This primary season merits a Hollywood screenplay, rife as it was with a mix of avarice, lust, as well as edge-of-your-seat twists and turns. Televised debates, asides, chance remarks, and Super PAC-funded advertising blitzkriegs littered the airwaves adding to the drama and entertainment of the race.
The exit of some of the candidates in the pre-primary stage exposed attitudes within the party and among the Tea Party-led, evangelical Christian-dominated, conservative base with regard to gender and race equality. This was evident in the case of Michele Bachmann, the only woman in the fray and Herman Cain, the only Black candidate. While Bachmann bowed out after finding she could not muster enough support, Cain was ousted over well-timed revelations of his extra-marital affairs. “Sanctity of marriage” held up as an ideal by the conservatives, however, did not seem to apply to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose second and third marriages would have been described as “extra-marital affairs” had he been contesting some years ago.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum—a Catholic—garnered support among the evangelical Christian vote bank in deep southern states, by positioning himself as the “real” social and religious conservative. Santorum provided the toughest challenge to Romney, whose Mormon religious background came under attack during the initial months of the campaign.
The Republican race shone the light on Obama’s policies, questioning and commenting on issues ranging from energy to healthcare reforms. Let’s consider what the candidates had to say on a few key platforms.
While blaming the Obama administration for soaring gas prices, Republican candidates have generally favored petroleum resources over sustainable solutions for energy security. Perry’s famous “oops” moment on TV came when he forgot the name of one of the three federal agencies he would kill if elected president. That body was the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Romney, Santorum and Gingrich supported the Keystone pipeline and argued that the project, aimed at bringing tar sand oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas oil refineries via pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas, would create jobs. Critics of the project said that the jobs were going to be temporary, and the environment damage permanent.
Republican candidates opposed troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. In an attempt to appeal, perhaps, to the military industrial complex, the candidates aired opinions to the effect that the United States should continue to engage abroad militarily in order to maintain its global pre-eminence.
When Israel protested Iran’s alleged move to weaponize its nuclear program, Romney expressed his support for Israel and slammed Iran, while Santorum went to the extent of stating that he would bomb Iran.
Gingrich’s controversial remarks on foreign policy issues earned the sobriquet “Newtisms.” In his re-interpretation of history and international affairs, he described Palestinians as “an invented people.”
Even as America’s student loan debt soared past $1 trillion to overtake credit card debt, Democrats and Republicans are promoting radically different visions on education. While Obama wants to make college-going affordable and even penalize colleges that hike fees by reducing federal aid, Republicans favor less government interference and more market intervention.
A vocal supporter of for-profit colleges, Romney as governor tried to slash higher education funding as a way to find $150 million to bridge Massachusetts’ $3 billion budget deficit. That plan was defeated by state legislature. Romney has said that if elected, he would veto the DREAM Act, which seeks to provide citizenship to children of illegal immigrants that would have helped them get a good education.
Santorum in his campaign attacked the “secularization and liberal indoctrination” of colleges as against Judeo-Christian values. He prefers to home-school his children, and wants all parents to have the choice of where to send their children, as they are the “real consumers” of education. Gingrich has said that he’d like to radically reduce the mandate of the Department of Education to “research and data collection” and cut out all federal regulations on education.
While healthcare reform could have been a great opportunity for Romney to criticize Obama, he is not likely to address that issue, irrespective of the Supreme Court’s June verdict on the affordable healthcare bill. Part of Obama’s legislation was modeled on Romney’s own healthcare plan for Massachusetts.
In a Time magazine article, Joe Klein explained that “the real damage this year was not caused by the candidates; it came from a segment of the Republican electorate, which all too often celebrated ignorance and bigotry and displayed a disturbing appetite for nihilism.” Politics is not merely fodder for entertainment. There is a civic and patriotic responsibility that we must keep foremost as we move into the process of electing our next President.
Vinod Janardhanan is a writer-researcher and communications professional with global news and inter-governmental organizations. His research interests intersect at global politics, mass media and the South Asian diaspora.