In the Republican presidential hopeful’s debate Monday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the candidates continued to descend into racial politics and belittling the poor.
The two-hour event, broadcast on Fox News on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, covered a broad range of topics most of which have been covered in previous debates but on King’s birthday there were significantly more questions on race and poverty.
In the debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended South Carolina’s Voter ID law, which will disproportionately hurt minorities and the elderly. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said ex-felons who have served their time should not be given the right to vote.
On the issue of extending voting rights to ex-felons Romney was to the right of Rick Santorum, the conservative former Pennsylvania senator who supports allowing ex-felons to have their voting rights back once they complete their sentence.
One of the lowest points of the debate — in which there were several — is when the largely Republican crowd at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center booed at journalist Juan Williams’s suggestion that some of Newt Gingrich’s past comments were offensive to Black people.
Williams questioned Gingrich about racial remarks he’s made on the campaign trail.
“Speaker Gingrich, you recently said Black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also say poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to Black Americans?” Williams asked.
“No I don’t see it,” replied the former House speaker to thunderous applause.
Gingrich, who was paid $1.6 million dollars by Freddie Mac for “advice,” as a historian went on to defend his plan while talking about the “absurd amount of money” janitors make in New York and that school districts can hire “30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor.”
Gingrich, who frequently reminds his audience that he is a historian thereby suggesting that he is a politician who is grounded in facts. knows he’s talking nonsense and is playing his audience for fools.
As a historian he knows that child labor laws would not allow him to do what he is suggesting and more importantly that firing janitors and hiring children to mop floors and clean toilets is not a policy solution to the nation’s economic problems.
Gingrich also knows that a greater percentage of whites receive food stamps than Blacks. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 28 percent of households that receive food stamps are African American, while 59 percent are white.
But Gingrich is a clever politician.
When he calls President Obama the “food stamps president,” he is able to belittle the poor and unfairly attack the president while giving voice to the racist view that Blacks are lazy and seeking government handouts while pretending he is offering goodwill solutions.
The facts are that more people are now on food stamps because it’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade because of measures taken by the Bush administration which relaxed eligibility rules and because the economy is recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Gingrich should be condemned for his shameful pandering to bigotry.
As far as conservatives are concerned, 2012 is the year of anger and authenticity.
That’s the apparent theme this year as conservatives converged and rallied about Washington, D.C., this week for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — otherwise known as “CPAC.” There are a number of meanings to CPAC, none as prominent as a chance for proud right-wingers of different ages and multiple stripes to meet, break bread and unify around a collective political message. But, the annual confab of red-meat values and no liberal-veggies-allowed holds even greater significance this year as Republican presidential primary candidates duke it out in the race for delegates.
Optically, the CPAC is an opportunity for conservatives, young and old, to rip off their shirts and perform a public toga party, including — but not limited to — bare-bottomed mooning of the “liberal elite media” and the rest of that pesky liberal crowd. But, it’s also a moment when establishment Republicans find creative ways to further co-opt the conservative brand, a quiet hacking of the red state movement through no-expense-spared messaging and a starting line-up of celebrities on the right.
The objective: defeat President Barack Obama in November.
That goal, given the rancor of the Republican primary season, may be a bit more difficult than in previous years. But, it’s no coincidence that despite the grassroots flavor and on-the-street confetti feel that CPAC typically embodies, the annual conference showcased a Who’s Who of Republican lawmakers: from Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) fresh off the campaign trail, to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Virginia Attorney General Anthony Cucinelli; there was also Latino political sensation and whispered vice presidential running mate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), joined by the Black Falcon of the Right, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). The list went on, a roll call of longtime Republican hacks, activists, honorees and wise men — all coming to Washington to kiss the conservative ring and lick the Tea Party boot.
And while their passionate hope for Obama’s political demise was the unifying theme or glue that held it all together, it was the unspoken return of the Republican Order, the Council of Party Sages slamming their gavels and putting rowdy conservatives on notice: “Get it together or we’ll be losing in November.”
Republican Psychology 101: Republicans love to win.
But, the road to Tampa Bay this summer, where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place, is now very ugly and strewn with the road kill of gaffes, attack ads and the emergence of Super PACs glowing like Death Stars over a George Lucas movie set. As CPAC shows, it represents an uncomfortable dawning of a new era for the Republican Party, and also the national political landscape this November.
An evolution is definitely taking place, and what’s unclear is whether or not it’s setting the stage for a White House comeback in 2012, or a long road to a conservative reset in time for 2016. Many observers compare this year’s GOP primary to the bloody one of 1976 when then Gov. Ronald Reagan (R-Calif.) declared a prolonged all-out internal war on incumbent President Gerald Ford. It left Ford so disoriented and exhausted that he ended up losing to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
But, Reagan returned in 1979 to pummel the incumbent, one-term President Carter and lead the country for two terms of office.
“This is a recalibration,” pondered one sweaty Republican strategist making a quick lunch run only moments away from the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Northwest D.C. “Frankly, I’m not so sure about 2012 like the party faithful. But, what we’re doing now is necessary. It’s an exorcism that will put us in a good spot after Obama leaves in 2016.”
