Say It Ain’t So

(Article first published as Say It Ain’t So on Blogcritics.) In 1919, eight players on the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. They were later indicted and banned from baseball for life. A small boy who idolized the most famous of them, Shoeless Joe Jackson, entreated the star to deny his involvement. The child’s plea, “say it ain’t so”, has come to epitomize both disbelief and the pain of disappointment.  It’s a fitting reaction to the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls. Each is such an easy target that one can almost discern a plot to throw the election to Barack Obama.

O.k., not really, but a conspiracy might as well exist. With the possible exception of Mitt Romney, none stands a snowball’s chance of living in the White House in 2013. Why? Each has a platform with such narrow appeal the Great Wallendas would lose their balance. Obama is already taking aim at the Republican field although, if he were smart, he’d wait. His attacks might help produce a new contender who defeats him.

The problem with the current GOP candidates is that they’re treating the 2012 presidential election as a one issue race. Each is betting that independent voters fear our desperate economic plight deeply enough to overlook his or her polarizing positions on other subjects. With that bet placed, they are racing to grab the nomination by playing to a narrow segment of the Party with the most apparent influence.

While it’s true that elections are usually a barometer of the way voters believe their lives are going, voting isn’t always just about the economy. With Obama’s divisive rhetoric and thick misdirection smoke screens, solutions for a broader range of issues must be defined. That’s a requirement the current GOP candidates are not up to meeting.

More than at any time in living memory, politics lies in polarized pieces. Politicians have come to mimic players in a TV ‘reality’ show, the more extreme the better. Predictably, the debt reduction plan of the interparty Gang of Six died aborning because it lacked the extremism that made the eventual legislation meaningless.

The fringe in both parties tries to lay exclusive claim to “principle”, reducing party value to brand marketing. But neither labels nor rhetoric solves problems. What does most often are plans with a mix of provisions that, collectively, defy categorization. But that’s a lesson too many choose to overlook.

Take Michele Bachmann, winner of the Iowa Straw Poll, although garnering a whopping 4,823 votes out of 16,892 cast isn’t much of victory. She bleeds Tea out of every political pore from tying the knot to waging war. It won’t get her to the White House. Although she is trying to broaden her appeal, her dye has been cast for much too long.

Ron Paul, the 76-year old Texas libertarian, may be Nostradamus and Edward Cayce combined when it comes to the economy, but he has no chance.  He does have, whether or not deservedly, a crackpot aura, which would be a problem except the media mostly ignores him. As the modern day Harold Stassen, he should save his money and go home.

Rick Perry, the hardline Texas conservative and newcomer to the race, is supposed to threaten the chances of both Romney and Bachmann. But, he has yet to be tested in a national context and his baptism by fire is just beginning. Speaking of baptisms, personal religious beliefs are great but they shouldn’t be showcased as a prelude to a national campaign. It’s bad theater on several levels. If Perry keeps that up, he won’t have a prayer.

And then there are the acknowledged and unacknowledged also rans. Tim Pawlenty, the weakest of the weak, dropped out of the race the day after his poor showing in Iowa. And only Gingrich thinks Gingrich is actually running rather than showing up periodically to pontificate. Santorum and Cain combined would have come in behind Paul in the Iowa poll while “Other” got more votes than Huntsman and McCotter put together. Don’t look for one of these four to be the 2012 breakout candidate.

Even Romney, who has the best chance of victory among the known’s, has flip-flopped himself to the right side of the political frying pan. They all want to outdo each other in staking a claim to the Republican’s most conservative wing. In their rush to be Right, they appear more and more Wrong to independents essential for victory next year.

The GOP’s best 2012 hope is that the election turns out to be a rerun of 2008. With an economy Obama has made much worse and his tanking poll numbers, he’s becoming the reincarnation of George Bush. Either that happens or the convention in Tampa Bay next year brokers a real winner. That last one is a desperate solution, but so are our times.

See you in the mirror.