J. KARL MILLER: Not being Obama is GOP's biggest advantage

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 | 5:00 p.m. CDT

Editor's note: For an opposing view on the GOP presidential candidates, check out David Rosman's column.

COLUMBIA — Give or take a few days, we are about 17 months away from the 2012 general election, featuring the re-election of the incumbent or the choosing of a new captain for the ship of state.

The multifarious campaign engines are revving in earnest as each Republican hopeful essays to sell him or herself to the party faithful as the favorite. Meanwhile, the president endeavors to convince the electorate that his performance merits continuation in office.

As an election judge in November 2008, I remember the excitement at the polls. Well before the 6 a.m. opening for voting, the waiting crowd exceeded the number of voters in the most recent election. The majority were young and many of them first-time voters. The draw was the attractive, charismatic candidate with considerable oratorical skill.

Trusting the public opinion polls this early is hardly a rational prediction of what is ahead for either party. The current trend tends to show President Barack Obama retaining most of his likeable persona but falling below or at 50 percent in job approval. In contrast, none of the Republicans announced as candidates appears to have grabbed the front-runner ring.

The mainstream media political pundits and syndicated columnists, most of whom list leftward, disparage the Republican prospects as a group of lightweights incapable of exciting the public. Several candidates have come in for ridicule — some of it richly deserved: Newt Gingrich, who famously shoots himself in the foot; Donald Trump, who clowned his way out of consideration; and Sarah Palin, the mere mention of whom evokes the worst in Pavlovian response from the Democratic Party faithful.

Among the declared Republicans, four are former governors (Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman), one former senator (Rick Santorum), former House Speaker (Gingrich), two members of the House (Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann) and a former business executive (Herman Cain). Of the undeclared but possible candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani command the most name recognition.

Granted, the advantage to the incumbent is daunting: the name, the bully pulpit, a formidable campaign team in place, a clear field in fundraising, and, for now at least, a high personal popularity. Conversely, even with the lack of a charismatic front runner, each of the declared and serious possible Republican candidates has far more political and executive acumen than President Obama did at the time of the 2008 election.

Additionally, President Obama no longer enjoys the advantage of running without a record — two terms in a state legislature and a half term as a U.S. senator, much of that time occupied campaigning, accumulates little baggage and even less experience. His presidential legacy includes a number of significant achievements — the passage of health care reform, the stimulus, the auto bailout, a finance reform bill and the increasing of troop strength in Afghanistan.

A number of his signature acts, however, have enjoyed less than popular support. Obamacare, as the health care act has been nicknamed, was muscled through over the objections of the majority of the voters and is the subject of multiple state lawsuits. With a weak economy showing little growth, unemployment remaining constant at 9-plus percent and the federal debt ceiling maxed out at $14.3 trillion, the cloud's silver lining is not readily apparent.

His current remedy, which calls for raising the debt ceiling by $2 trillion without serious offsetting spending cuts in order to borrow, tax and spend our way out of the hole, is neither playing well among serious economists nor in Peoria. Nevertheless, there is more than enough time for the economy to turn around, employment to improve and the current malaise to lift — should this come to pass, the president's re-election becomes probable.

It is much too early for anything but an educated guess, however, history has a way of being repetitive. Turn the clock back about 20 years and we find President George H. W. Bush with an 88 percent approval rating, a tally so high that the best-known Democrats were discouraged from running. A second-tier candidate, a relatively obscure but politically astute governor from Arkansas, became a two-term president, the first Democrat to do so since FDR.

Consequently, the incumbent holds most of the aces and in an improving or improved economy should be the favorite to succeed himself. However, should the status quo prevail, that yet unchosen and painted as "dull," "not charismatic," "unfeeling" and "non-progressive" Republican candidate's most valuable asset just might be that he or she is not President Obama.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at



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Gregg Bush June 22, 2011 | 9:13 p.m.

"Among the declared Republicans...former governors (... Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman)," Thank you for mentioning the larger field of GOP candidates. These two, specifically, I'm looking forward to hearing more about.
Keep us informed, Colonel. Truly.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 22, 2011 | 10:50 p.m.