That exorcism is characterized by conversations over authenticity and pure Constitutionalism (despite some calls to change amendments in the Constitution). It is a moment where conservative politicians are feeling out the grassroots and attempting to burnish their ideological credentials. And the grassroots is not making it easy.
“The Republican Party had better understand here that the people who are not voting for Romney are not doing it because I’m telling them to,” boasted Rush Limbaugh during a radio segment earlier in the week. “They’re doing it because they genuinely have a problem with Romney. The establishment had better wake up and understand that Republican primary voters are doing this not just to stick a finger in the eye of the establishment, not just to be frivolous here. They’re sending a message.”
As soon as the Department of Labor unemployment numbers found their way into the market consciousness and floated away, Republicans were pulling out the social issue guns with gusto, eager to pounce on the president and congressional Democrats.
“It’s the 21st century and we need jobs. GOP, do you really want to spend the next 11 months talking about birth control?” asked a bewildered Stephanie Schirock, President of EMILY’s List, on Twitter.
Apparently yes. As if on cue, headlines and cable cameras began to pull the “Culture Wars” back into focus, a term the general public hadn’t heard for quite some time. One day the Susan G. Komen Foundation was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood, the next day it was a crusade on Capitol Hill against the Affordable Care Act’s provisions forcing contraceptives on religious institutions. No sooner had the first missiles in Culture War redux been fired than a dramatic ruling by a California federal appeals court overturned Proposition 8, the referendum on same-sex marriage in the state. Putting a cherry on the top of it was CNN’s suspension of contributor and TV One talk host Roland Martin after he came under fire from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for posting Super Bowl tweets about David Beckham underwear ads.
While it all left heads spinning, it was very real. Wedge issues made a comeback with a vengeance, a crazy emotional soup of catcalls, nasty adjectives and partisan name calling. Prior to the right wing pow wow of CPAC, it seems conservatives were using the primaries as platforms to that end, searching for the right candidate to push that message. It was all topped off by the mid-week stunning come-from-behind GOP primary caucus victories by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who beat all other three Republican candidates combined.
“People want a nominee who doesn’t just talk a good conservative game, but actually lives it,” said Santorum. “And has the record to prove it.”
Meanwhile, no longer was the economy in the spotlight as number one concern.
It should have been a week of media back slaps and kudos for the White House. Observers were cautiously optimistic as unemployment inched downward for another consecutive month – predictably so considering the political stakes. That Black unemployment fell two percentage points should have been a major headline; but, instead, it ended up a footnote consumed by banter over the Martin/CNN fiasco.
“We need to help workers regain their footing and bolster the recovery by extending the payroll tax cut for the remainder of the year and continuing unemployment insurance for workers who are counting on these benefits to make ends meet,” urged Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) while looking over the Labor Department numbers. “Both of these policies put money in people’s pockets – boosting demand, creating jobs and strengthening our economy.”
And there was little love expressed for the nearly $30 billion settlement with predatory mortgage companies, the largest joint settlement in U.S. history; rather, pundits seemed more concerned with the rise of Santorum as the Culture War’s Spartacus, returning to bring the red blooded fight back.
“As the presidential election season heats up, the Obama Administration appears as if it’s driving to the end zone for a score with the GOP unwittingly playing zone defense,” observes Politic365.com economic policy expert Alton Drew. “Given the probable impact continued economic slowdown in Europe may have on trade, combined with the pressures our own debt and deficit may have on continued growth, scoring from the red zone will be difficult for the Administration. Americans may not be satisfied with a field goal either.”
The problem, however, is that the Republican zone defense may very well be more or less falling back on what it knows best: social issues. And that could create a double-edged sword for the President’s economic message.
A recent YouGov/Economist poll released to The Philadelphia Tribune shows the percentage of Americans feeling the country is “on the wrong track” has dropped 6 percentage points. “Though it is still a majority, it suggests that the declining unemployment rate, released on Friday, may be beginning to have an impact on public perceptions,” says YouGov’s Thom Riehle.
In addition, the YouGov poll shows Republicans and Democrats divided more than ever over both social issues and economics. The survey found 64% of Republicans believe abortion “should be mostly or always illegal” while 69% of Democratic voters think it “should be mostly or always legal.” On same-sex marriage: 67% of Republican voters oppose it; 54% of Democrats are in favor of it.
What could be emerging is a moment where any White House success on the economy could take that issue off the national plate as a matter of urgency. That gives the grassroots on the right breathing space to mobilize around what then-candidate Obama called “guns and religion” in 2008. White social conservatives and their counterpart mostly White progressives may be preparing for a Clash of the Ideological Titans over issues on the wedge. Where that leaves the unemployed and struggling is an open question that will find itself answered as the election approaches.
In the Republican presidential debate last week Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Social Security a “monstrous lie” and called its funding mechanism a “Ponzi scheme.”
The governor’s remarks at the GOP debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., weren’t the first time that Perry attacked Social Security.
In his book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” which was published just last year, Perry vilifies Social Security as a failed social experiment.
“Like a bad disease,” Perry wrote, New Deal-era initiatives introduced in the 1930s by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt have spread. “By far the best example of this is Social Security.” The program, he said “is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now.”
