THE QUEST FOR THE US PRESIDENCY
by Michael Hammerschlag
After Joseph Smith found his holy golden plates- metal pages, according to Wikipedia, in an 1823 cliffside in upstate New York, and wrote what became Mormon scripture, The Book of Mormon, he set up a community of true believers; but again and again, in the land of the free, from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to Missouri… they were attacked, killed, and driven out. Finally after Smith was killed by a mob in 1844, Brigham Young led the remnants west, into the hauntingly beautiful desert mesa country, beyond America, beyond civilization… where they ruled the state they created, Utah, for over a century. Even there, in 1857 the US Government sent an army against them over the banned practice of polygamy, which they finally abolished in1904.
In his trek towards the probable Repub Presidential candidacy, Mitt Romney must feel echoes of his religion’s past, as one after another pretender arises and is anointed front runner… for a few weeks or days, then drops away, by the fundamentalist base of the Republican Party, desperate to stop the ascension of a “cultist” Mormon, who are not considered Christian. Even among general US pop, 38% don’t think Mormons are Christians, however 67% view them favorably, though 82% know little or nothing about them, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. The perhaps insurmountable problem for Romney is 42% of Americans wouldn’t feel comfortable with a Mormon as President as late as Nov 2011, only 40% even realized he was Mormon (although similar attitudes existed about blacks before the advent of Obama).
First there was Rudy Giuliani, and then Donald Trump bloviating about the birther issue,1 leading, though they weren’t even declared candidates; then the execrable Michelle Bachman, a glaze-eyed evangelical zombie whose Fox News factoids were so outrageous that normally complacent reporters had to repeatedly correct her, “I don’t think Obama spent $200 million a day on his trip to India.” Then giant-killer macho Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had never lost a race, strode onto the scene with his Texas homilies and hard-line talk, but he embarrassed himself and the state by goofy ineptness in the debates, “Oooops”, he said, forgetting 1 of the 3 federal agencies he pledged to abolish. As Romney looked more inevitable, winning by a few votes (then losing by a few, but only 2 weeks later) in Iowa and winning easily in his near-home state of New Hampshire; the anyone but Romney-ites became more frantic. Then black big-businessman-banker Herman Cain was the flavor of several weeks, till a chain of women accused him of harassment, forcing him to quit the race. Likeable oddball anti-war anti-government perennial candidate Ron Paul maintained a dedicated base of young and independents who ignored his extreme and unworkable plans, and he ran strong seconds and thirds in most northern states (almost won in Maine caucus).
But from the tax cuts, greed, and banking collapses of the Reagan era, Republicans have marched steadily to the right, till every candidate in their early debates had to not only disavow Global Warming, but even evolution to appeal to their hard-right evangelical base. The only principles they still stand for is more tax cuts for the rich; and total laissez-faire rules for business, no matter what the risk. Even their so-called commitment to a balanced budget is nonsense: the fantastic Ryan Budget (that Romney has endorsed), would destroy social guarantees while transfering huge sums to the rich, exploding the deficit. In an exclusive interview, fmr Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, who came a hair from snaring the Presidency in 2004 and then built the Democratic Party back in only 2 years as Chairman to capture both House of Congress2, said:- Howard Dean, Manchester NH, Copyright Dec 2003 Michael Hammerschlag
“The Republicans have been dominated by their extremes … what I call the ‘hate wing’ of the republican Party: anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-gay- since Nixon put in the Southern Strategy (1968).
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, excommunicated from the Party after some heresy, explained:
“Backed by FOX News, their book-publishing industry, supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Another "disgraced" former Repub staffer, Mike Loftgren gripes, The Republican party, with its "prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science" is appealing to what he calls the "low-information voter", or the "misinformation voter".
Then the atrocious Citizens vs United Supreme Court decision of 2 years ago that overturned (Nybooks commentary) a century of campaign finance laws came into play, allowing unlimited secret donations to candidates- it was designed by a radical Court to permanently tilt the playing field to the Republicans. Ironically it has caused a bloodbath among Repubs: with two $5 million checks from right-wing Macau gambling billionaire and fervent Israel-backer Sheldon Adelson, the flakey, scorched-earth, self-styled big thinker former Speaker of the House Georgian Newt Gingrich produced a devastating ˝ hour documentary on Romney’s life as a “vulture capitalist” leveraged buyout manager of Bain Capital When Mitt Came to Town; and flooded the TV airwaves touting Romney’s $250 million fortune and Massachusetts liberalism. Their SuperPacs even had dueling names: Saving Our Future and Romney’s Restore Our Future.
