NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Of all the lighter moments of the otherwise dreary New Hampshire Republican Primary, the one that stands out is an epithet that Newt Gingrich applied to Mitt Romney: "Massachusetts moderate." Surely, the man must have been jesting, though I doubt there's a humorous bone in Gingrich's entire blow-dried countenance.
There are no moderates left in any position of influence in the Republican Party, and certainly none are running for president. Romney isn't a moderate, he's not a conservative, he's not really anything at all. I'm not even sure I believe it when he says that he's from Massachusetts, even though he was governor of the state. I don't believe a word he says.
But my point is not that Romney is a shape-shifter. We all know that. It's that "moderate" -- a term that most people would tend to view favorably -- is a put-down in the Bizarro World of the Republican race for president. It's one of the reasons Republicans are bound for defeat, unless the American people are profoundly self-destructive.
"Moderate"-bashing was the theme in Iowa and New Hampshire, and something tells me that it is going to get worse in South Carolina, where evangelical Christians dominate the Republican electorate. It's a surreal spectacle. If you believe the rhetoric that has come out of the GOP candidates -- and I mean every single one of them -- Americans are simple-minded yokels, incapable of judging their own best interests. The Republican narrative would have you believe that all Americans are reactionaries, yearning for a simpler day or perhaps (as preached by Ron Paul) a utopian era that has never existed.
Of all the candidates, Jon Huntsman comes closest to the "moderate" label, but that is more a function of style than substance. He was an ultra-conservative governor of the most right-leaning state in the union. On the issues, this is a group of candidates that espouses positions so far to the right that they are almost a self-parody. It also shows, I think, a total miscalculation of the political beliefs, and self-interests, of the vast majority of Americans.
If you listen to these candidates, you'd get the idea that an electorate that put Barack Obama into office four years ago has pulled a 180, and now desires a return to the era of Reagan, or maybe Hoover or Coolidge. All of the candidates act as if they are addressing Tea Party rallies at every public appearance, and don't seem to care that someday they may have to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate.
The only exception is Paul, who acts as if he is addressing a Flat Earth rally. Most Tea Partiers are middle-aged and older, and they tend to favor retention of programs that they find personally appealing, mainly Medicare and Social Security. Paul talks as if his listeners are either ignorant high schoolers or have very distorted views of the role of government in society, and share his obsession with the Federal Reserve. His delivery is a mix of Mister Rogers and Huey Long, a dark, borderline-psychotic, paranoid vision of an America endangered by unseen forces.
Yet, even Paul is not above pandering. Despite his libertarian credo, which favors legalization of drugs, he is a vigorous opponent of abortion -- as is every other Republican candidate, in contrast to the opinions of the vast majority of Americans.
There isn't a speck of moderation in any of their other positions either. All advocate a return to Reagan-era deregulation, with Dodd-Frank on the hit list of every one of them. If you listen to them, all Americans share their view that big business and Wall Street are to be indulged and "unshackled" from evil government oversight. All ignore that a generation of indulgence and deregulation resulted in the 2008 financial crisis. They want still more deregulation, regardless.
That's not "conservative." It's just plain stupid.
Romney is, I guess, less extreme than the rest of them by not advocating outright repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley, instead favoring reducing Sarb-Ox "burdens" on small businesses.
Only Paul wants to dismantle the U.S. government in its entirety, while returning to a gold standard that would put the economy into a kind of perma-Depression. None of the candidates would be any less anti-consumer and less apt to fawn over big business and Wall Street than George W. Bush, who began his term by appointing the grotesquely pro-business Harvey Pitt to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. I shudder to think the kind of doozies these candidates would appoint to head regulatory agencies or, God forbid, sit on the Supreme Court.
All of the Republican candidates advocate cutting back on Social Security, or would endanger the program's existence by letting younger workers opt out of the program completely. All except Huntsman favor dismantling Obama's health-care plan (and he would cut it back in some unspecified way). But their toughness does not extend to the wealthiest Americans, who would benefit from cuts in income taxes (or, in Paul's plan, their total elimination) under the programs of every candidate.
Sure, the American people have not always elected the brightest bulbs in the pack as president of the United States -- mediocrities ranging from Warren G. Harding to Bush II are examples of that -- but I refuse to believe that Americans are that deluded.
Just a couple of months ago, I was so down on Obama that I was
him not to try to lead us. All the complaints that I've had against Obama (and there have been plenty) shrink in the face of the extremism of the Republican field. All of his bad appointments and misjudgments fade into nothingness. He could discharge Joe Biden and make Tim Geithner vice president. Hell, he could make Mary Schapiro, the vacuous chairman of the SEC, his vice president for that matter.
Nothing Obama could do could make him more noxious than Romney and the rest of the GOP field. By their extremism, they have demonstrated that none of them are qualified to be president of the United States.
Gary Weiss's forthcoming book, AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, will be published by St. Martin's Press on February 28, 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @gary_weiss.
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Gary Weiss has covered Wall Street wrongdoing for almost a quarter century. His coverage of stock fraud at BusinessWeek won many awards, and included a cover story, �The Mob on Wall Street,� which exposed mob infiltration of brokerages. He uncovered the Salomon Brothers bond-trading scandal, and wrote extensively on the dangers posed by hedge funds, Internet fraud and out-of-control leverage. He was a contributing editor at Conde Nast Porfolio, writing about the people most intimately involved in the financial crisis, from Timothy Geithner to Bernard Madoff. His book "Born to Steal" (Warner Books: 2003), described the Mafia's takeover of brokerage houses in the 1990s. "Wall Street Versus America" (Portfolio: 2006) was an account of investor rip-offs. He blogs at garyweiss.blogspot.com.