What History Tells Us – if only we will read it

By on January 19, 2012

I pulled a copy of Ted Kennedy’s autobiography out of a bookcase yesterday to see if he had much to say about his re-election contest in 1994 with Mitt Romney. Though Romney has failed to impress along the campaign trail this year, his latest implosion over personal tax  matters and now revelations that he has money squirreled away in tax havens like the Cayman Islands startled even me.

Kennedy, of course, was Senator from Massachusetts for over 35 years, dying from cancer in 2009. His autobiography appeared shortly before his death and was well-regarded at the time for its candor. I normally shy away from political autobiographical books as they are largely designed to persuade future voters.  They are reliably cavalier, shamelessly rearranging the truth. Politicians also have a bad habit of taking credit for anything they are standing near.

Kennedy spends only a few pages on that contest, but concedes that he woke up one day before the election to find himself neck-and-neck with Romney. There followed a debate in which Kennedy observed Romney abandoning his position as the sensible business type and coming on as the true liberal in the contest. He sounds amused by this strategy and thought it would not work. It didn’t. He notes on one page that he became intrigued by the candidate’s “tone deafness, ” his inability to relate to the issues that interested voters earning incomes nearer national average.

Kennedy could not have anticipated what happened in South Carolina this week, but it is interesting to read that what is old is new again in politics. Having failed in 1994 because of this blind spot, how could the Romney handlers have stumbled into the same sort of problems in 2012? A man who cannot learn from his mistakes has no place in the Oval Office.

This year’s presidential contest is shaping up as one in which some very basic issues about the nature of our democracy might be laid out to give voters a clear choice. Instead of the usual exorbitant promises weighed against scare tactics, basic issues could be on display. We desperately need this as an electorate. Too much crap clogs up our campaigns. PACS are making it worse. The Swift Boat Controversy of 2004 is a case in point. US electoral history is littered with this kind of flim-flam.

The Republicans must field a viable candidate who puts forth their point of view persuasively. Right now I do not see anyone still standing who can do that.

Newt has been dogged by marital and financial peccadilloes. His current strategy of wrapping himself in the Confederate flag and orating his way through any event in the style of Foghorn Leghorn will get him limited votes at best. Voters eventually turn away from arrogant, nasty politicians and Newt has richly earned this description. And there’s Newt’s passing acquaintance with the truth….

Having a political corpse at the head of the Republican ticket has grave implications for GOP officeholders trying to run for reelection. Aren’t they concerned? It is time for the Republican party kingmakers to find a room somewhere, pull out those cigars and start jawboning a solution to their problems in November. This is a party desperately in need of leadership.

Tom Godfrey

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