Rick Perry is wrong.
Social Security is not a failure and it can not be liken to a “Ponzi scheme,” a deceptive criminal enterprise.
The term Ponzi scheme originates with Charles Ponzi, a swindler who conned investors out of millions in 1920 by promising returns up to 100 percent in 90 days on investments in foreign postal coupons. The first group of investor collected, the others did not, unaware that “profits” consisted of money paid in by other investors.
By contrast Social Security is more of pay as you go system transferring payroll tax payments from workers to retirees.
Social Security, one of the nation’s most successful social programs, has helped millions of seniors stay out of poverty by providing a guaranteed monthly pension to retirees.
Workers and employers pay Social Security payroll taxes that fund benefits for current retirees. The taxes are not set aside and invested as many taxpayers mistakenly believe.
What is true is that Social Security is headed for trouble in future years unless revenues and projected benefits are brought into line. However even without any changes the program can continue paying full benefits through 2037, according to AARP, the lobbying group for seniors. “After that, the revenue from payroll taxes will still cover about 75 percent of promised benefits,” according to the AARP in an article titled “Social Security: Fears vs. Facts. What Social Security critics keep getting wrong.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that this year Social Security would deliver more in benefit checks than it’s projected to gather in taxes.
The reckless idea that Perry and other conservatives propose that Social Security should be phased out by privatizing it so that workers could invest their payroll taxes in the stock market would put at risk the retirement funds of millions of seniors.
The AARP notes that the point of Social Security isn’t to maximize the return on the payroll taxes contributed. Unlike a 401 K plan, “Social security is designed to be the one guaranteed part of your retirement that can’t be outlived or lost in the stock market. It’s a secure base of income throughout your working life and retirement.”
Social Security is critical to many Americans. The program provides the majority of income for at least half of Americans over 65.
Polls show the majority of Americans do not want to radically change Social Security.
More than half of Americans, 56 percent, would not vote for a presidential candidate who favored phasing out Social Security for a privatized retirement program, according to a nationwide poll in June by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.
Social Security is a widely popular and successful entitlement program.
It is an outrage for Perry to suggest abolishing Social Security instead of fixing it.
Readers who are easily offended by racially offensive terminology may not want to read this column.
If you happen to fit that description, however, please do have a friend read it and discuss the content with them later. It’s about the presidential candidates — white ones and Black ones. It’s about the lingering, racial insensitivity in the United States of America and — most importantly — it’s about several people who just might be elected president of the United States, in the year 2012.
Let’s start by going back to October 2, and a story that appeared in the Washington Post, which disclosed that Republican Presidential Primary front runner, Rick Perry, had made a practice, earlier in his political career, of “hosting fellow law-makers, friends and supporters, at the family’s secluded west Texas hunting camp “... a place that bore the name “Niggerhead” on a slab of rock at the front gate.
As bad as that might sound, the Post was actually being very kind to Mr. Perry, by describing the situation as one that happened “early in his political career.”
In fact, the name was prominently painted on the rock at the Throckmorton County camp, from 1985 to 1990, while Perry was a state legislator. It was there early in the 1990s, while Perry was the Texas agriculture commissioner. It was still there in 1998, when he was elected Lt. Governor, and through 2000, when he succeeded George W. Bush as the state’s governor. It has to be pointed out that the word was still on the rock, and the rock was still there, for each of Perry’s re-elections to the position of Texas state governor, in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
It’s been reported that the “Niggerhead rock” was still in place at the Perry family hunting camp, as recently as this summer.
In a perfectly fair and just world, one might expect this kind of insight into Mr. Perry’s personal beliefs to be a problem for his candidacy.
Not so fast.
Indeed, if you go by a couple of recent blog posts related to the story by two “scholars” who go by the handles “NRafter530” and “bpai99,” this story of a rock with a “nigger” name may even be helpful in restoring Perry’s recently sagging poll numbers.
Here’s what good ole’ NRafter530 posted: “This is supposed to hurt him with Republican voters how exactly?”
“Bpai 99” was even more conspiratorial, in posting: “This likely will unite the GOP base behind him and stop his slide in the polls.”
“Very canny move by his campaign strategists— should Perry become president, this will be seen as a brilliant bit of political timing.”
Is “Bpai” serious? Does he (I’m just guessing the writer is a “he.”) believe the Perry camp actually “leaked” the “Niggerhead rock story” to gain political advantage?
Please, say it ain’t so.
But, then, again, considering how and where Perry was raised and his response to race-related issues during his political life, to date, none of this should have risen to the level of “shock” or “surprise.”
Amazingly, Haskell County, Texas, where Perry was born, just began to recognize Martin Luther King Day, two years ago.
Here’s something else: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Throckmorton County had a population, in 1950, the year Perry was born, of 3,600 persons, of whom, just one was Black. Yeah, that’s right, one.
By 1960, Throckmorton’s Black population had risen to four; by 1970 it had fallen to two. In 1980, when Perry was working for his father, as a cotton farmer, the county’s Black population had dropped to zero. By 2010, however, there were 11 Black residents in Throckmorton.
