GEORGE KENNEDY: GOP candidates' positions on issues more important than horse race

Thursday, February 2, 2012 | 5:32 p.m. CST

Newt Gingrich must have seen his shadow earlier this week, so we seem doomed to endure at least another six weeks of the Republican traveling road show.

As a Democrat, I’m torn between increasing optimism about President Barack Obama’s re-election chances and a nagging worry that one of these guys might actually be our next president.

So far, the nomination process has been both entertaining and horrifying. The primary in Missouri on Tuesday is less an election than a $7 million mistake. As you probably read in Thursday’s Missourian, it won’t count. The actual political party convention delegates will be chosen in caucuses next month. But our Republican-controlled legislature couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the rules, so we’ll spend $7 million we don’t have. Newt won’t even be on the ballot.

Gary Johnson will be. Michael Meeham and Keith Drummond, too. And the other three candidates we’ve heard of – Willard Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. The pundits and the polls are in agreement that only Willard, who goes by Mitt, and Newt are the serious contestants.

The big two and their theoretically independent PAC’s are at each other’s throats.

Mitt describes Newt as an ethics-challenged, unstable Washington insider. Newt characterizes Mitt as a flip-flopper who’s running away from his record.

The sad thing is that they’re both right.

Newt insists on a revisionist review of his own career, crediting himself with being a man of big ideas and large accomplishments. He attacks the press and his opponents with equal vigor and little concern with the facts. He does, however, get one fact right. That’s his repeated references to Mitt as a “Massachusetts moderate.” He intends that as an insult.

Mitt is, or was, just that. No more. His greatest accomplishment as governor was health care reform, adopted in cooperation with a Democratic legislature. You’d never know that as he promises to undo the national plan that looks a lot like his. Now he presents himself as the responsible conservative.

Indeed, the Republican party has shifted so far to the right that Barry Goldwater’s line becomes an accurate description. Moderation really isn’t a virtue for these guys.

For Democrats, the quandary is whom should we root for. Newt would probably be easier to beat, but if the economy drags President Obama down, Mitt would be the better president.

The national press corps isn’t helping. Day in and day out, we’re offered poll numbers and speculation about who’s ahead with which bloc of voters. It’s horse race coverage at its worst.

The two-page roundup the Missourian published Thursday told us more about candidates’ positions on matters of substance than we’ve gotten in the flood of national reporting. It may be more fun, for journalists and partisans, to watch the horse race. But it’s surely more important to examine candidates’ positions on the important issues.

Thomas Patterson, a scholar at Harvard, argues that the horse race, insider, cynical coverage that takes up television and talk show time actually damages the democracy by discouraging participation or even voting, especially among young people.

That’s not what we need.

I enjoy a food fight as much as the next person, but I worry when I get more on the issues from Jon Stewart than from the NBC evening news.

If you intend to vote on Tuesday, you might want to reread the Missourian before you go.

Gary Johnson is looking good.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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mike mentor February 3, 2012 | 3:15 p.m.

I don't really consider assessing something as a failure and then changing your position on it flip-flopping. I call that reasonable. The fact that Romney worked with a dem controlled legislature should make him a more appealing candidate, shouldn't it? It certainly puts him in contrast to most these days. The fact that he saw that the plan was not working as intended and then changed his position on it makes him more appealing to me. I think our current administration and specifically Mr Holder these days, could learn a thing or two from Mitt on fessing up to mistakes.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 3, 2012 | 3:32 p.m.

The fact that the state of Massachusetts has even had a Republican governor in the modern era is itself remarkable.

Still, the present situation is shaping up to a general election of either casting one's vote for what one believes is the lesser of two evils or else just staying home. If the challengers lack stature, so does the incumbent.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 3, 2012 | 4:31 p.m.

"a general election of either casting one's vote for what one believes is the lesser of two evils or else just staying home."

Don't stay home!!!!

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 3, 2012 | 4:45 p.m.

"Newt insists on a revisionist review of his own career, crediting himself with being a man of big ideas and large accomplishments." Only a liberal with no Democrat to defend would write this about the Speaker that straightened out an internally corrupt, D' controlled House of Representatives, balanced the Federal Budget, first time since 1968 and reduced the Federal debt by 1/2T$.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor February 3, 2012 | 5:08 p.m.

Newt got it done as speaker. You can't take that away from him. Too bad the election process is such a popularity contest. Newt doesn't have a chance...

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger February 3, 2012 | 7:13 p.m.

Completely aside from the content of these posts, since when do we refer to former members of Congress, presidents governors, senators, representatives, and such by the titles they had when they were in office? Is there a journalistic rule for this? Gingrich, whatever one may think of him, is FORMER speaker; ditto for Romney, Santorum, Bush, Clinton, etc. Perhaps Professor Kennedy or his minions could enlighten us--or me.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle February 3, 2012 | 9:40 p.m.

@Mike: "Newt got it done as speaker." That, I agree, he did. Of course the prominent memories of exactly what Newt got done might differ for each of us.

I wouldn't mind seeing a few leaders in Congress somewhere around halfway between Newt, and the formless boilerplates that function as party heads now. Yeah, I know: Good luck with that. Right?

And even though Gary Johnson has jumped to the Libertarian party, as long as he's on the ballot here, I'll probably pick one up and vote for him.

(Report Comment)
frank christian February 3, 2012 | 10:41 p.m.

hank o - You do realize that while I was referring to the feats of Newt Gingrich, my specific reference was about The Speaker of the House at the time of the action, which of course was Newt. I definitely was not referring to the *former* D' Speaker, who oversaw the corruption.

Our President, in a televised discussion of our ongoing wars, had several, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on stage with him. In answer to a question, President Obama replied, oh yes, (waving a finger toward the Sec.), Gates told me about that yesterday. Any problem with that obvious lack of respect?

(Report Comment)

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