Last night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville, Florida displayed a surprisingly pugnacious Mitt Romney, a performance by Newt Gingrich that was strong but not dominating as he had been in earlier contests, some funny lines from Ron Paul, and a very strong, but seemingly irrelevant, performance by Rick Santorum. The question is whether anything said last night will make a difference in next Tuesday’s vote.
Harold Meyerson, who is one of my favorite columnists, looks at the way candidates on both sides of the aisle are advocating reindustrialization. The fact is that not all Americans go to college, not all Americans will find work in the high-tech field, but they are still Americans and still entitled to partake of the American Dream. The future of America should belong to Americans, not just to multinational corporations that looked out only for their own profit and not for America's workers.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced that if President Obama is re-elected, Geithner will not stay on as Treasury Secretary in a second term. Geithner, who never met a plutocrat for whom he felt anything but sympathy, has been a complete and total drag on the kind of economic populism that formed the historical core of FDR's Democratic Coalition. The first thing a Democratic Treasury Secretary should ask is not how a decision will affect the markets, important as markets are. The first question should be, how does this affect the average American? I am not sure Geithner has given any evidence of having ever met an average American, let alone grasping their sense of anger and astonishment at the ways of Wall Street.
Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, where I am a visiting fellow, is teaming up with the good people at the Public Religion Research Institute for a panel discussion on the role of religion in the 2012 election at the National Press Club, January 30, from 9:30-11:00 a.m.
The panel will be moderated by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, an author and National Religion Correspondent for NPR and will include:
•tDr. Melissa Deckman, Associate Professor of Political Science and Louis L. Goldstein Associate Professor of Public Affairs at Washington College
•tDr. Robert P. Jones, CEO, Public Religion Research Institute
•tDr. Mark Rozell, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
•tDr. Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America
As the GOP contest heads to Florida, and later to Nevada, New Mexico and other states with large Hispanic populations, watching the candidates tie themselves into a pretzel over the issue of immigration reform will be like the scene in “Men in Black II” when the worms engage in a game of Twister. It ain’t going to be pretty.
Mitt Romney has the toughest assignment and not because he once, by mistake, used a slogan associated with Fidel while campaigning four years ago. Romney’s burden has been that immigration is the one issue where he saw an opening to try and outflank Newt Gingrich on the right. Romney’s insistence that all undocumented immigrants “self-deport,” that there be no pathway to citizenship for those who came here without papers, and his fierce opposition to the DREAM Act all guarantee that he will have a tough time convincing Latinos that he understands the challenges facing them.
In 2006, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the most prominent carrier of the social justice tradition of Cardinal Bernardin, said that he would call upon his flock to practice civil disobedience in the face of a proposed law that would have banned Catholic charities from assisting undocumented workers. Mahony rightly invoked the right of the Church to pursue its Gospel-mandated ministries without interference from the State.
Mahony delivered a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration following last week's announcement that it refused to enlarge the conscience exemption from HHS mandated health insurance coverage of procedures the Church opposes.
The Catholic League needs to get a sense of humor. They have taken umbrage - which is sort of what the Catholic League does for a living - at a joke by Jay Leno directed at recently retired Los Angeles auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala. And, true to form, the League's President draws some nasty comparisons between Catholics and Jews and gays.
In the event, Leno's joke was not very funny and would have been forgotten had not Bill Donohue seen fit to have a fit. But, this idea that the proper response to satire is to take offense is just bizarre to me and it certainly reinforces an unattractive stereotype of religious figures as stern, unattractive, remote and way too thin-skinned for someone who believes, who really believes, that all Creation will be reconciled to Christ in God's own good time. What's wrong with a joke or two in the meantime?
Mark Silk's Spiritual Politics has long been one of the must-read blogs for those of us who are interested in the relationship of religion and politics in America. Now, Silk has joined a new website sponsored by Religion News Service, and his post there on the "Mormon Gap" shows that his incisive analysis has not changed, just his url.
I had not known that Romney did so well among Florida's evangelicals in 2008. But, I do know that one of the reasons he is polling so badly among evangelicals this year compared to Newt Gingrich is that white evangelicals, whatever their thoughts about Mormonism, are the core of the Tea Party and Newt's anti-establishment mantra's are Tea Party catnip and Romney's cool, coifed, considerate demeanor is not.
The State of the Union speech, during an election year and in front of a divided Congress, is an impossible speech to give. On the one hand, the President needed to give a unifying speech, but on the other, he has to set the framework for the upcoming session of Congress and, even more, the upcoming election. President Obama effectively balanced those two assignments last night.
Politico has a very smart article up regarding tonight's State of the Union address. The writers ask a simple question that Obama needs to start answering tonight: Just what, precisely, does President Obama intend to do in a second term if he earns one?
I would add an additional question: What political strategy would permit him to achieve whatever his goals are in a second term. If, as appears likely, the Obama re-election campaign has decided to focus on the base, he will not emerge with a mandate to do much even if he wins. If, however, the President were to run on three simple, broadly significant programs that affect the middle class, he could emerge with such a mandate. My candidates: immigration reform, tax reform, and infrastructure spending. Of course, whoever wins in November is likely to spend a lot of time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, about the Straits of Hormuz, about the leadership in North Korea, and Lord knows what else. But, on domestic policy, an incumbent running for re-election is well-advised to run on a simple and straight-forward platform.