Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Happens in Iowa -- Does This Train Run Elsewhere?

The 16,892 Republican people who voted in the Ames Iowa straw poll have spoken. In a poll taken by a self-selected and candidate-driven group at the periodic Ames straw poll, Michelle Bachman won a narrow victory over perennial candidate Ron Paul. Of the 16, 800+ votes cast, these two candidates took 29% and 28% respectively, leaving the other 8-10 candidates to split the rest. Tim Pawlenty came in third with around 15%. Nobody else made that much of a splash although former Senator Rick Santorum claimed he was happy with fourth place. The surprise was that Texas Governor Rick Perry, who did not enter the race until August 13 (the same day as this straw poll) and had little visible organization, garnered over 700 write-in votes besting Mitt Romney, who did not formally campaign for this vote although he did have a residual state organization in place from 2007. Of course it goes without saying that 16,000 people in a Midwestern state -- even a swing state -- should not be thought to speak for 300 million Americans -- just in case you might wonder at the significance here!

Tally: 16,892 votes, which broke down as follows:
  • Bachman: 4,823
  • Paul: 4,671
  • Pawlenty: 2,293
  • Santorum: 1,657
  • Cain: 1,456
  • Perry: 718
  • Romney: 567
  • Gingrich: 385
  • Hunstman: 69
The Iowa Straw Poll has sometimes gone on to select a nominee, but equally as often has not done so. Governor Romney was a winner in 2007 with Gov. Huckabee close behind. (The straw poll is only held for Republicans in pre-Presidential election years when there is no incumbent Republican candidate for President. It has been held five times since the first one in 1979.) In 1979 George H.W. Bush won, only to see Ronald Reagan win the nomination. In 1987, Pat Robertson won the poll when Bush finally became the nominee. In 1995, Senators Phil Gramm and Bob Dole tied with Dole getting the nod the next year. In 1999, George W Bush won over the other candidates and went on to win the nomination. And in 2007, Mitt Romney came out ahead, after spending some two million dollars busing in voters, campaigning, and building an organization there.

Political pundit Matthew Dowd on ABC TV claimed that if Pawlenty finished third, then he would not be able to raise enough money to continue. He also described the energy and money that Texas Governor Rick Perry brings to the race as a way to further shake things up on the conservative Republicans side. Sarah Palin suddenly showed up at the Iowa State Fair this week with her huge tour bus trying to sound coy, but he dismissed her as more entertainer than politico.

Does this all leave you a bit less than enthused? Did you happen to watch any of that sorry discussion on Fox last week (aka = debate?) The candidates were busy out-doing each other on Conservative anti-tax, anti-Obama rhetoric. They remain the only people in the country still using the ill-considered term "Obamacare." Although some of the questions were inane and incorrect answers on foreign policy had no follow-up, there was little to be learned from this show. Some complained that questions were not being addressed to the lesser candidates (Cain, Santorum, Gingrich) as much and an attempt was made slightly to improve. Bachman apparently kept dashing off stage at breaks to "fix her make-up," (or was it to get prompts from her staff?), so there was a bit of amateur hour in the air. The reporters also did not distinguish them selves with "gotcha" questions or asking Bachman the "submissive wife" question.

Suffice it to say, this group of candidates does not seem to be ready to run the country and with the way they talked about cutting the government budget and reducing taxes, there would be precious little of the Federal Government to run, if they had their way. Can they all collectively be that naïve or misguided? A sound bite from Governor Perry today indicated that he wanted government to be as inconsequential in each life as possible. This from a Governor who a year or so ago was urging Texans to explore secession from the United States? This from a Governor who was associating with known religious extremists at his day-long prayer meeting a week ago? How is such a person ready to govern a country which will be majority -minority, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic in a few short years?

I am torn between being amused and appalled at this cast of characters. Can this possibly be the best and the brightest that Republicans can offer? Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine was quoted recently as saying she was embarrassed by her party. She, one of the few so-called moderates left in her party, must find it hard to defend members of the Tea Party who purport to speak for her. She is also possibly targeted by the Tea Party since she did not support their agenda this year.

How can it be that a rational moderate voice can no longer be allowed to speak out? How can it be that any of these hopefuls could ever claim to be a leader for all of the people in this country?

As for me, I am a Democrat. I belong to a party with blue dogs, yellow dogs, and possibly a few wild dogs, but one which is also not quite as disciplined as the other side. So unfortunately we put up with the Heath Shulers (Rep NC) and the Ben Nelsons (Sen. NE) [often to our dismay] as they vote against the initiatives of our side. In the Senate some of our so-called Democrats have prevented Leader Reid from breaking threatened filibusters or overcoming cloture. Many Democrats have been ready and willing to compromise, while the House refused to do so.

The Republican candidates and leaders still have no apparent sense of the damage they have caused this country with their intransigence on the debt ceiling and raising needed revenues. According to Nate Silver in the New York Times 538 columns, these representatives will pay a price as the American public quite rightly is blaming them for the bond rating drop and the lack of compromise. The feelings seem to be that elected officials are sent to DC to solve problems cooperatively, not to create them. With high disapprovals for Republicans in general, and for residents own Congressional members as well, he expects some shifts to occur. He does not, however, see a Democratic landslide or even a return to Democratic rule in the House. Silver also discusses the redistricting taking place this year which is going to cause some demographic shifts and some Congressional districts to disappear. With more Republican Governors than Democratic, this redistricting may also see some conflicts between urban and rural areas.

Some are claiming that this is the year for the anti-tax groups of social conservatives, for the anti-choice groups, for the religious right to all have their say. What do you think? They cannot seem to say what they are for, just what they oppose. They attack the President on some very shaky terms. Has the time come for them to bring their decidedly minority views down the tracks into the political mainstream? Should we all be excited now that this crew of conservative candidates is trying to each be more conservative than the other? Should we wonder at the hypocrisy of this crowd of "Christian believers" who are ready to throw the poor to the wolves, close down social safety nets, and leave our elderly to live without Social Security or Medicare? Does not charity and benevolence begin at home? Is this not why hundreds of interfaith clergy stormed the Capitol during the debt limit debate to urge a social conscience on the legislators? It is so sad that they were unsuccessful. We, as concerned Americans cannot allow this train to continue unchallenged. Let me hear from you.

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