Dealing with Cranks

Yes, there will soon be a Republican seeking that party’s nomination who is both a Mormon and fluent in Mandarin – and can probably handle himself in Cantonese in a pinch. That would be Jon Huntsman – the former governor of Utah, back when Utah was named the “Best Managed State in America” by Pew Research Center. Huntsman also worked for Reagan and the first Bush on trade issues back in the day, and was recently Obama’s ambassador to China. He left that post to run against his boss. Yes, that musical comedy The Book of Mormon – from the team that gave us South Park – just won all those Tony Awards with its send-up of those wild and crazy Mormons sending their callow young missionaries all over the world. It’s a hoot. But that Mormon requirement for missionary work served Huntsman well. No, China did not turn Mormon because of him, but Huntsman turned cosmopolitan and subtle in his thinking about other cultures, and their imperatives in relation to ours. Much of that comes from knowing the language and thinking in it, but really he’s just damned smart, and kind of makes the other Republican hopefuls look like narrow-minded dolts.

And that’s the hook here. See Huntsman strategist John Weaver explaining to Esquire why Republicans may struggle to beat Barack Obama:

For Weaver and the rest of the team, Huntsman’s intelligence and foreign policy experience, combined with his strong record of fiscal conservatism and social semi-moderation (he supports civil unions for gay couples and believes climate change is an urgent issue), made him the ideal candidate to shake up a Republican field that Weaver calls “the weakest since 1940.”

And Weaver was pretty direct about this:

“There’s a simple reason our party is nowhere near being a national governing party,” Weaver told Esquire. “No one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.”

Weaver didn’t name the specific cranks he had in mind, but that is throwing down the gauntlet. Huntsman is not going to apologize for knowing things, or for having seen and appreciated the world outside America, and he’s not going to say science is evil nor sputter out that gay people should all just go away, or die, along with the Muslims and Hispanics. He’s not Palin – he will not say he is just as uninformed and narrow-minded and as angry and irrationally panicked as you are… so vote for him. The rest of the field can play that card. He won’t play dumb.

And as for the other campaigns, Weaver offers this:

Weaver sees Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the presumed front-runner, as a man afraid to take a stand – or, more accurately, as a man unafraid of taking every stand. “What version are we on now?” Weaver said. “Mitt 5.0? 6.0?”

And in former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, another leading candidate, Weaver sees what he considers the worst tendencies of his party pandering to the GOP’s hard-right margins at the risk of falling out of serious presidential contention.

“Tim’s a nice guy,” Weaver said, “and there’s nothing worse than seeing a nice guy pretend that he’s angry. Is that really what we want to be? Is that how we’re going to define ourselves? When’s the last time an angry man ever solved a problem without using a gun?”

Of course this makes Huntsman the odd man out. Most of the others are coming close to saying get your guns – if the wrong people win again there are those Second Amendment remedies, as Sharon Angle once put it in a Senate run. Of course she lost to Harry Reid and didn’t lead an armed Senate coup – it was just a thought to keep those evil Democrats a bit nervous. And that’s a simple calculation about human nature. If the other side thinks you are heavily armed and white-hot angry and feeling deeply offended, and may be quite irrational if not crazy, you can often get your way. That was the whole of the Bush foreign policy for eight years after all.

But to be clear, that would be the second Bush. His father was more like Huntsman, and that Bush had been Gerald Ford’s Ambassador to China, oddly enough. In any event, Huntsman is not insular and not xenophobic. It pays to travel and generally get out and about, and learn the local language and customs and all that. It keeps dimwitted stupidity at bay. And Huntsman also thinks pretending to be perpetually angry is stupid.

Does Huntsman have a chance? Probably not, much to the relief of the Obama folks – Huntsman matches up too well with Obama’s strengths. He’s thoughtful and gracious and worldly – substitute China for Indonesia – and he’s tolerant and smart as a whip, and a damned fiscal conservative. That’s Obama’s worst nightmare.

Luckily, the Tea Party crowd, with their angry lock on the Republican Party, will save Obama’s bacon. The one smart and thoughtful candidate, Mitt Romney, has that albatross around his neck – universal healthcare in Massachusetts, with an individual mandate, that worked out just fine and is vastly popular now in that state, and was the model for what Obama did nationally. They will never forgive Romney for what he did when he was governor up there in Massachusetts. And they won’t let him explain it away. And he really cannot explain it away. It is what it is.

So things are fluid, and now more and more folks are seeing that Michele Bachmann has the inside track at the moment. She has her law degree from Oral Roberts University – she was a member of the final graduating class there before it was folded into Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson in 1978 as the Christian Broadcasting Network University. She has the credentials.

