Monday, February 2, 2015

Mitt Exits, Stage Right

Mitt Exits, Stage Right

What exactly was that?  Two weeks ago, Mitt was tanned (Mitt is always tanned) and rested and ready for a third grab at the brass ring.  And now, the Mitt boomlet has turned bust-let (it can’t be a full blown bust, it never had the time to inflate fully as a boom) and we have to turn the page so soon?  Mitt, fini? 

I am actually disappointed.  I had hopes he would elevate the debate, or at least put some substance in it.  Not going to happen.  Jeb is now putative elder statesman and object of adoration of those who jingle the moneybags (cosseted in silk, of course, so they don’t make any noise.)

Mitt had a particularly ugly week.  He wasn’t seeing good numbers from Iowa, where the potential caucus-goers who retained some residual warmth when thinking of him as a former Republican Presidential candidate had far less when considering him as a present one. His former campaign coordinator in Iowa, David Kochel, jumped ship right after participating after a Mitt-for-Prez conference call—to Jeb.  And, in what was the most unexpected blow, as set out in a rather eye-opening account by Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin in the New York Times, a major donor, William Oberndorf, reacted to Mitt's reentry with an emai 52 other major Republican movers and shakers and bestowers of favors to say that Mitt had his chance and it was time to move on.  And that full deck of string-pullers apparently agreed, almost to a person.  Mitt, a man of great personal wealth, was suddenly without the funds to continue.

The truth was that not only was Mitt unloved, but also that Mitt was outflanked. Put in different terms, Mittcorp suffered a boardroom coup.  While Mitt was doing the elder statesman and criticize Obama thing, Jeb and his people were quietly collecting proxies.  When Mitt reached for support, he found it had completely evaporated.

That fact, in itself, tells you three things.  The first is that Mitt’s reflexes for the give and take of politics had grown dull.  The second is that the Bush network is massive, adept, and focused.  And the third is that the battle has now been joined, not “for the soul of the Republican Party” but rather for corporate control. 

This battle is important, not just to Republicans, but to all of us.  It isn’t really a public fight, but rather an extraordinary, if largely invisible war between many of the people on Obendorf’s list of 52 (and a lot of others) and the more ideologically-minded candidates and their supporters. 

I want to be a little unkind here, and even a little conspiratorial.  Take a look at the names in Parker and Martin’s article.  How many of them do you recognize?  And this isn’t purely ideological or partisan.  Hillary has her own list of well-heeled donors also ready for pay-to-play.  All these contributors know that in any Administration, regardless of party, politics and profitability are linked.  The economic elites have always been served in this country—it’s just a question of the degree (or audacity) of service.   

But it isn’t quite as binary as that, because we aren’t a kleptocracy or even an oligarchy.  Rather, we are a representative democracy where most citizens can vote, and all votes are counted as equal.  So, first, you have to win, and that means motivation, turnout/voter suppression, ground-game, and a few of the black arts.  Money, especially unlimited and impossible to trace money, buys all those things.  

In a local or even a statewide election, the power of green can be overwhelming.  One of the truly brilliant aspects of the Koch strategy is that there is seemingly no office too small for them to pay attention to. Still, when you are talking about electing a President, cash is an enabler (maybe even decisive in a close election) but it’s not a complete substitute for an attractive candidate.   You need to find a vessel to capture the prize.  So, if I am an “investor” I want the person who has enough general appeal to win.  And, I want that person to have genuine skills, because I want him or her to have coattails so as to get or create greater legislative majorities to enact my program.  Finally, I want him to be reelected, so he can continue to work on my behalf.

In short, I need an appealing, but competent, grownup.  If he shows himself to be able, his precise ideology, so long as he stays bought, is less important to me than his nature of his rhetoric and demeanor.  Get me what I want, make sure I keep it, and don’t scare people so much that they start looking too closely at what you just acquired for me.

Look at three different parts of the GOP spectrum for a moment.  There is Jeb, who hasn’t held elective office in twelve years, but is perceived as genial, attractive, competent, and non-threatening. There is Ted Cruz, angry, closed fist, and scorched Earth, not a team player.  If it’s Ted, I know he would deliver the keys to the treasury, because that’s where his ideological predilections are.  But the risk is he would anger so many people in imposing his personal view of a conservative utopia that I might not get to keep it.  Ted’s loyalty is to himself, only. And, there is the newest rising star, Scott Walker.  Walker is completely in my thrall, he has the demeanor of a rapacious butler/bodyguard/assassin, willing to serve completely and take any measure to do so.  But Walker worries me a bit—he is crude, and so proud of his body count that one can easily see how one day, he will take it on the chin, and no one will mourn.

So, the big money is on Jeb right now, even if the passion (in some quarters) may be elsewhere. Jeb makes them feel safe.  But 2016 has a tremendous number of risks—it seems that the more complex and intractable the world’s problems appear to be, the more we have attracted the not-readys, the never-will-bes, and the what-can-they-be-possibly-thinkings.  One of those folk could actually get the nomination, and win.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times by Vivian Schweitzer a while back, about the often-hesitant steps that even gifted classical performers take in approaching the works of the truly great composers.  There is a sense of unease, a feeling that there are pieces that are so complex, so emotionally demanding, so intellectually layered that mere technical proficiency isn’t enough.  You have to wait your turn, until you are fully capable of assaying their depths. 

Why? To a non-musician it seems odd—isn’t music like math, isn’t technique enough?  With the right type of training, and sufficient dexterity, don’t you just have to hit the notes, cleanly, in the correct sequence?   

Obviously, no--not even to many who can play at the highest levels.  As the cellist Paul Katz says, in discussing Beethoven’s late string quartets, “no mortal ever feels totally ready.” 

You might think, that for the role of most powerful person on Earth,  more politicians might also have that sense of mindful humility.    

On the other hand, how hard could it be, right?  

February 2, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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