The Awful Part is When They Mean It

Someone sent me an interesting quote, attributed to Mark Twain: “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on… or by imbeciles who really mean it.”

Let’s apply this to the presidential candidates for 2012.

First and foremost: Barack Obama. There’s no question that this quote could have been written for him. Obama sometimes appears to be the smart man putting us on. But if you’re really listening, you come to understand that he really means it. He rammed ObamaCare through Congress, without popular support before or after. Why? Because when he says he seeks to spread the wealth, he really means it. When he says we are all our brother’s keepers, he really means it. Obama is that rarest of things: A philosophical candidate. He was that way in 2008, and he will be that way to the end. He also proves this by all his support for environmentalist regulation, proposals to raise taxes on the “rich,” and expanding the expenditures and power of government quite literally into infinity.

Mitt Romney? Nobody knows what he means. When he promoted socialized medicine in Massachusetts, he presumably meant it. When he promises to repeal ObamaCare, the law modeled on RomneyCare, he probably means that. When he tells the Tea Party and conservative Republicans that government is too big, and that the free market is the answer, he probably means that too. Then, when it comes time for the fall election, he’ll probably mean it when he backs off all these statements. If he wins, he’ll probably mean it when he implements “spread the wealth” proposals half the time, and free market ones the other half. Romney means what he says, but only when he says it. Beyond that, it will always be anyone’s guess.

Ron Paul? He really means what he says. He means it when he says he wants to curb the power of government over the economy so that the economy can once again function, and flourish. Unfortunately, he also means it when he says that Iran is not really a threat, and that the U.S. has no business with any military presence anywhere, even if the lifeblood of our economy — oil — still depends on it. When it comes to the economy, Ron Paul really means it. His viewpoints giveth and taketh away. The idiocy and danger of his foreign policy views cancel out the merit of his economic views. He’ll perhaps give us a booming economy, just as terrorist-sponsored Iranian missiles (on the oil fields or elsewhere) will take it all away.

Rick Santorum? He means it when he says he’s out to use government as a way to promote his definition of family, and his idea that there should be no abortions in the world. Ditto for Michele Bachmann. Do each of these articulate conservatives make a good case for moving in the direction of a free market? Absolutely. Do they sound wise on foreign policy and defense? Surely. But the thing that seems to matter the most to them are control of a private adult’s behavior, especially in the area of sex and reproduction. I find this offensive and frankly more than a little odd, even disturbing. The fact that they seem comfortable with using government as a tool of social policy calls into question their consistency — indeed, their sincerity — when it comes to making the tough decisions that will be required to restore liberty and freedom in the United States. Ditto for Rick Perry.

Newt Gingrich? He probably means what he says, only nobody really knows what he’s saying. At least not most of the time. His personal life seems troubling, most of all because, like other social conservatives, he’s prepared to use government as a tool to implement his idea of morality. In interviews he has basically said, “I once acted like a jerk lacking integrity, but I’m reformed now, which is why I want laws to make others like the way I am now.” On the most important issues of economics and defense, he has been all over the map. He’s part Ronald Regan, part Bill Clinton, part Nancy Pelosi, part Ron Paul — and he means every last bit of it. He’s a fragmented whole, the nature of whose parts it’s difficult to untangle.

Donald Trump? He’s not running for the Republican nomination, but he has all but declared for Independent. He means what he says, and for that reason he’ll probably come in second, with Obama coming in first and the Republican candidate coming in last. That’s a real possibility if he runs. He has said he’ll only run if the Republican nominee is inadequate. Even Republicans know the Republican nominee will be inadequate. Because of election laws, Trump must wait until his popularly rated television show ends before declaring. This is the story to watch, and may determine the election outcome of 2012 more than anything else.

The problem with the candidates running to defeat Obama is that either they don’t mean what they say, or what they do mean is deeply troubling. The problem for the country is that the one with the best chance of winning, admittedly by default, is the man who means every word of what he says. And every word of it is wrong.