Election 2016, one week out

How to summarize?

This unprecedented election cycle stretches back as far as the Clinton Administration era, ran throughout the Obama Administration era, continues the thread that Hillary Clinton wove through both, and got entangled with the new threads of an outside the Beltway, outside politics, unlikely wild card that Donald Trump proved to be, and it all has defied the odds and conventional wisdom to land us in this strange situation of facing an election for president between two very flawed and distasteful, disrespectful, unethical and unlikable candidates.

We, the people, could have done much better. And we’re to blame for arriving at this point with these two candidates at the top of their tickets. ‘Politics are downstream of culture’ we hear often, and it’s true. We make the culture, or buy into it willingly and without giving it proper thought. So those who do the social engineering of marketing ideas and working ideologies into entertainment media and news media and politics gain ground when citizens come to accept the ‘mission creep’ of ideas spread in attractive packaging and sold through socially appealing marketing, and all sorts of changes have happened to our nation and its institutions and laws. So now the landscape is scary to a lot of people and hostile to others, or some of both to most people.

The next week has utmost importance for America and the world. I’ve been watching and covering on radio what’s most helpful for voters, and the watching world beyond, and hope to bring light to that in these days leading up to the day of decision. It’s not just the US presidency at stake, though that’s most important. The Senate and House seats in Congress are pivotal in the decisions that will continue on into the years ahead, some with ramifications for generations.

Meanwhile, an interview I did Monday on my book, for a television news webcast program, recalled the timelessness of first principles and the truths the founding documents of this nation established. Which are more or less summarized here.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington…

“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” – Abraham Lincoln…

We have such a rich heritage both in the Church and in our nation’s founding documents, among other historic and timeless teachings. But people, generations, will forget if they are not taught or reminded, and truths will be eradicated from our collective memory if we don’t hand down our narrative of inheritance. George Washington is widely beloved, as is Abraham Lincoln. But ask people why and they may be hard pressed to cite what these early presidents represented in their personal beliefs, lived in their personal character, and stood for in their political battles to carry out their understanding of natural law and moral order. To “get” Washington or Lincoln, you have to get them right, and in full….

People need heroes. The world needs the bright lights of those who spared nothing and braved anything to stand in the gap for their brothers and sisters anywhere who were marginalized, oppressed, mistreated, abused, and dehumanized. William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and…Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are standouts among many others inspired by them who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for human rights for every single human being who exists, and those who will in future generations. History books and museums and legendary narratives record the great heroes of history who made a difference in civilization, thankfully. We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to them all — but also the duty to carry the mantle they handed down to those who come after and are inspired by the cause of protecting, defending, and advancing human dignity and rights. Many of the benefits recognized by law that we inherit and enjoy today are the result of their life’s work.

It’s what’s at stake now. We are up to the task of making clear the truths of human dignity and human rights to our neighbors, communities, larger public and sphere of influence. We just need to call upon our courage.

The ‘real Obama’ and real facts

The most lingering impression of last week’s presidential debate surprise was that President Obama was unable to articulate a defense of his record of the past four years or a coherent promotion of his plans for the next four years.

From the next day on, the media have stayed on the story of that debate and Obama’s failure to deliver, though the tenor and spin of the reporting changed.

CNN tried to inject potential responses the president might have made into its coverage. This is the kind of editorializing that belongs in opinion pieces.

Obama had a chance to brush his opponent back by hammering home the fact that Romney has been strikingly vague in explaining just how he would pay for an across the board 20% tax cut without cutting cherished tax deductions.

Instead, a lethargic Obama veered into a plodding, numbers-based criticism of Romney’s tax plan that was a far cry from his campaign trail rallying cries about how Republicans favor the rich.

And that’s only one example from that piece.

Others did the same.

Neither Obama nor the debate’s moderator, meanwhile, pressed Romney on some of his most vulnerable points. They included Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans are docile dependents on the government, a topic heavily featured in TV ads and public conversations the past two weeks.

It’s not their job to fill in for points the president failed to make.

It’s their job to question and probe.

Democrats are trying to recover from President Barack Obama’s debate disaster by asking the question, “Was that the real Mitt Romney?”

But given how poorly the president played, the better question is, “Was that the real Barack Obama?”

If you match the president’s performance in Denver with the performance of the country under his leadership, it’s obvious the answer to the latter question is “yes.”

Spared by a compliant media from the intense scrutiny presidents normally receive, Obama and his handlers have been able to craft for him the mythological persona of a deliberative and decisive overachiever whose brilliance enables him to adapt and respond to complex situations.

But when the curtains opened Wednesday night, Obama faced an opponent intent on exposing the myth.

A president accustomed to softballs for the first time had to answer tough questions and rebuff fact-based challenges.

He collapsed, unprepared for accountability.