So, it’s easy to understand how Perry family members wouldn’t have received much “push-back” from the local African-American population, for whatever they decided to paint on their rocks.
Then, again, maybe the few African Americans in the area had gotten out of the habit of being outspoken, due to the county’s history of lynching Black folks.
What we do know is that with that background, Perry was certainly prepared to publicly defend his assistant agriculture commissioner, Dick Waterfield, who had casually informed an agricultural loan applicant, “We already have one nigger (who submitted a loan application).” “We don’t need another.”
Waterfield, subsequently, said he “didn’t know whether or not (he) used that word.” Perry defended him, anyway.
With all of that as background, no one should have been surprised, at all, that, in 1999, Perry helped stop the passage of a hate-crime bill in the state of Texas.
They also shouldn’t have been surprised by his public expressions of support, over the years, for the Confederacy and, specifically, for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Few of us should have pretended to have been caught unaware, either, in learning that there even was a Texas camp called “Niggerhead.” The truth is that, in 1967, it’s been reported, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed the word “Nigger” to “Negro” in 143 different place names across the country. In west Texas, for example, “Dead Nigger Creek” was renamed “Dead Negro Draw.” “Nigger Nate Grade” in California was renamed “Nathan Harrison Grade Road” after numerous complaints by the NAACP. And in Baton Rouge Parish, in Louisiana, “Free Nigger Point” now goes by the name “Free Negro Road.” (I feel a lot better about that; how about you?)
So, the big shocker in all of this is not related to Perry, or even to the name on the rock, but to the reaction to the story by public officials and pundits. That has allowed us to look deeply into the souls of a great number of America’s leaders — and to, once again, be disappointed.
Take, for example, on Thursday, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted, almost strictly along party lines, to block a resolution by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (remember him?) that called for Rick Perry to apologize for not “doing away” with the rock, immediately.
Not surprisingly, the vote to block the resolution was 231-173. That’s 95 percent of Republicans in the House voting to drop it, and 90 percent of the Democrats voting, unsuccessfully, to move it forward.
Even beyond the recent House vote, there were other disturbing revelations relating to the “rock.” Not the least of which has been the spineless reaction to all of this by the only non-white Republican presidential candidate, this year, Herman Cain (Please note that I carefully refer to the apparently Black Mr. Cain simply as “non-white,” because he is on record as saying that he does not want to be referred to as “African American,” by those who comment on, or report on his candidacy. He just wants to be called “American.”)
By the way, good luck with that, Brother Cain.
In any event, when initially asked to respond to the story about the Perry family’s rock, Cain said that he thought Rick Perry’s camp name was “insensitive to a lot of Black people in this country.”
But shortly after having been blasted by the extreme right wing of his own party for taking a “cheap shot” at Perry, and for being a race-based political opportunist, Mr. Cain promptly ate all of his previous words, changing his position to: “I really don’t care about that word. They painted over it ... I’m not playing the race card.”
Man! Who can you trust?
So, here’s what we’ve learned: In 21st century America, using racially insensitive language, and insulting Black folks with the term “Nigger,” may not be a political liability, after all.
Curiously, what may be more politically risky during these twisted times, is to have the temerity to speak out about bigotry, no matter where it occurs, in the United States.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
WASHINGTON — Sometime last week, demographers estimate, a baby was born who brought the planet’s population to a staggering 7 billion. That’s worrisome, given the stresses on precious resources such as water. But the underlying trend that has created a crowded planet is not a baby boom in distant, impoverished countries. It’s a phenomenon you can see in your own neighborhood or church or civic club: People are living longer and healthier lives.
As someone who hopes to live to an advanced old age, I can hardly denounce the trend. But we’ll face a slew of challenges — including inevitable economic decline — if there are not enough younger workers to fill the coffers for Social Security and Medicare, to feed and bathe and medicate nursing home patients, to build the elderly-equipped housing and drive the wheelchair-accessible vans we’ll need.
The United States has a big advantage over several other nations — if we don’t blow it: We have immigrants, some legal, many illegal, who help to keep our population younger. While native-born American women have more children than their counterparts in Japan and Italy and Greece, it’s also true that workers from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and other points south have boosted the U.S. fertility rate.
So here’s something you won’t hear from politicians anywhere on the political spectrum: Let’s celebrate those so-called anchor babies, supposedly born to women who sneak into this country just to confer citizenship on their infants. (That particular right-wing cliche is not borne out by research, but it retains its popularity. If it were true, it would be worth encouraging.)
Unhappily, that’s not what you’re hearing these days. With the Republican presidential campaign in high gear, you’re hearing quite the opposite: A steady volley of coarse, demagogic pseudo-facts about the burdens presented by illegal immigrants. “They’re criminals bringing drug violence across the border! They’re grifters stealing social services! They’re taking jobs from honest-to-goodness Americans!”
The hapless Rick Perry has few policies or proposals worth defending, but he has been mercilessly attacked for one of those: a tuition subsidy for Texas college students who happen to be in the country illegally. If a student graduates from a Texas high school and has the grades and test scores to gain admission to a public college or university, he gets in-state tuition. No questions asked. No citizenship documents required.
