren’t there, but the problems we need to solve are real.

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Why Romney Will Lose

MItt Romney has spent more money, made more attacks, and has inspired less excitement and enthusiasm than any candidate of recent history

I was re-reading Game Change, a book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.   Two passages struck me:

“The candidates lined up at the urinals, Guiliani next to McCain next to Huckabee, the rest all in a row.  The debate was soon to start, so they were taking care of business — and laughing merrily at the one guy who wasn’t there.  Poking fun at him, mocking him, agreeing how much they disliked him.  Then Willard Mitt Romney walked into the bathroom and overheard them, bringing on a crashing silence.”  (Pgage 293)

and

“Unlike Guiliani, Romney had no reticence about slashing at his rivals.  But the perception of him as a man without convictions made him a less than effective delivery system for policy contrasts.  The combination of the vitriol of his attacks and his apparent corelessness explained the antipathy the other candidates had towards him.  McCain routinely called Romney an ‘asshole’ and a ‘fucking phoney.’  Guiliani opined, ‘that guy will say anything.’  Huckabee complained, ‘I don’t think Romney has a soul.’  (Page 294)

Romney was not well liked by Huckabee, Guiliani, and McCain!

Granted, that was in the heat of the 2008 race, but consider that even then Romney had a huge money and organizational advantage and he ended up succumbing quickly to John McCain — a man who had been considered dead a few months earlier due to a backlash in the GOP base against his stance on immigration reform.    McCain had even said “why would I want to lead a party of such assholes” (page 284).   But despite intense attacks from Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck, McCain emerged on top.

Fast forward to 2012.    Williard Mittington Romney again has a huge advantage, this time having the GOP establishment in his pocket moreso than in 2008.   Yet it seemed as if the Republicans were looking to find anyone else.  If there had been a man with the record and character of John McCain in the running, he’d no doubt have managed to overcome Romney.    But there wasn’t.

First was Bachmann, but she had no substance.   Then came Perry, and he turned out to be embarrassingly unable to hold his own in debates and public grilling — a male Palin, if you will.   Then they turned to Gingrich who, despite his numerous faults, was gaining traction and looked set to take down Romney.   Romney used his money advantage to go hyper-negative on Gingrich and destroyed him.   Gingrich was easy prey, to be sure, but still Romney couldn’t beat him by staying positive.  Then last was Santorum who stuck around despite being an improbable candidate who had even lost his Senate seat in an election that wasn’t close.   The Republicans had nowhere else to turn.   But Santorum was simply too out of touch and weak.   Romney emerged on top.

Unenthused

Simply, Romney hasn’t won by being himself or standing for something, he’s won inspite of the fact he can’t connect with voters and neither inspires nor excites.  Where he did win in the past — the Governship of Massachusetts — he did so by embracing traditional northeast Republican pragmatism.  He was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and he created a health care program for the state that inspired much of what became Obamacare.   That path is gone.    However competent he may be for the office, he’s simply not a good candidate.  He’s speeches are boring, if he goes off script he sounds out of touch, and as a candidate he seems like a phoney.   Hardly anyone believes he meant all of what he said during the primary season.

Republicans try to console themselves with bouts of wishful thinking:

1.  It’s a referendum on Obama.   Here the thinking is that it doesn’t matter who the GOP candidate is, people are going to vote about the economy and whether or not they’re happy with Obama’s performance.   As long as Romney doesn’t implode, he can simply allow all the negative ads to work against Obama and eek out a victory.

The problem with that argument is first that Obama isn’t that unpopular.  His job approval rating is about 50%, which is on the low side for an incumbent (much like President Bush in 2004), but his personal approval remains high — Americans generally like their President.     While he’s not the rock star he was in 2008, he has a record and has disproven the “he’s a radical left wing extremist” rhetoric the GOP tried to use last time.

Second, the economy is enigmatic.   We’re growing, but growing slowly.   Jobs are returning, but returning slowly.   Obama didn’t fix it yet, but it was the GOP who broke it.   The economy really hurts a President when things look pretty good when he takes over and then fall apart on his watch.   That’s not the case with Obama.    This means that people aren’t simply going to vote one way or another in a knee jerk manner based on the economy, they’re going to consider the candidates.

Obama’s 2012 campaign ‘take off’ rallies were enthusiastic and large

2.   Obama’s lost his luster.   Here the thinking is that reality has bitten the young President, whose hair is now turning grey and who no longer arouses hope and the excitement of 2008.   As such, he’s vulnerable and weak.

The reason this would make a difference is that it could create an enthusiasm gap — Democrats won’t be as inspired and enthused as in 2008, while the Republicans will be focused on removing him from office.   Both look unlikely at this point.

Obama’s speeches are still powerful, and the Republicans have given him some assistance.    The extremist agenda and rhetoric of the tea party and the red meat primary campaign have galvanized Democrats.   Obama can point to achievements and skewer a “do nothing Congress.”     Obama would be in a lot more trouble if the Democrats had kept the House in 2010.