A modest prediction: after all the dust settles, a Huntsman-Bachmann ticket will represent the Republicans in 2012.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm June 23, 2011 | 7:46 a.m.


The GOP is way to smart for that. There is a ZERO percent chance that Bachmann gets on the ticket; she is a guaranteed landslide loss.

(Report Comment)
Evelyn Dunn June 23, 2011 | 11:22 a.m.

I'm especially interested in two remarks I read here. First Col. Miller names Sarah Palin as most disliked by the Democrats. I would answer that by saying whom they most dislike, they most fear. There has to be a reason why she is feared and I think the reason is that she might actually win. Then Mr. Hamm saya Bachmann guarantees a landslide loss.I'm not sure on what he bases that opinion other than the fact that she is female as is Sarah Palin. Could it be that these gentlemen don't think a woman can win? I'm the first to admit they may be right as I've seen this all my life. Men vote formen and women vote for men. What a pity!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 23, 2011 | 11:54 a.m.

It's not that they're women, it's that their views are fairly fringe, even for the GOP. Americans don't elect people of either gender with what most consider extreme views, right or left.


(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm June 23, 2011 | 12:46 p.m.

@ Evelyn

My comment had nothing to do with Bachmann being a woman. I believe that there are several prominent women in contemporary American politics capable of being president and winning the election.

My comment about Bachmann guaranteeing a landslide win for Obama stems from the belief that her views are so utterly insane and un-American that your average American would never give her the time of day. Same goes for Palin. I imagine the GOP learned a valuable lesson from putting Palin on McCain's ticket and will not make that mistake again. These fringe candidates may do well in primaries and with their base but they send the average moderate American running to the other side.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 23, 2011 | 2:52 p.m.

"Americans don't elect people of either gender with what most consider extreme views, right or left."

I suspect that in the 1920s, some people said the same thing about the Germans. If things get bad enough, it's possible that a majority of American voters would elect a so-called "extremist" candidate.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 23, 2011 | 4:51 p.m.

Good point, about the Germans. Another thing we should remember about that situation is that according to most historians the Germans had already lost faith in their [nominally] democratic Weimar government several years before Hitler became chancellor in 1933.

How's OUR faith in OUR government these days?

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm June 23, 2011 | 5:11 p.m.

@ jimmy

By 1920s Germany I assume you mean the 1930s and more specifically the 1932 election. First, you should note that Hitler did not win that election but instead it was won by Paul von Hindenburg of the Independent Party (Hitler only got 37% of the vote). Hindenburg then went on to appoint Hitler to the office of Chancellor of the coalition government of which the Nazi party was only a part of.

Most of the power that Hitler wielded later on was not obtained through any legitimate means and was not given to him by the people through a popular vote.

Now if you wanted to start talking about Hitlers platform of anti-union, anti-socialism, anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish/Islam, pro-military and ultra-nationalism I am listening. That seems very familiar to me when looking at American politics today.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 23, 2011 | 5:15 p.m.

Ellis - "the Germans had already lost faith in their [nominally] democratic Weimar government" It has been reported, (making your statement true) that the lost faith had to do with the inflation there and occurrences such as the German housewife having to take a basket full of marks to grocery shop. Having put the basket full of currency down, she momentarily turned away and someone stole the basket.

Old story, I know, just couldn't help it.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 23, 2011 | 5:32 p.m.

"Hitlers platform of anti-union, anti-socialism, anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish/Islam, pro-military and ultra-nationalism I am listening. That seems very familiar to me when looking at American politics today."

Right, the problem has turned from fascism to communism. Could you in your wisdom, accept anti-illegal-immigrant and maybe anti-radical-Islam? These changes don't fit your agenda, but would have some semblance to the truth.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 23, 2011 | 7:20 p.m.

No, I meant the 1920s.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 23, 2011 | 7:27 p.m.

