Leap of imagination

When I was at school there was a boy in my class whose birthday was on the 29th of February. I was always a bit jealous of this, because it seemed like some sort of magic date, upon which special things would happen.

I’m much older and more rational now of course, but I still get the feeling that the extra day is a bonus, one which postpones my fated demise by 24 hours, and that I mustn’t waste it on dull everyday life, but instead do something out of the ordinary.

But, with my characteristic lack of foresight, I failed to take time off work, so today has been just like any other day. I’ll have to get it together for 2016…

Livin’ on a Prayer

While I’ve been patronising our American readers by loftily disparaging the US Presidential candidates, over here in Europe our vastly superior political elite have been making a fine job of solving the Eurozone debt crisis.

So far the plan has involved imposing austerity so harsh that large swathes of the Greek population have been reduced to a state of severe poverty, thus undermining the very fabric of civilised society, with more of the same to come for Italy, Portugal, Spain, and who knows where else. This might suggest that our leaders have no idea what they are doing, but perhaps there is some underlying strategy whose wisdom will only become clear with time. Right now though it all makes Rick Perry’s Texas drought-relief scheme look positively rational.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Just when I was beginning to think that I had some sort of handle on the dynamics of right-wing US politics, something like Rick Santorum’s unlikely resurgence happens, and confuses me all over again.

I can just about rationalise Santorum’s sweep of Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri by imagining that the GOP base were voting tactically, in an effort to pull Mitt Romney further to the right before he is confirmed as the candidate. There are some indications that this has been happening at the big-money level, as backers of Newt Gingrich, Romney’s other would-be conservative nemesis, have indicated that they will swing behind Mitt now he has embraced their pet policies, like bombing Iran.

But this theory only works if one believes that Romney’s main problem in the general election will be that he is not conservative enough, a view which is completely divorced from reality. Romney has to win over independents and disaffected Democrats, a trick which he might be able to pull off if he spins his fiscal conservatism as sound technocratic business sense, but which will surely be impossible if he is weighed down by the wingnut social conservatism championed by the likes of Santorum.

I think that I can understand the psychology of the Republican right on one level – as a life-long leftist I have supported more than a few hopeless causes in my time, and I do have some sympathy with the idea that one should stick to one’s principles rather than pander to electoral considerations. It is usually better to vote for what you want, and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it. But there has to be some room for compromise, and when you have a candidate who has a half-decent shot at winning, and who is going to support 90% of your programme, it is perverse to withhold your endorsement because he is soft on the other 10%.

So what’s my advice to Republican voters? Back Romney, and you might get what you need. Let’s hope they ignore me.

To the right, ever to the right?

Some sort of (relative) sanity has returned to the Republican nomination race, with Mitt Romney finally managing to achieve convincing victories in Florida and Nevada, as party members recoil from the prospect of the humiliating defeat that would undoubtedly result if they were unwise enough to put Next Gingrich up against the incumbent President.

Can Romney beat Obama? From my European perspective the answer seems very clear; no, of course he can’t. Even though Romney appears moderate compared with the far right of the GOP, his conservatism, both social and fiscal, is so extreme that it is impossible to imagine him getting elected to high office on this side of the Atlantic; thus I can only assume that he has no chance in the US either.

There is a flaw in that reasoning of course, one that stems from an underestimation of the difference between the cultural underpinnings of politics in Europe and America.

In the Broadway musical and film 1776, the following line is uttered by Founding Father John Dickinson:

“Most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor.”

The collective wisdom of the internets suggests that this aphorism was actually coined by the scriptwriters, but nevertheless I think it does encapsulate a key difference between the outlook of US citizens compared with that of their European counterparts; a willingness to run the risk of poverty so long as there is some opportunity for prosperity.

Over here we prefer the safety net of healthcare and welfare even if it means we get hit by high taxes if we do crack the secret of wealth; clearly a rational choice, since all the evidence shows that the chances of making it big are very small indeed, and that the unrestrained free market can be brutal when times turn bad.

I’m sure that voters in the US will eventually come to this conclusion too, but until they do the possibility of a President Romney is unfortunately all too real.