In South Carolina, the last real bastion of the Confederate South, Gingrich crushed Romney in all but 3 counties by 14%. Gingrich, a man who had left 2 wives when they were sick or dying for a younger model, even as he led the charge against Bill Clinton’s sex scandal in the 1998-9 Impeachment farce, was roundly detested by Americans (negative 57%- positive 27%), but he was a glib bare-knuckle fighter who could take the battle to uber-orator Obama.
The great Rolling Stone and ex-Moscow Exile writer Matt Taibi summed it up: -----If Romney is a scripted automaton who could make it through a year's worth of marital coitus without one spontaneous utterance, Gingrich is his exact opposite - taken prisoner in war, Newt would be blabbing state secrets without torture within minutes, then would be calling his guards idiots who lack his nuanced grasp of European history, and then would be lying to two of his captors about an affair he had with the third.-----
The wealthy Michigan scion of Gov. George Romney, former head of American Motors, Romney made several gaffes emphasizing his privileged upbringing, saying in interviews: “I don’t care about the poor”, “I don’t make much from speaking fees” ($367,000 but a drop in his investment income of +$25 million; but alone putting him in the top 1%); we should let the “housing market bottom out”, “I like being able to fire people”; trying to bet Perry $15,000 in a debate, and revealing he was taxed at only 14% and had accounts in the Cayman Is. and Switzerland- common tax shelters.
Even as the fervent conservatives settled on Newt as their savior, establishment Republicans realized he couldn’t win, and Mitt’s far greater resources- his SuperPacs, backing, organization, and bruising counterattack (“Newt Gingrich, too much baggage” with audio of dropping suitcase) led to a big win in the big and diverse winner-take-all state of Florida (46-32%) Jan 31st. Mitt was back….or was he.
The next flip in this carnival was Feb 11th’s sweep in Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and Missouri primary by fundamentalist Ex-Pennsylvania Sen Rick Santorum, who got his own millionaire sugar daddy, Wyoming cowboy-investor Foster Friess, surprising because Mitt won CO and MN 4 years ago. Santorum’s big obsession is fanatical anti-abortion and gay rights, even opposing the federally required exception for rape or the life of the mother, and contraceptives, not too popular in a huge and diverse country. “When you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution,” Santorum thundered in Texas. “What’s left .. became the guillotine!”
“He’s far too right and socially conservative, but his personality is not too bad,” says Dean, who has debated him. Romney squeaked out a do or die win in his home state Feb 28, where he opposed the Obama Auto Bailout that saved the industry, and Santorum’s working class origins plays well, though he is now a rich lobbyist, according to AP.
Rick has had staying power- though he is as unelectable in the general as Newt, and Romney’s money and institutional advantage have weighed in- the heavy artillery of the negative ads, but if the fading Gingrich withdraws, the conservative anti-Romney vote wouldn’t be split, and he could have serious problems. One clever Santorum bill proposed preventing the US Weather Bureau from issuing free reports where there were competing private firms (which he was connected with); he was a singularly undistinguished Senator who lost his last Penn. race by 18%, with his pessimistic and apocalyptic message, he terrifies the Repub old guard. In the Feb 22 Ariz. debate, where they all endorsed harsh immigration policies, he was blasted by every candidate as a Washington insider.
These caucuses are tiny- 40-90 people getting together in a schoolroom for 2-3 hours to pick 2-3 delegates: in Colorado only 1.3% of voters showed up (I ran one in Seattle). They can easily be hijacked by 10-15 dedicated partisans, like anti-abortion activists, and often are totally unrepresentative of the general vote. Obama only won in the 2008 Primary because he rolled into tiny Dem Party caucus states in the Republican West with superb organizations and racked up a big lead in delegates, beating Hilary Clinton before she even knew what hit her, although she won almost all the big states, the last ones by big margins, as well as the popular vote.
Romney barely won his home state of Michigan (splitting delegates), and Arizona by a big margin Feb 28. Mitt failed to wrap it up in the 10 state March 4th Super Tuesday contests: edging Santorum in important Ohio (no one has won the nomination without Ohio) and taking WTA (winner take all) Virginia, Mass., Idaho; winning splits Vermont, and Alaska; while Gingrich won his home state of Georgia big; and Santorum pleased the pundits (who love the endless battle) by winning Tennessee, Oklahoma, and empty North Dakota. But even in winning OK, he split delegates evenly and lost many delegates in Ohio because he never set them up, as Romney netted 63% of them. In Mississippi and Alabama March 13, there were two unprecedented 3 way splits: 29-31% each for Santorum (won both), Gingrich, and Romney (3rd!); but in winning Hawaii and Samoa, and splitting the South, Romney still amassed more delegates.
