Friday, February 03, 2012

Dazed and confused

I’m “confuzzled.”

I have my absentee ballot for the March 6th primary in hand, having done due diligence and cherishing my right to vote like a refugee from an Eastern European dictatorship.

The problem is, I don’t know who to vote for.

The general election in November is not the problem. Let’s take it as a granted that whoever the replacement is for Barack Hussein Obama, they will have my vote. The last three years have been an unmitigated disaster, as regards the presidency and the direction America has taken. In my nearly six decades of life—and thirty-five years of observing politics—I have never seen such a failure of leadership and cynical disregard for the responsibilities of the highest office of the most powerful nation in history. I came of age politically during the scandal of Watergate, and thought it was the be-all and end-all of political chicanery. Then came the damage control of the Ford presidency, followed by another litany of failure with the Carter presidency. That was followed by eight years of relative restoration of America’s greatness under Ronald Reagan, and four years of undoing that under the stewardship of Bush the Elder. The moral relativism of Bill Clinton—with its nattering about “…depends on what the meaning of 'is' is…” made me re-think my conviction that I’d seen the worst of things with Watergate and Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush tried his best, and anyone who keeps repeating “We have a lot of work to do” is aces in my book, but although he rose to the occasion when it mattered, his caretaker-presidency-turned-national-emergency was too little, too late. Partisan bickering and the general confusion of his policies doomed him to being a second-rater, although not a total failure.

Now we are saddled with an ineffectual quasi-socialist who embodies the worst aspects of old-school Republican corruption combined with radical ideology that history has proven to be a total failure. The only historical parallel I can find is the decline of the Roman Empire, where the emperors pursed a satyr’s lifestyle, engaged in wars of opportunity, and distracted their people with bread and circuses while the barbarian hordes gathered in the forests beyond the walls and waited for the moment to strike.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say that America is truly an empire, and the barbarians are everyone from the Chinese—with their aggressive economic policies—to the terrorists of Islam with their temporal hatred of anything not connected to the teachings of their 16th century cargo-cult mentality. Even as their own failed socialist experiments are falling apart, our allies despise us for the perceived weakness of our leadership, and while the crooning of Barry O. may land him a guest appearance on “American Idol”, he cannot sing loud enough to drown out the knocking of the barbarians at the gates. Nero may not have actually fiddled while Rome burned, but he considered himself a superb entertainer, and forced his courtiers to sit through performances where he accompanied himself on the lyre and sang soothing melodies about how everything was all right and salvation was just around the corner.

So, in the upcoming presidential primary, I want to choose the best candidate to run against the incumbent knucklehead. Although I think we have passed the tipping point, and decline is inevitable, this is my chance to vote my conscience and convictions. In Georgia, we have a euphemism left over from The War of Northern Aggression. Southerners bore a grudge against President Lincoln and Republicans in general, especially those who oversaw the atrocities of “Reconstruction”. From the late 1860s until the last two decades of the 1900s, if you asked a son of the South who they were going to vote for, they’d tell you: “I’ll vote for the mangiest yeller dog ‘fore I vote for a Republican.” These staunch Confederates, yearning for the glory days of The Lost Cause, became known as “yellow-dog Democrats”. (I keep hearing newscasters and pundits these days referring to some critter called a “blue-dog Democrat”, but I’m damned if I know what species that is. However, I’m sure the term isn’t complimentary.) Yellow-dog Democrats pretty much became extinct in 1980, as pragmatism and common sense came face-to-face with Jimmy Carter’s homespun platitudes about why America was no longer an exceptional nation. Today, the South is a bastion of Republican conservatism, despite being overrun with liberal Yankees reminiscent of the carpetbaggers of old. We don’t mind y’all coming down here, marrying our womenfolk, renovating the cities you pillaged and burned, and preaching liberal doctrine to deaf ears. Just don’t bother to tell us how y’all do so well in Detroit and Philadelphia, because we don’t care. If our quality of life is so benighted, then why was only one out of seven Georgia residents born here?

Gosh, I’m wandering! Yeah, yeah…yellow dogs and conscience. I’m a yellow dog of some breed, because come November, I’m going to hold my nose and vote for whatever flea-bitten mutt runs against Barry O. The only person who could do more to ruin this country would be a mullah from Tehran.

That being established, I rather like all of the Republican candidates. I wish we could do some DNA splicing, cloning, and come up with a single candidate—that “Generic Republican”—who embodies all the positive ideas of the Final Four that defeats Obama so roundly in the polls. Wishful thinking aside, I have to make a personal choice as to who might be the best man for the job, and that’s my dilemma.

