The 2012 New Hampshire Primary
All the commentators were surprised by what happened in New Hampshire. It seems bound to change the nature of the Presidential contest. That was not because of who got the most votes. We will get to the horse race later. What was surprising was how the final weekend put on display the emotions of the leading candidates, and that will prove more important than where any of them stand on the issues.
The cardinal incident was that Mitt Romney had been misquoted, which everybody admitted was the case. Romney had said that he is happy to fire people, by which he meant companies that are not providing the services you want. He was just declaring his allegiance to the free market principle, but even when he was annunciating it he knew he had gone a bit too far. People were laughing a bit, as if they knew that was the case. What he could be taken to mean was that he got a kick out of firing people, which is what he had spent his career doing, if you take the line that Bain Capital was in the business of profiting by breaking up companies. Ron Paul may come to his defense and say that businesses do that, but Ron Paul is a follower of Ayn Rand, and the more that becomes evident, the more it will become clear that libertarianism means pouncing on the little guy because it is easier to do that than pick on the big guy. It is the way the Rockefellers made their money, whatever service they may have rendered by consolidating the oil market. Even Chris Matthews admitted that Romney had been misquoted, but that there was something else going on there.
Romney could also be interpreted at giving away the fact that he likes getting his revenge on those who have done him wrong. Business pushes you up and business takes you down. You have to be a mean son of a bitch to prosper on that circuit. Be that as it may, that is not the way voters want a president to run a country. The impossible task asked of Presidents is that they put forward programs and solutions to problems that will help everybody while hurting no one. That is the only way to balance off constituencies and to assure that you are not acting out of ideological pique which is impervious to the sufferings of people. The citizenry is more afraid of what will be taken away from them than of what will be given to them. Obama is mistrusted about the Affordable Care Act precisely because people fear more a rise in insurance costs than they welcome something new, which is security about coverage and a long term effort to make health care less costly. The Affordable Care Act will be a success when, in 2014, people decide they can easily enough adjust to it rather than because it has brought great changes to their lives—except for those few who will indeed benefit greatly because they have coverage they would otherwise never have been able to get.
Farm subsidies, for example, make no sense and needed to be phased out, so it went a generation ago, and the way to do that was slowly so that everybody would eventually wean themselves off of family farms, and that is what has happened. There is no longer a need for Farm Aid because there are so few family farms left. The government presides over long drawn out structural processes. The job of a democratic government is not to rush history along, as Stalin did by allowing the kulaks to starve; it is to ease the transition, looking out for everyone, the smoker by cutting down cigarette smoking through advertisements and making it difficult to smoke, while gradually lowering the subsidies for tobacco so that small tobacco farmers have an opportunity to change crops or get out of the business. And everybody wants their taxes reduced and to hold onto their mortgage tax deduction. Yet it is very hard to come up with a new tax plan that will not work out worse for some rather than others. That is why there will be no general overhaul of the tax system no matter what the candidates say.
The basic idea is that no group should be pushed into a corner unless there is a deep-seated constitutional issue at stake. There could be no compromise with segregation, and yet of course there was, the integration of schools delayed some twenty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. And there do not seem to be any large scale constitutional issues on the horizon. Roe v. Wade is settled law and money is free speech, as the Superpacs are proving every day, and what is wrong with people being able to get their messages across? You know which Pac is which even if you don’t know the names of the contributors. The truth is that there are no major issues facing the country, thanks to Obama, what with the economy gradually improving and Iran on its last legs, and so where is all the Republican gloom and doom coming from? They are fighting last year’s battles and sounding hysterical as a result.
Romney himself is particularly hysterical. If a Democrat ran down the country to the extent Romney does, he would be considered traitorous. Huntsman was right to invoke the service of his two sons in the Navy under a Democratic Commander in Chief. There has to be some level on which country comes first, or otherwise it can’t function. But it was clear that Romney was trying to score a cheap shot and that the remark could not take careful analysis. Romney is always on the brink of saying something untoward and manages to pull himself back at the last minute. It will earn him, by the time the campaign is over, the reputation for superficiality that he deserves. He will make a very weak candidate against Obama. He will be full of bluster and backing and filling when Obama gently points out what he has just said and what it means if you take it seriously.
The Wednesday morning quarterbacks, for their part, were allowing Romney and even Paul and Huntsman their victory laps, praising Romney for having weathered the storm and comfortably won the race. But that is to see this race for the nomination, as I have said before, as a contest rather than a competition in which each candidate just has to best his own past performance. Huntsman gets to crow that he has a ticket to ride (I didn’t know that he was a Beatles fan) on the basis of 17%. That is hardly much given the time he put into a state which you would think would prefer his candidacy which was billed as that of a moderate conservative, however much in fact he is very conservative. But he can go on thanks to daddy’s money. And I am glad the Supreme Court allows that to happen. I want more points of views represented, not less. Paul also has the following he takes with him, and Romney now has the burden of his ever more questionable character to take with him on the road. Commentators and voters will look for another flustered misspeak. Romney will just not wear well, just like McCain the second time.