Nutty Republicans

Will Palin run? Who knows, who cares? The press is agog  because the ci-devant Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate is in the midst of her bus tour up and down the East Coast.  A girl has to keep an eye on her tv ratings.  At present the great bus tour seems to have been  primarily dedicated to aborting  the rebirth of the Romney candidacy beneath its chariot wheels. Palin gave her press conference in New Hampshire just as Mitt was clearing his throat to shake hands with Destiny.

It’s a safe bet that Ms Palin will be playing the Will she/Won’t she game as far as the elastic will stretch without breaking, though in my view the elastic finally broke the day of the Tucson shootings. It’s  safe to say that Ms Palin will never be the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, however much the Obamians  and the left yearn to have her to kick around until November 2012.

The Republican Party has been on a suicide mission in the months since the midterm elections handed them the House of Representatives last fall, with the US Senate almost within their grasp.

As victorious Tea Party candidates surged into Washington DC, they swore mighty oaths that rather than add a single zero to the debt of the U.S. government they would fast until death, or make a histrionic lunge in that direction, or make a big stink, or a sort of stink. By God, they would draw a line in the sand, if only to get pushed off it.

The establishment press wrote encouraging columns and editorials about Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, hailing this throwback to the economic dark ages as a man of measured principle, restoring thrift and budgetary good sense to the Republic.

Sam Smith garnered a fragrant bouquet of their plaudits in The Progressive Review.

“The Washington Post wondered if Ryan can “really manage the hardest sales job in U.S. politics.” The paper seemed to think so: “So far, the sales pitch appears to be classic Ryan. He will make his case with earnestness and a hope that a quiet explanation of budget math can swing the country in a way that previous politicians could not.”

“New York Times columnist David Brooks called Ryan’s budget plan ‘the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes…[which] will put all future arguments in the proper context.’

“Even those who disagreed with Ryan’s plan found ways to praise it. In Time, Fareed Zakaria wrote that ‘Ryan’s plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous.’ And on NBC’s Chris Matthews Show, pundit Gloria Borger declared: ‘We have to give Paul Ryan an awful lot of credit because, as all of our august colleagues have said, yes, it does define the conversation for 2012.’”

Ryan was duly installed as the new Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee and  lost no time in announcing his plan to change Medicare from what it is now ? a federal medical insurance plan for America’s seniors, into a privatized affair  run by insurance companies which, given the slightest chance,  would pare back services to what these same insurance companies conceive to be fiscal prudence.

It took about 30 seconds for America’s seniors to realize that Ryan’s plan represented an lethal onslaught on one of the two federal programs left ? the other is Social Security ? that keep them barely afloat.  On May 25, Democrat Kathy Hochul whacked her Republican and Tea Party opponents with the Medicare issue and seized what had been a safe Republican House seat in the 26th congressional district in western New York state, once  held by the late Jack Kemp.

Since then the wind has been whistling out of the Ryan balloon. Republicans who only a month ago were roaring their support for the man have scuttled for cover. As Ryan whimpers at Democratic opportunism and “demagoguery” his prime defenders are the above-mentioned press magnates and their hired opinion formers  at the New York Times and Washington Post solemnly urging the Democrats not to over-use the Medicare bludgeon and to remember that Rep Ryan had at least advanced a plan which had not shirked Prudence and Responsibility.

Prudence and responsibility don’t carry much weight when  seniors with cancer are suddenly faced with the prospect of   bills of $2,500 every couple of months  for the treatments keeping them alive.  Seniors vote. The Democrats will run on defense of Medicare and Social Security all the way  to 2012.

At the moment the Republican presidential candidates in the field are scarcely convincing, whether it be the Mormon Romney who failed in 2008, or  the Passionaria of Tea Partydom, the luscious madwoman, US Rep Michele Bachmann.

Scenting opportunity, former New York Mayor Mayor Rudy Giuliani is now making moves consonant with a possible bid, as  Stewart Lawrence reported here in Thursday. He’s testing the waters in New Hampshire. The problem is that Giuliani’s candidacy in 2008 ? much touted by the press —  fell apart amid bizarre strategic missteps, endless publicity about his wives and mistresses, well founded charges of corruption and the evident fact, rendered more obvious with each debate and press conference, that the guy is a vindictive asshole. His money backers in 2008 are loath to finance another flaky run. So Giuliani is probably dipping his toe in the water to up his lecture fees, and pump up his public image ? same as Palin.

