Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Game of Inches

Chinese Condom-Maker Sizes Up Obama and Romney

The caption on this post on the China Weibo blog of the Durex condom company reads “The difference between Obama and Romney is…”

Actually, I think the PRC regime-meisters might have a slight preference for President Obama as “the devil you know.”  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a protean shape-shifter and it was never clear where he might come down on the reckless-feckless-clueless continuum in China affairs.

I would like to share a few observations.

A common emotion on the Democratic side, other than elation, is amazement at the fact that the Romney team was genuinely surprised and dumbfounded by its defeat, which to them was “a bolt from the blue.”  Mr. Romney had apparently not even considered the contingency of a concession speech, which is perhaps why his remarks were mercifully short and relatively engaging.

I, like most observers, had always seen a Republican campaign with some extremely shaky fundamentals, to whit:

  • a weak candidate going up against an incumbent with decent if not outstanding approval ratings;

  • a near exclusive reliance on conservative white voters who account for a shrinking percentage of the electorate;

  • half-hearted outreach at best to black, Hispanic, and female voters;

  • a significant disadvantage in the key state of Ohio because of Mr. Romney’s opposition to the auto industry bailout.

The vast majority of polls indicated a comfortable lead for Mr. Obama in the race that counted—for the electoral college.  

The only Republican-friendly poll results were achieved by “unskewing”—jacking up the assumed percentage of white voters to bring it in line with the white turnout in the congressional election year of 2010.  This was a risky and questionable assumption since a) off year elections traditionally attract a higher turnout of older whites, while young people and minorities show up for the presidential election and b) 2010 was the annus mirabilis for the Tea Party movement, with a white turnout of 78%, and unlikely to be duplicated for a Republican standard bearer as moderate, Mormon, and boring as Mitt Romney.

In the end, only 72% of 2012 voters were white, of whom 59% broke for Romney.  72 x 59 gives you 43%, which was too far away from victory for Mr. Romney.

As I said, the big surprise was that Republicans were surprised.

A couple thoughts I haven’t seen elsewhere.

First, perhaps Mitt Romney was blindsided because he came of age in a place and time when black equality with whites was—for him—inconceivable.

I am not referring to the state of affairs in American society at large; I’m referring to the situation within the Church of Latter Day Saints, whose essential doctrine was, for many years, explicitly racist.  Blacks bore the mark of Cain (“flat nose and dark skin” as Brigham Young helpfully pointed out) and their role in the Mormon heaven was to act as servants.  In the Mormon Church, black men could not enter the LDS priesthood until 1978, when the church leadership decided—after a revelation bestowed on Prophet Spencer Kimble, despite some pretty clear doctrinal precedents established by their founding fathers, and perhaps, just perhaps, because the church had been put on notice that it risked loss of its tax-exempt status if it continued to practice overt discrimination—to discard the policy.

Mitt Romney grew to maturity and received his  endowment (formal reception into the temple and bestowal of “the garments” a.k.a. “garmies”, the ritual underwear that represents the individual’s covenant with the church and must be worn at all times except when bathing and—for more liberal believers—engaging in conjugal relations) under the racist dispensation.  By 1981, at the age of 34 and only three years after the change in policy, Romney was already a bishop overseeing a Mormon ward in Boston.  In 1986, he was summoned by the LDS leadership to serve as “stake president” overseeing 4000 Mormons in a number of Massachusetts wards, a position he held until 1994.

“Stake president” is a relatively exclusive LDS office.  There are 3000 stake presidents worldwide, and the position is often described as analogous to that of bishop in the Catholic church.

Mitt Romney was a loyal member of the church and apparently concerned that the demands of conservative LDS doctrine on issues like gay rights would render him unelectable in liberal Massachusetts.  He frequently consulted with the church leadership concerning the political/moral dilemma presented by his polling
According to Romney biographer R.B. Scott, the church leadership decided to cut him some slack in order to give Romney a shot at the governorship, and maybe more:

“[The church leadership] realized it would serve no purpose to quibble—the greater good was to get him elected and give him a shot at realizing the victory his father booted 40 years earlier,” Scott writes. “Did they see him as a future presidential candidate? Did he? Do the statues of Angel Moroni atop every Mormon temple always face east?”

In other words, Scott is contending that the church in effect licensed Romney’s better-than-Kennedy promises on gay rights…

(Mr. Romney subsequently displayed a hostility to gay equality more in keeping with the teachings of his church, and secreted funneled $10,000 to the California Proposition 8 anti gay marriage initiative through an Alabama PAC.  There is some talk that the LDS conceived its anti gay marriage campaign as a bonding opportunity with the Christian evangelical churches which would be crucial to Mr. Romney’s electoral fortunes, but usually abhorred the Mormon church as a sect.)

Romney’s ability to thread the theological needle in Massachusetts perhaps hooked him on the serial practice of flipflopperai in the service of the greater good i.e. getting Mitt Romney elected, which he has displayed for the balance of his political career.

Romney’s liberal campaign position, electoral success, and generally uncontentious tenure in Massachusetts (in 2004, two years into his term he lame-ducked himself by announcing “his work was done” and he would not run for a second term, and began laying the groundwork for his first run at the presidency) seems to have inoculated him against challenging scrutiny of the role of his religion in his racial attitudes.