That’s actually a fine idea; it enriches not just the individuals but also their adopted state and country. The immediate beneficiaries are young adults who were brought into this country by their parents, have lived here for years and adopted American customs, habits and aspirations. Why not encourage them to get college degrees?
As Perry has noted, his policy creates taxpayers. (He might have added, those taxpayers can help pay for my Social Security and Medicare costs.) But the Texas governor has been roundly denounced by his rivals, including Mitt Romney, who should know better.
Admittedly, presidential campaigns are not ideal platforms for public tutorials on complex issues. But the problems caused by a population heavily tilted toward the elderly are not difficult to explain.
Take Social Security and Medicare, the two huge entitlement programs that are front and center in the debate over cutting government spending. Those programs will encounter difficulties because the pool of elderly will grow so much larger, and the pool of workers who pay taxes to support them won’t grow enough. It’s shortsighted to the point of dementia to try to expel the illegal immigrants who mitigate that shortage of younger workers.
If you believe illegal immigrants are a bigger drain than they’re worth as taxpayers (and they do pay taxes), there’s a solution: Put them on a path to citizenship. Turn them into full-fledged Americans. Encourage their children to go to college, since college graduates generally end up with higher-paying jobs and higher tax bills.
In a well-researched book about the not-too-distant future, “The Next Hundred Million,” writer Joel Kotkin predicts that the United States will prosper because the country will “maintain a youthful, dynamic demographic” through “a resourceful stream of ever-assimilating immigrants.”
But that future depends on a political and social climate that welcomes newcomers instead of scaring them off.
WASHINGTON — Americans have yet to find a Republican they'd clearly prefer over President Barack Obama, although half say the president does not deserve re-election.
Among Republicans, the desire to oust Obama is clear, according to a new AP-GfK poll. But it has not resolved divisions over the choice of a nominee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is reasonably popular, but he has not pulled away from the field.
Former pizza company executive Herman Cain runs close to Romney as the candidate Republicans would most like to see on the ballot, but many Republicans are reluctant to back a man who has never held office. Texas Gov. Rick Perry lags in the poll, which was conducted before Tuesday night's combative debate in Las Vegas.
In that two-hour forum, several candidates sharply criticized Cain's tax proposals, and a newly energized Perry hit Romney hard on immigration.
In the poll, Romney was the choice of 30 percent of Republicans, with Cain about even at 26 percent. Perry was preferred by 13 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas topped the list of those in single digits.
Among all adults surveyed, half said Obama should not be re-elected, and 46 percent said he should be. That continues his gradual slide since May.
When all adults are asked about hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Obama and Romney run almost even, 48 percent for Obama to 45 percent. Obama holds a narrow edge over Cain, 49 percent to 43 percent. He leads Perry, 51 percent to 42 percent.
Luis Calderon of El Monte, Calif., exemplifies those unhappy with Obama but not ready to dump him.
"Even though I criticize him, I still want him to win," said Calderon, 56, a self-employed handyman who was laid off by an oil company three years ago. Obama "has to get down to business, forget about promises, just do it, create jobs," Calderon said. "But in order to create jobs, he has to be harder on the Republicans."
A Democrat, Calderon said Romney "is the one that may do a little dent on Obama."
Romney spent four years as Massachusetts governor, and he ran for president in 2008. Cain is the only candidate who has never held elected office, which might present some problems. Americans have no recent history of electing inexperienced politicians as president except war hero Dwight Eisenhower.
Of the Republicans polled, about four in 10 say they're less inclined to vote for someone who has never been elected to public office. That's far more than say they are disinclined to vote for a Mormon, a woman or a black candidate.
Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are Mormons. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is the only woman in the race. Cain is black.
Nineteen percent of Republicans, and 21 percent of all adults, say they are less likely to vote for someone who is a Mormon. Anne Fish, a Republican and retired teacher from Columbus, Ohio, is among them. Fish, 73, said she would not support Romney "because he is not a Christian."
Mainstream Mormons, including Romney, consider themselves Christians.
Fish said she probably will support Perry. "Although I have some doubts, I think he has some ideas about how to improve the economy, how to help our country develop more jobs," she said.
Ronald Wilson, a conservative Republican from Bucyrus, Ohio, said he's undecided, although "I favor Herman Cain. He's not infected by Washingtonitis."
Wilson, 65, a retired stone quarry worker, called Romney "better than nothing."
Such comments underscore Romney's challenge. Many GOP insiders see him as the most plausible nominee and Obama's strongest potential challenger. But Romney generates little passion among Republican voters, who seem to keep shopping for an alternative as time ticks down to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
None of the candidates has begun heavy television advertising, which Romney and Perry in particular can afford.
Perry has positioned himself to the right of Romney on several issues, but he's having trouble breaking through with conservative voters. Nearly three in five Republicans say they see Perry as conservative, but only 26 percent say he's "strongly conservative." Cain gets about the same "strongly conservative" marks, while 17 percent of Republicans give Romney that label.
Among conservative Republicans, Romney is the choice of 28 percent, Cain 27 percent and Perry 15 percent. Ten percent of conservatives say they're not sure whom they'd like to see win the party's nod.
