reasoned thought for an age of uncertainty
As the Florida Primary nears, it looks like the Republican Party may finally be having its “come to Jesus” moment: the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has again pulled ahead in polls, leading Newt Gingrich now by nine percentage points (40% to 31%, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul each around 10%). A victory in Florida could give Romney the push he needs to finally seal the deal. That must come as great news to Mitt Romney, who has been in perpetual second-place over the past six months as the front-runner for the Republican nominee has changed no less than six times, from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Santorum to Gingrich, interspersed with stints in which Romney temporarily regained the lead. For a party that purports to hate a flip-flopper, that’s a whole lot of flip-flopping.
In fact, a January poll by CBS found that 58% of Republican voters were dissatisfied with their choices for President, and this month prominent conservative leaders met to try and topple the Romney train by uniting behind an alternative candidate (Newt Gingrich). That appears to have met only partial success. What is it then that has left Republican voters so disaffected with their choices this election? Each Republican candidate for President certainly has had his own unique weakness, but that doesn’t usually stop voters from getting behind a particular candidate. Or at least two candidates. This primary season has been distinctly different, resulting in a free-for-all that threatens to drag the primary out in a protracted intra-party struggle.
The disaffection of Republican voters has much to do with the disconnect between the public relations gloss of the Republican Party and the real life manifestations of their policies. In theory, the idea of limited government and low taxes is an appealing basis for a political ideology, but in practice, these policies have caused a rift in American society and led to grotesque results, including slow job growth and a concentration of wealth so skewed that it puts the U.S. on par with developing nations. As a result, average Republican voters who have supported these policies are increasingly finding themselves isolated from their leaders.
Consider who the Republican candidates for President have been this election cycle: a millionaire private equity manager, two millionaire CEOs, a millionaire Washington lobbyist, two Tea-Party extremists, and an anti-government isolationist. Is it any wonder that the average Republican voter is having a hard time relating to these people?
The tension between the Republican voting population and the Republican candidates is in fact an age-old political dynamic: a capitalist economy promotes hierarchical institutions (corporations), while democracy spreads power in the political arena along a much flatter curve through the one-man, one-vote principle. Free-market policies, which result in more hierarchical corporations, increase the gulf between the average American voter and the economic elite who rule them. But come election time, the hierarchy gets turned on its head, because political democracy functions from the bottom-up, whereas corporations are run from the top down. It is the only time that many Americans will have any power over another man’s job.
What is happening in the Republican Party then may actually be a paradigmatic shift. Republican voters have for years supported free market ideologues who promised no government regulation and more tax cuts with the promise that this would make everyone in society better off. What voters (and yes, Republican voters) may now be realizing is that this free-market system is designed to reward those at the top of the capitalist pyramid. Many voters do not trust Mitt Romney, because they correctly understand him as a man at the center of the destructive Wall Street culture which devoured many viable companies during the 1980s. This is underscored today by the wealth individuals have lost in the housing market while Wall Street’s worst behaving financiers have survived to live another day. For all the campaign talk about small government, Republicans are perhaps beginning to realize that the government is not the reason they are poor, and that a tax cut is not going to help them. Even the Wall Street Journal is now reporting the creation of a new four-letter word: rich.
Rather than complain about what is wrong with the Republican candidates for President, Republican voters should be considering what is wrong with their ideas. There is a reason the Republican party has become the party of millionaires, and that reason is not fiscal responsibility. Mitt Romney is an excellent reflection of Republican values: he is an unapologetic capitalist that has made millions by buying undervalued companies on the cheap and selling their assets (rather than investing in them). He has reached the pinnacle of financial success in America, to the point where his income comes from passive capital investments for which he need not work and on which he need only pay a 15% capital gains tax. Is this what has become of the American dream? To not work and nonetheless reap the benefits of others’ labor? I think if you were to ask most Republicans, that is not what they think capitalism is really about.
But if Republicans want small government, that is going to mean layoffs in a number of industries, so they ought to like a candidate who “likes firing people.” They ought to like a ruthless businessman who would dissolve a company because it turns a profit, even if that results in dead industries, impoverished workers, and a few rich investors. They ought to like a man who believes that a country ought to be run like a business, which, given Mitt Romney’s history in business, means that the government would be broken apart and sold for parts to turn a profit for the benefit of a few.
Mitt Romney is what Republicans have been promoting for years. And now what Republican voters have created has come to rule them. Well, if Republicans don’t like Romney, they ought to take a good look in the mirror.