Watching the Republican presidential debate from Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday night was, for me, akin to a two hour dental appointment — without the benefit of “laughing gas”.
Although I remain a Democrat (leaning more and more toward declared political independence), I had hoped for—but didn’t much expect— something better than what I saw and heard in the discussion at St. Anselm College.
I admit to never having voted for a Republican Presidential candidate, and it is unlikely — but not impossible –I ever will. However, over the years I have crossed party lines several times in “down ticket races”, as first a resident of California, then Virginia and now the District of Columbia (talk about futile gestures!). I adhere to no specific or predictable — some of my Democratic friends would argue no discernible — political ideology.
I am devoutly pro-public education. I believe in equal rights for all citizens, and I consider myself a dedicated civil libertarian.
I also believe that government exists, in part at least, to do for the general public that which individuals cannot do on their own. At the same time, I am skeptical of “social engineering”, whether it springs from the left or the right. I am equally resistant to policy overreach, and I worry about unnecessarily zealous bureaucratic intrusion into various aspects of our lives and institutions.
I am hawkish on the federal budget deficit, and I support spending cuts and entitlement reforms to help balance the books. But I also know that increased revenues have to be part of the mix.
Therefore, I support the Bowles/Simpson and Rivlin/Domenici approaches, and I wish fervently that the President and Congress would embrace them; the failure to do so is inexcusable.
I am also an unabashed internationalist, and I support direct intervention (by military and/or other means) when the situation demands it (I put Afghanistan and Libya in that category). I worry equally about the Democratic left’s pacifist tendencies, and the isolationist sentiment that is growing in both parties. When Pat Buchanan and Dennis Kucinich are more or less singing the same tune, I conclude we — and the world — are in big trouble!
Given all of that, I realize that in the context of today’s politics it is highly unlikely that any potential Republican Presidential nominee would share most (or even many) of my views or concerns. That said, shouldn’t a political centrist expect at least a nod or a wink in his or her direction from candidates in both parties? Don’t we deserve to feel that our votes ought to at least appear to be in play?
Monday night’s debate represented yet another dramatically rightward tack by the GOP. Not one of the candidates hinted at any appeal to moderates. As the forum drew to a close I concluded that that the dynamic on display was not just about primaries and pre-nomination politics (simply a tactical ploy directed at an activist base), but rather it was an unvarnished expression of where the candidates actually place themselves on the political spectrum.
The 2012 Republican nominee, whoever it turns out to be, is likely to position him or herself to be the most conservative candidate to seek the Presidency in my lifetime — more conservative, in fact, than Barry Goldwater was in 1964. As someone who is almost certain to vote for Barack Obama’s reelection, I should probably hail that fact; it will give him a lot more running room in the center of the field, where Presidential elections typically are won and lost.
But I don’t feel any giddiness whatsoever about that fact — not because I think Obama might blow it (I don’t think he will), but because real and vigorous competition for moderate, independent voters would mean a better and more enlightening campaign. One result of that would be an improved second term President Obama (and perhaps a more united America).
Sadly, it appears that Mr. Obama will have to do that pretty much on his own, without any help from a loyal and credible opposition, and maybe without critical leverage coming from those in the middle of an increasingly polarized electorate.