Indiana’s Republican governor Mitch Daniels shook up the presidential race when he announced that he was not going to run. He cited his unwillingness to place his family under the harsh media spotlight given its spotty past. “The interests and wishes of my family is the most important consideration of all….Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more.”
It is tragic that an intelligent, qualified politician felt he had to choose between his family and his desire to be president. However, Daniels has no one to blame but his own party – which has become a bastion of intolerant, blue-nosed “family values” scolds. The GOP’s grotesque impeachment trial of Bill Clinton set the stage for presidential campaigns that would become more about personal lives than polices.
The end result of our puritanical politics is that few candidates can measure up under intense scrutiny. Any blemish is wildly blown out of proportion and human beings are dragged through the mud to the point where running can lead to ruin. For many, including Daniels, the pain wasn’t worth the gain.
Daniels probably made the right move given his wife’s tabloid-ready past. According to the Washington Post: “His wife Cheri filed for divorce in 1993 and moved to California to remarry, leaving him to raise their four daughters in Indiana. She later divorced again, and she and Daniels reconciled and remarried in 1997.”
While this story isn’t pretty, it is life. Many people, through no fault of their own, find themselves in similar messy situations. And this is precisely why it has always been destructive for the Republican Party to politicize what should be private family matters. Since the early 1980’s the GOP has forced candidates to essentially declare: “Vote for me because I sleep with my opposite sex spouse and no one else.
Aside for the idiocy of focusing on drivel at the expense of real issues, it has turned the GOP into the party of hypocrisy, or would-be hypocrites, who are afraid to aspire to higher public office lest their dirty laundry be exposed on the Religious Right’s clothesline.
This dynamic has undermined American politics because one of the nation’s two major parties can’t attract “real people” to run. To be a presidential candidate, one has to be a robotic born-again Ken Doll like Tim Pawlenty or clean-living empty suit like Mitt Romney. Or, the flip side is we get shameless, amoral hypocrites, like Newt Gingrich, who are so consumed with ambition that they’d drag their families through hell to reach the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, relatively normal people like Mitch Daniels — who actually seem to love their families and don’t consider them political props — are dissuaded from running. While I don’t support Daniels politically, it is sad that the GOP has created a political climate where human beings can’t actually act human and sexual McCarthyism is the order of the day.
Now that Daniels is out, I predict that Sarah Palin will soon announce she is running for president. She must be somewhere in the tundra looking at the shabby crop of contenders and think: “I can beat them.” Of course, she’s correct and if she chose to run, I’m fairly certain that she would get the nomination. Surely, Palin would get off to a fast start in the conservative Iowa caucuses and her chances are quite good in South Carolina.
(Now that Daniels is out, I would not be surprised if Jeb Bush was tempted to throw his hat into the ring.)
In order to secure the GOP nomination in 2012, one has to pretend to be crazy (Tim Pawlenty) or actually be crazy (Michele Bachmann). Until the Religious Right’s stranglehold is broken, the Republican Party will consistently produce weak presidential candidates who perform well in the primaries and look extreme in the general election.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”