On the other hand, Republican enthusiasm for Romney is weak.  Voting turn out in GOP primaries was meager — sometimes in the single digits.  It’s not clear what the evangelical base will do in response to Romney’s Mormon faith.   At this point the “enthusiasm gap” looks almost certain to favor the President.

It’s early, things can change, but right now Mitt Romney looks to be a very weak candidate.  He’s never shown a capacity to connect with voters or inspire.   He’s relied on attacks and weak opposition.   Obama’s weathered just about every attack one can imagine.   His capacity to come out of nowhere to win in 2008 show that no matter what you think of Obama as President, he certainly is a strong candidate.

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After the Culture Wars

In a revealing article in “Politico,” Republicans admitted that they are dropping their focus on the issue of gay marriage. The article points out that in the 90s this was a bread and butter issue for conservatives.   They decried “activist judges” who tried to force acceptance of gay marriage on the country, and could appeal to the emotions of citizens who wanted to maintain the “traditional” definition of marriage as “one man and one woman.”

No more.

Conservatives are quoted noting that there has been a cultural sea change in how Americans think.   Only 30% of Republicans actively support gay marriage, but if you went back to the early 90s polls would have probably shown at best 30% of the country supporting it.   As with any culture shift, the youth are leading the way.   People between 18 and 26 overwhelming support gay marriage rights 70% to 30%.   Yet even in the mainstream the shift is becoming very clear — what once was seen as weird or at least exotic is now common place.

Rick Santorum’s quixotic run for the GOP nomination demonstrates the change.   His emphasis on contraception, opposition to abortion (even in the case of rape and incest) and rejection of gay marriage have led most Republicans to consider him un-electable.  His views are simply too far from the mainstream, even though twenty years ago they would be defining stances in the ‘culture wars’ launched by social conservatives in the eighties.

To groups like Equality Maine, the battle is nowhere near over.   They are fighting to pass a referendum legalizing gay marriage in Maine, and are confident that they can succeed.  In 2009 they lost a referendum 53% to 47% in which the voters rejected same sex marriage.   Things could be very different this time around.

Not only is it a Presidential election year, meaning a much broader voter turnout, but unlike three years ago the Roman Catholic church is going to sit this one out.  The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is on the defensive about tactics it employed to try to drive a wedge between blacks and gays, convince hispanics that opposition to same sex marriage was a “badge of Anglo identity” and get children to speak out against gay parents.  The fact Romney gave to that group is being used with success against him, as it makes him vulnerable to charges of “right wing extremism.”

In 1992 President Clinton retreated from allowing open service by gays in the military, implementing “don’t ask don’t tell,” which social conservatives still saw as going to far.  In 2010 President Obama gained political support and stature by going back to Clinton’s original decision, repealing DADT.  The appeal of a Falwell-esque “moral majority” is virtually nil, Pat Robertson has become more a joke than a political force, and Republican sops to social conservatives do them more political harm than good.   Within the Republican party the libertarian wing is eclipsing the religious conservative wing of the party.

Yet while that can all be seen in a positive light, there is something missing.  Perhaps the biggest distortion in the so-called ‘culture wars’ is the way in which religion and spirituality got defined in terms of very socially conservative world views.   Take the recent “reason rally” in Washington — the alternative to religion appears to be a cold, materialist embrace of rational thought.  The world has no inherent meaning or value other than that which we create for it, and we should do so using reason and logic.

The "reason rally" sounds good, but the belief that all that exists is a material world with no deep meaning or underlying purpose is as much a leap of faith as any religious belief.

Back in 1789 the French revolution embraced reason as the key for governance and learned a hard lesson – reason is a tool, it is not a path to truth, especially not in terms of values and ethics.   Where reason leads depends on core assumptions made, and those assumptions ultimately are taken on faith — or based on sentiment/emotion.   Reason as a tool is meaningless on its own.

Embracing reason alone doesn’t counter consumerism, hyper materialism, and the sense of emptiness many find in day to day routines, especially in a culture where community solidarity has given way to the notion that each individual is responsible for his or her own happiness.   For all their faults, religions do serve a function of giving people a sense of a deeper meaning and a ethical core that rises above individual self-interest.

So the culture wars may be over, but the need for meaning and a core sense of meaning is still something people yearn for.  We live in a society with unprecedented material wealth, yet full of problems ranging from anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders and a general sense of emptiness about life.

This 1979 video from Supertramp captures the dilemma.  There is something missing in the purely rational approach to life.  So the conservative “culture wars” may be ending, but the challenge to build a positive sense of identity and meaning remains.   The economic crisis may have dented the drive of consumerism, but people still look for external fulfillment of internal needs.

