It’s been fascinating to watch the devolution of Republican rhetoric and messaging from patriotic cheerleader to bearer of perpetual bad news. Clearly, this is not the most inspiring primary, and not just because of the quality of the candidates. In their keep it real with America approach, candidates have resorted to ringing the alarm bells, feeling they have no choice but to do just that. We’re still on the tail’s end of a bruising recession, even if they say a recovery is in our midst (is it really a recovery or just fewer people on the payroll?). Everyone’s a bit pessimistic, so candidates naturally reflect the mood of the electorate.
But, amazing how economic calamity can literally rip away our sense of collective national imagination and innovation.
Hence, political messaging is a depressing array of angry food fights and spitball exchanges. There is nothing remotely moving or motivational about it. Voters find themselves in persistent doldrums and neither candidates or elected officials are making any effort to find our way out of it. There was a time when campaigns were pep rallies, the traveling circus that made the kids feel like everything would be ok. This election cycle, however, only gives us uncertainty and imminent doom.
Which is why general ridicule of a lunar base on the moon during the most recent Republican debate in Florida is actually dangerous in some respects. While it’s true we’ve got bigger, trillion dollar problems facing us in the here and now, we also need a national goal that’s bigger than the situation we’re in. There was one time when looking to the stars did that. But, debt and deficit have drowned us in a stinky funk we don’t want to get out of, it seems. So we laugh and stomp on dreams, all too willing to completely gut our sense of promise and American ingenuity.
Looking at the primary, conventional wisdom says the GOP is falling apart, the state of the election so volatile and vitriolic that it will be difficult to see any nominee standing in time for the general. Lots of Republicans want their turn to put that “boy” in the White House “back in his place.” Many can’t imagine a second term with him. So, you can imagine the intensity with which this primary is being fought. It is literally driving the party insane.
Yet, over the past decade, the GOP has managed to fundamentally reshape political discourse and outcomes. Even the election of Barack Obama was a vomit-like reaction to his predecessor’s eight-year preoccupation with cowboy foreign policy. Each legislative accomplishment or policy shift thereafter appears to happen as a knee jerk response to Republican gripes and incessant pouting. Democrats give in, almost like the worn out and overworked mother who will placate her loud and obnoxious kid with anything just to shut him up. At the end of the day, even though health care reform is passed or the debt ceiling is raised or troops pull out of Iraq, Republicans still dominate the conversation. Organized mobs of angry citizens with virtual pitch forks help drown out any opposition.
In his State of the Union last week, President Obama attempted to give more than just the campaign speech expected when you’re only months away from the battle for your re-election. Instead, he opted for the “blueprint” or the vision. Still, with so much time spent on talk of taxes and finding a middle ground with businesses, it turned into an eloquent reaction to Republican fisticuffs. While he appeared confident – in some ways cocky given his assessment of the GOP primary field – he was still groping about for Republican acceptance, pained by their hatred for him.