Too much ‘Mourning in America’ heading to November election

Ronald Reagan called it “morning in America.” His optimism and cheerful demeanor not only got him elected president of the United States twice, it made him a conservative icon whose memory is conjured time and again on the campaign trail. 

If you believe today’s GOP presidential candidates, morning has turned to night and we ought to be making funeral arrangements and mourning a country on its deathbed. Pessimism is the message from the stump, amid reports that fully one-third of Republican voters are still looking for another candidate.

The circular firing squad that’s campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination will be the demise of the last one standing when the dust finally clears. The Grand Old Party has trapped itself into a nominating race that will leave all its contenders not only bloodied and bruised but mortally wounded. 

Here’s the deal, as Rick Perry might preface it.

Only Mitt Romney has the resources to mount a normal campaign and the bankroll to advance his ideas on his own terms. For everyone else you see or have seen squinting into the lights and cameras on too many stages, the debates are their campaign strategy. Personal attacks have become their primary tactic.

But lately I’ve come to believe that the very personal and increasingly vicious parry and thrust of the debates is just a symptom of the real problem — that the ultimate demise of whoever carries the GOP banner into November will come because their party has become the home of pessimism and Americans have, time and time again, shown themselves to be optimists.

Don’t think that’s a problem? Just ask “Dirty Harry.”

It was a Chrysler commercial, for God’s sake. But that Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood proved my point. The uproar from conservatives over Eastwood’s optimistic reading, over his “halftime in America” look forward, which they somehow viewed through a deep red political lens as an endorsement of President Obama and the auto industry bailout, was all too typical.

“We find a way through tough times and, if we can’t find a way, then we make one,” the script read. The perverse reaction to that affirmation of American spirit fittingly put an explanation point on another line, the one about “the fog of division, discord and blame” making it hard to see what lies ahead.

Never mind that the first federal money to Chrysler came from the Bush administration, that most of the funds have been paid back or that competitor and fellow bailout recipient GM has since reported record profits. Let’s not celebrate the resurgence of an industry key to our economic recovery.

If you don’t believe we’re all in this together, you’re apparently marching in step with conservative philosophy and the GOP presidential candidates. As political commentator and former Clinton strategist Paul Begala wrote in Newsweek, “Coming together is heresy to today’s GOP, whose mantra seems to be ‘We’re all in this alone.’”

Begala also quotes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who warns that Republicans “risk looking like they’re rooting for America to lose.” Even conservative Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly worried out loud about that as Karl Rove and others sought to politicize Chrysler’s ad and Eastwood.

If Emanuel’s warning proves true, it’ll likely be the death knell for the eventual GOP presidential nominee — especially if encouraging signs of an economic recovery continue and if the campaign events leading up to the 2012 convention feature not ideas of how to goose that momentum but instead the personal attacks that have already, according to recent polls, turned off many of those coveted independent voters.

Like it or not, we Americans have demonstrated time and again at the ballot box that we like our change with a dash of hope, that we prefer the sort of positive vision advanced not only by Reagan but by Obama and Bill Clinton, even by that “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush.

That’s been sadly lacking in a GOP nominating battle that has been long on pessimism, awash in finger pointing and blame, but short on specifics of any optimism that might paint a compelling vision of another “morning in America.”

Jim Spehar enjoys his mornings if they don’t come too early. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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