Monday, 5 December 2011

Drinking the Kool-Aid

I don't know if you've been following the American Presidential nomination campaigns, but it's a fascinating example of why we are doomed to a future of environmental misery, scientific ignorance and social decay.

The primary system pitches potential party candidates against each other in a bitter, gladiatorial contest. Any voter registered as a supporter (not member) of the party can vote in their statewide poll. In some ways, it's quite useful: the flaws of the candidate can be highlighted before the actual national election. On the other hand, those flaws are exposed for the nation to see even years before the candidate faces the official vote. Additionally, the public can become bored with the candidate very early on.

Apart from the obscene amounts of money soaked up by essentially 3 years of campaigning during a 4-year election cycle, the major problem for the American 2-party system is extremism. This year's Republican candidates are Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain (until yesterday), Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. All of them are hugely rich, privileged people - and all of them are running as political 'outsiders': even Newt Gingrich, who led the Republican Congress against Bill Clinton. He's up to his neck in lobbying corruption and accusations of hypocrisy: while pursuing Clinton for the Lewinsky affair, he was conducting several of his own…

The problem with the primary system is this: to win the nomination, you have to appeal to the minority of voters who turn out. This is the hardcore: those who want a candidate exactly like them, which means loudly proclaiming your fundamentalist Christianity, attacking science, denying that there's anything wrong with the environment at all, wielding heavy artillery at every opportunity, and promising to deport anyone who's ever looked longingly at a taco.

Which is all very well: but it pays no attention to the rest of the country. The Republicans are facing a liked but not massively popular incumbent in Obama. There's a percentage of the country which will switch to the Republicans without too much guilt if their candidate is reasonably centrist (by American standards: horrendously conservative by our's). But this is exactly what won't happen. The most reasonable Republican candidate is Mitt Romney, the billionaire Mormon: but even he's had to abandon all common sense and drink the extremist Kool-Aid. So the Republicans will get a candidate in their image - and lose heavily. It's a problem common to political parties everywhere: true believers are often a bit odd, whereas the plausible candidates can't always be trusted (looking at you, Blair), but it seems to be magnified in the US, where the Republicans are becoming a narrow, bitter faith-based sect, and the Democrats are simply technocratic avatars of the status quo with very little in the way of actual, y'know, beliefs

It's the old conundrum: electable or true believer? I'm pretty certain that there's a big chunk of potential ordinary decent Republicans out there who espouse small-town conservative values who are essentially disenfranchised by the activists' extremism.

And while we're at it, yesterday's Doonesbury is a magnificent attack on Rick Perry and election funding.

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