One of the few times the subject came up was in 2007, as an article by Edward Wyckoff Williams relates:

Romney has claimed that he was so moved when the church finally allowed blacks into the priesthood that he broke into tears. Yet he was a full grown man in his 30s and there is no evidence whatsoever that he previously objected to or campaigned against the blatantly racist policies.

Romney was confronted on this issue in a December 2007 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. The late Tim Russert brought up the ban on blacks and the fact that Romney was an adult before the ban was lifted. Russert pointedly asked if Romney had a problem with associating himself with an organization that was seen as racist. Romney answered, “I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.” 

Russert asked if Romney was willing to disavow the Church’s earlier teachings, and Romney refused — choosing instead to cite examples of how his father supported civil rights. Mitt even claimed that his father, George Romney, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. — a statement that was later proven false and that Romney recanted.

Afterwards, Mr. Romney was presumably considered “vetted” on the Mormon race issue, at least in the mainstream secular quadrant of the media.

Mr. Romney's loyalty to the doctrines of his church as set forth by its current leadership is, I think, unquestioned.  But one wonders to what extent the attitudes of his upbringing, education, and early adulthood during the era when overt racism was embedded in church doctrine were reversed by the largely tactical shift of LDS policy on racial discrimination in 1978.

When it came time for him to run against Barack Obama the question of whether he considered it conceivable that that a black man—bearing the mark of Cain—could cast down a senior member of the Mormon church was not considered a subject for elevated political discourse.

The question of whether Mr. Obama’s race contributed to Mr. Romney’s oblivious overoptimism may never be answered but it is probably a significant one.

The other possible source of Republican delusions of victory was perhaps the unbalanced political and funding mechanism created by the Citizens United case and the headlong development of Super PACs.

Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS raised $300 million dollars from billionaires such as casino mogul Sheldon Adelson (last seen despondently motoring out of a Boston banquet hall on a personal mobility scooter) and was legally obligated to dispense this cash hoard without coordination with the Romney campaign.

Perhaps Karl Rove had both accountability and agency problems.  

On the accountability side of the ledger, disposal of the cash mountain was at the discretion of Karl Rove, and he was legally enjoined from engaging in feedback with the Romney campaign as to where the money was going and what it was accomplishing.

On the agency side of the question, Mr. Rove might have had a good idea of where the polling was actually headed, but had little incentive to share this news with his donors.  Perhaps he was happy to keep the money rolling in with “unskewed” poll-stroking that kept the plutocrats—ostensibly a hardheaded, cleareyed bunch, but in this case desperately intoxicated by the secret, billionaires’ reserve happy sauce cannily dispensed by Mr. Rove—deluded with the mirage of a Romney landslide.

Perhaps Rove’s ostentatious hissy fit on Fox News concerning the call of Ohio for Obama—and the subsequent effort to hang the blame for Romney’s failure around the necks of Romney’s campaign team and New Jersey governor Chris Christie--were simple if brazen exercises in misdirection meant to distract attention from Mr. Rove’s own dismal and equivocal role in the proceedings. 

Anyway, Mr. Obama’s electoral achievement was not inconsiderable.

He was an incumbent, yes, but with a lackluster economic record.  And he was black.  That still counts for something in America.  Whites, many of whom consciously or unconsciously regard  the United States project as an exclusive achievement of Christian Caucasians, with minorities filling the role of tolerated but unproductive hangers-on (or, in this year’s argot, “takers” not “makers”) broke for Mr. Romney 59% to 39% for Mr.Obama.

Mr. Obama’s second term was opposed by an intensely motivated core of opponents and a formidable aggregation of billionaires, bigots, and character assassins .  A weary and dubious electorate was willing to give Mr. Romney a long, serious look.

But when it came down to November 6, the Obama campaign poured its money and manhours into the election machinery, turned the crank, and churned out enough votes to carry every swing state.

The Romney machine, with the same resources of cash and conviction, simply ground its gears.

The CCP leadership might look at the US presidential election and decide that it’s crazy to roll the dice 100 million times, at a cost of $2 billion dollars, on the country’s future every four years.

If all this titanic process yields is another four years of gridlock, alienation, and shredding of the US political and social fabric, maybe they’re right.  But if America’s changing demographics results in meaningful political shifts on issues such as immigration reform…well, given the Republican Party’s overpowering, clumsy lust for the Hispanic vote and determination to obstruct on every other issue, maybe immigration reform will be the only significant social advance to come out of this election.

However, the very fact of the immense cost and slow, halting progress of democratic development should be a warning to the CCP that political integration requires decades of effort and contention in order to achieve even incremental progress. 
It’s a game of inches.

The longer it’s delayed, the more difficult it becomes.

China better get started down the same road…the sooner the better.

For information on the Durex image, please refer to this article at Huffington Post

1 comment:

Peter Thompson said...

This issue is very simple. The demography of America has changed. But, the Republican Party has not adapted to these changes. They are still stuck in a mentality of 20 years ago, plus their extreme crazy right wing is forcing the whole party to come up with ridiculous and inflexible positions. Until this changes, they will not win another national election.
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