That’s not just a one-time, one-night thing.

Lack of preparation dogs the Obama presidency. He doesn’t do his homework.

The consequences of his signature legislation, Obamacare, were so poorly thought out that nearly every piece of it is being rewritten even as it’s being implemented to keep it from killing jobs and taking down the economy.

Bob Woodward’s new book, “The Price of Politics,” details how Obama’s indecision and disengagement derailed a budget deal that could have averted the debt ceiling crisis and the credit downgrade.

And so on.

Now the vice-presidential debate follows. And as the New York Times puts it, this debate provides the Obama team an opportunity to recover.

President Obama’s campaign is working feverishly to restore its momentum after a lackluster debate performance last week, an effort that began with a conference call 10 minutes before the debate even ended and led to new advertisements, a rewritten stump speech, a carefully timed leak and a reversal of months-old strategy…

Under the tutelage of David Axelrod, the president’s chief strategist who is personally overseeing the preparations, Mr. Biden will be counseled on how to avoid Mr. Obama’s mistakes and even correct them with a more aggressive prosecution of the Republican ticket. Mr. Axelrod’s involvement highlights the stakes the Obama campaign places on the debate, and Mr. Biden has been reading “Young Guns,” the book co-written by Mr. Ryan, and practicing attack lines that Mr. Obama avoided.

The attack has become a more central focus.

On the conference call convened by aides in Denver and Chicago even as the candidates were still on stage, there was no debate in the Obama campaign about the debate. None of the advisers fooled themselves into thinking it was anything but a disaster. Instead, they scrambled for ways to recover. They resolved to go after Mr. Romney with a post-debate assault on his truthfulness. Ad makers were ordered to work all night to produce an attack ad. And they would seize on Mr. Romney’s vow to cut financing for Big Bird.

Seriously. They did all of that.

There wasn’t as much post-debate assault on the truthfulness of whatever Mr. Obama said. But the new campaign launched by the Obama team with a complicit media scuttled that to make a concerted attack on Mr. Romney.

The case that Romney lied so brazenly that it undid the president who prides himself on his rhetorical genius rests, first, on the idea that the Republican misrepresented his own tax-reform plan. The president said that Romney proposes to cut taxes by $5 trillion over ten years. Romney denied it. The president’s team responded, with its customary civility and nuance: “Liar!”

But this isn’t even a close call. Romney wants to cut income-tax rates 20 percent across the board and make up the revenue by closing loopholes and deductions. This isn’t a tax cut; it’s a wash. It’s been Romney’s plan ever since he proposed it during the Republican primaries. It’s such a simple concept that only willful obtuseness keeps the president or his team from understanding it.

If Romney proposed a 1 percent across-the-board cut on rates and the elimination of all loopholes and deductions, surely President Obama would accuse him of wanting to raise taxes, not cut them, because people would be paying more in taxes despite lower rates. In fact, this is the approach of the president’s own Simpson-Bowles debt commission, with which he should have some passing familiarity. The commission suggested lower rates and fewer deductions such that the federal government would garner more revenue. This isn’t a tax cut either.

Let’s have a robust debate on the differences the two men have on how to handle the debt, the deficit, taxes, jobs, and the size and role of government. But let it be based on facts.

Democrats have convinced themselves that all the president needs to do to come roaring back in the next debate is rebut Romney’s dishonesties, which will expose his indefensible agenda and shallow reinvention. The president’s team evidently underestimated Romney once already. If it believes this “lying liar” interpretation of the debate — rather than pushing it in the media for lack of anything else to say — it will underestimate him yet again.

Just don’t underestimate the American people.

How well do we know Obama?

I’m watching a panel of pundits on a news show analyze the upcoming presidential debates and latest reported polling data when one of them says ‘well the voters know Obama now, but they don’t yet know Romney…’ And I thought really?

Media have done everything they could to keep us from knowing Obama, his ideology and worldview and what informed him early in life through his rise in politics. Even today, we don’t hear much about the czars he’s put in power, answerable only to him, some with extreme views and radical backgrounds (note John Holdren and Van Jones, among others).

But we should know about the man who would be president, especially the one who currently is. The media will tell us all the day long about Mitt Romney’s background and taxes and business affiliations and dog stories and any banal thing they can drag out. I’d like to hear more specifics from him and his campaign about economic reforms and government size and role and how that should shape America.

By default we’re learning Mr. Obama’s views on what should be the proper size and role of government, and how it should ‘fundamentally transform America.’ But the media won’t talk about how those views were formed from his early life by influential mentors. Even though Obama himself referred to his mentor as ‘Frank’ about two dozen times in his book Dreams From My Father.

Dr. Paul Kengor followed the research trail and assembled an exhaustively documented account in his book The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.

Here’s a snip from the American Thinker, just before the DNC.