You could look to the actions of your state legislature this year if you want to see examples of extremism in action. I'm in agreement with Jimmy on that one. When Bush was getting reelected it appeared more like the late 1930's. I'm glad we have been able to roll back the clock a little.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller June 23, 2011 | 8:02 p.m.

Evelyn, I was not disparaging Sarah Palin, instead, I was chuckling at the opposition for the slavering and snarling at the mention of her name. I really don't believe she can win as she has been "Dan Quayled" by the media; however, the fear and jealousy she arouses is telling .

Greg, I realize that neither former Governors Huntsman nor Johnson are exactly household names. But, each of them did hold real jobs before announcing for President.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle June 23, 2011 | 8:10 p.m.

Chicken Littles are wrong: the US will remain a deeply capitalist nation for the foreseeable future. As has been the case since the immediate post-WW2 period, gov't will continue to step in to try and manage consumer demand for the benefit of (a) the business classes, and (b) social stability/political constituencies ("Obamacare"--that suspiciously "socialist" measure--adds millions of people as customers of *private* insurance corporations).
We face neither impending fascism-from-the-right, nor impending communism-from-the-left. We're a profoundly centrist electorate (in the broad western scheme that includes Europe, we're a right-of-center one at that), and this is why the main Republican candidates are moderates like Romney, Pawlenty, and (as he rises in public awareness) Huntsman. They'll want to position themselves rightward to appeal to the party die-hards, but the need to appeal to the vast center-right middle will show come nomination. Outliers like Palin, Bachmann, and other social conservatives like Huckabee (thouogh he saw the writing on the wall) remain just that--orbital figures with their own gravitational field (I *like* this metaphor) but without real gravity (heh.)
Populist anxieties--Frank C. notes "anti-illegal-immigrant and maybe anti-radical-Islam" and we could add anti-Wall St. to that mix--will provide ways to rally the party base on the right and create froth and buzz, but the election will be about attracting the political center.
There is no oxygen on the left end of the political spectrum.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle June 23, 2011 | 8:25 p.m.

Col. Miller--Palin wasn't "Dan Quayle'd" by the media. She did that to herself with a serious of profoundly embarrassing public appearances. Truth be told, much of this was the fault of the (incredibly incompetent) McCain campaign, which shoved Palin into a spotlight she was ill-prepared to occupy.
The US electorate can tolerate less-than-intelligent office-seekers when they effectively present themselves as basically kind people (see GW Bush), but Palin adopted the bull-dog persona of the typical VP candidate, without effectively providing a compensating virtue.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush June 23, 2011 | 8:31 p.m.

Col. Miller,
I meant no irony. I like both of those former governors and want to hear more about them. The corporate media isn't doing it. I'm grateful you are.
It's a shame Mr. Johnson wasn't allowed on stage last week in New Hampshire. And Mr. Huntsman is a true gentleman.
While I don't agree with them on every issue, both of them have my admiration and respect. You were wise to mention them in your rounding out of the GOP potential field.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 23, 2011 | 9:26 p.m.

Tim Trayle - You are a fun guy to read. Similar to the comics. Did you spend a lot of time on this analysis?

"We face neither impending fascism-from-the-right, nor impending communism-from-the-left." No matter how you spin it, we are, have been and always will be, constantly under attack from fascism, communism and whomever else would wish to control the greatest nation on earth. You continually place yourself among those who can't/won't accept this.

My, "Populist anxieties", stem from the roots of our Country's beginning. Your casual, languid, assessment of outcome of coming elections fit well with the beginnings of liberalism in the 1960's.

"Palin wasn't "Dan Quayle'd" by the media." Right, she was "Borked", by Democrats. I don't recall Quayle trying to defend against more than fifty frivolous law suits. Bork was never allowed a seat on Supreme Court, Palin was driven from Governor of Alaska by harassment.

I hope your are offering this as an opinion. as there was a term I could never recall in our previous talks, in which you demanded "evidence", until I spent awhile looking it up. A "preponderance of evidence", it seems can be considered in decision involving a civil case. The cases I cited provided that. Nothing you have written here comes close.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 24, 2011 | 4:24 a.m.