The next culture shift needs to address that issue.  It’s one thing to combat the fear of those who are different, we also need positive change.  Reaching out, understanding both ourselves and others, and overcoming alienation and low self-esteem requires openness to sentiment, emotion and a sense of wonder.   It’s not enough to just work against fear, we need to promote love.  Not love as romance or abstract emotion, but as a concrete sense of connection to each other and our world.

Sometimes kindness does more than any political campaign or cause can accomplish

So after the culture wars, it’s time to build positive cultural peace.

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Santorum vs. Obama in 2012?

Could this be the matchup for November?

Tuesday night Rick Santorum, who Mitt Romney said “was at the desperate end” of his campaign, won primaries in Mississippi and Alabama to keep what George H.W. Bush called “the big mo.”   On the map the race looks close; the delegate count shows Romney with a strong lead.

Right now Mitt Romney has 498 of the 1144 delegates needed to win, Rick Santorum trails with 239, Newt Gingrich has 139 and Ron Paul only 69.   Moreover, despite Santorum’s successes on Tuesday, Romney actually increased his delegate lead by solid wins in Hawaii and American Samoa.   If you read the pundits the writing is on the wall, Mitt will be the Republican nominee.

Not so fast.

One thing we’ve learned in primary season is that races can shift on a dime.  We’ve seen state polls vary radically within a few days, it’s too early to say everything is set in stone.   Another thing we learned, however, is that math is indeed the language of God in terms of counting delegates.   In 2008 Hillary Clinton ended the primary season with a string of wins but couldn’t overcome the delegate advantage Obama racked up early on in caucus states.  The first lesson gives Santorum hope, the second gives cause to suspect Romney’s going to get it no matter what.

Despite a strong comeback, Hillary Clinton could never overcome the delegate math in 2008

Romney’s math includes a few “winner take all” states, including delegate rich California (172 delegates) and New Jersey (50 delegates).   Yet California’s recent polls suggest a lot of possible drift in the race.  Romney’s best poll shows Romney just over 40%, others have him just over 30%.   If Gingrich becomes a non-factor and Santorum keeps momentum going, one could imagine an upset for Santorum — and suddenly the math is on Santorum’s side.   In New Jersey Romney’s also not getting much over 30% with Santorum close.  A shift of momentum to Santorum could cause an upset there.

Playing with CNN’s interactive delegate counter (note: if you do, they have a major glitch – they have California as proportional representation when it’s winner take all, so adjust for that), and assuming Gingrich declines, Santorum and Romney split following general expectations, if Santorum pulled off upsets in California and New Jersey, the final delegate total after the primaries could be:  Santorum 1032 to Romney 904.   Gingrich would have 177 in that scenario, and if he threw his support to Santorum it would mean Santorum gets the nod.

However, if Santorum is on a roll where he wins California and New Jersey, other states now seen as likely Romney could switch, and it’s conceivable Santorum would have enough delegates going into the convention.

How likely is this?   In a different year I’d say very unlikely.   Republicans want to win, and I think most doubt Santorum could pull it off.  He lacks organization, his views that play so well to the GOP base turn off independents and he has a host of quotes and soundbites that would come back to haunt him.   Romney isn’t a super candidate, but he looks the part, is organized, well practiced, and his weaknesses in the primaries could become strengths in the general election.  After he’s the nominee, the thinking goes, being considered “not conservative enough” will help rather than hurt him.

This year, I don’t know.   It’s been such a roller coaster that momentum matters.   Moreover, Romney voters are unenthused; few people say “Mitt’s got the vision and plan to lead us to greatness, he inspires me!”   Most say “he’s probably the best we have to go against Obama.”  Santorum isn’t a golden tongued orator, but he can inspire, and seems to speak from the heart.   Mitt speaks from a script – and the script varies depending upon the audience.  Consider the primaries on Tuesday.   Romney did very well where he was supposed to, but voter turnout was very low.   People wanted to go vote for Santorum, they didn’t really care enough about Romney.

That’s a profound weakness for Romney, one that won’t go away in the general election.   To unseat a sitting President is difficult, even when the economy is bad.   You hear claims like “no President has won re-election when the unemployment rate is over 7.2% since FDR,” but that’s a umeaningless factoid.  The “N” is too small!    The only Presidents not to win re-election since then are Ford, Carter and Bush the Elder.   N = 3.  In each case you can find a host of other reasons for the loss.  In each case the opponent was an inspiring outsider.

Romney fails to arouse passion, he doesn't inspire

The ball’s now in Romney’s court.  He’s got the lead and he can either try to sit on it and watch the math roll his way, or he can up his game and try to give a positive message rather than simply showering negative ads on the other.   He has to find his inspirational voice, or risk going into a brokered convention as a damaged and flawed candidate who couldn’t seal the deal, and found himself stymied by the most unlikely of GOP Presidential candidates – a guy who lost big in his last run for the Senate.

In such a case the answer in Tampa might be “none of the above.”   In other words, if you thought the Democrats provided primary excitement in 2008, things could be even messier on the GOP side in 2012.

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