As the mayor of New York during the attack on the World Trade Towers Giuliani’s prime card was Leadership in Crisis, a man who wouldn’t hesitate to send a team of SEALS anywhere, anytime to bring back the head of Osama bin Laden. But? that card is no longer his to play.  In 2008  Obama was vulnerable to attacks from Giuliani and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton that he was soft on terror. Hard to make that case now. George Bush brought America’s enemies to Guantanamo. Obama just has them murdered  in place.

This is not to say Obama is a shoo-in in 2012. Far from it.  Presidents get into trouble when they face grim economic data during the reelection period. The economic outlook is extremely dire. The unemployment numbers are appalling and the total number of Americans near or amid destitution at terrible levels with the necessary large-scale Keynesian measures beyond the political capacities or even desires of the Obama administration. The sky is dark with bad news. Housing is in the septic tank. States are hacking away at their budgets. There’s no credit and people are frightened of borrowing anyway. America is tipping further  into a second Depression. This is a record of failure that could very well  doom Obama if a Republican challenger can mount an assault not festooned with manifest kookery.

But kooks is what they mostly are, and none of them with the economic populism that could gain purchase against Obama and the Democrats. Homilies from candidates like Romney about allowing the private sector to power the recovery don?t cut much ice, since he flourished by firing workers. The private sector is synonymous in many voters? minds with tax avoidance, insane salaries for CEOs and flight to China.

This is really Pat Buchanan?s moment, armed with economic populism, plus stances on abortion and immigration that would carry him through the early primaries. It was the Kempian rhetoric about growth that helped carry Reagan past Carter in the 1980 battle when the economy was poor.

Not too many states that handed the Obama / Biden ticket its victories in 2008 have to drop out of the Democratic column for the Electoral College math to make it a squeaker.  It’ll probably come down to Florida and Ohio yet again. These are early days. You punters, keep your money in your pockets a while.

In our latest newsletter

Takashi Hirose outlines in persuasive detail how How Japan can prosper without nuclear power. Andrew Cockburn reviews Donald Rumsfeld’s mendacious memoir of his stint running the Pentagon and promoting the attack on Iraq, Known and Unknown. As Andrew emailed me when he sent the review along:

“The opening paragraphs tell us much of what Donald Rumsfeld thinks about himself, and what we need to know about him.  Referencing his title, he proudly cites the 300,000 internet citations of ‘known unknown,’ 250,000 of them linked to his name, thanks to his observation at a 2002 press conference that there ‘are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’

“Given the deferential attitude evinced by contemporary press and public, there is little sign the remark generated any enlightened intuition, but it certainly left  reason aside.  What can ‘unknown unknowns’ mean other than simply  that there are things we don’t know?   Like similar exercises ? ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ — it carries intimations of profundity, and has been much acclaimed as such, not least by Rumsfeld himself, who introduces it here as ‘a larger point on the limits of human knowledge.’  Though sourcing a variant of the phrase ‘known unknowns’ to a former colleague, he leaves us with the belief that this is a unique Rumsfeld insight, though old Pentagon hands recall it circulating independently in xeroxed form as far back as the 1960s.”

Also in this edition of our newsletter Margot Patterson reports on a recent trip to Syria and the risks of a dreadful civil war.

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And once you have discharged this enjoyable mandate, I also urge you strongly to click over to our Books page, most particularly for our latest release, Jason Hribal’s truly extraordinary Fear of the Animal Planet ? introduced by Jeffrey St. Clair with the brilliant essay featured in this weekend’s website — and already hailed by Peter Linebaugh, Ingrid Newkirk (president and co-founder of PETA), and Susan Davis, the historian of Sea World, who writes that “Jason Hribal stacks up the evidence, and the conclusions are inescapable. Zoos, circuses and theme parks are the strategic hamlets of Americans’ long war against nature itself.”

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at






Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.