Tough economic times and the near welfare state cause disarray in politics and the emergence of the “pretenders”…

April 19, 2011

While I don’t think we as a nation (the United States of America) are a complete welfare state, we may be suffering from the effects of a system based on public assistance, to include various social programs most would not consider welfare.

There is nothing wrong with compassion and just plain good sense in taking care of the populace at times individuals cannot do for themselves or maybe where is seems more economical overall.

And I think those who would normally automatically stand against most social programs (except of course in those cases where they are the beneficiaries) can be quite tolerant or indifferent to the whole issue when overall economic times are good.

But they are not, overall economic times, that is. (For some, times were never better. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and all that. This was true even in the big one, the Great Depression.)

There is open class warfare of sorts going on in this nation which translates into a disarray in the political system. It seems a complicated war, though. It is hard to pigeon-hole the participants, political players and normal citizens. In the political field we have traditional right-wing conservatives — although I would be hard-pressed to name them — ultra conservatives, and for lack of a better term, populists (whom I think in history were thought of more as liberals, but who now seem to be more of the right-wing variety).

And then we have what I would call the “pretenders”. These are people in it for the book, the fame, the promotion of themselves, or to serve as a front for rich cronies, such as I think Ronald Reagan did (although he or his political history may have turned out a little more complex than that).

But we have the likes of Sarah Palin who came out of nowhere (no offense to Alaska — I meant in the general, not geographic sense).

I admit I was taken in by her speech at the Republican convention. It is not that I liked what she said — and I do not recall what she said — but I just thought she did the talking points well and might have been what that old guy McCain needed (apparently not, though).

We all quite soon (except her faithful) found out that she was surprisingly vacuous.

Mike Huckabee, the preacher, turned politician and folksy guitarist and showman, may be sincere, but it would seem his place is more as a governor of a relatively small state, which he was, and maybe a down-home preacher, and I think he has gone show business anyway. And he is too far to the right in a nation that in truth seems to stay pretty much in the middle for the most part, especially when it comes to presidential politics..

The worst of all the pretenders, though, so far may well be Donald Trump. I don’t know much about him other than I think he made a fortune out of using “other people’s money”, or OPM, rhymes with opium, and that he went into the “reality” (which is not reality) show thing after some of his real estate and gambling deals went bad, and he has a weird hairdo and he has latched onto the birther issue because it gets great ratings among those who feel those of us who deal in facts (as best as we can determine them) and knowledge and keeping up with current events are just to smart for our own good, when the simple truth is already there, but “they“ (the elite or the government) won‘t tell you.

Oh, yes, and Trump was originally in the news years ago because of some messy divorce battle that covered the tabloids. But he is a rock-solid family values pro-life guy now, I guess, and I am being sarcastic. Maybe he appeals to the Jerry Springer set (is he still at it?).

I know some of the early (probably not to be taken too seriously) polls show Trump as a leading contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Since George W. Bush made it, I would not rule anyone out, but I do think the idea of Trump as a credible candidate is far fetched.

Since President Barack Obama seemingly has so many people from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party mad at him, as I always say, using the old journalism standard, he just might be doing something right — although I am not at all convinced that he is.

But moving quickly to the center, as many pundits say he has done, may be a good political strategy for him. Because even though the electorate veers one way or the other at times, it seems to me that in presidential politics it invariably comes back to the center.

If my memory serves me, most of the presidents or all of the presidents in my life time have been pretty much in the center, even if they may have been labeled left or right (and technically I am talking about Truman forward (although because of age, Kennedy was the first one I followed).

But this Tea Party (some say a front for big money interests playing populist) movement and this strange mixed up class warfare has changed politics.

Somehow when some of us were not paying attention or were too busy, the conservative business interests captured the imagination of many working people who heretofore might have been counted on the be solid liberal Democrats, I think. It may be a geographical thing too. Some parts of the nation are by tradition more partisan than others.

The debacle in Wisconsin is illustrative of the conflict people have over doing away with special worker rights for some and not others. If you strip public sector workers of their rights because of fiscal deficits, what about the rights of non-government workers?

I know I have heard some working people grumble that politicians, especially Democrats maybe, take them for granted .“They’re all liars,” (Republicans and Democrats) and are not friends of the working man (or woman).

Truth be told, of course, politicians find it necessary to respond to voting blocks and to sectors that can finance their campaigns. I so vividly recall (I’m repeating something I mentioned at least once or twice before in a blog post or posts) attending a meeting of the local Prune Growers Association and the president saying that although he did not like the idea of growers having to chip into a political action committee, “all these people seem to respond to is money”.

But of course, in most cases that almost has to be the way. We just can’t have everyone running for office, the field would be far too crowded and there would be no way to sort things out. So fund-raising is a gate-keeping function. It supposedly shows support. If people are willing to put up money, they must be supportive.

Also, since being a politician is a vocation, not just public service in most cases, politicians are going to listen to those who put up money in their support before anyone else every time (I did suggest in a recent post that maybe public office should just be like community service with only a stipend offered).

There was much ballyhoo about Obama raising money from small donations via the internet. I understand these days he’s going the corporate route and has a billion or so for his campaign. That money alone with the advertising it will buy and the fact that he is the incumbent will tend to make him formidable.

He had supposedly awakened interest in young and heretofore unconcerned people, but that has faded. Some expected too much and many felt they had been used badly.

There has been talk of rebellion in the Democratic ranks against Obama. It would seem political suicide for the party to challenge its own incumbent in the 2012 election, though.

But both the Democratic and Republican parties are struggling with this kind of convoluted form of class warfare where it is hard to identify the opposing sides. The end result is that moderate candidates feel cowed into submitting to the extremists, particularly on the Republican side.

A moderate Republican, if there is one, does not seem to dare challenge the Tea Party faction (and it is still unclear just what the heck the Tea Party is all about) or even the evangelical religious crowd.

And just as I am about ready to post this, I read that Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a Republican, who was appointed by Obama to be ambassador to China, and who is now leaving that post, may run for president (well of course that has been suggested for some time). He is a former governor of Utah. He is described as a fiscal conservative, but a social moderate. He is a scion of a family who has made a fortune in the chemical business. And he is Mormon, but supported John McCain and not Mitt Romney, who is also, of course, Mormon.

Who knows? The year 2012 might be the year the Mormons capture the presidency.

Despite the noise from the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or Donald Trump, I think in the end, a strong fiscal conservative and socially moderate Republican candidate could win if the electorate is dissatisfied with continued high unemployment, economic stagnation, a seemingly insoluble national debt problem, and an American foreign policy out of control.