Level-headed assessment, Mr. Trayle.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle June 24, 2011 | 7:13 a.m.

Hi Frank,

Yep, just my opinion. (I'm glad you enjoyed reading it!)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 24, 2011 | 10:59 a.m.

"however, the fear and jealousy she arouses is telling ."

Jealousy... Hmm...

Surely you can remember writing a clear summation of your opinion only to have someone from the peon gallery rip it apart, thus allowing the remainder of the same cheer on the peon, who's opinion seemingly had little or no merit or even roots in reality. Well, that feeling is similar to mine when watching someone successfully attempt to appeal to "joe six pack" and the "hockey moms". I never had heard either term and certainly wouldn't have thought to call people that, either individually or collectively, to their face or even on the internet.
My indignation is multifold. First, since the statement was directed at everyone it was also directed at myself. Someone severely underestimated my intelligence if they thought that this would gain my empathy, sympathy, or support. Second was the fact that this ploy actually seemed to work. Obviously, while someone underestimated my intelligence, they were successful in gauging that of many of the voters, which brings me to the third thing - the indignation over the fact that my vote and the vote of many is counter weighted by the idiocy of the masses - that someone who could be influenced by a line so stupid actually has the potential to drown out, by sheer numbers, the voice of anyone with the ability to see.
I should say the same thing regarding her interviews with Katie Couric. She insulted me and anyone listening when she proceeded to answer questions that she had no answer for by trying to bluff her way through. It would have been perfectly acceptable for her to say that she was unfamiliar with the term "Bush Doctrine" and have Katie specify exactly what she was asking. I can say that at the time I was also unfamiliar with the term. The difference is that I freely and honestly admit this and that after having someone clarify their question I could give an opinion on exactly that.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 24, 2011 | 11:00 a.m.

Let's look at one attempt at defining the Bush Doctrine...

"The Bush Doctrine is a phrase used to describe various related foreign policy principles of former United States president George W. Bush. The phrase was first used by Charles Krauthammer in June 2001 [1] to describe the Bush Administration's unilateral withdrawals from the ABM treaty and the Kyoto Protocol. The phrase initially described the policy that the United States had the right to secure itself against countries that harbor or give aid to terrorist groups, which was used to justify the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.[2]

Different pundits would attribute different meanings to "the Bush Doctrine", as it came to describe other elements, including the controversial policy of preventive war, which held that the United States should depose foreign regimes that represented a potential or perceived threat to the security of the United States, even if that threat was not immediate; a policy of spreading democracy around the world, especially in the Middle East, as a strategy for combating terrorism; and a willingness to unilaterally pursue U.S. military interests."

As you can observe, the term is both arbitrary and broad. I'm not going to youtube her response, but I can clearly remember it was like watching a bratty high school kid attempt to talk their way out of punishment or trying to cheat on an exam. It was not what I would expect out of even a low level statesman. I would expect more out of a used car salesman or even a fly by night construction contractor. Maybe I expect too much, but the contest was for who was going to take the job of assisting and possibly replacing the person who was going to be in charge of your nation's military, among other things.

Clearly you can think of some people you would have recommended over that for the position in question. That you have a circus providing the apparently least qualified people to assert their ill founded opinions and assertions over that of the remainder of the population and with their massive support inspires a feeling alright, but jealousy???

I suppose, but that is only because I have developed and am still straining to develop a good deal of humility. Nausea might be closer. Her existence causes me to ask myself why one should even bother with any sort of personal development at all because obviously every trait that I would identify as being a virtue appears to be lacking in the individual we are discussing and that seems to be the character's strong point, maybe her persona as a whole. At the time of her candidacy I could painfully remember that much of Bush's appeal was his ability to act half as oafish as she.

Fear? That part is real. I fear the ignorant masses. It took people like Sarah Palin to allow me to understand why the people who wrote the constitution had feared the same, establishing such things as the electoral college. If you can't understand that, then I can't explain it to you.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire June 28, 2011 | 10:55 a.m.

And here is her reincarnation...

(Report Comment)

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