Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who Won the Iowa GOP Caucus

It's Not Who You Think It Is

            Mitt Romney got 24.6%, Rick Santorum got 24.5% (just eight fewer votes), and Ron Paul got 21.4%. Who won in Iowa?
            Barack Obama, that’s who, by several lengths, and the Republican Party suffered the greatest loss. Here’s why:
            The three top candidates represent three distinct segments of the GOP. St. Ronald Reagan was able to form a coalition of all three that continued through the Bush, Jr. tenure, but it appears that the center can no longer hold. Each candidate has avid supporters who would find one or both of the other candidates utterly unacceptable as the party’s nominee, and that plays to the advantage of the Democratic Party and President Obama.
            You might think the division is between the Tea Party and old guard Republicans, but both of them are rent asunder by this three-way split.
            Gov. Romney represents the true core of the Republican Party, the same bunch of tycoons and magnates and power brokers who have controlled it since the 1890s: the people who have wealth and want to protect it. Romney is the corporate candidate and represents the One Percenters who have inspired so many people to camp out and play drums.
            Those who make up this wing of the party want less government intervention in the activities of business. They work to maintain high military spending and push to privatize governmental functions. These are bottom-line people and they measure their success in dollars. They brought us the current recession and they’re quite prepared to do it again.
            These people are most likely to classify other people on the basis of their net worth, so they aren’t necessarily intolerant of those with different cultures, religions, and life-styles. But there aren’t that many tycoons and magnates and power brokers around, so to win national elections they have to associate with people who do care about those things.
            St. Reagan put that coalition together, and since then the rich and the “cultural conservatives” have enjoyed a rewarding confederation.
            Former Sen. Santorum represents that other group, the “cultural conservatives.” These people care most about abortion, homosexuality, immigration, marijuana, ethnic distinctions, home schooling, prayer in school, and, obscurely, the threat of “Sharia Law.” Among them are xenophobes who long for some antebellum utopia that never existed. The parts of their lives they thought were most stable have been skewed and stretched by technology and rapidly-changing social mores. They see people who look strange and can’t speak English very well in their stores and on their sidewalks. Many worry that the United States is no longer the “Christian country” they thought it was, and there are some who are deeply offended that their country elected a Negro as its president.
            And there are a lot of them. For decades they have helped the corporate wing of the party steer its way to increasing wealth. All the wealthy had to do was vote with the cultural conservatives on abortion and the definition of marriage and all those other issues. The favor was returned with support for lower taxes, less regulation, and a big military.
            But what does a “Cultural” with a moderate income really care about the tax rate on estates over $5 million? And does the “Corporate” really care if his local county clerk issues a marriage license to John Doe and Joe Blow?
            A lot of money has been spent to keep these two groups together. The Koch Brothers spent millions to embed the phrase “death tax” in every discussion of the estate tax. The Heritage Foundation and its fellows craft the party line, which includes both the Cultural and Corporate wish lists. Subsidized publishers produce an astonishing number of conservative books each year. The Faux News-AM radio echo chamber keeps everyone in line, castigating those who stray.
            The coalition has persisted for years, but this is a three-way split, and the third faction’s wish list conflicts with the other two.
            Rep. Ron Paul is from that third group, and he didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s been saying exactly the same things for many years. Nobody can accuse him of waffling.
            There has always been a strong libertarian presence in our country: “Don’t Tread on Me.” “Liberty or Death.” Or, the motto on the state flag of Iowa: “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.” Or, a sign that was ubiquitous when I was young: “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.”
            Ron Paul and his Libertarian supporters want smaller government, just as the Corporates and Culturals say they do, but they mean really small. They not only want to end the war in Afghanistan, they want to dismantle most of our military installations around the world. Not only does this infuriate the Corporates, it’s consistent with the views of many on the Democratic side. Faux News, the Corporate mouthpiece, has done its level best to ignore Rep. Paul or, failing, to denigrate him.
            But that’s not all. The Libertarians infuriate the Culturals, too. They don’t care if someone is smoking pot or sleeping with the “wrong” person. They are for liberty, and by that they mean do what you want but don’t expect the government to support you if your action results in injury or destitution. Once again, there are many on the Democratic side who agree.
            I think it took the recession to make the Libertarian message resonate as it has. Our citizens bump up against the government every day, in the form of parking meters and MVD lines and seat belt laws and zoning ordinances and airport security. If they start businesses they are appalled by the volume of regulations and licenses and reporting requirements. They don’t understand why the bailout of the banks was allowed to occur. And they feel they pay too much in taxes.
            Paul’s campaign is within the Republican arena. He almost certainly won’t win, but he commands enough of a presence to jam the machinery. His participation has revealed the underlying inconsistencies of the Corporate-Cultural union.
            If he wins the nomination, there will be a significant number of Democrats who vote for him. But there will be a huge number of Republicans who will vote against him (perhaps even a few for Obama), or not vote.
            If he loses, many of his supporters will drift to the Democrats or not vote at all. And this is true of the other two factions, as well. It might not be Romney-Santorum-Paul, but the three factions will still be in play, and the losers are not going to be happy. The Corporates chose Romney over Gingrich, but they’d prefer Newt to any of the others. It’s the same with Santorum and Bachmann on the Cultural side.
            The eventual winner of the GOP nomination will be bloodied and winded, and those who voted for the other two will be disappointed and apathetic.
            At least I hope so.


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