Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jon Huntsman Saves the Union!

Well, that's a bit over-stated. But he did something very important yesterday besides showing the political world that there is more to Utah and Mormonism than Romneyesque stiffness and stuffiness.

In his announcement speech to seek the Republican nomination, Huntsman said, "I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation to run for the office of president." That is absolutely amazing, unusual within his party (and it shouldn't be), and so needed in our current political climate. President Obama, while not achieving the high hopes and dreams of so many who supported him, is nevertheless a very important transitional figure in the positive change coming to this great nation.

Let me try to explain the big picture here by going all the way back to Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. Some, factually correct, criticize Lincoln for his personal racist views. Yet it was the broad principles that Lincoln set in place that are so important. The Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated as the the end of slavery. Yet it was an overly legalistic and practical extension of the Executive War Power that didn't really accomplish anything on its face. It only freed the Slaves in areas of rebellion against the United States and did nothing to the institution of slavery in Border States and areas of the South under Union control. Yet it was the very fact and symbolism of the Proclamation that made all the difference in the world and in the world's perception of the Civil War as a struggle for Freedom, not to mention the unplugging of the dam that led to the eventual and inevitable, constitutional abolishment of slavery as a result of that war.

President Obama is also a transitional symbol. Putting aside all the merits of whether what he is or is not accomplishing is good or meaningful, his very presence is extremely important for a nation that has a pretty poor history of race relations, and we have a ways to go yet. A significant portion of the electorate, albeit a very loud and angry minority, has attempted to de-legitimize and even de-humanize this historically unique president. And it has to be more than a response to any of his policies. I'm simply not convinced that the tea-partiers went crazy because of a new law to regulate and extend private health insurance to more people on concepts previously promoted by Republicans or even because of growing deficits since they never went against Reagan or the Bushes for that. We've seen some ugly things in US History, many far worse than this. But I can't think of a time when there has been such a vitriolic reaction to de-legitimize a president just because he was president. (Well, there was that thing with Lincoln. And both Johnsons ended up having it pretty bad.) I think Obama is important just if he makes it though four years, and maybe even eight, to enter into American History as President, a historic position from which he can never be removed.

This great nation will continue to be great with the growing presence of minorities, Hispanic, African-American, Muslim, etc., etc. That is because the principles and processes of the US Constitution belong to all mankind and will work even if what looks like "real America" to some drastically changes. It's only natural that people feel comfortable surrounded by the familiar but let's not hold on to false notions that America is great because it is "Christian" or "Caucasian." (Hint: it's not and never has been.) I am not afraid of being in a racial or cultural minority. Maybe it comes from life experience growing up as a Mormon outside of Utah, or living as an Anglo in northern New Mexico, or even in that predominantly African-American apartment complex we lived in outside of Baltimore. I'm no great example of tolerance as we all have our negative prejudices (I detest Country-Western music and NASCAR, oh, and fishing). But we can all work to overcome those things (I guess I do really like Johnny Cash).

So, now Huntsman is in playing his "good-guy strategy." He may not get far with the Republican Right that follows the Limbaugh-line or the Palin-persecutionism. And I certainly don't agree with all of Huntsman's political positions and philosophies. I will most likely stick with the President who I think is doing a great job for the most part. But it will be wonderful to see one candidate in that Republican field not trying to outdo the others on how macho he can be on fighting Muslims, or how much he can bad-mouth the President or the other candidates, or who is not trying to over-sanctify himself on Republican cultural orthodoxy.

The big picture is simply this. We have a historic opportunity to enter a political contest on the merit of real things - our basic philosophy of government and the responsibility (or lack there of) to unite as a diverse people to provide freedom and opportunity and protection under a robust economy for basic human needs: family, faith, food, shelter, work, education, and yes, health - all of which seem essential for a democratic republic to function so we are not in "bondage one to another." Or in other words, to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." My biases may show. But I'm willing to sit down and discuss and compromise to accomplish the best we can to be that more perfect Union. And it seems to me that both President Obama and Governor/Ambassador Huntsman are willing and capable to do this as well.


  1. (Anon/M) A "like" is not enough for this post. I want to qualify it as a "hip hip hooray", jumping up and down approval. So, here it is.

    PS - Well...jumping up and down (or turning somersaults, is not an actual possibility, just a figure of speech).

  2. (Anon/M) And furthermore...this positive blog was even more uplifting, after the next thing read: David Weigel's article in Slate: "The Media Might Love Jon Huntsman But It's Less Clear That the Republicans Do", a total put down! Sure, Huntsman has zero name recognition and no chance in Hades of getting elected. But so are the guys in the recent debate. No presidential timber there (except, maybe, for Romney, and that's a stretch.)

  3. Good post. I, for one, really like Jon Huntsman. The thing I like most about him is his willingness to actually give *serious* consideration to a broad range of ideas. Obama seems to have this quality as well, and, while I think it has worked against him politically in certain cases, I respect him for it. It suggests that he has a sense of practical modesty; a willingness to admit that his own personal ideology may not have all the answers and might be benefitted by the incorporation of principles pushed by those from the "other side."

    I don't know quite what to think about the antipathy the Tea Party has for Obama. First, it is extreme and irrational, but not abnormally so. Things I hear said these days about Obama remind me of how my Dad used to (and still does) talk about Jimmy Carter. There are many, many other historical examples. You've already mentioned Lincoln and the Johnsons, but then there's also Nixon, Roosevelt (both, but especially FDR), and we don't even need to talk about John Adams/Thomas Jefferson. Oh, and don't forget George W -- I know, you'll say that the backlash against him had more to do than with him "just being President," but Tea Party-types will same the same thing about Obama :)

    I really don't think it's about race for the Tea Party, at least not consciously. The Tea Party movement is, I believe, ultimately rooted in some legitimate concerns, which is one reason it frustrates me (as a conservative, though admittedly a moderate one) to see it devolving into little more than unhelpful strident rhetoric and constitutional politics -- I'm looking at a certain Utah Senator here . . . .

    I hope Huntsman gets some traction with his nice guy strategy. Even a little bit would be helpful. What would really be nice would be for voters to put some force behind it by picking Huntsman over the other Republican challengers . . . it would kind of be like how the 13th - 15th Amendments and Civil Rights Act gave meaning to the Emancipation Proclamation. But I'm not holding my breath.

  4. Huntsman is to the Amendments as Obama is to the Proclamation. That's pretty good!

    And I don't think anti-Obamaism is just about race either. But I do think it's about his symbolism of the big demographic changes coming to this country. Not so much African-Americans, but the large growth continuing in the Hispanic population - and I don't mean illegal immigration (the demographic is changing drastically on birthrates alone). Of course the irrational anger and fear over immigration is also evidence of that - not really anything new in US History either (Germans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, etc., etc.)

  5. Well, I don't want to make it seem like more than it is :)

    More precisely, I guess I would say, *if* Huntsman beat out the other challengers for the Republican nomination while pursuing the nice guy strategy, it really would be remarkable, a substantive step-forward (like the Civil War Amendments in a very limited sense) coming of age moment for just a little bit of civility in American politics (and particularly in the Republican Party).

    You may very well be right about the Tea Party and demographic change. I tell people that when you listen to Tea Partiers, you get the sense that they feel that the America they know and love (and grew up in) is being taken away from them by the current administration. But as you correctly point out, this is nothing new in American history.


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