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A dirty little secret, &c.

Pre-debate in Charleston, S.C., January 19, 2012

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The Republican primaries have been heated and dramatic. But here’s the dirty little secret: The candidates agree on everything. I mean, Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich, with Paul to one side. Oh, sure, there are teensy differences here and there: Santorum has this special plan for manufacturing; Romney has ideas about capital gains; Newt may be thinking moon.

But on the basics — energy, the budget, entitlements, defense, abortion, foreign policy, education, health care — they agree. There are not clashing philosophies in this campaign. There is no, say, Goldwater versus Scranton. There is simply the personal, the stylistic, the tonal.

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I once talked with the chief of staff of a Democratic congressman, from an almost totally Democratic district. The staffer told me, “We have no Republicans in our district, and no real policy disputes. It’s just the politics of ‘I hate you.’”

So, in the current campaign, it’s, “Romney is a big fat phony. He’s inauthentic, insincere, unreal. At CPAC, he said ‘severely.’ Ha ha! The wife has two Cadillacs. Willard is a liberal. Willard, Willard, Willard, liberal, liberal, liberal.” And, “Rick is an earmark king who has never worked a day in his life outside politics.”

Etc.

There is no debate in the Republican primaries — it’s just personalities, psychology, and electability. You may recall that, in debates earlier in the cycle, they were arguing over the specific method by which they’d repeal Obamacare.

Since at least 2007, one question in our politics has been, “Will Romney’s Mormonism keep him from being nominated or elected?” It’s interesting that, in state after state, he is beating Santorum among Catholics. That would suggest that his religion may not be as great a handicap as some people thought, or hoped.

My nose is sensitive to Democratic McCarthyism, and I got a whiff the other day. Have you noticed something in the last several years? Democrats are always trying to guilt the rich. You remember Joe Biden during the 2008 campaign. “It’s time to be patriotic,” he said. What he meant was: Pay the taxes we impose, at whatever rate, and shut up.

Last week, Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner said that “the most fortunate Americans” should “bear a slightly larger burden of the privilege of being an American.”

Forget that maybe Geithner is not the best person to deliver this message, given the tax delinquency on his record: What about this “privilege” stuff? Yes, it’s a privilege to be an American — but as much for the poor as for the rich. America is one of the best places in all the world to be poor.

In any case, the question of tax policy has more to do with economic sense than patriotism. And I hope that Americans will resist the Biden-Geithner brand of McCarthyism.

I was talking to a friend last week, and she told me about a particular situation, all too common. Call my friend Mary, and call her husband John. They have a friend — call him Jim — of 30 years’ standing. But Jim refuses to speak to Mary and John, because the couple has gone forthrightly conservative. Jim is a liberal (more likely a leftist).

Mary and John want very much to speak to Jim, and carry on talking about everything under the sun, excluding politics. There is so much else in life. But Jim will have nothing to do with them.

My question to Mary: “Doesn’t Jim think it’s weird that you want very much to speak to him, despite your political differences with him? He will not speak to you, because of political differences. According to the way he thinks — shouldn’t you be equally adamant against speaking to him?”

Mary responded, “I’m sure it has never occurred to him.” I’m sure too.

Have you maybe observed this kind of thing in life?

This video is a little hard to watch. It shows a group of protesters in Placetas, Cuba, chanting, “Freedom, freedom!” And then state security (I presume) swoops in, dragging them off. And I know what sort of thing they’re dragged off to.

How anyone has the guts to chant “Freedom, freedom” in the middle of Cuba, I have no idea. I do know that many of my teachers and professors taught us that Communist Cuba was a benign and enlightened place.



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