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The awful presidential field

What do y’all think about the 2012 race? I find it depressing as hell.

I didn’t vote for Obama, and, unsurprisingly, haven’t been pleased with his governance. The two things I hoped for from him — serious Wall Street reform, and a non-Bushian foreign policy — he’s whiffed on. (Then again, if you’re a Democrat who is going to treat foreign policy and financial elites like a Republican, you shouldn’t be surprised when people prefer the real thing.) Like I said, though, I never expected much from Obama, and he’s delivered. Still, he hasn’t been a disaster, and if the economy were in better shape, I could reconcile myself to a second Obama term. But it’s not, and I can’t get the line “Jimmy Carter is alive and well and living in the White House” out of my head.

But the Republicans? Good grief. The ideological recklessness with which the GOP treated the debt ceiling issue made me fearful of what they would do if they captured the White House again. Plus, I had foolishly hoped that the loss to Obama would compel the GOP to take a hard look at its ideology in light of conservative first principles, and make some changes. Instead, they seem to have doubled down on Bushism. It’s hard for me to see what significant differences there are between Bush’s policies and those proposed by the leading GOP candidates, Romney and Perry. Sure, they may well make the usual Tea Party arguments about how Bush was a big-spending fool (and he was), but they’re not going to make any significant moves against popular programs. And they certainly aren’t going to raise taxes, not even on billionaires, who can well afford it — not even if raising taxes in a limited way is a prudential move for the stability of the economy.

It seems to me that both parties are such hostages to their own rhetoric and interest groups that they cannot move in creative ways to deal with the world as it is. And not only parties, but the people who support them. There are no outrages (e.g., extraconstitutional wars in Libya, mollycoddling bankers) that Democrats won’t put up with as long as nobody touches Social Security, no homosexual is denied a wedding or a military commission, and no abortion is ever discouraged. There are no outrages Republicans won’t put up with as long as no taxes get raised, and the GOP commits itself rhetorically to opposing gay marriage and abortion. Above all, the raison d’etre of each party seems to be, at the core, demonizing the Other. I’m tempted to believe that the GOP Congressional leadership would just as soon see the country suffer rather than yield a political inch to Obama.

I see both parties, and think of them as ghosts who keep performing the same rituals, because they don’t know what else to do. The WaPo was out with a poll today showing that people are sick and tired of Congress, and have little faith in the president’s leadership. Well, yeah! But where are the alternatives? Ron Paul is an alternative. I’m not really a Paul-ite, but at least he’s saying things outside of the Republican Party playbook. But he can’t break through. Most Americans seem to be in the same time warp as our leaders.

It’s a mess. Anyway, on the GOP side, Ramesh Ponnuru has a good analysis up warning the Republicans that they’ve become far too concerned with ideological purity, and worried too little about the most serious challenges the nation faces. Excerpt:

If Republican voters had electability on their minds, they would also want to see the candidates address issues that concern the broader public: how to get wages growing again after years when they stagnated even during periods of growth; and what to replace Obama’s health-care reform with. But the candidates feel no pressure from primary voters to outline plans on those issues, and haven’t done so. Instead, they are focused on issues — such as the alleged threat of “sharia law” and the heavy share of income taxes paid by the rich — that are of interest only to the party faithful.

It’s possible, of course, for a party to concentrate too much on electability and to care more about gaining power than about accomplishing anything with it. But at least a party that cares about electability is looking outward, beyond its members. Today’s Republican Party is more interested in refining its doctrines than gaining converts. It has turned inward.

More and more, it’s starting to look like the wheels are coming off. And Washington — Republican Washington and Democratic Washington — doesn’t have the faintest idea what to do about it.

Is my cynicism too lazy, too easy? What do you think? Do you see hope in the current political field?

UPDATE:Mark Yzaguirre makes the correct observation that there are important stylistic differences between Bush and Perry. Bush really did believe in “compassionate conservatism,” and presented himself as a likable man (which is how he governed Texas). Perry, not. That might arguably be a better thing, but it’s sure going to make it hard for Perry, if he’s the GOP nominee, to appeal to the independents.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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