After sweeping Puerto Rice (where he dishonestly promised statehood- Repubs wouldn’t allow that Dem territory), Romney crushed Santorum in the big central St. of Illinois and has a commanding lead (more than all opponents together), and despite many misgivings, is still marching towards the nomination. But his weakness in the Repub base of Dixie was evident again in losing 27 to 49% in Louisiana March 24th, yet even there Santorum netted only 5 more delegates, with 31 more unallocated Party people, who will likely break for the leader. Even when he wins big, Santorum is losing the delegate race. Losing winner-take-all Wisconsin was his last gasp April 3rd- pressure was growing to consolidate behind Romney- he received several endorsements, from right wing Sen Marco Rubio, and former President Bush 1. Santorum is even behind in his home state Pennsylvania, where he was being outspent 10:1.... and faced with that humiliation + crushing Party pressure, he quit April 11th. It's hard to leave the Presidential carnival- nothing you ever do will even be as exciting, powerful, and intoxicating- I've covered the campaigns 2˝ times and even as press it is overwhelming, great gobs of hope, money, lies, and enthusiasm being thrown around. After this Newt returns to being a self-styled scholar of history and a political footnote.
Mitt Romney comes off as plastic, artificial, an android without normal human emotions; but that is partly a product of his Mormon faith, its strictures and its secrecy (nonbelievers are not allowed into Temples). Because of their religion’s persecution and skeptical public attitudes, Mormons are very reluctant to talk about it- but another better explanation and justification speech is needed, like he did in 2007 (YouTube) in his “Faith in America” address, as Obama did about race and JFK did about Catholicism. To the suspicious masses, Mormonism must be dragged into the sunlight. They have to go on unpaid missionary missions for 2˝ years in their youth- Romney spent time in France (subject of an “elitist” Newt attack ad), and was a deacon in his church- there must be heartwarming tales of human contact there that could counteract his soulless nerd image. But even as he is polite, Romney can be gleefully vicious, as when he dissected Newt Gingrich in a debate before Florida- pundits say “he looks like the guy that fired you”, and in his job as head of takeover managers Bain Capital, he was savaged by Perry as a vulture capitalist, sucking the life out of companies.
I like Mormons- I worked for them at an Idaho TV station: they are polite, smart, honest, hard-working, optimistic people with the best religious ads on TV (family); but they are the straightest people on the planet: no alcohol, drugs, tobacco, tea, coffee, cola, extra-marital sex, lying, little meat, and their beliefs were and are often deeply exotic: from polygamy (Mitt’s great grandfather escaped to Mexico to avoid prosecution, where Mitt’s father was born) to religious undergarments, to believing American Indians were a lost tribe of Israel, to believing cursed with the mark of Cain, says USA Today. There are about 5-6 million Mormons in America, 8 million outside it. Only 1% of American Mormons are black- they were restricted from most rites until 1978. Kiev has a large temple in Sophiesky Borshagovka for the 12 thousand Ukrainian adherents.
Governor of liberal bastion Massachusetts, Romney has had to run from his only governmental achievements: creating an Obama-like health care plan; and had to reverse his position on abortion and contraception…. to appeal to the far right that dominates the Repub primaries... but dooming him against Obama. This makes him seem more artificial, and leaves nothing to talk about but the trash meaningless culture war red herrings of the jihadist right. The latest tempest in a teacup is Obama’s requiring Catholic hospitals to cover their employees for contraceptives- Repubs went ballistic, calling it an assault on religion, but 99% of US women use it, even +60% of Catholic women- it may have been a clever trick of Obama’s to expose their extremism.
“This is what the Republicans do, try to divide people,” complained Dean. Romney has been clsing his speeches speaking or singing America the Beautiful, a cringe-worthy spectacle accentuating his overweaning dorkiness; though he surprisingly won the Conservative Political Action Convention Feb 11th with 36% to Santorum’s 31% to Gingrich’s 15%, pledging to be “severely conservative”. 4 years ago there, he was the great conservative hope against McCain, now all the contenders are to his right.
Republicans have also been using the time tested tactic NY Times: 14 states have harsh new voter fraud (which almost never has been proven) laws requiring State ID’s that some minorities, poor, and very old don’t have- 11%, mostly Dem voting groups. They also are aggressively carving up state election districts in the bipartisan decadal cheap trick of gerrymandering, but they control most states doing it.
Obama has let down many of his true believers on the Left with his embrace of Bush era abuses- rendition, Patriot Act resigning, Guantanamo non-closure, endless compromises with the Right, the failure to prosecute any of the neocon’s crimes in the Iraq Invasion conspiracy and subsequent war profiteering, or the destruction of $15 trillion in the 2008 popping of the home-mortgage-fraud-scam-bubble.