Tea party supporters split 33 percent for Cain to 29 percent for Romney and 13 percent for Perry.
Gene O'Dor, a retired postal worker from Mobile, Ala., said he likes Romney's somewhat centrist leanings.
"I think he is a moderate, like I am," said O'Dor, 66. "I feel he has the background in business to get this country back to where it needs to be."
"I don't think he is going to be a person that lies to the American public," O'Dor said.
Benjamin Matzke, a video editor from Nicollet, Minn., is among those Republicans that Romney has yet to persuade.
"He really to me looks a lot like a career politician," said Matske, 27. He said Romney "seems to pay lip service to a lot of things that I feel are important," including abortion, but "his stance on health care is a little soft."
There seems to be a broad gender divide in the Republican contest. Among GOP women, Romney is favored over his nearest competitor, Cain, by 17 percentage points, with the rest of the field in single digits. The picture is more muddled among Republican men: 31 percent favor Cain, 26 percent Romney, 17 percent Perry, 10 percent Paul, and the rest are each 5 percent or below.
Among all adults, regardless of party identification, 21 percent say they'd like the GOP to nominate Romney. Eighteen percent name Cain, 13 percent Perry and 11 percent Paul.
The poll found shifts in candidates' favorability ratings. These numbers don't necessarily track people's likelihood to vote for or against someone, but they offer insight into how candidates are being received as they become better known.
Romney, Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have gotten positive bumps since August. Romney and Cain are the only GOP contenders viewed favorably by more than 40 percent of all adults.
Romney's favorable rating has risen 10 points among all adults since August, and now stands at 49 percent. Increases came across party lines, but especially among conservative Republicans.
Cain's favorability rating among Republicans has nearly doubled as he has spent more time in the spotlight, increasing from 37 percent favorable in August to 71 percent favorable now. Just 10 percent of Republicans hold a negative impression of him. Party insiders will watch for signs that Tuesday's hard-hitting debate might wound Cain a bit.
Obama's favorability ratings are essentially unchanged since August, with 54 percent of adults holding a favorable view of him, and 44 percent unfavorable.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll included interviews with 431 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; the margin of error for these results was plus or minus 6.1 percentage points. -- (AP)
Class warfare seems to be popping up everywhere these days. It must be campaign season.
Check out this sound bite: “I’m not for tax cuts for the rich. The rich can take care of themselves. I want to get America working again. And so I want to make sure that whatever we do in the tax code, we’re not giving a windfall to the very wealthy.”
No, that was not President Barack Obama, whose latest “fair share” tax and deficit reduction plan has received a predictable pummeling from Republicans charging him with “class warfare.” It is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaking last month to voters in Portsmouth, N.H., about his own plans for tax fairness.
A day earlier, Romney’s fellow Republican presidential candidate frontrunner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said this about corporate giant General Electric’s use of loopholes to reduce their federal taxes last year to zero: “I can’t explain that,” Perry said. “The idea because you have a good relationship with the political world in Washington, D.C., ... is not a good enough reason for you not to pay your fair share of taxes.”
“Fair share?” Whenever Democrats, speak of “fair share,” conservatives reflexively hear “class warfare.” Such was the Republican response to the $3.6 trillion “fair share” deficit reduction plan that the president unveiled this week.
Yet conservatives have long understood a populist reality that Obama has been reluctant to face: Class warfare works, but call it something else — like fairness.
Voters have a keen sense of fairness, especially when they detect somebody is being unfair to them. “The rich get the gold mine and the middle class gets the shaft,” said candidate Bill Clinton to great effect in his successful 1992 presidential campaign. “It’s wrong and it’s going to ruin the country.”
He was picking up on a fairness theme that began to turn the nation’s political tide a year earlier. After a decade of Ronald Reagan-era conservative dominance, Pennsylvania Democrat Harris Wofford won an upset senatorial election victory in 1991 with populist appeals like this: “If every criminal deserves to have a lawyer, why can’t every working person deserve to have a doctor?”
That’s fair. A simple straightforward appeal like that might have saved Obama a lot of headaches in his own health care push. And a continued sell job by the president on behalf of the nation’s uninsured and under-insured might have reassured the public against the relentless drumbeat of the anti-”Obamacare” crowd.
Until now, fighting for his ideas and promoting his presidential achievements have not been high on Obama’s agenda, much to the consternation of his supporters. But with employment, public morale and his approval ratings hitting new lows, No-Drama Obama is starting to talk tough, pushing with new vigor his “balanced approach” that includes ending the Bush-era tax cuts for “millionaires and billionaires.”
In response comes the charge of “class warfare,” as if the fairness of our nation’s progressive tax system — a central element of the Democratic agenda — were some sort of a Marxist clash of the classes against one another.
Yet, neither party lacks class cards or shyness about playing them. Ask Perry, a master of the poverty-snob card in his battle against “elites,” including some of his fellow Republicans.
“As a son of tenant farmers, I can tell you: I wasn’t born with four aces in my hand,” he told Iowa voters, playing off a line that Romney used in their debates. Romney attributed Texas’ economic successes to trends that preceded Perry’s governorship. “If you’re dealt four aces,” said Romney, “that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player.”
