In one of the strangest twists in American political history, the Republican party, after just two primary contests and a so-called caucus in Iowa has winnowed its presidential offerings to two of the unlikeliest persons imaginable. Neither of the two engender even a hint of enthusiasm among the party faithful, yet both are tied to a GOP dominated by its near-irrational hatred of the sitting president. GOP voters have been fed a steady diet of castor oil for what ails them. They swallow it and just hope they'll feel better.
In one corner, Mitt Romney, a bonafide “one-percenter” who has been trying for six years to present himself as just another working stiff - actually having once described himself as "unemployed" - despite being forced to admit he pays far less of his income in taxes than virtually every wage earning worker in America; who has given millions of dollars to his church (remember, it's deductible!), and who has millions more parked in some bank in the Grand Caymans – all quite legal - to avoid said taxes, and who proposes to altogether eliminate the capital gains tax which he pays in place of ordinary income taxes the non-invested public pays. With his mansions on California's gold coast, New Hampshire's lake district, the Caribbean and Massachusetts, Mitt appears about as normal as snow in the Amazon.
In the other corner we find a serial “issues” bomb thrower and proven moral, financial, and political hypocrite who changes his religious and carnal affiliation as it apparently fits his needs, spiritual and temporal.
Right now, Mr Gingrich, the anti-iconic child of the 60's who was written off as politically dead just 60 days ago seems poised for a resurgence in the aftermath of a massive primary victory in South Carolina. With a bunch of southern state primaries coming up he should be able to add to his viability as a candidate.
Romney, in fact, is being ”necklaced” by his refusal to admit to his astonishing wealth, how he got (and continues to get) it and how he preserves it. Romney the candidate is plagued with being of the class which has raped and pillaged the middle class for the last 30 years. His steady refusal to come clean in sharing his tax returns, particularly the returns during his years as a leveraged buyout tycoon, have provided the political gasoline for his necklace. He dares not talk about his work as the former governor of Massachusetts. Indeed he can not. His record as a successful, and even somewhat liked, governor of that state is a secret which he must hide from the radical right of his own party in order to garner votes in the primaries. His opponent, Mr. Gingrich, is only too happy to toss the match at the tire around Romney's neck.
For if there is anyone willing to immolate a political opponent, (just ask former Speaker Jim Wright) it's Newton LeRoy Gingrich, the maximally corpulent, former Speaker of the House. Putting aside his “big ideas” about putting children to work mopping floors, or attacking any country - preferably Islamic - which proves a problem for American interests, or doing away with Social Security and Medicare, even Mr. Gingrich, who built a highly remunerative career as a lobbyist, pundit, PAC creator, earning some $3 million in 2010 alone (Not chump change, as Tiffany's can attest), knows how to go for the throat as well as anyone.
What Newt can do that Mitt can't
As he has throughout his career, Newt Gingrich has mastered the ability to catch the mood of the public. The public, in both parties, really, is angry and disgusted with the ever widening maw of those who have done extraordinarily well at the expense of those who have lost their life saving, their homes, their jobs, their sense of worth even. They are angry at their elected representatives who no longer represent them in any way. And Newt, better than anyone, knows how to play that game. He, better than anyone knows how to appeal to anger and resentment, for he is an angry and resentful man.
Mitt Romney, in contrast, just cannot seem to even modestly affect an air of authenticity. His constant shifting and denial of his past positions on a host of issues makes his fellow Republicans suspicious as hell. Romney is - like Tom Dewey - the man on top of the wedding cake; who, even in jeans and a buttoned down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, looks as if he's incredibly uncomfortable. He is a man who, left to go off-script, is as likely to say “Corporations are people, too, my friend!” as he is to invoke jealousy and envy on the part of the the public for the fact that he's fabulously wealthy, never having made a thing with his hands, or sold a service. In short, Mitt often grounds out when it comes to trying to be “one of us.”
And there we have the likely two men, who will run as the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States in a time of financial and economic uncertainty. The rules being what they are, one of the two is inevitably going to run as the Republican candidate for President.
Democrats and the end game: it could happen...
Given the mood of the country and given the fact that President Obama is seen as nothing more than, well, more of the same by much of his own party, “throwing the bums out” is a distinct possibility.
What is true for all voters, both the left and the right, is that thy are finally understanding that there isn't a nickel's worth of difference between one party and the other when the chips, as it were, are down. Both parties have been taken over by Big Money: the big bankers, the energy tycoons, the insurance industry, the securities dealers. Since the crash of 2007, not one change in the way we run our finance and economic engine has changed. Indeed, banks which were “too big to fail” have taken their government money and are still playing roulette with their money, rather than lending it out. Corporations have trillions stashed overseas to avoid paying taxes on earnings. Business, and the wealth it creates, continues to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. Business and political heavyweights live as large – and as ostentatiously - as they ever have, aggregating hundreds of times as much as their wage earning employees.
Indeed, the most important federal governmental positions concerning economics in Washington DC are taken by members of the investment banking community. Obama elevated – in absolutely stunning contrast to his 2008 campaign rhetoric – the very people most responsible for the crash of 2007: Geithner, Summers, Bernanke among others, to trusted advisory jobs. In one of the strangest twists of all, Obama even brought in Jeffery Immelt, the head of General Electric, to be a “jobs czar." 57 members of Congress are also members of the 1% Club.
The question that Obama and the Democratic leadership will be asking of their voters this election season is this: Are you so unhappy with this president that you would put either a double-speaking tycoon or a bomb thrower into the oval office?
It is a question loaded with risk. There are a lot of Democrats who will simply not answer that question and stay home in disgust. As goofy and as improbable that this GOP field is shaping up to be, the present climate does not ensure that the incumbent will necessarily keep his job. The hero of 2008 has shown he has feet of clay.