Dean agrees: “I think we needed to have some prosecutions: there was huge corruption and lying to the public on both Wall St. and the Invasion of Iraq. But, I ran into some guy in a coffee shop who said ‘I’m not gonna vote for Obama’ and I said, ‘Oh yes you will, in October… when you see what the alternative is!’ A NJ Ukraine Democrats Abroad leader complains: “Obama's form of compromise is ‘OK, lets compromise - here's my half’ -the Repubs say, ‘OK great, we offer nothing.’ We then repeat the process several times.”
If Romney is the candidate- 97% chance I think, he will be the whitest candidate in history running against the blackest, dubious in a country inexorably becoming browner- Hispanics have twice the birthrate of whites.
“He said ‘I will veto the Dream Act’.. that’s for (illegal) kids who’ve grown up in America, done well in America, to stay in America. That will kill him with immigrants!” gasps Dr. Dean (they must do 2 years in college or military to qualify). Indeed, latest polls have Obama ahead among Latinos by a stunning 40-47% (67-27%), women by 12%, and blacks by 86%! Even Romney thinks these numbers are fatal, and they necessitate a Hispanic running mate, like Fl. Sen. Marco Rubio. Romney’s been demonizing Obama with the standard wildly inaccurate rightwing brush: unamerican, socialist, anti-business, anti-religion; reckless charges that appeal to the racist unease many have with a black President. But Obama, who finally caught Osama Bin Laden, increased troops in Afghanistan, deported more illegal immigrants, and ended the self-inflicted quagmire of Iraq, is solidly middle of the road; and has seen his (Washington Post) bump up to 50% approval with 243,000 new jobs in Jan and an unemployment drop to 8.3%; and is leading Romney by 6-9% in polls, Santorum by more. 2/3 of Americans think Romney’s 14% tax burden is unfair, and 52% to 37% believe Obama better understands their economic problems. But ominously for the President, 9 of 10 rate the economy negatively, which now has become Obama’s albatross, though he is innocent of any original culpability.
“I don’t think any of them can win (against Obama), but Romney is the best against us cause he’s the most moderate,” says Gov. Dean, “but it’s been a bloody Republican Primary- I don’t think they’re going to recover from it. He’s the Wall St candidate, of the (top) 1%, but he’s a damaged candidate... by his own people.”
We will see- Romney has a seemingly insurmountable lead. But in this free-for-all, with talk of saviors at a brokered convention, unlimited cash, and widespread qualms about Romney…. anything can happen. And with an extra trillion of two of billionaire bucks, this will be the dirtiest, loudest, and most negative campaign ever.
Michael Hammerschlag (Hammernews.com) has covered 2˝ Presidential campaigns, managed a Democratic Presidential caucus in Seattle, helped save Clinton with an anti-impeachment org/website, and produced political ads and media advice. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, Media Channel, Modern Photography, Scoop; and Moscow News, Tribune, Guardian, and Times; and Kyiv Post, Weekly,+ Business Ukraine.
1. that Obama wasn’t born in the USA, despite birth certificate from Honolulu, despite testimony of doctors, but in fact was some secret Muslim African 5th columnist. This circulated since 2007 among the right wing conspiracist-crazies. Obama finally released his long form birth certificate, and Trump was laughed off the stage. One must be born in USA to be President, supposedly, but McCain wasn’t.
2. 10 year Vermont Gov. and medical Dr. Howard Dean, whom I questioned twice in the 2004 race, was the smartest and most honest politician I’ve ever met- he blew people away with his straight concise answers. In the 3 weeks before the Iowa Caucus he suffered a 25% drop, the greatest collapse in US political history after concerted and dishonest media attacks (Dunning Dean- Was the Doctor Gored), and effectively lost by the end of the month to John Kerry, a good man, but a poor candidate: richest in the Senate (Heinz catsup wife), pompous, stentorian speaker Even Kerry came within 65,000 votes of defeating Bush (in Ohio), and I’m convinced Dean would have won- he was a new face and there was little ammunition for master slanderer Karl Rove to use against him. Now he runs the liberal organization Democracy for America, mobilizing people to support progressive candidates and principles, and to pressure the Obama Admin. to not concede them. Decent chance he will be a future President.
Everybody (Mormon) Golden Plates Wikipedia
Fact Sheet | Attitudes about Mormons and Implications for Mitt Romney’s Candidacy in 2012 Public Religion Research Institute
Elizabeth Drew Can We Have a Democratic Election? Nybooks.com
US News Blog Foster Friess: All you need to know about the Sugar Daddy The Guardian (UK)
Stephen Braun Santorum's tax returns show rise in wealth AP
AquaRacer8 Faith in America - Mitt Romney (Original speech given 12/06/2007 YouTube
Daniel Burke Will Mormons' racial history be a problem for Mitt Romney? USA Today
Erika Wood Florida. How Soon We Forget NY Times Op-Ed
joint authors Obama holds edge over Romney in general election matchup, poll finds Washington Post