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The Canary in the GOP Coal Mine

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Posted on Jun 5, 2011
Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

STRATHAM, N.H.—The bales of hay were stacked strategically in the hope that they’d make it into the television screen. The sturdy white barn nearby provided an image worthy of a Christmas card, the symbol of a solid, calm, industrious and confident country. The slogan behind the candidate, “Believe in America,” did not invite debate.

Whatever the punditocracy may have made of Mitt Romney’s formal announcement of his presidential candidacy last week, we could all give the guy credit for trying to reassure us that not everything in politics has changed.

In an age of media flying circuses where you never know who is running for president and who is just trying to boost book sales and speaking fees, Romney did it the old-fashioned way. He really, really wants to be president, and he offered pretty pictures to encourage us to watch him saying so. It was the venerable liturgy of our civil religion.

Unfortunately for Romney, he barely got his moment in the sun because dark clouds rolled in. Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani showed up in New Hampshire on the former Massachusetts governor’s magical day, underscoring why Romney is plagued by the word “putative,” which almost always appears before the word “front-runner.”

But Romney’s travails are about more than the man himself. They speak to the condition of a party that won’t let him embrace his actual record, and constantly requires him—and all other Republicans—to say outlandish things.


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Romney’s greatest political achievement, the Massachusetts health care law, was a genuinely masterful piece of politics and policy. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza recently wrote a superb article about how Romney got the plan passed. The campaign should be reproducing it in bulk. Instead, Romney’s lieutenants will pray that Republican primary voters never read the story. Working with those horrid Democrats to pass any sort of forward-looking government program is now forbidden.

When he spoke at Doug and Stella Scamman’s Bittersweet Farm, he was guarded in talking about his health plan, saying he “hammered out a solution that took a bad situation and made it better. Not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state’s problem.” The crowd gave him modest cheers, and only when he got to the part about health care being a state problem.

But he received what was, by my reckoning, his loudest response when he pledged to “a complete repeal of Obamacare.” That’s where the GOP heart is, and Palin and Giuliani both got into most of the Romney announcement stories by bashing him on health care. When you’re forced to tiptoe around your accomplishments, it’s no wonder you get accused of shifting your shape.

Yet it was Romney himself who betrayed contemporary conservatism’s core flaw. “Did you know,” he asked, “that government—federal, state and local—under President Obama, has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy? We’re only inches away from ceasing to be a free economy.”

Actually, the federal government of which Obama is in charge “consumes” about a quarter of the economy—and this after a severe recession, when government’s share naturally goes up.

But even granting Romney his addition of spending by all levels of government, the notion that we are “inches away from ceasing to be a free economy” is worse than absurd. It suggests that the only way we measure whether an economy and a country are “free” is by toting up how much government spends.

Are we less “free” because we spend money on public schools and student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, police and firefighters, roads and transit, national defense and environmental protection? Would we be “freer” if government spent zero percent of the economy and just stopped doing things?

Romney, presumably, doesn’t think this, but the logic of what he said points in exactly that direction. We thus confront in 2012 nothing short of a fundamental argument over what the word “freedom” means. If freedom, as the conservatives seem to insist, comes down primarily to the quantity of government spending, then a country such as Sweden, where government spends quite a lot, would be less “free” than a right-wing dictatorship that had no welfare state and no public schools—but also didn’t allow its people to speak, pray, write or organize as they wish.

Many of us “believe in America” because we believe its history shows that our sacred liberties are compatible with a rather substantial government that invests in efforts to expand the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, the freedom from unfair treatment, and the freedom to improve ourselves. That, as the politicians like to say, is what this campaign is all about. 
E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., June 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment

By JDmysticDJ, June 8 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
By THX 1133, June 5 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment

“I wonder when the pundits will understand the
irrelevance of political parties and voting…”


What’s irrelevant, is you, THX 1133.
Gosh, thanks so much for that stunning contribution.

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JDmysticDJ's avatar

By JDmysticDJ, June 8, 2011 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

By THX 1133, June 5 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment

“I wonder when the pundits will understand the
irrelevance of political parties and voting…”


What’s irrelevant, is you, THX 1133.

Report this

By litlpeep, June 7, 2011 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

Well, SoTexGuy, I don’t know how you missed all the stuff on George Romney’s sending the National Guard into Detroit; a simple google of that throws up gobs of
detail.  Wikipedia has an excellent summary:

“The massive 12th Street riot in Detroit began during the predawn hours of July 23, 1967, precipitated by a police raid of a blind pig in a predominantly black neighborhood.[121] As the day wore on and looting and fires got worse, Romney called in the Michigan State Police and the Michigan National Guard….”

Better luck next time before you jump to saying things like: “I looked and that’s been cleansed from online…” You have mountains of materials
to go through before you can speaks that way.

Unless Jon Kyl is your hero.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, June 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to
Rule Our Politics -  From Nixon’s plumbers to James O’Keefe’s video smears:

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., June 6, 2011 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

felicity, June 6 at 9:04 am
...As of
now, we can’t call our nation a democracy, but give
us a complete incompetent in the presidency and we
may be forced to earn the right to the term.
Now there’s a thought! Might just be the right time…

Report this

By SoTexGuy, June 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment

What was it that Mitt’s governor father did that was headlines in 1967 (?).. put the national guard on civil rights protesters, or Vietnam war protesters or some such gruesome thing.. I looked and that’s been cleansed from online tributes to the great man.. But I saw the headlines accidentally in 2008. I was helping clean a home for an elderly lady.. she had the original paper and was explaining to me NEVER to vote for a Romney.