Taking the candidates from last-to-first in this week’s Florida primary, let me explain:

Rick Santorum is—as he never fails to mention—a true conservative. His foreign policy and economic stances seem well thought-out, and unlike Barry O. I don’t think he would make too many promises he had no intention of keeping. What balks me about him is his track record of wanting to legislate morality. The legislation of morality is at best hypocritical and impractical, and at worst, tyrannical. Moral codes are personal determinations of right and wrong the individual applies to their life; codifying “social conservatism” is a cheap ploy aimed at those whose understanding of politics and human nature is limited to muttering “There ought to be a law…”

People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. As Queen Victoria said when asked about the Oscar Wilde homosexual scandal: “I don’t care what people do, as long as they don’t do it in the road and frighten the horses.” I would hope Senator Santorum gathers a clue from the poster girl for prim and proper behavior before he tries his luck again in 2016. I worry that he would become seduced with power and distracted by the opportunity to dictate behavior instead of concentrating on the economic and security issues that are killing us today. He has no chance this time around, and is off the table in my book.

I admire and respect Ron Paul for his strict adherence to old-school Libertarian principles. Those tenets have been the bedrock of my personal philosophy and the way I have regarded all things political for most of my adult life. The one thing Dr. Paul is missing is the essential requirement that a Rational Objectivist be pragmatic. When faced with a problem, it must be reverse-engineered on the basis of cause-and-effect, and the least harmful solution must be implemented. While Ayn Rand’s isolationist assertions that we leave the rest of the world to perish by its own devices was a good post-modern idea, the world is too tightly wired for that to be an effective doctrine these days. Dr. Paul’s foreign policy seems to be based on a combination of wishful thinking about the goodwill and common sense of people who are likely possessed of neither. While Dr. Paul’s domestic policies make a lot of sense, he seems disdainful of the fact that there are entities in the world that seek nothing less than the total destruction of the United States, and will gladly sacrifice their own existence to accomplish that end. I like about 75% of what he says, but in order to flourish, we must first survive, and I’m reluctant to trust his faith that Islamic fanatics wouldn’t use a nuclear weapon if they possessed one. Ron Paul lacks the ruthlessness needed to exert America’s power when its judicious application is called for.

Then, there’s Newt. What can we say about this good ol’ boy? He has some of the best ideas, and possesses the political acumen to deal with the Washington establishment. He also carries a lot of personal baggage, has a frightening demeanor, and often embraces irresponsible notions without thinking them through. I see a lot of myself in him. If those people whose perceptions have been poisoned by the media could stop regarding him as the devil incarnate, he has a decent shot at the White House, and I don’t think he would do a bad job if elected. He projects strength and a no-nonsense intelligence, and that might be the nostrum America needs in uncertain times.

Finally, there’s Mitt Romney.

Back in the day, when I was setting out to buy a used car, I’d dress down in way-casual clothes, stick a large wad of cash in my pocket, and sally forth. I’d wander onto the lot and casually inspect anything that caught my eye. When the salesman oozed out of the office to make his spiel, I was very attentive to how he was regarding me. My tentative purchase was contingent on sincerity, honesty, and openness; not just the quality of the product in question. If they took me at face value and treated me like a bum, I was gone in a heartbeat. If they were too chummy—exuding oily charm on a hunch I might have some money to spend—I’d be out of there after a slightly longer interim. If they acted like they cared about what they were doing, and at least feigned concern that I, too, might benefit from a potential transaction, then we’d get into the negotiation.

Mitt Romney strikes me as a used car salesman, and not one I’d want to do business with. My impression is he’d do or say anything to close the deal, caring only about his commission, not whether I get a clunker or a smooth ride. I don’t demonize him for being a filthy-rich “vulture capitalist”; it’s precisely that kind of business know-how that’s needed to get us out of this economic recession. In coming days, much will be made of his unfortunate remark that he “doesn’t care much about the very poor.” It will be taken out of context and run endlessly in attack ads from Those People. However, in the context of what he was saying, he was exactly right. The poorest among us have the “safety net” he referred to, although it’s become very frayed by the reckless spending of Barry O. and his cronies. Romney’s religion doesn’t bother me; he’s a man of faith, and I don’t think that—like Santorum—he’d be seduced by the power of the presidency to promote social/moral agendas when there are so many other fish to be fried. Still, there is that element of cynicism that is very off-putting. I get the uneasy sense that he’s more concerned with obtaining power than he is with the proper exercise of that power.

So, I’m asking my Constant Readers for advice here. Granted, the four choices available are like the lesser Emperors of Rome’s declining days; there is no Augustus or Julius Caesar stepping up, nor is there a reincarnation of Ronald Reagan waiting in the wings. Who is a poor, ignorant country boy supposed to vote for?

Please don’t offer a cop-out platitude like “Vote your conscience” or “Follow your heart”. My conscience is with Ron Paul, my heart is with Newt, and my pragmatic inner cynic follows the nebulous “electability” factor and favors Romney. I’m fishing for justifications as to why I should vote for whoever you might suggest. All recommendations will be taken under serious consideration for the rest of February, but I have to have my ballot in the mail before 6 March.

And, as I said at the beginning of this post, this is only applicable to the presidential preference primary on Super Tuesday next month. Come November, I’m voting for the mangiest yellow dog that’ll get a chance to take a bite out of Barry O. No matter how corrupt, incompetent or unethical that individual may be, he can’t do a worse job than the total waste of protoplasm now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia.