THE MINOR LEAGUERS

Michael GersonDavid Brooks without the tough, biting, punky edge–tells us in The Washington Post that we should not write off Mitt Romney. Sure, things look bad for the Republican brand right now, he says, but we should resist the temptation to speculate this situation into infinity. Just eight months ago, he reminds us, “President Obama was losing the debt debate with congressional Republicans. His approval rating was approaching an all-time low, with support collapsing among independents and fading among Democrats.” Things, he correctly points out, can change. Obama, he prudently notes, has his weaknesses. “There is currently no way of knowing what factors — a memorable debate, a conflict with Iran, $6-per-gallon gasoline — might swing the momentum” in the fall.

Right you are, Mikey: it’s a long road that knows no turnin’. But speaking as someone who in the fall of 1984 charted out six or eight entirely plausible scenarios in which Fritz Mondale could top Ronald Reagan, sometimes you just have to believe what you see with your own two eyes.

Thanks to the mixed results of last night’s Super Tuesday primaries, the eight-month long commercial for Republican dysfunction and inadequacy will go on for a while. Eight months ago, the failure of Washington to move ahead on solutions and avoid debacles like the debt ceiling issue could arguably be placed on President Obama. (I personally wouldn’t argue that proposition, but it could be argued.) Now, after this prolonged exposure to the best and the brightest of the GOP, we see what a damaged, deranged bunch they are. I mean, can you believe that Rick Santorum, after patiently waiting as one goofball after another gets up and says “Nine nine nine” or has a brain freeze or talks about colonizing the moon, finally gets his moment in the spotlight, and then uses that moment to tell American that he’ll use the presidency to talk about why birth-uncontrolled sex is so very special?

What this whole parade shows lays bare is that since the Republicans lost in 2008, their single idea has to practice a political scorched earth policy. Thwart the Democrats at every turn, they have said. Since we can’t win, ain’t nobody going to win. Under the smokescreen of charges and countercharges, facts and counterfacts, the Republicans got away with a lot of their intransigence. Now with the bright light of the presidential campaign beaming upon them, it is clear that they have nothing to offer. And it is likely to get worse. Rush Limbaugh labels a proper young lady law student a slut and a prostitute, and then says that the criticism being labeled against him is a sign of the Democrats’ “desperation.” That’s how it gets worse.

On Saturday, David Brooks–who is like Michael Gerson, without the kicky eyeglasses and lush hairstyle–gave what I think is a tongue-in-cheek prediciton. “There’s no way the Republicans can continue to drift inevitably into a protest movement, though. The electorate has moved right, but not that far right. Here’s what I think may happen. Romney gets the nomination and is defeated. Republicans decide they are sick of nominating “moderates” and next time they go haywire. Then the party gets really crushed and sanity returns.”

That’s kind of far ahead for my crystal ball. Michael Gerson may well be right; I find reversion to the mean is often a pretty smart way to bet. But I think maybe what all this focus on the Republicans has revealed is that we’ve been watching minor league baseball, that we’ve been watching guys who just don’t play the game that well, who aren’t that smart and aren’t that capable and who don’t have much to offer. In the meantime, Barack Obama has been looking presidential pretty nearly every damn day.

MORE CATHOLIC THAN THE POPE

I was born Catholic. My father was one of ten sons in a Polish Catholic family, and my mother was one of eleven children in a Polish Catholic family, and I had a great many Catholic aunts and uncles and cousins. I went to a Catholic grade school, a Catholic high school, and a Catholic college. I was an altar boy. I went to the CYO. I found it especially easy to root for my hometown Colts because Johnny Unitas was a Catholic. I married a Catholic girl from a big Irish Catholic family. At the time I graduated from college, I bet more than 90 percent of the people I had ever met were Catholics.

So I feel comfortable in generalizing.

There is one kind of Catholic who’s like me. I don’t practice, and I don’t believe, but the way I live my life is surprisingly and even annoyingly similar to the codes of conduct we learned from he priests and nuns.

There is another kind, the faithful, people who go to church regularly and who pray devoutly and who care very deeply about their faith. It gives them solace and strength and comfort. They are very serious Catholics, but their faith is between themselves and their God, and I admire them and respect them. Some of the people I love and admire most in the world are Catholic in this way.

