by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1433)
With Rick Santorum’s recent win in the Louisiana primary, Barack Obama’s elegantly simple re-election strategy seems to have succeeded. While Mitt Romney is poised to win the crown of the Republican nomination for president, Santorum stubbornly strong showing is displaying a fragmented Republican base that bodes well for the incumbent president.
With Rick Santorum’s recent win in the Louisiana primary, Barack Obama’s elegantly simple re-election strategy seems to have succeeded. While Mitt Romney is poised to win the crown of the Republican nomination for president, Santorum’s stubbornly strong showing is displaying a fragmented Republican base that bodes well for the incumbent president. When a well-rested, well-financed Barack enters the campaign field, most political advisors are predicting that he will knock a Mitt-bot run down from months of campaigning right out of the ring.
Electorally, the Democratic Party has out-maneuvered the Republicans — while the super-PACs pumped unprecedented sums of money in the war chests of Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, this kitchen disaster on the Republican National Convention (RNC) public turf is the result of too many candidates spoiling the pie. Despite glamorous media profiling, Wall Street candidate Romney simply lacked the charisma to charge public imagination. After all, it takes skill to read as eloquently from tele-prompters as Ronald Reagan. There was a hairline split between core alliances forming the RNC: the social conservative demagogues (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry), the neocon intellectuals (Gingrich), the Wall Street plutocrats (Romney) have more or less fought each other to a draw. Cue the soundtrack of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The months of invectives and attack ads seemed to have rubbed off, and Republican jousts with each other seem to have become personal. At his Louisiana victory, Santorum even suggested that Obama would be preferable as president than Romney, should he, Santorum, fail to win the nomination. Santorum derisively called Romney an “Etch a Sketch” politician whose positions changed with the situation, and presented himself as the only true conservative. The rest of the pack pounced on the comments with gleeful horror. “Rick Santorum is dead wrong,” tweeted Gingrich, “Any GOP nominee will be better than Obama.”
Obama is reaping the electoral rewards as the uber-social conservatism of the Republican intelligentsia has seized the Republican nomination process as a bully pulpit to mouth their unsavory views. Radio talk show ideologue Rush Limbaugh ignited a firestorm through his remarks on Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke, when she appeared before a Congressional panel to request for insurance coverage on women’s contraception. “What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her?” he angrily grated, “A whore.” Limbaugh believes that public funds should be earmarked for waging Middle Eastern Crusades, never to cross the barrier set up by his pro-life, biblical absolutism.
While Limbaugh is known for his explicit bite of venom — mostly deployed on racial and religious others in US society — the socially conservative Republican candidates too display a kindred, almost pornographic interest in controlling and policing women’s bodies. Santorum is obsessed with sexuality, venting at campaign stops about the state’s obligation to police the sexual acts of the public. Political commentators have noted how he eagerly veers to the topic of sex at every interview question that gives him the slightest license to do so. The conservator culture warrior sees his fight against the Democratic Party as a fight against liberalism and sex itself: “Woodstock is the great American orgy, this is who the Democratic Party has become,” declared Santorum. “They have become the party of Woodstock. They prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex.”
For his part, Newt Gingrich proudly displays on stage his third wife, the platinum helmeted Callista, whose relationship with him began in an affair when his second wife was sick with cancer. Mawreen Dowd mocked a Republican strategist who described Callista in terms of the death of feminism: “She’s a transformational wife… the wife who makes the candidate think he is destiny’s gift to mankind, born to greater things… the muse who sees him as he sees himself.” This is Mad Men’s adoring 50s era housewife in pearls being displayed as the norm. The headline of an LA Times article succinctly captured this state of affairs: “Straight-talking Republicans keep hitting themselves in the foot.”
Somewhere in the elegant confines of the White House, Obama raised his glass in salute to Limbaugh, Santorum et al’s graphic boorishness as progressive women in the Republican electorate stampeded out of the campaign networks and fundraising parties. According to a Pew Research Center poll, Obama opened out an impressive lead over the rest of the Republican candidates in February, a gap that only promises to widen as Romney and Santorum run out of steam.
But while the fractious Republican primaries are handing Obama his electoral victory on a platter, they are continuously broadcasting the noxious ideologies that the various candidates stand for across the US public. As the economy continues to gyrate out of control, US citizens are becoming increasingly unmoored from the liberalism held in place by the decades of post-WWII economic prosperity. Gingrich is well aware that his continuing presence in the race owes entirely to the political largesse of Sheldon Adelson and that his chances are slim, but the media circus of the presidential primaries is an irresistible forum for pontificating about moon colonies, Middle Eastern wars, and other dystopian visions. In short, beaming social conservatism across the United States can only mean bonanzas in future elections. Lose the battle and win the war.
The tragedy of Travyon Martin, the upstanding young black middle schooler shot dead by a “neighborhood watch” volunteer in South Florida, is a case in point. Travyon’s death is part of the ghostly post-9/11 landscape where neighborhoods are militarized to protect social conformity of US society against “suspicious activity” or anyone that looks threatening. Fox News talk show host Geraldo Rivera made waves when he blamed the “hoodie” that young Travyon was wearing for the assault. Even as Congressional staffers donned hoodies in protest of Rivera’s remarks, the latter continued his offensiveness on Twitter: “It’s not blaming the victim. It’s common sense — look like a gangsta & some armed schmuck will take you at your word.” Obama stepped in to censor the event: “If I had a son, he would look like Travyon,” he declared, making the Republicans look even more rabidly intolerant than usual.
What’s clear, however, is that the values taken as self-evident fact in US public culture — tolerance, multiculturalism, and minority rights — are now fading out in the glare of white supremacy. If the Republican candidates have harmed their own causes by their obvious crassness, they have been successful in projecting a self-evident truth to the public — Obama’s weakness and effectiveness as the bard of liberalism. In the verbal fumes unleashed by the Republican primaries, Obama is assured of victory only by default rather than an organic connection with the state of mind of impoverished, frightened Americans. The electoral win may guarantee him four more years in office.
However, the Republicans are laying the groundwork for future political dominance in selling the various brands of fascism being hawked by Romney, Gingrich, Santorum et al.