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On the Prize: Radio Essay for January 7, 2012

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On the Prize: Essay for January 7, 2011

The New Year has turned and we have officially entered into a year divisible by four. In other words, it is a Presidential election year. We have just finished Week 1 and already he have had the first caucus and in a few short days the first primary of this election year.
The candidates spent about $12.5 million on advertising in Iowa. Considering there were less than 125,000 votes cast in the caucus that comes down to about $1000 per vote. In the meantime, some 3 million Cornhuskers had to endure mind numbing and incessant ads day and night. Mitt Romney won Iowa by a scant 8 votes, capturing just over 30,000 votes.

Let’s put this in perspective. One hundred twenty five thousand votes are enough to win a Congressional election. Thirty thousand votes in an entire State is nothing. Most of the losing Congressional candidates in Massachusetts earned three times that many in 2010. It is not a mandate: it is a snapshot. There will be 125 million votes cast in November. What those votes represent is the crucible of challenge.

It is said that primary challenges make for better candidates. I believe that is true to a point. This beauty pageant has been a long and tedious one so far with ten candidates in the limelight and another ten candidates, mostly fringe, lingering in the shadows. Some candidates, people like Buddy Roemer, have not caught fire because of lack of exposure; others with exposure, like John Huntsman, have not caught fire. Go figure.

The American electoral process may be described as a play in three acts. Act I is the ritualistic mating and vetting dance where each candidate auditions and elbows the others for time. We have just entered Act II, the primary stretch to determine the nominee. It resembles the first Act but only for a short while. Victories yield momentum and donations, losses yield nothing but unfulfilled expectations and suspensions of campaigns. Act III is the head-to-head competition between the two party nominees. Will this year bring a third party candidate, too? I hope not.

Ironically, there are three factions in the Republican Party at this moment. There is the evangelical conservative, now led by Rick Santorum; the libertarian side, headed by Ron Paul; and the conventional, establishment side, headed by Mitt Romney. What amazes and disturbs me now is just how heated and divisive the interactions between these factions have become at the grassroots level.

If Facebook is any guide at all, there is very angry debate going on amongst conservatives who are seeking the anti-Obama. By necessity, they congregate in the Republican camp because there is no place for them amongst the Democrats. But it does not mean that all is well in that expanded Republican circle. These factions are in conflict right now. Each has their own candidate for the moment but the real test will be if they can coalesce once the three candidates whittle down to one. And that decision can come fast if Mitt Romney can keep his head of steam.

Romney has the national footprint and the broad financial base. He will be difficult to overcome because he has played the game according to the standard rules. He has been at this for years and the organization and discipline shows. But it is just that discipline and mastery of the established rules that have labeled Mitt as an establishment candidate in the eyes of the libertarians and less than effervescent in the eyes of the evangelicals.

Here is my suggestion for the anti-Obama forces: get together. There is only one chance to remove Barack Obama from office before damage is done to this country that we cannot begin to imagine. He cannot kill this country and he cannot kill our spirit but he can do us harm.

Too many people are seeking a sweeping victory that will not only reverse the damages wrought by Mr. Obama, but of The Great Society, The New Deal and Wilsonian Progressivism. It is a bridge too far. As in first aid, you must immediately stop the bleeding. Once that is done, you can deal with each malady as it presents itself.

The November elections will be a referendum and an opportunity to flip the rudder hard over. Like an aircraft carrier, this ship of state will take a few miles to perceptively change course. The first step is a Republican victory in November by the candidate who is the Republican nominee, no matter who it is. It is time to circle the wagons around the candidate, yes, but then on the party, too. The party needs fixing to be sure, but the country needs our help first. That is the prize. Let us keep our eyes upon it.

Press on.

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On Rock-Paper-Scissors: Essay for New Year’s Eve 2011

The other night my son and I were discussing who was going to peel the cucumber for the dinner salad and determined that the only fair way to decide was the tried and true Rock-Paper-Scissors method. You remember, “Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot.” Rock crushes scissors, paper covers rock, and scissors cut paper. It is an order of magnitude more complicated than simple odd and even. There are web sites dedicated to the methodology of the game strategy.

The game has elegance to it. There is the raw power of the rock; the stealth of the paper; and the ingenuity of the scissors. No single element is omnipotent. Overplay the power move of the rock and the paper will surely counter it. The stealthy application of the paper will yield to the ingenious play of the scissors. Success derives from the masterful and timely play of one element over the other. And seldom is the gamed played in a single round. It typically plays out over some odd number of rounds, thus allowing for a bit of give-and-take and room for some strategic compromise.

I was immediately drawn into a political context for this childhood game. Let’s consider the three players in November 2012: Barack Obama, Rock; Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, holds the scissors; and the American People, the paper. The President has the power of the mightiest office in the land. That’s why he is the Rock. Romney has to be clever and ingenious to win, thus the scissors. The American People are the paper because we are the stealthy ones. We hold a lot of leverage but also have a lot at risk.

We the People have the power to cover the Rock, the President, and bring a halt to the national calamity in which we have been embroiled since the dawn of the era of Hope and Change. But the Scissors held by Mr. Romney can cut us, if he turns out to be something different from what we seek. And we seek a lot.

There is risk here but I invite you to consider how much riskier the status quo under four more years of Barack Obama would be than under Mitt Romney, the pragmatic one. Some may wonder where Mr. Romney stands on certain issues. Yes, there have been the so-called flip-flops. And there is Romneycare. The Right can question his conservative credentials until the cows come home but one thing is certain: Mitt Romney loves America with all of his heart and will work to restore the way of life that has provided so much for so many in our country for so long. Can one say that about Barack Obama?

When you play Rock-Paper-Scissors, you play for the long haul; you use wit and guile to outsmart and outflank your opponent. You can withstand small defeats and still attain a large victory. There is no litmus test in the game. Only the final outcome counts. And so it must be in November. There is no litmus test that will restore American greatness. And one should not expect a string of unending victories without an occasional compromise along the way.

As Lord Macaulay once said, “A single breaker may recede but the tide is evidently coming in.” And so it must be in restoring American greatness. We will have our occasional setbacks as part of democratic give and take. Sometimes they are issue-by-issue, Congress-by-Congress or even administration-by-administration. We will prevail in the end.

We don’t need candidates who scare people, however righteous they may appear. It is a sure indication that they cannot effectively govern. Is that not where we are today with our current President? Is he a man to debate issues of the day over a beer? Certainly. But do I trust him with the future of my country or the destiny of my children? I do not.

There is a saying that everything will be alright in the end: if it is not alright, it is not the end. We must have faith and have patience. The American vision held by Barack Obama is not the vision held by Mitt Romney. It is not the vision held by you and me and the vast majority of Americans.

It is as simple as that for me. Rock-Paper-Scissors-Shoot. I’ll take the guy with the scissors, please. Best two out of three.

Press on.

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