Extremism and Republican candidates
It is pretty clear at this point: the tenor of the American public discourse on political and social issues is frequently skewed towards hyperbole. Anyone with ideas and some initiative can get a platform for expressing their views, and the more extreme views get a disproportionate amount of attention. A lot of fringe groups and ideas (I would argue the Tea Party) are effectively part of the mainstream, and the dialogue between the two main political parties is increasingly partisan. The standards of respect have degraded to the point that some feel comfortable framing the President as a socialist engaging in class warfare. Conversely, it is short-sighted and simplistic to view Republicans as insensitive to our current economic woes. I’m pretty sure that there are still people who hold moderate opinions, but said people are apparently uninteresting enough to listen to.
Because 2012 is a presidential election year, such extremism is in full swing, and I fear that it is significantly compromising the dialogue surrounding who will receive the Republican nomination. As people, I find many of them to be interesting candidates who have executive experience (the governors in particular) and would be qualified in some way to lead our country effectively. I honestly do not know which party I will vote for in 13 months, but I want to have some good options on the table. What I like about them is that their political records zigzag across the political spectrum, as opposed to being exclusively conservative. But the challenge that several candidates are dealing with now is that they are being taken to task for their pragmatism, and they are responding to that challenge by hyperbolizing their rhetoric. As a voter, what speaks louder, actions or words?
Take Rick Perry for example. Among the more socially conservative candidates, his record includes a book heavily critical of Washington D.C. and in favor of a less centralized federal government in general. But he was also a Democrat up until 1989, and several of his actions imply a nuanced ideology on certain issues. As the governor of Texas, he has more experience than most on illegal immigration, and he did a decent job encouraging job creation in his state, although he may not be totally responsible for that. But regardless of his record, his current rhetoric alternates between the extreme and the uninformed, making him a confounding candidate to understand.
Mitt Romney had a productive four-year tenure as a Republican governor of the predominantly Democratic state of Massachusetts. He cut spending (a conservative plus) but also increased the average tax burden and developed a statewide universal healthcare program. He also vacillated on marriage equality, often finding himself at odds with his more liberal state. Ideally, this past would help Romney’s candidacy; he has a track record of dealing with controversial issues in a partisan atmosphere. But then there is the challenge of Romney’s rhetoric. He failed to win the Republican nomination in 2008, and has been noticeably more aggressive in his public statements, in order to shore up any questions about his conservative credentials. This begs the question: Who is Mitt Romney?
Ideally, an extended nomination and selection process filters out the unworthy candidates and produces a contender that deserves to run for President. But it is inevitable that whoever wins the Republican nomination will—at least to some degree—bend to that absurd pressure from extreme elements of their party. A potential leader of our country will allow others to dictate his narrative.