Davis joined the Communist Party during World War II and was unflinchingly pro-Soviet and pro-Red China. He was the founding editor-in-chief of the Chicago Star (1946-48) — the CPUSA publication for Chicago — before moving on to the Honolulu Record (1949-57), the CPUSA publication there.  He excoriated the Western leaders who stood in the way of Stalin, meaning Winston Churchill and Harry Truman, whom he portrayed as colonialists, imperialists, fascists, and racists.  He blasted American initiatives like the Marshall Plan, which he labeled “white imperialism” and “colonial slavery.”  And because Democrats were the party in power at the time, and thus America’s first line of defense against the Red Army, Davis — who literally wrote poetry hailing Stalin’s tanks — vilified the Democratic Party in particular.

Frank Marshall Davis’s politics were so radical, and so pro-Soviet, that the Democrats who ran the Senate in 1956 summoned him to Washington to testify on his pro-Soviet activities.  Even more remarkable, the FBI placed him on the federal government’s Security Index, meaning that if a war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, Obama’s mentor could have been placed under immediate arrest.

I’ve noted this here before.  I’ve also noted Davis’s unceasing class-based rhetoric and class warfare.

Sounds familiar for a reason.

And then there’s David Horowitz, the former Communist radical who saw the light and turned conservative and found religion and told me in an interview that he only wished someone would have taught him the doctrine of original sin long ago.

His new book, Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion, is about the extremism he knew well and sees playing out in American politics, media and academia.

An American compound in Libya is invaded by al Qaeda terrorists and an American ambassador is purportedly tortured before being killed. Muslim mobs attack American embassies in 27 countries chanting,”Death to America.” The White House response? A statement blaming the outrages on a filmmaker in the United States, along with apologies to the Muslim world.

The American economy languishes with millions unemployed in the worst times since the Great Depression. Yet the president spends his first years in the White House focusing on a plan to create a trillion-dollar socialized health care system opposed by a majority of Americans. Then he campaigns for re-election on a platform blaming rich Americans for the economic woes.

What’s going on here?

The answer lies in a famous statement the president made on the eve of his election, when he told a crowd of cheering supporters: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” These are not the words of a traditional, pragmatic-minded American politician. A practical politician attempts to address problems and fix them, not to fundamentally transform an entire nation. Transforming nations is what radicals aspire to do. But Mr. Obama’s actions in the past four years — beginning with putting Obamacare in front of the economic crisis — are nothing if not radical.

Let’s have clarity about the choices we face. We need a full airing of these things, a robust debate of ideas and the honesty to stand for them. From the looks of media coverage, we’re going to have to take responsibility for generating that ourselves.

GOP’s breathless pace

Maybe it was because they’ve waited for years. Maybe it was because it was delayed by the gravity of a treacherous hurricane. But once it kicked off, the Republicans’ convention has been racing through its key messages. Sometimes faster than they can be processed or appreciated.

First night biggies Anne Romney and Chris Christie were literally back to back. Their message about women and family and sacrifical love was very different from Democrats’ emphasis on womens’ issues.  

Second and middle night was different. And kind of breathtaking in its pace, leaving no time between prime time speakers for pundits to opine or commercial advertisers to advertise or viewers to take even a quick break.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice gave one of the best speeches of the convention.

After all, when the world looks to America, they look to us because we are the most successful economic and political experiment in human history.  That is the true basis of American exceptionalism. You see, the essence of America, what really unites us, is not nationality or ethnicity or religion.  It is an idea. And what an idea it is.  That you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things, that it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going.

My fellow Americans, ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement.  We have never believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well. We have never been jealous of one another and never envious of each others’
successes.

No, no, ours has been a belief in opportunity.  And it has been a constant struggle, long and hard, up and down, to try to extend the benefits of the American dream to all.  But that American ideal is indeed in danger today.  There is no country, no, not even a rising China that can do more harm to us than we can do to ourselves if we do not do the hard work before us here at home.

More than at any other time in history, greatness is built on mobilizing human potential and ambition.  We have always done that better than any country in the world.  People have come here from all over because they have believed our creed of opportunity and limitless horizons.

She knows this deeply and well.

And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham.  The segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced that even if she cannot have it hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.

Before she finished that line the convention hall was on their feet with a rousing standing ovation. It was a soaring moment. I loved it, because I remember those segregated lunch counters of my childhood on a visit to the South that made me indignantly cry out to my father ‘Dad, they can’t treat people this way!’ (My father vividly recalls his activist little daughter’s loud voice in an Alabama drugstore all those years ago.)

But without a moment’s pause for reflection on the fine points of Rice’s outstanding, intellectually engaging speech, the convention moved briskly into Susana Martinez delivering her stirring address about her immigrant background and opportunities America offered for her to seize upon to become a leader and the governor of New Mexico. 

Her story was also inspring.

My parents also taught me about having the courage to stand for something.  So, I went to law school and became a prosecutor. 

I took on a specialty that very few choose to pursue – I prosecuted child abuse and child homicide cases.  Cases that were truly gut-wrenching.

But standing up for those kids, being their voice for justice, was the honor of a lifetime…

When I was a young prosecutor, I got called to testify against my boss. I could have backed down, but I didn’t. I stood up to him.  And he fired me for it.

So I took him on, ran against him for district attorney and beat him by a landslide!

I fear some of our leaders today have lost the courage to stand up.

What we have now are politicians.  They won’t offer real plans, and only stand up when they want to blame someone else.

And I don’t say that just because a Democrat is in the White House.  I was a Democrat for many years.  So were my parents.

This is interesting.

Before I ran for District Attorney, two Republicans invited my husband and me to lunch.  And I knew a party-switch was exactly what they wanted.

So, I told Chuck, we’ll be polite, enjoy a free lunch and then say goodbye.

But we talked about issues-they never used the words Republican, or Democrat, conservative or liberal.

We talked about many issues, like welfare – is it a way of life, or a hand-up? 

Talked about the size of government — how much should it tax families and small businesses?

And when we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at Chuck and said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans.”

This election should not be about political parties.  Too many Americans are out of work, and our debt is out of control.  This election needs to be about those issues.

And the floor was quickly turned over to the much anticipated address by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who delivered a stemwinder.

Formally accepting his party’s nomination for vice president Wednesday night in Tampa, Ryan portrayed the Obama administration as one whose sun had already set. The acerbic speech accused the president of leaving his legions of voters with little more than a record of squandered opportunities and broken promises as they stare at “fading Obama posters” and look for work.

“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” Ryan said. “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”

…By the end, he drew thunderous cheers and applause from the convention crowd. And as he has in the past, Ryan tried to draw a sharp contrast throughout.

Obama’s term, he said, has been “a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”

Over and over, he was interrupted with rousing applause.

Ryan’s speech sets the stage for Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech Thursday, which will close out the party’s convention and be the GOP’s last word before Democrats convene in Charlotte, N.C., for their nomination gala.

Which will be completely different, reportedly staging a celebration of abortion and contraception and women’s ‘reproductive rights’.

What a stark contrast this election poses. More on that to come…

Romney pick defines the campaign

All of a sudden, it seems the media have noticed what the presidential election is actually all about. Ideas. Competing ideas. Two stark contrasts of opposing worldviews and what should be the proper size and role of government. It’s about time.

What was it about the choice of Congressman Paul Ryan that evoked this swift and sweeping response? His clarity, charity and honesty, seem to be the top answers of both supporters and opponents. I heard a Democratic strategist on a television news panel credit Ryan with being an intellectual, an honest man who clearly articulates and stands for what he believes and represents conservative values with weight and gravity rare at this level of politics. She just doesn’t happen to agree with his beliefs or politics, but she respects the man.

Not everyone who disagrees with Paul Ryan is so charitable, but many who do at least admit  he’s a charitable man and a formidable politician. He’s also consequential, because his elevation made media heavyweights suddenly aware that this election is about a clear choice.

Republican Mitt Romney reset the race for the presidency as a battle over the size and scope of the federal government Saturday, choosing as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of the GOP’s plans to slash spending and overhaul Medicare.

In a risky and surprising move to give his campaign a jolt of momentum, Romney chose the 42-year-old congressman over several contenders considered safer bets. The selection seemed destined to shift the tone of a campaign that has become mired in petty squabbles and force a debate over how to tackle the nation’s fiscal challenges.

That was the tenor in most media stories. Including the Times.

Mitt Romney introduced Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate on Saturday at a spirited rally in Norfolk, Va., bringing to his side one of the party’s young conservative leaders in a move that altered the contours of the campaign and sharpened the choice facing the voters in November…

The decision instantly made the campaign seem bigger and more consequential, with the size and role of the federal government squarely at the center of the debate.

I’ve been saying that for months. That exact thing. So much so that on Monday, my network re-aired my earlier interview with Cong. Ryan and I opened it with the remarks that this election is essentially about the proper size and role of government, whether it is a solution or the problem, and what Catholic social teaching tells us about governing a society.

Now, big media are leading most of their stories with those same question, except for Catholic social teaching, though that’s coming out in some of the reporting on Paul Ryan anyway. Especially when it comes to claims that he’s a disciple of Ayn Rand.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, recently called Ryan “an Ayn Rand devotee” who wants to “slash benefits for the poor.” New York magazine once alleged that Ryan “requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s gospel of capitalism. President Obama has blasted the Ryan budget as Republican “social Darwinism.”

