South Carolina Debate: A Perfect Distraction

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

The Race Going into South Carolina

The primary race that has just started and should still be wide open is already supposedly almost over — but still isn’t quite.

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney — bleeding a bit by the successful, counter-conservative anti-Bain commercials, and raising eyebrows by his play-it-safe, wooden showing in the recent debate — still has so much more organization and money that he cannot be caught. By now he has convinced fence-sitting voters that he would not embarrass them in September with either a blonde out of his past or a wacky proposal that will cause outrage but lead to little real new policy: He is not great, but good enough to beat Obama. He may be caricatured as a blue-blood Bush I, but also is trusted as a fixer who knew what he was doing, and so will profit the US the way he once profited for himself.

And the conventional wisdom continues that Republicans (and even Romney supporters) nonetheless sigh that sometimes Gingrich (and Gingrich alone in the present field) can rise to Reagan’s rhetoric in the debates and might, if nominated, repeat those occasional dazzling performances with an outclassed Barack Obama — but is otherwise too erratic and with too much baggage to win the nomination. (Everyone seems to have a Democratic or Independent cousin who at least claims that this election he/she just might vote against Obama, but only for a Romney.)

And the thinking goes on that, although the current negative advertising seems to be surpassing the Obama-Clinton invective of 2008, the party will unite around the nominee as the Democrats did in 2008 and as the Republicans did in 2000, and that perhaps a successful Romney will not be a Dewey/Dole/McCain on the stump, or an elder Bush in office (or if he proves to be, it would still be better than a second Obama term).

All the above seems the general narrative, but is still not quite certain. For all the hype, we are still at the very beginning, not the middle of the primaries. Gingrich still has a long-shot chance to outshine Romney again in the debate to assure the voters that the disparity is real and permanent, to have Santorum and Perry exit to unify the conservative opposition, to assume his critics will forgive his insane anti-Bain commercials on grounds that they worked, to avoid another outburst or embarrassing disclosure, and to point to polls that suddenly he does about as well as Romney against Obama. Unlikely — but not impossible.

And behind all this looms the fact that an out-of-sight and quiet Obama has risen back in the polls, the level of suicidal invective is fodder for the Democrats, and no Republican candidate has spelled out a vision of precise policies to save America from insolvency at home and irrelevancy abroad. So there is a holding pattern of sorts, as Republican voters wonder whether Romney will have a moment of animation in a Gingrich-like debate outing, hope that all the attacks will lead someday to shaking hands and that-was-then-this-is-now unity, and pray that a candidate can energize and enthuse rather than be the least unattractive of the alternatives.

A Lose, Lose, Lose, Lose, Lose Proposition

As he did with his probably illegal “recess” appointments, President Obama picked a politically advantageous time to cancel the Keystone pipeline project — while the media is obsessed with the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich’s second wife, and Mitt Romney’s investments. Yet it is hard to remember a presidential decision that had as many negatives as this one:

a) Jobs in tough times? Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 high-paying jobs were lost. These were shovel-ready and private-sector, and they would have led to the real creation of wealth — the antithesis of Solyndra. How strange — we pay tens of millions of dollars for a few hundred subsidized, money-losing jobs, while passing over thousands of money-making ones.

b) National security? While we ratchet up the pressure on Iran, as gas prices climb, and as our subsidized wind/solar alternatives fizzle, we hope that, in extremis, the Saudis can reroute their exports through the Red Sea. How strange — we cancel our own pipeline while expecting others will never do the same.

c) Environment? If the Keystone project raises environmental issues, then every other comparable one would too. It is not as if the route bisects Yosemite on its way to Big Sur. How strange — we assume that the Saudis or the Turks can build pipelines across their own lands without environmental problems, but that we, the apparently less technologically advanced, cannot. We hear that oil is “fungible”; if so, each barrel that we pass on, someone else less green won’t.

d) Financial solvency? We are now almost $16 trillion in debt, and we import over $500 billion in fossil fuels per year. The more energy we produce, or the more cheaply we can import it, or the more our export dollars stay in North America, where they can be easily rerouted into the US economy, the less we, the near-insolvent, must borrow. How strange — we keep passing on projects that would increase gas and oil production and availability and earn us money, but not on wind and solar counterparts that produce little energy and lots of debt.

e) Symbolism? President Obama and his supporters recently have talked of “big” ideas and projects, as if our generation fears to gamble on a Hoover Dam or man-to-the-moon project. Yet the president passed on the one chance that he’s had in his presidency to match reality with his empty rhetoric. How strange — our elites expect unstable regimes overseas to provide us with oil (Air Force One and Warren Buffett’s jet are not powered by solar panels), and to risk their own environments to do so, and for others to lend us the money to pay for our imported oil, and for the world to insulate itself from the blackmail of oil-exporting monstrosities like Iran, but we ourselves will do little of what we advocate or expect for others.

A footnote: This administration has a bad habit of taking credit for things that either occur despite its opposition or are entirely irrelevant to it. Thus it is now bragging that gas and oil production is up since 2009; this is, of course, not because the Obama administration has tabled thousands of leases offshore, in the Gulf, in the West, and Alaska, but because, as yet, it has not cancelled hydraulic fracking, a private-sector breakthrough that is bringing all sorts of unexpected wealth to the US in the brief window before a dubious Obama administration decides what to do about it.

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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