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The right Republican

The battle to become the world’s most powerful person begins—with small groups of Iowans “caucusing” to choose a Republican nominee for the White House. It is a great opportunity for them. Barack Obama is clearly beatable. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment as high as it is now; Mr Obama’s approval rating, which tends to translate accurately into vote-share, is down in the mid-40s. Swing states like Florida, Ohio and even Pennsylvania look well within the Republicans’ grasp.

Yet recent polls show the president leading all his rivals: an average of two points ahead of Mitt Romney, eight points over Ron Paul and nine points over Newt Gingrich, according to RealClearPolitics.com. No doubt some rather flawed personalities play a part in that; but so does the notion that something has gone badly wrong with the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Rather than answering the call for a credible right-of-centre, pro-business party to provide independents, including this newspaper, with a choice in November, it is saddling its candidate with a set of ideas that are cranky, extreme and backward-looking.

That matters far beyond this election—and indeed America’s shores. Across the West nations are struggling to reform government. At their best the Republicans have combined a muscular foreign policy with sound economics, individualism and entrepreneurial pragmatism. It is in everybody’s interests that they become champions of such policies again. That is not impossible, but there is a lot of catching up to do.

Please sign on the dotted line

Optimists will point out that the Republicans, no less than the Democrats, tend to flirt with extremes in the primaries, then select an electable moderate (with Mr Romney being the likely winner this time). America is a conservative place; every Republican nominee, including those The Economist has backed in the past, has signed up to pretty uncompromising views on God, gays and guns. But even allowing for that, the party has been dragged further and further to the right. Gone are the days when a smiling Reagan could be forgiven for raising taxes and ignoring abortion once in office. As the Republican base has become ever more detached from the mainstream, its list of unconditional demands has become ever more stringent.

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

These fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr Romney). Several promisingly pragmatic governors, including Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, never even sought the nomination. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a moderate in the race (who supports gay marriage and action to combat climate change), is polling in low single figures.

More depressingly, the fatwas have stifled ideas, making the Republican Party the enemy of creative positions it once pioneered. The idea of requiring every American to carry health insurance (thus broadening the insurance pool and reducing costs) originated in the conservative Heritage Foundation as a response to Clinton-care, and was put into practice by then-Governor Romney in Massachusetts. All this Mr Romney has had to disavow, just as Mr Gingrich has had to recant his ideas on climate change, while Rick Perry is still explaining his appalling laxity as governor of Texas in allowing the children of illegal immigrants to receive subsidised college education.

On the economy, where this newspaper has often found the most common ground with the Republicans, the impact has been especially unfortunate. America’s commercial classes are fed up with a president they associate with big government, red tape and class warfare. A Republican could stake out a way to cut the deficit, reform taxes and refashion government. But instead of businesslike pragmatism, there is zealotry. The candidates have made a fetish out of never raising taxes (even when it involves getting rid of loopholes), while mostly ignoring tough decisions about cutting spending on defence or pensions. Such compassionless conservatism (slashing taxes for the rich and expenditure on the poor) comes with little thought as to which bits of government spending are useful. Investing in infrastructure, redesigning public education and maintaining unemployment benefits in the worst downturn since the Depression are hardly acts of communism.

We didn’t leave you; you left us

Elections are decided in the middle. If the Republicans choose an extreme candidate, they can hardly be surprised if independents plump for Mr Obama, or look to a third-party candidate. But there could be two better outcomes for them.

The first would be if Mr Romney secures a quick victory, defies his base and moves firmly to the centre. In theory, there is enough in his record to suggest that he may yet be the chief executive America needs, though such boldness is asking a lot of a man who still seems several vertebrae short of a backbone (John McCain, a generally braver man, flunked it in 2008). The alternative is that the primary race grinds to a stalemate, with neither Mr Romney nor one of his rivals able to secure victory. Then a Bush, Daniels or Christie just might be tempted into the contest. It is a sad commentary that this late in the day “the right Republican” does not even seem to be running yet.

Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

4U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy at the Monaco RV vehicle maker in Wakarusa, Indiana, August 5, 2009.

Obama vows to pass U.S. healthcare reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite polls showing growing public doubts about his healthcare overhaul, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to get a reform bill through Congress this year even without Republicans on board.

“I promise you, we will pass reform by the end of this year because the American people need it,” Obama said in Wakarusa, Indiana, where he traveled to tout his economic initiatives. “We’re going to have to make it happen.”

Obama’s drive for healthcare reform, his top legislative priority, has been attacked on all sides for its $1 trillion cost and scope. Democrats have feuded over how to pay for it, and Obama’s popularity has slipped as the debate dragged on.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found 52 percent of voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of healthcare while 39 percent approve. That was a shift from 46 percent approval against 42 percent disapproval in a July 1 survey.