These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist. Ryan’s actual philosophy, as reported by my colleague, Brian Bolduc, couldn’t be further from the caricature. As a practicing Roman Catholic, Ryan says, his faith and moral values shape his politics as much as his belief in freedom and capitalism does.

“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

But detractors and especially the Catholic left won’t let him off the hook.

Which brings up a point I’m struck with as these first few days of Ryan’s elevation unfold. Really, truly struck with. People have written to me earnestly asking for answers about this, for either a defense or an indictment of Ryan based on anything he may have found worthwhile in Rand’s economic philosophy in the past, or anything he holds as worthy today in economic policy in advancing a budget that reforms the American economy.

Three things, really.

One, it’s interesting to see how much energy is going into vetting the Republican vice-presidential nominee once again than ever was given to analyzing the Democratic presidential candidate for the second election in four years.

Two, it’s refreshing to see and hear so many people engage in a debate over ideas – about philosophy, politics, the economy, society and the common good – and argue them passionately. If we’re as much about equality as we believe we are, let’s apply the same scrutiny to any major candidate who changes beliefs or positions on issues. What is considered ‘evolving’ for one candidate is ridiculed as ‘flip-flopping’ for another. What’s heralded as enlightened for the one is sharply derided as disingenous for the other. Let’s be serious.

And three, let’s be informed. Instead of relying on media and punditry for interpretations and translations and representations of ‘the Ryan budget plan’, let’s read it for ourselves and see what it says. In the absence of a competing budget plan, it’s something to debate.

As Cong. Ryan told me, “we are facing the most predictable debt crisis in history.” And “the American people want to be talked to like adults,” to “form their own prudential judgments” about competing ideas. “Are we simply treating the symptoms or the root causes of poverty?” The government has a role to play, he added, but one that above all honors the dignity of the human person.

Elections are now under 90 days away, and the campaign has just become more serious and more interesting.

Romney’s election night launch

It had the air of a new day and new beginning. Even critics in media punditry noticed that.

Or the ones who covered Tuesday’s five state elections and Gov. Mitt Romney’s remarks at the end of the day.

On a symbolic night for his campaign, Mitt Romney returned to New Hampshire to thank his supporters for his all but certain claim on the Republican nomination and to spell out the economic themes that will underpin his fall battle with President Obama.

Four years ago, Obama “dazzled us” with sweeping promises of “hope and change,” Romney said. “But after we came down to earth, after all the celebration and parades, what do we have to show for three and a half years of President Obama?

“Is it easier to make ends meet?” he said, in a riff on presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s famous query in 1980, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

“Is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one?” he asked, as the sign-waving crowd shouted, “No!” to each consecutive question. “Have you saved what you needed for retirement? Are you making more at your job? Do you have a better chance to get a better job? Do you pay less at the pump?”

Romney capped off by suggesting, “If the answer were ‘yes’ to those questions, then President Obama would be running for re-election based on his record, and rightly so. But because he has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortions.

“That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and at a different time, but not here and not now,” he said, and borrowing from a Clinton-era slogan, added, “It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid.”

It’s time to elevate the political conversation, and the claims to do so for the past four years have been hollow. Lately, the president has campaigned on the politics of class warfare and gender warfare, and it is tiresome.

News roundtables on Tuesday echoed the message that the choice has just been made clear.

Romney also coopted Obama’s “fairness” theme, which the president has invoked to describe the gulf between an over-taxed middle class and under-taxed elite. Romney suggested that fairness could be achieved any number of ways in society under conservative proposals.

“We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice,” he said. “… We will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing. We will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the very taxpayers they serve. And we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts onto the next.

“…In the America I see, character and choices matter. And education, hard work, and living within our means are valued and rewarded. And poverty will be defeated, not with a government check, but with respect and achievement that’s taught by parents, learned in school, and practiced in the workplace.”

The chattering classes choosing to dwell on a gaffe here or there by any candidate at this point seems small minded. We have major, course-changing, life-altering paths set before us and we have to decide which to take, which worldview best represents leadership of and service to the common good. Anyone who says there’s little or no difference between Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama is not serious or just not intellectually honest.

Sometimes, I hate politics. I’d rather talk about morals and principles and advancing true human rights, according to the founding documents of the United States and the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, before both became so politically hijacked. But politicians use the language and provide the vehicle so we must engage.

Some analyst on television the day after Romney’s primary victories and pivotal speech said approvingly that his speech soared, without touching on things like marriage issues and contraception. And I thought ‘why the heck are you even saying that? Who is making contraception an issue for government, anyway?’

Note to strategists and partisan ‘pundits’ combox trolls: The ‘flip-flopper’ charge against different GOP candidates and especially Gingrich and Romney just don’t work when the candidate flipped one way, which was a conversion to a new way of seeing an issue. If only President Obama would ‘flip’ on the sanctity of life and religious libery issues.

