The Loneliness of the Conciliatory Conservative

Some people identify themselves politically as pragmatists, instead of  liberal or conservative.   I am one, and Jon Huntsman is another.  I have more liberal inclinations and he has more conservative ones.  Others differences are he is much, much more accomplished and just ran for president and I would never dream of it.

Pragmatists are inclined to compromise because comprise is necessary to get something accomplished in politics.  But an election is a gut level business, and pragmatism aims at the mind rather than the gut.   That’s a problem.   As much as we decry them, negative ads are apparently effective overall at getting people elected.   Decades ago, noted author and all-around-colorful character Norman Mailer asserted that Americans do not vote for whom we want to win, but against whom we don’t want.

That seems even truer today and negative ads feed that resentment.   This short term individual gain comes at a large long term cost of polluting the entire political process to the point that only our worst elements will want to dive in, like vultures.   But, if we were good at long term thinking, we wouldn’t be mired in the fiscal woes now welling up around us, so we’ll save that topic for another day.

I believe that labels like liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat do more to obscure than reveal who people are, but we live in a time of such political polarization that many will not allow me to define myself.  The farther to the right you are, the pinker grows my hue (pink as in “pinko”).  We seem immersed in another civil war, this time just verbally for the most part, where people are forced to take sides, or people start shooting at them anyway…….er, I mean shouting.

Or you just get ignored as irrelevant.

Consider the fate of poor Jon Huntsman.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it is because he failed to get sufficient backing by folks in the Republican primaries to become a serious contender.   Despite solid conservative credentials in most ways and his party’s craving for a true conservative, as opposed to that other Mormon, he never caught on.  When his campaign began, he called himself a pragmatist rather than a conservative.  That didn’t help.   He probably thought the conservative label too confining, as I would.  He probably thought his great credentials to be more important.  He was wrong.

Here we had a candidate who won awards for fiscal responsibility as two term governor of Utah, ran a large family corporation, served in the administration of four presidents and, the extra special ingredient –  like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae – was an ambassador to China WHO SPEAKS FLUENT MANDARIN (*1).

You know, China?  That developing economic powerhouse that we owe a fortune to because of our spendthrift ways, the nation which will likely play the biggest external role in our own economic, political and foreign policy for at least the first half of  this century.  Off the bat, wouldn’t human reason point to a person like Huntsman as a better candidate to head up our ship of state than, let’s say, a guy who reduces our road to economic recovery to  9-9-9?  Or another fellow who thinks of birth control as “harmful to our society”, or a third man who could not remember squat, or a fourth who contemplates establishing a colony on the moon (and Lord knows what else)?  Oh, and a couple of others who grabbed the spotlight for awhile, but don’t merit mentioning.  And, last but not least, the never ending Ron Paul, who is a party unto himself.

Oh…. and Mitt Romney, the other Mormon, and apparently last man standing, who gave all the others hope they could win the nomination because, well, he’s Mitt Romney (*2).

Leaving aside his super solid resume for governing, Huntsman certainly had a powerful case to be made for his own conservatism, but apparently didn’t want to be defined by that alone.  And even if he had begun his campaign advertising himself as a conservative, I don’t think he would have reached critical mass in terms of primary voter support.  Why?  Because he was not willing to bash President Obama at every turn.  He is conciliatory not confrontational, too reasonable and fair minded for that.  In short, he was not willing to throw red meat to the Republican right.  He was just not angry and resentful enough to suit their taste.

I do not mean to suggest I was a supporter of Jon Huntsman’s candidacy (as if it would matter), but only that among the Republican candidates, he was my favorite (again, not that it would matter).   I would have liked to have seen debates between him and President Obama over the major issues that confront us.  Debates that might have even been sort of civil.

That the Republican right would barely give a glance at such a highly qualified conservative pragmatist, suggests the difficulty in trying to breach party lines and develop centrist options acceptable to both parties (*3).

We’re not as bad off as the Titanic, but making ourselves ship shape again won’t be easy.



*1.  On the other hand, Huntsman’s willingness to serve as ambassador to China under President Obama was a black mark against him for those who can’t stand Obama.  Huntsman defended it as a sense of duty to “country first”, but the far right wasn’t buying that.   “Obama country” isn’t their country.  He learned Mandarin, by the way, as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan.

*2.  I find it curious that I haven’t seen any discussion of the Mormonism of both Romney and Huntsmen.  Nobody seems to want to touch it, reminding me of Jerry Seinfeld’s line:  “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  My theory is the Republicans may have an unspoken quota of Mormons per race.  Two would seem a heist of the party by the Ladder Day Saints.  Maybe I’ll Google it and see if there is something out there, besides a recent National Review article aimed at assuaging the concerns of fellow conservatives by asserting that Mormons can be nice people, too.

*3.  My estimation of Jon Huntsman took a hit when he abruptly quit the race and, after lambasting Mitt Romney the week before, he then threw his support behind that one’s candidacy, as if Romney really cared or hardly anyone else noticed.   It was an odd, disheartening withdrawal, but perhaps being ignored regularly for months while thinking himself the most qualified candidate took an unseen toll.  I’ll give him a pass on that one.

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