Monday, 9 January 2012

Huntsman - not Romney!

Though I wouldn't necessarily align myself with the Republican Party - certainly not in its current state  - I have been following the GOP's nomination process with interest. Whether or not you support Obama, you must at least acknowledge his various failures; it's in everyone's democratic interest to have a strong, electable Republican candidate to put the current President through his paces. I believe Huntsman to be the most well-rounded, experienced candidate, and the best President-in-waiting on offer in the Republican race.

He's been low in the polls for a long time, and his only real remaining hope at this stage is taking a surprise second in New Hampshire to boost his campaign. He was never going to do well in Iowa, partly because it's a more conservative state - as seen in Santorum's surprise second place finish, and partly because he didn't concentrate resources on the caususes there, instead preferring to focus his efforts on New Hampshire. It's highly likely that whether or not his campaign continues rests upon his performance in tomorrow's New Hampshire primary. If he comes a surprise first, or even a decent second or third, he as mileage left in him. Anything lower, then it's pretty much over for him, especially as this next primary takes place in far more conservative South Carolina, which is unlikely to go wild about this relatively moderate Republican who served the Obama administration.

One of the things I've been most impressed about in Huntsman's campaign is his emphasis of trust - the soundbite that there's not only an economic deficit in Washington, but also a trust deficit - is a strong one which strikes at the core of our many disappointments with politics. It's very pleasing to see him not just playing the typical game of blaming government and politicians, but also pointing out that there has been an unsavoury relationship between politicians and big business. He most virulently attacks what is called the 'revolving door syndrome' the common practice of long-serving politicians becoming highly-paid lobbyists for special interest groups once they step down as or are not re-elected as member of Congress, using their connections and influence to attempt to gain favourable decisions for their new employer.

Believe it or not, that green shaded
area is all one district. (Credit)
Seeking to prevent politicians having comfortable seats for life and thereby becoming complacent, Huntsman proposes 12-year term limits on members of both the House and the Senate. Whilst I understand why this would be a good idea, I am still somewhat sceptical - it's a shame to have to lose a popular and good member of Congress who still has public support and who want them to go on serving longer. I think the first and best way to restore faith in politics would be to legislate at a federal level to end gerrymandering. This is the endemic practice of state parties fiddling with electoral district boundaries in an attempt to ensure the seat is as safe for the party as it can be. For instance, a state Democrat party might meddle with the minutiae of a boundary in an attempt to include as many African-American and Hispanic voters as possible, whilst excluding as many white middle class voters as possible, thus ensuring the district has a high proportion of voters who are more likely to vote Democrat. This practice leads to many districts looking completely abnormal and following totally nonsensical routes, and both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for this, and it needs to come to a stop. There's no point papering over the cracks by imposing term limits on members of Congress whilst state parties still grossly abuse their power. It's potentially constitutionally difficult to stop since a good number of people would scream and shout about this being a state issue and the federal government should keep out of it, but at very least Huntsman could pursue legislation - or a constitutional amendment if necessary - to declare that districts must at least be one lump, rather than multiple carefully-selected lumps.You can't expect people to trust politics when this level of corruption is going on right under their noses and is making their vote nearly worthless.

The proposals for restrictions on lobbying are also welcome. Though some of the proposals are still quite weak - such as lobbying only being banned for 4 years after a politician leaves office, but there are also some plans which pack a bigger punch. These include requiring retiring politicians to disclose their finances for 4 years after leaving office, permanent bans on lobbying their former place of employment on any issue in which they had oversight responsibilities, and a ban for 4 years on former members of the legislature or executive joining a lobbying firm which lobbied them whilst they were in office. These still don't go far enough to solve all lobbying issues, but it's a very good start and will go some way to helping to prevent the revolving door syndrome. Huntsman has succeeded in making the trust issue his own, and it's nice to see a candidate with the guts to talk about the 'trust deficit' in politics and to come forward with proposals to tackle it.

Having served as ambassador to China, he's also very learned and impressive on foreign policy. I think this was best shown in his little tussle with Romney in one of the debates. Presumably in an attempt to look more conservative, Romney pronounced that Huntsman is an terrible person because he served as ambassador to China under Democratic President Obama. This gave our friend Jon a great opportunity to point out that that's precisely the kind of partisan guff that causes people to lose faith in politics, and that he served his nation regardless of political differences with the President. Romney then looked a massive hypocrite when he later went on to attempt to use the same logic when defending himself for his political careerism, with a cringeworthy attempt to portray himself as just some average person who only stands in elections because it's his civic duty. I vomited. Huntsman strikes me as someone with his mind on the horizon; someone who understands the complications of foreign policy; he knows that you don't solve issues by following Romney's 'Let's Upset China' policies and that action against Iran isn't something to be taken lightly. On this topic, with China playing an increasingly important economic and political role in the world, someone with diplomatic experience with the nation cannot be anything other than an asset to the USA in potential new trade agreements.