If Gov. Romney is to be his party’s nominee, the time to rally ’round has come, as it did for Democrats in ’08 when Obama pulled away from Hillary Clinton.

Jordan Sekulow is only one of many analysts making the case for social conservatives to embrace Mitt Romney.

With the tremendous differences between the Obama platform and Romney platform, what we need now is clarity.

And the party to have his back.

I hope this year’s election going forward will be more authentic, about the real issues that need immediate attention and the real role and limits of government. We’ll do our part here to cover that.

Catholic Charities in the presidential debate

Three days ahead of the New Hampshire primary, ABC moderated yet another debate Saturday night among the GOP candidates. Questioners asked about the economy and foreign policy. But they provoked candidates pointedly on social moral issues. In response, they got an earful.

Especially from Newt Gingrich.

He siezed the opportunity to blast the media for anti-Christian bias. Which moderators teed up with their pointed questions.

New Hampshire TV’s anchor Josh McElveen first posed the question to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum:

“Your position on same-sex adoption, obviously, you are in favor of traditional families, but are you going to tell someone they belong in — as a ward of the state or in foster care, rather than have two parents who want them?”

Mr Santorum answered, “My — my feeling is that this is an issue that should be — I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage. We have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundation institution of our country, and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another.”

“Once we — if we were successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot…

Speaker Gingrich, however, answered the question another way asking the media:

“I just want to raise — since we’ve spent this much time on these issues — I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry?”

He went further:

“Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?

“The bigotry question goes both ways. And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media.”

Mitt Romney noted that Massachusetts Catholic Charities was out of the adoption business because of the Church’s fundamental beliefs. Rick Perry jumped in and criticized the Obama administration for stigmatizing Catholic Charities because of its principles on marriage and abortion, driving them out of important social services.

At the end of the debate, ABC moderators George Stephanopoulos and Diana Sawyer turned to a panel of pundits in their studios for analysis. She addressed one of them saying ‘You’ve spent a lot of time covering these charac….’ and then caught herself and adjusted her comments and said ‘covering these candidates’…and proceeded to ask the question.

The candidates debate again on NBC Sunday morning.

What matters in Iowa

Nearly all the media focus is on where the GOP presidential candidates stand in the polls and who will have a stronger standing after Iowa, and New Hampshire and North Carolina. I’m interested in what they’re standing on.

How will the Republicans choose their presidential candidate? Or as WaPo put it…

…one question could shape the destiny of the eventual winner: Will the nominee define the party, or will the party define the nominee?

Successful presidential nominees often have helped redefine their parties. Ronald Reagan’s conservatism changed the Republican Party when he became the GOP nominee in 1980. Bill Clinton portrayed himself as a New Democrat, which proved a key to his victory in 1992. In his 2000 campaign, George W. Bush used the term “compassionate conservative” to put distance between himself and the congressional wing of his party that had been defined by Newt Gingrich.

In this campaign, the opposite seems to be the case. “This year, it seems to me, the party is the sun and the candidates are the planets. .?.?. They are trying to prove to primary voters that they are reliable and trustworthy when it comes to the basic platform of the GOP,” said Pete Wehner, a Republican strategist and former Bush administration adviser.

Republicans have a real opportunity to unseat an incumbent president in November, given the state of the economy and public dissatisfaction with some of the president’s policies. President Obama’s standing is as fragile as that of any incumbent seeking reelection in two decades.

But Republicans could see their opening slip away if the nominee is bound too tightly to an unpopular congressional wing of the party that has become the face of the GOP over the past 12 months.

(What WaPo doesn’t note here is how unpopular all of Congress is right now.)

One reason the candidates have been reluctant to chart new philosophical ground is that Republicans are as ideologically united as they’ve been in many years. They are also more conservative than they were even in Reagan’s day, thanks to an infusion of energy and ideas from the tea party movement.

That has put a strong gravitational pull on the presidential candidates.

This is interesting, and more revealing than most press the race is getting. What’s the center of gravity that holds such force? The article says it’s party orthodoxy. Specifically, tea party fervor.

Democrats see the Republican candidates as compliant to the tea party wing of the GOP. “This is a party that is very much defined by the tea party element, and the candidates have submitted to that,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “That’s their destiny, and they’re going to have to live with it.”

A Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the election, agreed. “What Obama needs to do now is force the Republican nominee into supporting the tea party wing of the party over the next nine months,” he said. “Can you tie the nominee to the congressional Republicans? If he can do that, now you’re talking about a real problem.”

What you’re talking about as a problem or a strategy depends on who you’re talking to, because the GOP hasn’t ever been this fractured at the beginning of their primaries. And the only thing the best pundits seem to agree on is that predictions are only educated guesses at best. Anything is possible, and the uncommitted voters are still trying to make up their minds.

