Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mr Huntsman's Problem

I am a long time supporter of Jon Huntsman. My career in natural resources gave me reason to appreciate his refreshing work as governor of Utah, and while following his exploits as President Obama's Ambassador to China was a bit tougher, I was sure that with his steady hand and clear head, he would represent himself and his country well in the People's Republic.

Huntsman has for some time now been generally considered presidential timber by political pundits, despite the troubling fact that outside of Utah his name recognition has hovered in the single digits. Leaving Salt Lake City for an extended stay in Beijing certainly didn't seem the best way to ameliorate the name recognition problem, and indeed, some cynics believed that Obama named Huntsman as ambassador to China to eliminate the reelection threat Huntsman was widely assumed to pose in 2012. Whether or not you believe that Obama's pick for arguably one of the most important diplomatic positions in the foreign service was made strictly on political grounds, the fact remains that Huntsman accepted.

And alas, here it is 2012. Almost exactly a year ago Huntsman resigned his post as Ambassador to China to explore a presidential campaign against his old boss. In the intervening year, and now with the Iowa caucuses concluded and the New Hampshire primary staring us in the face, Huntsman remains woefully below 20% in most polls, behind the likes of such wingnuts as Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

The 2012 Republican presidential primary is admittedly hard to stomach. A host of candidates: a former Massachusetts governor who appears to be made from parafin wax, a Texas governor who apparently was the proud receipient of a full frontal lobotomy, a random Congresswoman from Minnesota, a guy who ran a pizza company, an adulterous former Speaker of the House, all kicking and screaming at one another fighting over footholes in the climb to see who can be the first to reach the stinky summit of a steaming pile of elephant dung. It is terribly unbecoming to think that this is how we choose our candidate for president in the year 2012. Weren't we supposed to be living like The Jetsons by now? I could have sworn that all these Apple products were supposed to make us all smarter; and yet, here we are with a Republican primary that dwells almost exclusively in the intellectual basement.

Save for Govenor Huntsman. In a primary that has become an echo chamber of conspiracy theories and just general weirdness, Jon Huntsman has been, well, quiet. The trouble with elections and candidates is that they are inevitably presented to the vast majority of voters through a media filter that doesn't necessarily pick up on competence. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the 24 hour news cycle is actually the perfect way to select a presidential candidate, although in a sort of reverse logic type of way. Whoever keeps out of the headlines and gets virtually zero news coverage, is likely to be the right guy or gal for the job.

But just because you haven't heard from Jon Huntsman, doesn't mean he isn't saying anything. The man has practically lived in New Hampshire for the last several months, and the more people hear from him, the more they like him. He has stolen a host of newspaper endorsements from neighbor state favorite Mitt Romney, including most recently the venerable Boston Globe, and has risen farther, faster, than any other candidate in the race.

Victory in New Hampshire remains a long shot. The donations have not materialized. Both votes and dollars in the GOP primary are bound up by the most committed of the partisans. Some think this is how politics is supposed to work, but when extremists come to dominate the Party machinery, that machinery spews out extremist candidates.

When Jon Huntsman was governor of Utah, the state was #1 in job growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Utah was named one of the "Top Three States to do Business" during his tenure, and according to the Pew Center for the States, Utah was the "best managed state in the country." He has twice been a US Ambassador, during the George H.W. Bush administration, he was named Ambassador to Singapore, in addition to his service in China under Barack Obama. He was also Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the first President Bush, and served George W. Bush as a Deputy US Trade Representative. He is the former CEO of a multi-billion dollar chemical corporation who warned the GOP not to become the Party that rejected science and intellect. Huntsman said: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Crazy indeed; but unfortunately, not crazy enough.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Talking So Much, Saying So Little

Weeks ago here at Kline Online, I made a pretty big stink about John Morony's taking to the pages of the local newspapers to attack a sitting Republican elected official.

Andi Morony, John's wife and (like John) a member of the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee joined Mark Newgent as guest host of Red Maryland's delightfully campy Internet radio show "The Broadside," on December 19. Given the subject matter, it is helpful to note that the episode in question was being broadcast from Mrs. Morony's own living room in Northbrook, a Centreville housing development that could serve as the poster child for suburban sprawl.

