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November 17th, 2008


by Ed Gold

No autographs, please: Palin at the Republican Governor’s Conference in Miami.

The Republican governors gathered in Miami recently, still suffering from the concussion their party received on Nov. 4, recognizing the seriousness of the injury but showing very little understanding of how they might recover.

A collection of 2012 wanna-bes was on hand, conspicuously headed by the gunslinger from Alaska, and including at least three other ambitious governors—Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Leaving aside the Barracuda, the other three have all succeeded politically, thanks to tight economies, good personalities, and sadly, loyalty to the cultural base of the party.

Pawlenty, described by columnist Bob Novak as Minnesota’s most conservative governor since the 1920’s, at least mentioned clean energy as a desirable goal, alienating some of his oil state colleagues.

Raised as a Catholic, he has become Evangelical and takes a strong stand against abortion.

But he did make clear how serious the Republican dilemma has become:

“We cannot be a majority governing party,” he told his fellow governors, “when we can’t compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western states.”

He proceeded to provide reasons for the recent debacle: Republicans are conspicuously unpopular with blacks, Hispanics, women and “people of modest incomes.” He left out 18-29 year olds who went for Obama 66 to 32 percent, and gays who voted 70 percent for Obama.

Another GOP potential, Jindal, is a Hindu turned Catholic—his actual name is Piyush but he changed it to Bobby many years back. He has an intellectual background and an Obama-like demeanor, but his politics satisfy his party’s base.

A precocious 36, he’s graduated from Oxford and was a Rhodes Scholar, is a proven fund-raiser, served in Congress and won the governership in 2007 against 11 opponents, getting 54 per cent of the vote.

He got high marks this past August for a smooth evacuation plan in the face of Hurricane Gustav. He actually cancelle an opportunity to speak at the Republican Convention in order to deal with the weather situation.

But he is a dedicated pro-life supporter, opposes all abortions, opposes federal funding for stem cell research, voted to make the Patriot Act permanent, has earned the top rating from the Gun Owners of America, and a seven point rating by environmental groups. Oh yes, he believes intelligent design should be taught in public high schools.

In Mississippi, Gov. Barbour is very popular and boasts much political experience, having served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, during which time the GOP won both Congressional houses.

Barbour won applause for his leadership skills following Katrina—from Rudy Giuliani no less, who said Barbour had mirrored Giuliani’s 9/11 achievements.

Mississippi appears flexible on conflict-of-interest issues since Barbour retains an interest in a lucrative lobbying firm while serving as governor.

Several other actions on his part deserve mention. In his first gubernatorial victory in 2003 he addressed the Blackhawk School Council, one of the organizations that fought for school segregation. To balance the budget, he cut Medicaid. In this year’s Senate race in Mississippi he tried to minimize voting by putting the Senate candidates at the bottom of the ballot until the courts ordered him to put them at the top where they belonged. His candidate won anyway. Needless to say, he is strongly anti-choice.

In addition to this outstanding trio, we come back to our hockey mom, who has been talking to everyone since the McCain-Palin ticket tanked.

She has been fairly frank about her ambitions. Talking in her special brand of English, she has noted: “I’m like O.K, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere—this is what I always pray—don’t let me miss the open door.” On her campaign behavior, she pleaded modesty, insisting the only thing she ever asked for was a Dr.Pepper.

She held a very awkward four-minute press conference at the Republican conference in Miami, at which, without explanation, a lineup of governors stood behind her. Her only discernible message seemed to be—let’s have smaller government and get rid of corruption.

She is currently being treated like a rock star by a media she has spent a lot of time criticizing. She insists, however,in Palinese, that as a journalism major she cherishes the Fourth Estate and encourages reports to be objective, sticking to “how, when, where and who.”

Demonstrating her interest in Africa, she came forth with:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some of the collapsed governments on the continent…”.

And we thought she didn’t have a clear understanding of Africa!

There are, of course, other losers in ’08 who still have the Oval Office urge: Mitt Romney, who abandoned his moderate Massachusetts experience to woo the party’s base; Ron Paul, the libertarian who developed an enthusiastic, if modest, following and broke with the party base on the Iraq War; Mike Huckabee, the minister who rejects evolution and takes the Bible literally; and Giuliani, whose history was both too liberal and sordid for the base–although he promised “strict constructionist” judges—and whose entire campaign was rooted in his alleged 9/11 heroics.

What was clear in the election was that the Republican base has become unacceptably narrow. It remains white and male-controlled. Running through its rhetoric is a sense that its opponents are not patriotic, nor do they believe in God, but they do believe in class warfare. The bottom line to them is that there are “real Americans” and the others. Moderates and independents have gotten really tired of this political brand.

One conspicuous Republican winner was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the party’s rare moderate leaders, who won by a large margin despite Obama’s domination in the presidential contest.

“The people of my state,” she noted, “are sick and tired of the hyper-partisanship and the gridlock that has blocked action on so many important issues that affect their lives directly. The message from this campaign is a rebellion against excessive partisanship and a call for people to work together.”

The early signs are not encouraging. Hard conservatives will lead the House Republicans. And the ultimate spokesman for the right-wing party base, Rush Limbaugh, has his own answer. He says we are now in an “Obama recession” since the market has continued to tumble after Obama’s election.

There’s a cooperative spirit for you!

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