How can Romney run and win as a Republican? It doesn’t mean much to me but their Christian right core voters won’t vote for a Mormon in the privacy of the booth.. He has his own bible (sans the New Testament) and he believes all kinds of wacky stuff not appreciated or shared by all the Christian right Republican
voters across the south and more. So he carries Utah?

Also, let him explain the various preachings of the holy fathers of Mormon on the inferiority of the darker races, women to serve man and all that upbeat stuff.

But Romney can run to the center on his immigrant heritage.. His grandfather absconded to Mexico with his six wives when the US government was trying to put a stop to all that.. Romney’s father was born a Mexican.. Andale amigo! That might get the Latino vote.


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By Dave L., June 6, 2011 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

The corporate agenda has already been laid out. Voting only serves to choose the actors who will carry that agenda out.

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By felicity, June 6, 2011 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

What does it say about a government, a political
system, politicians in general when, in order to win
an election one has to sell his soul.

I almost hope that a Palin or a Bachmann or a ? wins
the presidential election because we have yet to sink
to the point where we, the people, take to the
streets and with one of their ilk in the Oval Office
we are sure to implode as a nation. 

The loose translation from the Greek for ‘democracy’
is ‘demo,’ people and ‘cracy (crat),’ power.  As of
now, we can’t call our nation a democracy, but give
us a complete incompetent in the presidency and we
may be forced to earn the right to the term.

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By Didi, June 6, 2011 at 6:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The health law that Mr. Dionne does not dare to touch is “Obamacare” which is a gigantic albatross around Mr.Obama’s neck. Why? Because there is not an overwhelmingly large support for “Obamacare” among the voting public for what is touted as the greatest achievement of the Obama administration thus far.
In order to save Obamacare Mr. Obama must continue to ransack Medicare and Medicaid, the two health care programs that the public understands and overwhelmingly supports. Instead Mr. Dionne rambles on about a rickety politician who, God forbids, might even become our next president. How sad.

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By litlpeep, June 6, 2011 at 4:06 am Link to this comment

If the article has anything whatsoever to do with the image of a canary in a coalmine, that is the opposite of readily obvious.  Unless Dionne, Jr., supposes either Romney’s moronic politics or Dionne, Jr., himself to be that canary.  In neither case, however, is that canary to be readily discerned in the article.

The only canary in the Republican Party “coalmine” (‘stagnant political swamp’ seems a much more apt descriptive phrase) was Kevin Phillips; he was banished from the party long ago (for speaking truth to R party power), and Dionne, Jr., writes as if he never heard of Phillips.

The R party reduced itself to that stagnant political swamp by reducing its acceptable ideological spectrum to include nothing outside classical libertarian/utilitarian scientific materialism.  It is an ideology of merely a private-property variation on state party socialism’s ‘scientific materialism.’

There is nothing scientific about it; it is merely another variation on libertarian/utilitarian materialism.  If the party holds together through more election cycles, their ideological disputes can go nowhere else except into disputes over how much libertarian vs. how much utilitarian to make their otherwise vulgar and puritanical materialism.

They cling to the most degenerate ‘religious’ fringes in hopes of sustaining an easily deluded following of voters.  But even those fringes are proving themselves to lose interest in the blatantly dishonest and vulgar materialistic politicians “leading” the party.

Consequently, Dionne, Jr., just wrote a self-insulting paean, a reader-insulting pile of meaningless words instead of an essay.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, June 6, 2011 at 2:14 am Link to this comment

“That, as the politicians like to say, is what this campaign is all about. “

The greater problem is not what “politicians like to say,” but rather what they actually > DO < after having been either elected or inserted into a USGOV or state position. 

The political history and voting record of a candidate is a road-map of what can be expected of a candidate.  Not what the U.S. puppet-press prints. 

The watchword of the original, indigenous tells it like it is:
“What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say.”

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, June 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment

Oh, one more thing: Romney is not a canary. He is a “chicken-hawk” as are his 5, strapping (privileged) sons who managed to side step the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, June 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm Link to this comment

Romney simply cannot shake of his Mormon heritage which is all about hating government in private whilst preaching “a love for America” in public. Most Mormons have a John Birchesque view of the world and a deep resentment of anything or anyone who would challenge their simple-minded view of the world (or universe).

Just remember a couple of things about Romney: He’s yet another rich, white, insulated, privileged narcissist-creep (the State of UT is full to overflowing with these creeps)....a creep who never worked an honest day in his life and someone who thinks that buying and selling businesses qualifies him to run a government (that he despises).

How anyone would believe that Romney has the interests of regular Americans at the forefront of his agenda is simply an imbecile.

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By roseonpolitics, June 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

He is the front runner, he’s so confident that he
wasn’t even worried about scaring off the ultra
conservatives when he said he believed global warming
WAS happening because of HUMAN ACTIVITY.

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., June 5, 2011 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment

I wonder when the pundits will understand the
irrelevance of political parties and voting…

Report this

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