Perry raised the umbrage and resentment cards. “There’s some folks back in Texas who are real offended by that,” he said in Iowa, despite Romney’s repeated praise for the greatness of the Lone Star State and its people. “We work hard in Texas.” Perry couldn’t resist the implication that his biggest GOP rival is some sort of elitist.
And as Republicans charge Obama’s “fair share” plan with class warfare, they might take note of this Perry appeal for a new business tax in 2005, quoted in the Texas Tribune in 2005 and retrieved by the Atlantic Wire website’s Elspeth Reeve: “The goal is to create greater tax fairness, not a greater tax burden on the people of Texas.”
That’s right. “Tax fairness” isn’t just for Democrats.
Quite a few people were shocked to hear the audience burst into applause at Rick Perry’s first Republican presidential debate after they heard that the Texas governor leads the nation in executions. That’s why we have debates. They teach you things, not only about the candidates but also about their voters.
The applause came after NBC’s Brian Williams said, “Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.”
Many were horrified that the conservative Republican audience in the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Southern California would break out in applause. But what do you expect from a politically minded crowd in the Reagan library, a shrine to cowboy conservatism? I was only surprised that they didn’t jump to their feet, cheer and slap high fives with one another.
When the applause died down enough for Williams to ask his question, he continued: “Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?” No, sir, said Perry.
“I’ve never struggled with that at all,” he said, because Texas has “a very thoughtful, a very clear process” in which the accused “get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.”
Yet, alas, the state’s record under his governorship — and prior to it — reveals quite a bit to make you toss and turn a bit, provided you have a conscience.
Texas has long been known to execute more criminals than any other state, which would not be nearly as troubling if the record didn’t show the pattern of fairness and double-checking to be so haphazard.
Williams’ question might well have been generated by the most infamous case under Perry’s watch: Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for the home fire that killed his three daughters.
Despite serious questions raised by fire scientists about the questionable forensics used in the arson investigation and the twice-recanted testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Perry refused to grant even a 30-day reprieve requested by Willingham’s lawyers to present their case.
Adding further drama, a scathing 2009 report by The New Yorker’s David Grann moved the state’s forensic science commission to hold hearings, but Perry replaced three members of the commission. The new chair canceled the hearing and did not take up the Willingham case again until the following April — a month after Perry won the Republican primary. Perry denies allegations that he tried to quash the case. I’m more concerned at his apparent disregard for pursuing the truth, possibly at the cost of an innocent man’s life.
He has granted only 31 death row commutations, 28 of which resulted from a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning capital punishment for minors, according to a database of state executions compiled by the Texas Tribune. The data also show a high number of executions of people who were minors when they committed their crimes, people who were mentally unable to understand their punishment, and people who received questionable counsel.
Those are hardly new concerns. A Chicago Tribune investigation in 2000 found such bizarre cases as Death Row inmates represented by an attorney who slept at trial and capital cases based on such unreliable evidence as jail-house informants and the visual comparison of hairs.
Yet, if Perry isn’t losing a lick of sleep over these cases, it is largely because, as he said when Williams asked his thoughts on the “dynamic” that brought applause to the very mention of Perry’s execution record: “I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment.”
He may be right about that, at least in our politics. Neither party has wanted to appear soft on capital punishment in a presidential race since 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, a bold opponent of executions, went down to defeat.
But, it is Perry’s certainty that I find most troubling. It is the same certainty about Texas’ executions that was expressed by his predecessor as governor, George W. Bush, when he ran for president in 2000.
It sounds like the same certainty that thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that American troops would be greeted with flowers as liberators.
And I am certain that most of my fellow Americans “understand justice” should mean, first and foremost, punishment of the guilty, not just those whom we hope are guilty.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com, or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207.
Which of a long list of shortcomings doomed Rick Perry’s campaign for the presidency? Certainly, he is among the world’s worst debaters, a dim-bulb on foreign policy and a right-wing theocrat whose “pro-life” credentials stop short of fair trials for defendants in capital murder cases.
But similar attributes were not early disqualifiers for Herman Cain. Why didn’t Perry’s tenure in Texas and his stature among social conservatives keep him aloft longer?
Perry’s undoing may have been the moment that — for me, anyway — was his best in a series of embarrassing debate performances: his stand-up defense of the Texas policy that allows undocumented students to pay the same rates of tuition that legal residents of the state pay to go to college.
“... The bottom line is, it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way,” Perry said in a Sept. 12 debate.
He went on to remark that those who oppose the policy “don’t have a heart,” drawing boos from some in the audience. Immediately, the blogosphere and Twitterverse lighted up with denunciations of Perry from the right and predictions that his campaign was done.
Since then, the only Republican candidate who has dared come close to enunciating an immigration policy with a smidgen of compassion or common sense has been Newt Gingrich, who has suggested that longtime illegal workers with family ties to U.S. citizens be given special consideration. Gingrich’s rivals have adopted positions that range from cavalier to cruel toward the unauthorized workers who have filled a critical void in the American labor force.
That includes ideological chameleon Mitt Romney, who staked out a hard-right immigration position as early as the 2008 campaign. Recently, he proudly announced the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has helped shape the harsh immigration laws passed by GOP-dominated state legislatures over the past two years.
