Andrew Cotto doesn’t think any of the challengers to President Obama have enough compassion to succeed.
As of last Sunday, the presidential election of 2012 is one year away, and while the general consensus from political pundits, 52 weeks out from the election, is that, given the economic plight of the nation, the Democratic administration is surely in jeopardy. But I’d argue it is really the Republican Party that has a problem. In fact, they have a major problem. Despite the electoral gift of national dismay and a struggling economy under an opposition president, the Republican candidates have struggled to connect with even die-hard party voters. This is important. The substantive matters of policy and competence and presidential stature haven’t even made it to the forefront of consideration for the general electorate.
We are in a glorified courting period, which should be full of promise and romance and the groundwork for a national campaign to win over hearts and minds. A test-run for a consensus. But what, it seems, the Republicans candidates have displayed so far is a speed-dating process that has led to a string of trysts but no meaningful love. There’s no hint of any commitment. Instead, we’ve had a tide of infatuations that recede shortly after arrival. And the primary reason for the lack of passion from even committed Republican voters is that there’s no love, no promise of any kind coming from the majority of candidates. Their positions are overwhelmingly negative.
Beyond nearly-rabid contempt for the nation’s president, the Republican field also has unabashed disdain for the young, the elderly, the unemployed, the media, gay people, gay soldiers, the ill and uninsured, immigrants, gun-control advocates, women of choice, men of science, the environment, those ravaged by the environment, people sentenced to death, and people who rely on the government for support or employment (i.e. the underclass and those who teach our children, repair our streets, patrol our streets, and put out fires on those streets). That’s a lot of disdain. Who wants to cozy up to that? Americans, as a people, covet optimism. We want that next big idea, that collective altruism that will lead us into the Promised Land that our blessed democracy can provide. We want equality. Justice. Fairness. Opportunity. Hope. What we have instead is the hard disdain of soft desperation.
From a campaign perspective, these ideas of optimism and fairness are not the sole territory of Democrats. Ronald Reagan promised an American return to the shining city on top of the hill. George W. Bush preached compassionate conservatism. Say what you will about the reality of such rhetoric, we as a country see no such promise of promise in the majority of Republican presidential candidates of 2012.
The Herman Cain phenomenon—and a black, Republican, motivational speaker/lobbyist with no government experience, no knowledge of government, no campaign operation, and a gimmicky tax proposal who somehow leads in national polls is a phenomenon—can be explained by his general affability. Before the smoking man weirdness and the sexual harassment disaster, Cain seemed like a nice man. The kind of guy who does well at picnics and parties. He was not a ram-it-down-your-throat conservative. Sure, as a candidate, before the debacles, he talked poppycock about apples and oranges and everything else, but he did so with a smile and swagger that connoted warmth and inclusiveness. Mostly, the Herman Cain phenomenon spoke to the unappealing nature of the other Republican presidential candidates.
And after all the fleeting and shifting infatuation with other candidates, Mitt Romney is left as the inevitable Republican nominee for president. As I wrote back in July, “And if this trend continues, as it probably will with some coo-coo moments along the way in the primaries, Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for president in 2012.” Back then, I was thinking more of Romney’s relative-sanity along with his financial experience. What most differentiates him now from the primary field, though, is his indifference: And this is the huge problem faced by the Republican Party. Mitt Romney is the tin-man candidate. He has no heart for anything beyond corporations and the fiduciary responsibility to which they are beholden.
The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. Mitt Romney emotes indifference. His record is stacked with amazing episodes of flag shifting to meet the wind. “On any given day…” could be his mantra. The only thing he seems to be consistently passionate about is making money—and how to make more of it. Damn the consequences. This is not a good quality in such a populist environment. At a recent town hall meeting, Romney responded to an attendee who attached capitalism’s heartlessness. “Corporations are people!” He said with a rare spark of passion. This would not be an affective bumper sticker. In the 2008 race for the Republican nomination, Mike Huckabee described Mitt Romney as the guy who looks like the guy who laid you off. Ouch.
This is particularly bad news for the Republican Party when they shed the sanctity of their own forums and enter the general election. Say what you will about President Obama, candidate Obama possesses some serious skills. This guy can bring it on the campaign trail. His warmth and eloquence and intellect as a candidate are unrivaled in contemporary history. And his message will be simple: let’s put America back to work by taxing the wealthy at a fair rate. Let’s level the playing field by eliminating loopholes that benefit the massive minority who possess the overwhelming majority of our nation’s wealth. This distinction will be far easier for the President to make when his opponent is a near-perfect caricature for that minority of which he speaks.
I’ll let the political pundits work their magic calculi and follow conventional wisdom that leaves the President’s reelection chances as slim according to the numbers. He’s certainly in a vulnerable position, considering the troubled state of our nation, but when the opposition’s ethos is rooted in anger or indifference towards so many Americans, I’ll bet on heart every time.