I attended a reception over New Year’s weekend and my particular roundtable of ten guests was well-informed and animated in discussing this presidential race. They were all concerned over the confusion and lack of clear vision forward, and general lack of leadership in the country. They seemed to represent everyone at this point. Questions tossed back and forth covered social issues, the economy, foreign policy, jobs, religious liberty, fundamental morals.

Who best represents mainstream America? Why does Ron Paul consistently run such a strong race? That question has to be taken seriously by the eventual Republican candidate. Why did Rick Santorum surge just ahead of the Iowa caucuses? And who is really determining that party’s identity?

Everytime I hear about the ‘values voters’ I wonder if analysts are missing the obvious. Everyone is a ‘values’ voter. It just depends on whose values you believe in, and which ones will prevail. That’s what matters in Iowa, and every state that follows in the primaries.

The campaigns began last year. Now, the race begins.

Gingrich gets noticed

Ever since the media started the game of guessing who the current ‘not-Romney candidate’ is in the GOP field, they’ve enjoyed playing it. Perry and Cain have gone in and out of the revolving door to that game room, but who could the serious challenger be, pundits have been wondering.

Sooner or later they were bound to notice Newt Gingrich. In round after round of GOP debates, sponsored and televised by different media outlets but largely run the same, news cycles focused mostly on who won, who got the better of whom, which ‘gotcha’ questions or zinger answers stood out and whether Perry or Cain did as well as or better than Romney. But consistently, the sharpest responses were coming from Gingrich.

So it seemed inevitable that he’d rise a bit in the polls. Still, Dorothy Rabinowitz’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal was an attention grabber, starting with its headline ‘Why Gingrich Could Win.’

The Gingrich effect showed dramatically at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition forum last month—an occasion for which most of the candidates had, not surprisingly, prepared addresses focused on the importance of religion in their lives…

There were two exceptions to the lineup of speeches embracing religious themes. One was Herman Cain, who concentrated on the meaning of American freedom and admonished the crowd to stay informed, “because stupid people are running America.” The other was Mr. Gingrich. No one else’s remarks would ignite the huge response his talk did.

He began with the declaration that Americans were confronting the most important election choice since 1860. America would have the chance in 2012, Mr. Gingrich said, to repudiate decisively decades of leftward drift in our universities and colleges, our newsrooms, our judicial system and bureaucracies.

He would go on to detail the key policies he would put in place if elected, something other Republican candidates have done regularly to little effect. The Gingrich list was interrupted by thunderous applause at every turn. The difference was, as always, in the details—in the informed, scathing descriptions of the Obama policies to be dispatched and replaced, the convincing tone that suggested such a transformation was likely—even imminent.

Now this is interesting:

Finally, Mr. Gingrich announced that as the Republican nominee he would challenge President Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates. “I think I can represent American exceptionalism, free enterprise, the rights of private property and the Constitution, better than he can represent class warfare, bureaucratic socialism, weakness in foreign policy, and total confusion in the economy.”

I’d love to see those debates happen. Who wouldn’t?

His greatest asset lies in his capacity to speak to Americans as he has done, with such potency, during the Republican debates. No candidate in the field comes close to his talent for connection. There’s no underestimating the importance of such a power in the presidential election ahead, or any other one.

Why has he largely been overlooked or marginalized until now? Partially because the media control the narrative and create the perception that becomes the reality, and they’ve been negative on the former House Speaker since the nineties.

But in part, many of Gingrich’s fellow Catholics have personal issues with him as the ‘ideal candidate’, though they don’t necessarily find one in the rest of the field either. There’s an interesting exchange on this over on CatholicVote.org’s blog.

The first post was by Josh Mercer.

Right now we are in the middle of a national debate on what the nature of marriage is. The Republican Party’s platform calls for keeping marriage solely as a union of one man and one woman. President Obama, by stark contrast, has refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act and he has strongly opposed state marriage amendments.

Imagine what supporters of same-sex marriage will say if Newt Gingrich becomes the GOP nominee? “Newt Gingrich has been married three times, but he won’t let gays get married once.”

Is that fair? Maybe not. Does it matter if it’s fair? No.

Just so everyone is clear. I think there’s no doubt that Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man, with considerable talents. I think he would make a great Special Adviser to the President. I just have deep reservations of him becoming the standard bearer of the Republican Party.

Tom Crowe replied.

We believe that marriage is, by definition, between one man and one woman, and that this definition is unchangeable. Newt’s offense is in having three different wives, all of whom are still alive.

But given a culture that accepts divorce, and recognizing that until his 2009 conversion he accepted this bug of our culture, his offense was not against what we are at present trying to defend in law regarding marriage—after all, he only had one wife at a time, and all of his wives were women. As Catholics we hold that divorce is a severe problem…

But in today’s fight to defend marriage we are not fighting the divorce fight.