That’s good for President Barack Obama, of course. He has disappointed many Latinos with his failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform and his insistence on a deportation policy that rounds up both hardened criminals and hapless unlicensed drivers.
But compared to Romney and the other GOP contenders, Obama has been a champion of Latino interests. And they are likely to respond by throwing their wholehearted support to the Democratic ticket, as they did in 2008.
So why doesn’t that sound like good news to an unabashed liberal who is appalled by the modern-day Republican Party? Because I’ve observed carefully what happens when one of the major political parties conscientiously goes about making itself anathema to a significant voting bloc, and the results are not exactly a boon to democracy.
Ever since Barry Goldwater made resistance to the Civil Rights Act a pillar of his 1964 campaign for the presidency, Republicans have been honing the Southern strategy — appeals to white voters who still resent full equality for Black citizens. Since then, every Republican candidate for president has used some version of that strategy.
Black voters have noticed and have largely written off the Republican Party. In turn, Republican politicians have become further estranged from Black voters, refusing to cater to their interests or even campaign for their support. The current political era of vicious polarization has many causes, but the estrangement between Black voters and the Republican Party is certainly a contributing factor.
Despite the best efforts of some of the GOP’s leading strategists, who have warned against alienating a growing ethnic group, the party seems headed in the same direction with Latinos, championing harsh rhetoric and mean-spirited policies that will poison relations with that voting bloc for generations. That’s too bad.
The Republican Party will come to its senses sooner or later, as changing demographics inevitably force it to come to terms with a browning America. Until then, though, we’re in for a few more campaign cycles of race-baiting, scape-goating and polarization.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday she's ending her bid for the Republicans presidential nomination after her last-place finish in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses.
"The people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I decided to stand aside," Bachmann said at an emotional news conference, flanked by her family, hours after the caucus results were announced. "I have no regrets, none whatsoever. We never compromised our principles."
The conservative Minnesota congresswoman's decision, widely expected following her dismal Iowa showing, leaves her supporters up for grabs by the other candidates in the race and could be a boost for former Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum narrowly lost the caucuses to front-runner Mitt Romney and is trying to emerge as the clear conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.
Bachmann's decision gives Santorum a clear shot at consolidating the conservative vote heading into the next round of contests, though former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry still draw support from that pool.
Bachmann, 55, had told a small group of supporters Tuesday night that she was staying in the race as the only true conservative who can defeat President Barack Obama.
But hours later, she announced her departure from the race, capping a deep and long slide for a candidate who entered the campaign last summer with very high expectations.
There was great excitement among Republican activists when she began her campaign and she translated that into a solid win in the Iowa straw poll.
But as the campaign moved forward, Bachmann ran into a series of organizational and financial hurdles. She had a big shake-up in her campaign staff, with key backers leaving to join Ron Paul's campaign, and her fundraising trailed virtually all of her rivals. That slide was capped Tuesday night with her sixth-place showing in the leadoff precinct caucuses.
Bachmann did not take questions after her announcement nor did she talk about her future plans, including whether she would endorse another Republican for the presidential nomination or seek re-election to Congress.
"I look forward to the next chapter in God's plan," Bachmann said. "I'm grateful to have been a part of this presidential contest."
Her campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, told The Associated Press, that Bachmann has "no time frame or person" in mind for an endorsement.
She blamed her demise on her straight-shooting, uncompromising approach to the issues. She campaigned as a hard-liner on social issues like abortion and gay rights, as well as arguing for a massive shrinking of the federal government.
"I didn't tell you what the polls said you wanted to hear," Bachmann said.
She made it clear her public career was not over, even as she didn't lay out what direction it would take.
"I'll continue to fight for you, for more liberty and to stop the over-spending in Washington," Bachmann said. "I mean what I say and I say what I mean."
Bachmann said she decided to seek the nomination to stop Obama policies that she argued would be disastrous for the country
"I ran as the next stepping stone to passing on the torch of liberty," Bachmann said. "Make no mistake: I will continue to fight for our country."
Though she's a member of Congress and a force in conservative Republican politics, Bachmann sought to stand above the fray.
"A politician I never have been, nor ever will be," she said.
She said the national health care measure Obama signed into law in 2010 and that Republicans oppose and derisively refer to as "Obamacare" is the signature issue the GOP must take to the electorate.
"My message has been the complete elimination of Obamacare," she said. "It has now become the playground of the left on social engineering. It must be stopped and its repeal is more than a cliché. The implementation of Obamacare will represent a turning point."
While not endorsing any candidate, Bachmann said "we should rally around the person" who eventually gets the nomination.
Bachmann made her personal history a core of her campaign, having been born in Waterloo, Iowa, and spending her early years there before moving with her family to Minnesota. She argued that it gave her a special tie to the state, but that didn't translate into backing from activists and the support she needed to place well, or win, the caucuses.
Her evangelical faith was a cornerstone throughout the campaign, as it was during the announcement about her campaign's end.
"My Lord God almighty, this republic is unshakeable," Bachmann said "There is always something around the corner. I have been blessed to live a great life." -- (AP)