And Michelle Goldberg offers this piece exploring the intellectual roots of Michelle Bachmann:

Bachmann honed her view of the world after college, when she enrolled at Coburn Law School at Oral Roberts University, an “interdenominational, Bible-based, and Holy Spirit-led” school in Oklahoma. “My goal there was to learn the law both from a professional but also from a biblical worldview,” she said in an April speech.

At Coburn, Bachmann studied with John Eidsmoe, who she recently described as “one of the professors who had a great influence on me.” Bachmann served as his research assistant on the 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, which argued that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy, and that it should become one again. “The church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God,” Eidsmoe wrote. “In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy.”

And what follows from that is what one would expect:

In the statehouse, Bachmann made opposition to same-sex marriage her signature issue. Both she and her husband, by all accounts her most trusted political adviser, believe that homosexuality can be cured. Speaking to a Christian radio station about gay teenagers last year, Marcus, who treats gay people in his counseling practice, said “Barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined, and just because someone feels this or thinks this, doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to go down that road.”

In 2004, Bachmann gave a speech warning that same-sex marriage would lead to schoolchildren being indoctrinated into homosexuality. She wanted everyone to know, though, that she doesn’t hate gay people. “Any of you who have members of your family in the lifestyle, we have a member of our family that is,” she said. “This is not funny. It’s a very sad life. It is part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay.”

And Jonathan Chait comments:

The religious right has its origins and deepest roots in social issues, as Goldberg shows. But it has evolved into a more full-fledged worldview with coherent positions on economics and foreign policy that often motivate its believers just as strongly. That is a key development that the many analysts who have been dismissing Bachmann have failed to grasp. Twenty years ago, a figure like Bachmann would represent a sizeable but still minority constituency in the party, speaking to a cadre motivated by social issues but unable to represent the concerns of most Republican voters. …

But Bachmann is a cutting edge religious right conservative, espousing an apocalyptic free market fundamentalism that’s become virtually indistinguishable from the apocalyptic Randian worldview of the party’s libertarian wing.

Bachmann spent months addressing Tea Party rallies where she focused primarily on economics. Meanwhile, the movement’s embrace of right-wing Israeli nationalism has merged with mainstream Republican foreign policy thought….

The skepticism about Bachmann’s prospects reflects an antiquated assumption that there’s a natural ceiling within the GOP on the support base of a hard-core religious conservative. Yet both the movement and the party have changed in ways that make that less and less true.

Huntsman really is the odd man out here. The religious stuff has melded into the economic stuff, and there is no room for the man who speaks fluent Mandarin.

David Weigel also notes that Michelle Goldberg actually takes Michele Bachmann seriously, and comments that this is the first actually revealing piece about her since the City Pages profiled her in 2006 – and he is struck by what happens “when Goldberg reads a book by John Eidsmoe, an old Bachmann instructor at Oral Roberts (who hung up the phone when Michelle Goldberg called).”

Earlier this year, for example, she was mocked for saying that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery. But in books by Eidsmoe and others who approach history from what they call a Christian worldview, this is a truism. Despite his defense of the Confederacy, Eidsmoe also argues that even those founders who owned slaves opposed the institution and wanted it to disappear, and that it was only Christian for them to protect their slaves until it did. “It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible,” he wrote.

Where do you begin? Weigel offers this:

Elite journalists waste a lot of time finding “gaffes” when conservatives criticize the media’s take on some event or the official history of something. Conservatives and libertarians don’t trust those sources of authority. There’s always a market for historical revisionism, which is a reason Amity Shlaes’s book about the Great Depression was such a sensation – Republicans found proof that stimulus spending would only make economic depression and uncertainty worse.

Yes, there was Amity Shlaes’s book – which economists found to be nonsense. But Weigel offers this:

It’s not safe to assume Bachmann, or another politician, is stupid. It’s safer to assume they’ve got knowledge you don’t have – whether or not that knowledge is correct.

How can Huntsman counter that? He’s seen the world, in all its reality, and complexity. Bachmann has seen something else.

And see Ed Kilgore with his item Springtime for Bachmann (the allusion is quite nasty):

As the 2012 Republican presidential field finally takes shape over the next few months, one thing is fairly certain: An intensely ideological female politician closely identified with the Christian Right and with the Tea Party movement, someone liberals love to hate, will define the race. But surprisingly, it’s increasingly likely that person will be Michele Bachmann rather than Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor has been deliberately opaque about her plans, but she looks ever less interested in running for president – and even if she is quietly hankering for a White House bid, her approval ratings have been sliding steadily among Republicans as well as the public at large (worse, a vast majority of Americans think she is unqualified to be president). That leaves an opening for Congresswoman Bachmann, the Tea Party firebrand from Minnesota, who is almost an improved version of Sarah Palin: even more right-wing, which appeals to the base, but also lacking many of Palin’s fatal political flaws.

