Frequently dubbed the sport of Kings, horse racing provides the origin of the phrase “dark horse,” an unknown horse on which handicappers have difficulty in establishing betting odds. Later, the term was broadened to apply to any unexpected winner. In American politics, the term was first applied to James Polk who, in 1844, wrested the Democratic Party’s Presidential Nomination from a field of well-known candidates en route to winning the Presidency that year.
2012 is shaping up as a similar type of year – albeit, on the opposite side of the ledger – as Republicans seek a savior to help them recapture the Presidency, lead America back to its capitalist roots, and rescue the Grand Old Party (GOP) from its own historical proclivities. Noted for its pattern of nominating the next person in line (i.e., the runner-up in the previous Presidential election cycle’s nominating process) – particularly when running against an incumbent President, the Party has nominated such lackluster candidates as Bob Dole and John McCain, candidates who were not really in step with the Party’s conservative mainstream.
This cycle, it appears to be Mitt Romney’s turn. Lacking the passion and conservative chops that the Party’s faithful desire most, Romney has been challenged by a host of candidates whose primary credential for the Presidency is that each is not Mitt Romney. And so, we have seen the rise and subsequent fall of Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul (whose fall is still in progress). Thus, it appears likely that when the smoke clears, a bloodied Mitt Romney will prevail as the Republican Nominee.
But, something is different this time. Hailed as among the most defining elections in our nation’s history, the 2012 Presidential Election – coming as it does at the conjunction of the Great Recession, jobless recovery, declining middle class, rising income inequality, worldwide financial crisis, international political and social unrest, exponential growth in healthcare costs, and growing class of senior citizens expecting to receive entitlements in the form of Social Security and Medicare to which they have been paying taxes their entire lives – may well determine America’s future course. Are we still going to be a country “of the people, by the people and for the people,” or will we go down the same road as previous republics such as the Roman Empire?
Some, many in the broadcast media included, want the United States to become a European-style social democracy. Founded on the principles of personal liberty and economic freedom, America and its capitalistic system have been viewed by many as a “shining city on a hill.” Yet, unfettered capitalism and its close relative, free trade can create a cold, cruel world for those who do not attain at least a middle class income – a class which, by the way, is ceding many of its members to poverty. Capitalism and free trade care nothing about people, only about costs and profits. And, our public policies, economic system, and the rise of multi-national corporations are among the most significant reasons why American jobs are being exported to other parts of the world.
Yet, not everyone in our society must adhere to the laws of competition. As was evident during the economic crisis of 2008, we live in a country that practices Socialism for the wealthy and Capitalism for the working class. Taxpayer dollars have been used to bailout corporations and financial institutions, despite the fact that these enterprises created the situations that bankrupted them and ultimately used bailout funds to reward their executives through lavish bonuses. Social Security contributions are still being dumped into the general tax fund and used for projects other than that for which they were intended. Whatever happened to the Social Security Lock Box?!?
Among the most tried and true paths to wealth in our country is by gaining elective office. Our political leaders are all extremely well off financially. They live by a different set of rules, have their own healthcare system, and exempt themselves from many of the laws that they pass (e.g., laws preventing those with insider knowledge from profiting by virtue of that knowledge). Yet, absent a significant bankroll, the little guy seeking entry into the national political scene is largely shut out; unless, of course, he can secure the support of wealthy Godfathers to whom he will be indebted when he assumes office. And, when it comes to running for the Presidency, outsiders are not welcome regardless of their financial status. Remember Herman Cain.
Social programs that make life in America a little less harsh and cruel to the poor and working classes are deemed welfare. Yet, subsidies to industries (like the now bankrupt Solyndra) are termed investment.
Charity is the balm of a capitalistic society, the salve that eases the consciences of today’s Ebenezer Scrooges – the one percenters like the members of Congress and the captains of industry enriching themselves on the blood, sweat, and tears of their underlings. Like the unrepentant Scrooge at the beginning of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they seek profits first, with their consciences and concerns for others running a distant second.
Home and property ownership, hailed as the American Dream and one of the pillars of our society, is a farce, because you never really own your property if you cannot afford the taxes. Many seniors living on fixed incomes have become increasingly aware of this situation as their fixed incomes vanish before the tidal wave of increasing property taxes and costs of living. What will become of the American Dream?
In this great struggle to reclaim the soul of America, we the people can only hope for the emergence of a dark horse who has the best interests of our citizens and country at heart. Then, perhaps, we can create a new America where individual freedom is tempered by compassion, and we reclaim our place as the moral and economic beacon to the rest of the world.