And then there is the kind of Catholic like Rick Santorum is, the guy we used to describe, and not with admiration, as more Catholic than the Pope. I have know this type of person my whole life, and have seen in the living rooms of friends and family members, in class rooms and cafeterias and on campus. They are not intelligent enough to try to make their way through the mysteries of faith–its challenges and contradictions and painful choices–and so they do the oxymoronic things, and replace faith with certitude. They don’t need to think, because the church has supplied them with all the answers. And they don’t sin, sometimes because they have discipline, but often enough, because of their certitude that the things they do and believe simply cannot be sinful (ask a pro-lifer how he can countenance capital punishment.)

But they are quick to see the shortcomings of others, and to condemn it, taking satisfaction in their own purity, and in making sure, more in a pleased-with-themselves sadness than in anger, that the sinner is quite aware that he or she has broken God’s law.

I have seen this Santorum-like smugness all my life, and it makes me sick.

The good news is that I think it makes most other people sick as well.

This is Santorum on contraception: “One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” How things are supposed to be? Says who?

Here is Santorum on being a Christian? “[I]s there such thing as a sincere liberal Christian, which says that we basically take this document and re-write it ourselves? Is that really Christian? That’s a bigger question for me. And the answer is, no, it’s not. I don’t think there is such a thing. To take what is plainly written and say that I don’t agree with that, therefore, I don’t have to pay attention to it, means you’re not what you say you are. You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian. That’s sort of how I look at it.” I’ll respond with one name, the most significant American of the 20th century, the liberal Christian Martin Luther King Jr.

Can a mind get smaller? Here’s Santorum talking about the speech JFK gave on the separation of church and state. “The first substantive line says ‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.‘ I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. . . .What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.” Santorum gets kind of a two-fer there, deliberately misinterpreting Kennedy, and them responding with wretched self-dramatization.”

Last week, Bill Keller of the Times went on Morning Joe and said ““Remember earlier in the campaign when Newt Gingrich was worrying everybody about Shariah law — you know — the Muslims were going to impose Shariah law in America? Sometimes, Santorum sounds like he’s creeping up on a kind of Christian version of Shariah law.”

Good point–only Santorum is even more self-righteous than the mullahs. I don’t think Santorum wants people to stop behaving and believing differently than he does. I don’t think he’d know what to do with himself. I think he likes having people out there–maybe even a majority of people–to whom he can feel sorry for and superior to.

JUST ASKIN. . . .


Clearly it makes no difference now, but I wonder how the GOP race would look this morning if Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum had followed Newt Gingrich‘s angry response to John King‘s question about Marianne Gingrich‘s comments by saying something like this: “John, just let me say, if Speaker Gingrich doesn’t want to answer questions about his private life, I’m with him. If he doesn’t think this kind of character question is relevant to his suitability to be president, then he should decline those questions, and I’ll defend his right to do so. But just so you know, John: you are free to ask me any questions about my marriage that you like.”

TEPID VICTORY

Going into the weekend, smart money was saying that Mitt Romney would be ecstatic if he emerged from the Tuesday Iowa caucuses with a strong second or even third place in a dead heat finish, and would be over the moon if he won. Somehow, even after eking out an eight-vote win over Rick Santorum last night (30,015 votes to 30,007), I don’t think Romney should feel so glad. He won 25% of the vote. It’s the same 25% he won four years ago, when he was better positioned as the true conservative in the race. This is the same 25% he has had all year. The man has shown no growth. People have had a good long look at him, and month by month, they have entertained infatuations with one alternative after another, most of them manifestly limited candidates, all in an effort to avoid supporting him. (As further proof, turnout was about half what it was in 2008.) Santorum may prove to be a resilient competitor, but he’s going to have to show me that he wasn’t just the latest man standing, someone most people never took seriously until it was either him or Romney, and time ran out before his bubble burst. Romney’s strategy seems to be that of the long distance runner, the one who things he’ll win the race if he happens to be the last man in the competition. The Republicans are relying heavily on their united hatred of Barack Obama, but I don’t really think that going to be enough if only 25 percent of them have any enthusiasm for Romney. Any Democrat who remembers 1968 or 1972 or 1980 knows that story. I’m still waiting for another shoe to drop.