It’s the little things:

Bachmann doesn’t give the impression her public persona is just an ego-gratifying act. She hasn’t starred in a reality TV show (or sent her daughter to dance with the stars), appeared on Saturday Night Live, or quit her job. And she is relatively free of Palin’s whiny martyr complex, which conservatives have begun to criticize quite loudly. For all her defiance of the “lamestream media” and the hated “elites,” Palin concedes the power of her critics’ sneers by being so conspicuously wounded by them. Bachmann seems tougher, as reflected in her handling of a recent gaffe in which she said that the battles of Lexington and Concord happened in New Hampshire. Bachmann responded to the mockery with a barbed admission: “So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!” Likewise, she refused to wallow in the media backlash over her poorly received State of the Union rebuttal, in which a camera placement error caused her to stare off-screen like a zombie. Instead of making her critics the story, as Palin so often does, Bachmann just moved on.

And the timing is right:

Bachmann is in excellent political position. She could certainly do well in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus, particularly if Mike Huckabee also stays on the sidelines as expected, creating a hunger for a new Christian Right champion in a state where the Christian Right still walks tall. It also helps that she is actually an Iowa native living in next door Minnesota – and it’s hugely important that her very closest associate in Congress is influential Iowa Congressman Steve King.

There is momentum here. But, after the first big debate, Steve Kornacki says not so fast:

Yes, Bachmann demonstrated on Monday that she has the potential to make serious inroads with grass-roots conservatives – particularly Christian conservatives. If the debate was any indication, she’s better at communicating with these voters than any of the other ideological candidates on the GOP side (like Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich). She’s also adept at raising money (she took in $13 million for her 2008 reelection effort).

It’s a long way from here until the primaries and caucuses actually begin, but if she can keep this up, Bachmann could very well end up winning (or coming close to winning) Iowa, where Christian conservatives comprise a particularly crucial chunk of the electorate. Iowa, after all, is where Pat Robertson finished in second place – beating out a sitting vice president, George H. W. Bush – in 1988 and where Mike Huckabee posted a 9-point victory in 2008. But the Robertson and Huckabee examples are instructive, because they faced the same two obstacles coming out of Iowa – obstacles that Bachmann would face as well.

The first is New Hampshire, which holds its first-in-the-nation primary just days after Iowa. And the Granite State’s electorate – even its Republican electorate – tends to look with suspicion on candidates who aggressively mix religion and politics. This doesn’t mean that New Hampshire Republicans are moderates; it’s just that they tend to favor a more libertarian brand of conservatism – far to the right on economic issues, but indifferent to the culture wars.

And there are the party’s elites, that “loose network of elected officials, interest group leaders, fundraisers and commentators” – they have tended in the past to stop the oddball cranks like Pat Robertson and the affable evangelists like Mike Huckabee – the folks who would be general election poison.

So Huntsman can keep hoping, but after a long historical review of how these primaries have worked out over the years, Kornacki says this:

What does all of this mean for Bachmann? She’s a three-term congresswoman, so when it comes to credentials, she’s closer to Robertson than to Huckabee, who’d been a governor for a decade. And while she is a strong communicator, her history of alarming and inflammatory rhetoric also matches Robertson’s. In other words, she figures to ring all of the warning bells with elites that Robertson rang back in 1988 – meaning that if she breaks through and scores one early win next year, they will mobilize immediately to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You can argue that the GOP is different now than it was 20 years ago – more conservative, more religious, and more open to picking someone like Bachmann. There’s some truth to this, but it only goes so far. Elites still ultimately control the process, and there’s no reason to believe they will ever line up behind Bachmann. She can definitely cause her party some serious headaches next year. Just don’t bet on her winning the nomination.

We’ll see about that. She can say that she is just as uninformed and narrow-minded and as angry and irrationally panicked as you are… so vote for her. Huntsman can say let’s think about this, carefully. Who will win that faceoff?

On the other hand, that was the same faceoff as Obama versus McCain. The gracious and thoughtful guy faced the angry crank, and won. So all Huntsman has to do is be Obama in that scenario. And then if he wins the nomination, all he has to do is do that again, and out-Obama Obama.

That seems unlikely. Huntsman’s campaign manager had it right. It will be a bad year for the Republicans. They somehow became the Party of Cranks. And there is no room for Huntsman.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in American Xenophobia, Jon Huntsman, Republican Attraction to the Extreme, Republicans Purge the Intellectuals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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