Since the case we’re making at present is not against divorce, Newt’s marital issues are not a reason for him to recuse himself from the battle over marriage. Nor, in my opinion, are they a good enough reason for us to hesitate to support him as a standard bearer. He’s flawed, just like the rest of us. Opponents will undoubtedly use them as a cudgel with which to beat him about the head and shoulders, but I think that line of attack will have limited traction, especially if we at whom it is aimed shrug it off as a red herring “gotcha” attack. And it certainly will not throw Gingrich off his message—he wouldn’t be running if he and his wife didn’t expect that sort of criticism.

Those who ardently push for gay marriage do not honor the “man and woman” part of the definition, nor do they think divorce is particularly a problem, given the separation rate among gay couples, including the “marriages” that have taken place in those jurisdictions that have approved gay marriage laws. And you’re not going to win over those who simply reject the traditional definition of marriage anyhow, even if your candidate married his high school sweetheart at 20 years old, is still madly in love, and hasn’t even looked at another woman since.

I’m often asked which GOP candidate I think is best, and I don’t know. I’m still listening, closely.

But I do think this…Now that the standard objections to Gingrich are being aired and addressed, it would be great to get to some Lincoln-Douglas style debates over the size and role of government, what constitutes a free, just and moral society, America’s place in the world, and how best to lead…and serve.

Obama and jobs

All the news stories seem to be about his.

It’s natural that a president seeking re-election would be the center of scrutiny when the economy is so down and unemployment so high. But the story of how tough times are impacting Americans is buried under the headlines of what impact it all has on President Obama’s political future.

Like this Reuters story.

Most polls have shown Obama defeating any of the current Republican White House contenders next year, but the continuing fiscal woes are cutting into his lead. A Reuters/Ipsos survey this month showed 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, amid higher gasoline prices, stubbornly high joblessness and a weak housing market.

“Despite his or his handlers’ rhetoric, the electorate — if the various polls are an indication — has given plenty of feedback that it wants specifics and definitive action, not pablum, and most definitely not the ‘I feel your pain’ response to the seeming endless stream of negative economic news,” said Gerald Shuster, a political communications expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

See, this is what bothers me, even while I understand political news coverage and especially as the campaign starts to heat up. The stories are quoting political communications experts and spin doctors. And they wind up with bottom lines like these:

Mayer suggested Obama’s best strategy might be to sidestep Congress and work directly with state governors, many of them Republicans, on a stimulus plan targeting state governments, given steep budget cuts and layoffs at the local level.

“The numbers coming out of state capitals are looking pretty horrendous,” he said. “These are very significant job losses and if you could save some of those jobs, that would have some positive outcomes for Obama.”

Not to mention the individual people and their families.

Who are otherwise known as voters. This piece edges closer to considering them as more than just that…barely.

In 2008 Mr Obama represented change. This time he will have to fend off charges that he is to blame for the achingly slow recovery by arguing that it would have been worse without his actions, such as his $800 billion stimulus package and the takeover of GM and Chrysler. That may be true but it is not easy to sell a counterfactual on the stump

a counterfactual“?

(as the first President Bush learned). And there are other holes in Mr Obama’s record. What happened to his promises to do something about the environment or immigration or Guantánamo? Why should any businessman support a chief executive who has let his friends in the labour movement run amok and who let his health-care bill be written by Democrats in Congress? Above all, why has he never produced a credible plan to tackle the budget deficit, currently close to 10% of GDP?

Now they’re thinking outside the 2008 media box.

A serious Republican candidate must come up with answers to the two big problems facing America’s economy: how to get more people back to work, and how to fix the deficit.

Yes. How to get more people back to work, that’s the point.

And raising taxes means taxing individual citizens and families already hurting in their homes, if they still have them. So if it must be done, people must be convinced and brought on board a tough reform program.

An honest Republican candidate would acknowledge this and lay out the right way to do so—for instance, by eliminating distorting loopholes and thus allowing revenues to rise. He (or she) would also come up with a more systematic plan on the spending side. No Republican seems to understand the difference between good spending and bad. Investment in roads and education, for instance, ought not to be lumped in with costly and unreformed entitlements, like Social Security and Medicare. Defence should not be sacrosanct. That Mr Obama has no strategy either is not an excuse.

Thanks for the honesty, finally.

In most elections promising toughness is not a successful tactic; but this time Americans know that their country has huge problems and that their nation’s finances are the biggest problem of all. In Britain the Conservatives made the incumbent Gordon Brown seem ridiculous by spelling out the austerity that he at first barely dared mention; now another tough-talking centre-right party has won in Portugal (see article). If ever there was a time for pragmatic conservative realism, it is now.

How about that…realism as a tactic. It sure beats the alternative.