On social issues, Huntsman is the only candidate not to have pledged himself to repealing Obama's healthcare reform package. His position on this, it has to be said, isn't entirely clear - it seems he's stuck somewhere between moderacy and having to appeal to the Republican base. His position sit somewhere between altering the legislation, and repealing it and then putting some of its provisions back in place whilst removing what is regarded as unnecessary and damaging to the private sector's recovery. This isn't exactly a wholly impressive policy, but he is the most moderate on 'Obamacare', and his record as governor shows he implemented similar legislation - though without the hotly contested and controversial personal mandate - in his state of Utah. More pleasingly, he supported State Children's Health Insurance Programme, which provides funding to provide health insurance to children from poorer backgrounds. Huntsman successfully expanded this programme whilst Governor of Utah, ensuring that more children were covered and made the programme an entitlement, meaning funding for it was secure for the future. This isn't something that he's highlighted in his campaign, because many Republicans seem to have decided that government shouldn't do anything useful and that charities and churches will magically save everyone. It is, however, the mark of a pragmatist who is willing to do what's right despite upsetting some voters. It's the mark of a man of compassion who knows that the state can be a force for good.

On the topic of healthcare, as has been widely highlighted by his opponents, Romney implemented reforms similar to Obama's in his state of Massachusetts  - including making the purchase of health insurance compulsory. So his recent commitment to repealing Obama's reforms are just yet another example of a long career of saying whatever he thinks will get him elected.

Continuing with social issues, Jon Huntsman is also relatively moderate on gay rights. Of course, this is with the exception of little-known candidate Fred Karger, the first openly gay Presidential candidate.Whilst Huntsman has opposed gay marriage, he has strongly supported civil unions, despite considerable conservative opposition. Neither does he shown the same tendencies of his more reactionary rivals to reinstate Don't Ask Don't Tell. The fact that he's upset the conservative National Organisation for Marriage is a further positive sign which provides more evidence of his liberal credentials on this issue.

This stands in contrast to Romney. Who, in 1994, portrayed himself as a proponent of gay rights. Fast forward 18 years, and he's trying to entrench discrimination at a federal level by supporting a constitutional amendment which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and favours banning gays and lesbians serving openly in the military by reinstating Don't Ask Don't Tell. Whatever your view on gay marriage, a constitutional amendment is just unnecessary, discriminatory guff. And naturally there's no excuse for requiring LGBT members of the military to stay in the closet or lose their job.

Finally, my desire for Huntsman to win is made all the stronger by a desire to have the Republican Party return to a nobler time. Theodore Roosevelt, who served as President from 1901-1909, was a wonderful leader and a decent man. Nowadays, he would likely be amongst the most liberal Democrats on many issues. He was deeply concerned about the power of big business and regulated them to reduce monopolies; he began the system of National Parks which still exists today; was keen to emphasise that wealth wasn't everything. He was also well ahead of his time, supporting a federal income and inheritance tax targeted at the most wealthy. When it became clear that he hadn't been able to carry the party with him, he formed his own Progressive Party, advocating far-sighted policies like a minimum wage, a national health service, limits on work hours, and social security for the old, the disabled, and the unemployed. I want to see the Republicans return to a more moderate stance; I want it to be a home for radical ideas once again. I don't consider Huntsman to be a progressive and I'd never put him in the same category as Teddy Roosevelt, but he's a step back towards a more moderate party and a step away from the radical Tea Party elements.

Huntsman is a long way away from perfection; if I were able to vote in the Presidential election, my support would probably still go to Obama, though with many reservations, much reluctance, and deep concerns at his failures. But I also believe Huntsman would make a good President, and if he were to win the election, I would not fear for the future of the US, as I would if certain other contenders became President. But it's now or never for Mr. Huntsman. He needs to come near the top in New Hampshire to get his campaign off the ground, because the chances of him winning in the more conservative South Carolina are very slim. The latest polls indicate that the vacuous, smarmy Romney will sail to a clear win in New Hampshire, but Huntsman has invested a great deal of time and effort into the state - there's still time for a surprise to be pulled out of the hat. We are talking about the United States, after all.

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