US election 2012: Republican debate all seems stuck in the past, with no vision for America’s future

On the stump, none of the candidates acknowledge that the world and the
country they hope to lead are changing. The rise of China and the other BRIC
nations is never mentioned. The transformation of the Middle East? Who cares?

The demographic changes at home might as well not be happening. By 2042 the
United States will, on current Census Bureau projections, have a majority of
non-whites, up from a third now. The number of citizens over 65 will have
doubled. None of these seismic shifts are addressed. Nor is the rise of an
educated, knowledge-based, white-collar class which increasingly votes
Democrat, and a population that now accepts gay marriage, albeit by a slim

The result is vapid paeans to American greatness and vague pledges to reduce
the size of government.

The night before the primary in New Hampshire I met an undecided voter who had
come to see Jon Huntsman speak. He liked what he had heard in a debate from
this moderate conservative about needing to pull the country together – a
message that served Obama well in 2008 – but went away disappointed.

“Our country isn’t doing so well, and I didn’t really hear him address
that with any substance,” he said. “It was just the same ra-ra as
all the others.”

Beyond the placard wavers at the front of these events, you hear this sort of
frustration all the time. Some Republican supporters are happy to be sold a
retro-vision of where their country should be heading, but many are not, and
they feel their intelligence is being insulted. The same goes for the large
bloc of independent voters who decide most elections.

It is not a matter of being presented with a wonkish list of policy proposals,
though a few of those wouldn’t go amiss. They are simply not hearing any
coherent ideas about plotting America’s course over the next couple of

The only energy in the party in the past few years has been created by the Tea
Party. Its great achievement was to tell the White House and Washington that
many Americans were very, very worried about the deficit. By the time Obama
and the Democrats got the message, they had lost the House in the 2010

Some Republican candidates are scared of the movement and the shift to the
Right that it represents. But the movement is nearly three years old and is
showing signs of moving beyond its anti-tax Jacobinism.

Ironically, the blue-rinse, index-linked insurgents of the Tea Party have
something in common with the students and dope-smoking drummers of the
Occupy movement, the latest (and less effective) popular movement to spread
across the nation.

And that something is disgust with the Wall Street bailouts and with the
corporate world’s grip on Washington. Americans are very pro-wealth
creation, much more so than Europeans, but Right, Left and middle alike see
a country in which the rich and the political class are doing very nicely
from government largesse while the average family faces a generation of

Yet so beholden are both major parties to big business, and so mired are they
in Washington’s money-drenched swamp, that the candidates in the current
race are ignoring this populist wave. In fact it terrifies them, because
with the exception of Ron Paul, the maverick Texas congressman, they are all
tarnished by the brush of the establishment.

The politician who can best embrace this disillusion with the system will do
himself a lot of favours on polling day, November 6. Obama has had his
chance to change Washington, but none of the Republicans seem willing to
take theirs.

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