Newgent gushingly introduces Mrs. Morony as a 'brilliant political strategist.' (Perhaps. But many in local GOP circles (including regular Broadside co-host Andrew Langer) condemned her role in the distasteful Dick Sossi 'asleep on the job' ads on behalf of Steve Hershey in the 2010 election) Based on Newgent's gratuitous introduction, one could be excused for thinking Morony knows something of what she speaks.

Early on in the show, Morony, whose stock in trade as far as I can tell is bitter partisan warfare, comments that "Martin O'Malley couldn't come up with an original idea to save his life." Nevermind that O'Malley managed to get himself elected governor, twice. This statement about O'Malley's unoriginality soon becomes sadly comical in a 'pot meet kettle' type of way as Morony begins to regurgitate the same tired talking points about PlanMaryland.

I could have written Morony's commentary myself before ever hearing it. With ease she slides into a high-level diatribe, skittering like a water bug on the tense surface of an incredibly deep issue. Instead of illustrating any knowledge of PlanMaryland (a 150+ page plan for collaboration between state agencies of varying jurisdiction and local governments that I can virtually guarantee Morony has never laid eyes on), or the very real problems PlanMaryland is attempting to address, Morony prefers to dwell in the relative comfort of the rote and repetitive. Like a marionette she parrots the talking points of her thought proxies, EJ Pipkin and Mike Smigiel, as if ending every statement with a verbal exclamation point makes her more credible.

PlanMaryland is a War on Rural Maryland! PlanMaryland is a state takeover of local government! Newgent himself ventured to new frontiers of hyperbole when he compared PlanMaryland to Mussolini totalitarianism, as if Martin O'Malley was personally preparing to invade Northern Virginia. Newgent seems to forget that Martin O'Malley was duly elected governor of Maryland, an office generally considered to include the Eastern Shore. The arguments against PlanMaryland predictably didn't get any more detailed or specific than the above.

To illustrate both Morony and Newgent's ignorance more directly, neither of them had any previous knowledge of Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rich Hall. It is not at all clear to me how one can be trotted out in front of an audience, presented to that audience as some kind of resident expert on a given topic, and not be intimately familiar with major players involved in that topic. Purporting to talk about PlanMaryland and not knowing who Rich Hall is isn't much different than calling yourself a mechanic, and having trouble opening the hood of a car. Instant loss of credibility.

What's worse? Andi Morony said "I doubt he(Rich Hall) could find his way around on the Shore if his life depended on it." Uh oh. Hate to inform Mrs. Morony that Rich Hall was born and raised on the Eastern Shore. Unlike, ahem, Mrs. Morony, who according to her Facebook profile hails from the decidedly non-Eastern Shore town of Bowie, Maryland. EJ Pipkin isn't a native Eastern Shoreman, either. And according to the Maryland State Archives website, Mike Smigiel was born in Baltimore, also not on the Eastern Shore. But moreover, this is a popular refrain on the Shore, to shout from the tree tops that people don't, can't, understand the needs of the Eastern Shore unless they pass some kind of litmus test. In the mind of folks like Andi Morony, only those who want to fundamentally destroy the rural character of the Eastern Shore boast "real" Shore credentials.

Rural Maryland is indeed under attack, but not from PlanMaryland. The attack instead comes from the likes of Pipkin, Smigiel, and a host of realtor/developer backed political puppets who think that the Shore must be destroyed to be saved. They do not understand, or worse willfully ignore, that the development they support increases the size and cost of government as surely as night follows the day. In the same breath, Morony objects to a state government takeover of local planning and zoning authority (a chimera) but then bemoans the closure of the (state-run) Upper Shore Mental Health facility. It might be funny if it weren't so galling and hypocritical.

Mrs. Morony isn't a "brilliant political strategist." She lacks the ability to question the assumptions of the elected officials she works for, and serves them in the least valuable way possible, as simply an intellectual rubber stamp, a perpetual nodding head, a yes-woman. The public she indirectly seeks to serve deserves better representation, representation that actually spends time thinking rationally about issues, not simply reacting to popular villains and convenient foils. It is one thing to hand out palm cards and walk in parades come election time, but being involved in the actual governing process requires a different skill set.