Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Into the Yucky Pack of Varmints, a Huntsman Comes!
Here's how the New York Times characterized the GOP's first presidential debate held earlier this week: "Monday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire — full of historical error, economic obfuscation, avoidance of hard truths and even outright bigotry — was a feast for connoisseurs of political dysfunction. Desperate to avoid being outflanked on the right, the seven candidates tried so hard to outdo each other in finding fault with President Obama that they seemed to forget that they are competing for the same party nomination. By evening’s end, they had melted into an indistinguishable mass of privatizing, tax-cutting opponents of Shariah law."
The following exchange is a day-glo example of what the Times editorial was referring to. It took place that night between CNN's moderator, John King, and Governor Tim Pawlenty, who predictably recommends more tax-cutting to "get the economy moving again": “If you win the nomination, you’ll have to make the choice that a nominee makes, and that is picking a running mate. Governor Pawlenty to you, look back on 2008 and the process. President Obama made a pick. Senator McCain made a pick. Who made the best choice?” Pawlenty hesitates, and then recovers. He says Vice President Joe Biden makes horrible decisions and that Palin is wonderful.
The truth is, there is one plausible Republican candidate out there--one who still bears a resemblance to the species once formerly known as "homo sapiens." But he wasn't at the debate. He has since announced, however, that he will officially declare his candidacy next Tuesday. I've been eyeballing Utah's former governor, Jon Huntsman, ever since late May when I came across an online version of a commencement address he gave at the University of South Carolina on May 27th. I've mentioned him since to several friends, who all shook their heads in foggy nonrecognition. "Never heard of him,. Don't know who he is," they all said. Except for my friend Jane's son, Emerson, a politically savvy young man whom I love to talk politics with. When I said to Emer that I thought the Republicans had one decent candidate, he immediately shook his head in agreement. I wondered if, by some miracle, we were referring to the same person. "What are his initials?" I diffidently asked, almost afraid to ask. "J.H." he replied. "Yow! I said, that's him!"
The first time I noticed Jon Huntsman was when President Obama appointed him as U.S. Ambassador to China. A few pundits whispered at the time it was partly to get Huntsman out of the country as a political rival in the 2012 election. But Huntsman resigned the post several months ago and came back to America. He's been on the GOP's list of possible candidates all along, but Republican officials have ignored him. Huntsman polls at only 1% and in a straw poll in Iowa, he got a total of one vote. The GOP would like to keep it that way, not only because he is unacceptably moderate, but because he also did the unthinkable--accepting a job in the Obama administration. Which is, after all, the equivalent of digging your own grave. Not only that, but he expressed support for Obama's 2009 stimulus package, endorsed an individual mandate for health insurance, and has been a moderate on gay marriage, supporting civil unions for same-sex couples. "This would make him an accomplished pragmatic conservative in any other Western country," writes political blogger, Nate Silver. "In America, in the GOP today, he's a commie."
But what really got my attention, as I said, was his commencement speech. It sounded just like something Obama would give. These are some excerpts:
"Your generation will have your own unique set of circumstances that make you feel like your future has somehow been derailed. Wars, economic recessions, social upheaval, revolutions around the globe...and yet, in each case, we recover, learn lessons and become ever more resilient.
I know there are many in China who think their time has come, that America's best days are over. And, there are probably some in this country who have lost confidence and think that China is the next big thing. But these people aren't seeing things from my earlier vantage point of 10,000 miles away. The way I saw it from overseas, America's passion remains as strong today as ever. Hold on to that sense of optimism. Hold on to that belief in your future. Our free and open society that can respectfully embrace debate, coupled with a free market system that rewards risk and innovation, is still the envy of the world. We are still as full of potential as ever. Just remember... When the oppressed are fighting autocratic regimes, they look to America for inspiration. When overseas entrepreneurs build companies, they still look to U.S. practices as the gold standard. When young people around the world want to attend the best colleges and universities they travel here. When playwrights, filmmakers and the creative classes abroad dream, their imaginations are fueled by America’s example.Our system needs new thinking. We need a fresh generation of innovators, leaders, risk takers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and activists -- That's you! Give back. As much as you’re able. Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation, a nation that needs your generational gift of energy and confidence."
The other notable thing about Huntsman is he doesn't spend his time bashing Obama, or even take pokes at his Republican counterparts. He is, like Obama, unfailingly polite. "I think the answers are in the middle," he told a small crowd in Hancock, N.H. "There are enough wars in the world that Republicans don't have to be at war with Democrats." It's enough to stop the heart. Right now Huntsman's trailing like a vine, so we'll just have to see how it all plays out--starting next week when Huntsman's candidacy becomes official.