Concerns about spending too much and adding to the deficit appeared to fuel the change, with 72 percent saying they do not believe Obama can overhaul healthcare without expanding the deficit.

No Republicans have backed the healthcare proposals under consideration in Congress, and months of Senate Finance Committee negotiations with three Republican senators have not produced a deal. Obama said time was about up.

“I think at some point, sometime in September, we’re just going to have to make an assessment,” Obama told MSNBC after his appearance in Wakarusa, saying his priority was a plan that reined in healthcare costs, improved care and regulated insurance companies.

Obama wants to expand insurance coverage to most of the 46 million uninsured Americans and make it harder for insurance companies to prohibit coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

“I would prefer Republicans working with us on that because I think it’s in the interest of everybody. That shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.

‘A DELAY GAME’

Democratic Senator John Rockefeller told reporters he suspects the three Republicans negotiating with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus — Charles Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe — ultimately will reject a Democratic healthcare reform plan.

“My own personal view is that those three Republicans won’t be there to vote for it, not in committee when it comes right down to it,” he said. “So this will evolve into three or four months of a delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want.”

The Senate adjourns at the end of the week for a monthlong summer recess, joining the House of Representatives, which adjourned last week. Three House committees and one Senate committee have passed versions of the healthcare bill, while Senate Finance is still at work.

Baucus said other Democrats believed the party’s negotiators on Senate Finance should “keep working, be bipartisan, but sometime in September we are going to have to make a decision.”

Advocates on both sides are preparing for a fierce public relations battle this month. Baucus and Senator Chris Dodd of the Health and Education Committee, the other panel to pass a healthcare bill, held a briefing for Democratic senators on Wednesday to get them acquainted with the proposals.

Obama sent a message to his grassroots supporters asking them to get involved during the August break, contacting their representatives and taking at least one action in support of healthcare reform.

“The cost of inaction is simply too much for the people of this nation to bear,” he said in the message.

The six Finance Committee members trying to reach a bipartisan deal — three Democrats and three Republicans — met again on Wednesday and discussed a proposal for an independent Medicare Commission to oversee the healthcare program for the elderly.

They were set to meet with Obama at the White House on Thursday to discuss the status of talks, a congressional aide said.

Baucus told reporters the panel would make judgments about Medicare payments while preserving an “appropriate” level of congressional involvement in setting reimbursement rates.

“We’re trying to strike the right balance and we did. I think we came up with a pretty good resolution,” he said.

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Republicans begin 2012 US election

Republicans begin 2012 US election

 

Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum led in preliminary results, but the race remains too close to call with votes held in more than 1,700 caucuses.

Six Republican contenders spent Tuesday making frantic final appeals to voters.

The caucus meetings are the first time voters have a say in the race to face Democratic President Barack Obama in November’s general election.

Tuesday evening’s contest launches months of caucuses and primary elections in 50 states, Washington DC and other territories, culminating in the Republican National Convention in August where the party nominee will be formally anointed.
About 120,000 voters gathered at more than 1,700 fire stations, schools, public buildings and private homes ahead of the official 20:00 EST (01:00 GMT) start to the voting.

An Associated Press poll of voters ahead of the start of the caucus start confirmed that former Massachusetts Governor Romney, Texas Congressman Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum formed the top tier of candidates.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry are also in the race. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is on the ballot, but did not campaign in Iowa.

Preliminary exit poll results from ABC News indicated independent voters – who are allowed to register as Republicans and participate in the caucuses – had voted heavily in favour of Mr Paul.
Evangelical Christians were split between Mr Santorum and Mr Paul, and the half of caucus-goers describing themselves as “very conservative” were tilting to Mr Santorum.

Also, ABC’s exit poll showed Mr Romney doing well among older voters – a significant chunk of the electorate.
Small town affairs

In the caucuses, voters are allowed to speak on behalf of the candidates they support, followed by a vote, the results of which are transmitted on to the media and to the state Republican party.

Many of the caucuses are tiny affairs held in small towns in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

In Dawson, fewer than 20 voters gathered at a fire station to hold a caucus amid the fire trucks, reports BBC North America Editor Mark Mardell.

A hall in a school in Des Moines was overflowing with caucus goers, reports the BBC’s Steve Kingstone.

“It’s hard to spot a Bachmann fan, but other candidates all have support here,” he reports.

Iowa is not expected to settle the contest – John McCain, the eventual Republican nominee in 2008, came fourth in the state’s caucuses that year – but it will help shape the race for the White House.

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