It’s always been taken as a given by all sides of politics that “values voters” (as if there are voters who don’t vote according to their values) are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party. As the candidates tear each other apart in ways the Democrats only wish they had the nerve to, you just know that by the middle of the year, they will all be lining up behind one saying that he’s the one to lead the country and that all those awful things they said earlier about what a disaster he would be somehow don’t matter any more.
It’s not that Democrats don’t do this either, but they tend to be a little less rigid in their dogma. This recognition of nuance in such important issues often plays into the Republicans’ hands, allowing them to portray the Democrats as wishy-washy, but it also makes it less uncomfortable for them to unite behind one candidate once they’re chosen. Although Hillary Clinton had some vehement support, I can’t imagine there were too many Democrats who sat out the election just because Obama pipped her for the nomination. Likewise, if Clinton had secured the nomination, there might not have been quite as much voter enthusiasm, but surely not enough to swing the election for McCain. Even John Edwards would have been perfectly acceptable in terms of policy.
What a minute! John Edwards? That deadbeat? Are you serious? Don’t you know what he did?
Yes. More on that later.
This year’s Republican primaries will no doubt be chosen as 2008’s were - that is: in terms of who is the least hated. John McCain had few real friends in the party but he had the least sworn enemies. What makes this primary interesting, is watching to see which specific set of professed values the Republican party will be willing to sell out.
First, there’s the value of ideological consistency. If 2004 taught us anything (which is debatable) it’s that Republicans can’t stand a flip-flopper. Remember the footwear they brought to the convention to wave about as they taunted John Kerry? That should automatically rule out Mitt Romney who shifted the moderate positions he held on abortion and gay rights as governor of Massachusetts to reflect the hard line national Republican position in 2008. That’s nothing compared to what he did next though. The biggest weapon Romney has against Obama is that he made public health cover work. But since the official Republican position is that public health cover is bad cos socialism, Romney is saying that he will reverse Obama’s attempts to do for the country what Romney did for Massachusetts. Of course, anyone can change their mind. It’s a sign of maturity to amend one’s position according to new information, changed conditions or personal epiphany. Then again, it could just be rank opportunism. So we shall see if Republicans choose either nuance or opportunism, and flip-flop on flip-flopping.
Then there is the so-called tea party. By rights, the tea party should be right behind Ron Paul, a small government, anti-tax, isolationist, strict constitutionalist. The fact that they would support an idiot like Michelle Bachmann over someone who has spent his entire political career espousing the same ideals the tea party claims to, just goes to show what a bunch of astro-turf phonies they are.
Ron Paul scares the hell out of Republicans because he proudly represents the logical conclusion of many Republican policies. He wants to end the Federal Reserve, abolish the IRS, hand all government operations that aren’t nailed down in the constitution to the states and, most controversially, let the rest of the world take care of itself. The one point on which Paul has been willing to step back from his position of personal liberty and pander to the party is that he’s not too keen on the gays either. For all this, Paul is still regarded as mad old Uncle Ron. We are also constantly told that he is a marginal candidate. He has been in the past but this year he has been consistently placing respectable seconds and thirds while Cain, Bachmann, Huntsman and Perry have all dropped out. Ron Paul cannot be written off.
Now we come to that most euphemistic of values - family values. Somehow, Newt Gingrich is still in the race. I had to chuckle this week at reports of an ABC interview with “a former wife” of Gingrich’s who alleges that he asked for an (ahem) open marriage. Not “the” former wife, “a” former wife. This has to tell us something, no? Now I have always held that marital fidelity has no bearing on one’s ability to run a country. Indeed, history has shown as much. But Republicans like their candidates squeaky clean. Except when they don’t, which is why it will be interesting to see which side they come down on this time around.
Of course, marriages do break up. People change, people drift apart, these things happen. In Gingrich’s case though, it’s a case of ’tain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. In both of Gingrich’s remarriages, the relationship began when his was still married to his previous wife. He left his first wife while she was recovering from cancer. Oh, that reminds me, what were we saying about John Edwards? He filed for divorce from his second wife while she was fighting multiple sclerosis. His affair with his current wife began around the same time as he was attempting to destroy Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal. Whatever you may think of the Clintons, the fact is that they saved their marriage. I guess Newt is more the cut-and-run type.
None of this actually disqualifies him from becoming president or even implies he lacks qualification. However, Republicans also like to talk about character. Gingrich and his supporters tell us that it’s disgraceful of the media to bring this up at all. This from the same party that insisted the life and times of Bill Ayers had everything to do with Obama’s candidacy. For his part, Gingrich has acknowledged his straying and blamed it on the pressures of work and his love for his country. As lame excuses go, that ranks second only to the captain of the Costa Concordia’s story that he slipped and fell into a lifeboat. It surely suggests some malleability in family values that Gingrich is still a strong contender against Romney, who is still married to his first wife and has five children, Rick Santorum, who doesn’t even get an erection except for the purpose of procreation, and Paul, who would contend that it’s nobody else’s business either way.
It all reveals the contradictory nature of expressed Republican values. Of course, politics and government are all about compromise, but that’s another thing that Republicans are none too keen on as candidates try to outdo each other on their unwillingness to bend. It will be interesting to see which set of values is eventually set aside and how the other candidates will rationalise it.