As the 2012 presidential election campaign kicks into high gear with a slate of mediocre candidates, it is ironic that 200 years after a population of 3 million produced a collection of Founding Fathers (including at least two polymaths; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) with natural leadership abilities to create a new nation has yet to produce a comparable set of politicians from 300 million citizens.
After serving as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention and the fledgling country's first president (1789 - 1797), George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address to the country could not have been more prescient in warning about foreign entanglements, a too powerful military, accumulation of debt and the dangers from a partisan system dominated by political parties. Not born to wealth yet surrounded by more erudite, better educated men, Washington's address stands out as a classic American document reflective of his accumulated wisdom as a standard for his successors to emulate.
At the center of the Republican primaries is, of course, incumbent President Barack Obama whose 2008 campaign stirred great enthusiasm with slogans like "Change you can believe in" that has now created a huge credibility gap between voter expectations and his inability to put words into deeds. Once touted as a brilliant legal mind and Constitutional scholar with a privileged education, the president has undermined the First Amendment and Constitutional protections far beyond his reviled predecessor. Obama's tenure as president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990 revealed a pattern of an ambitious man, elected with conservative student support, who disappointed black and liberal students in pursuit of a cautious, status quo approach.
Supporters of the president rationalize his lack of accomplishment by citing Republican intransigence, a real challenge to be sure -- but the fact remains that the personal qualities that took Illinois Senator Obama to the most powerful position on the planet in five years have been almost totally absent during his first term. Instead of a decisive, determined leader, Obama has caved at every obstacle and took the 'compromise' route at the expense of his integrity and the well-being of the American people.
Considered to be the ultimate Republican nominee is former Massachusetts Governor, well-groomed and robotic Mitt Romney who continues to project his elite background at a time when the Republican grassroots, angry and embittered, want a fighter to take on Obama. A grey Mr. no-where man who seems unsure of who he is or where he's going, is unable to display either convincing anger or personal warmth, exudes a stiff, inauthentic quality as if there is something he is holding back, something he is not telling us but dares not utter the words.
The reality is that unless he could be crowned at the convention, Romney has always been a long shot at the nomination as long as he had to endure the endless round of fractious primaries and caucuses. You've got to love the irony, given the right's irrational animosity for Obama and its disdain for Romney, that a current Gallup poll shows Romney as the only Republican with any chance to run a competitive race. Unlike Democrats, however, Republicans have a way of settling their differences in the name of achieving their ultimate goal after Labor Day.
As the popular media excites itself over former Senator Rick Santorum's most recent impressive wins, Santorum's success can be attributed to a turnout dominated by religious extremists devoted to controversial 'fringe' issues that have turned the Republican party so far to the right as to assure Obama's re-election in November. Projecting a pious altar boy persona with sophomoric political skills and an intellect to match, Santorum's mean-spirit will continue to pump the 'assault on religious freedom' controversy with no understanding that the real assault is on the Constitutional separation of church and state.
Still hanging on is the ubiquitous Newt Gingrich, always a legend in his own mind, seems more like the incorrigible Uncle Fester who exhibits no filter for his negative thoughts. Combative and whining, Gingrich's appeals to the worse in the American electorate rarely revealing a glimpse of his alleged superior intellect. Still an outsider in some ways, Newt's tendency to bully as an adult may be attributed to being a chubby, non-athletic boy in the school yard whom classmates loved to tease.
Ron Paul remains in the race as the sole voice against Obama's military adventures around the world, questioning the constitutionality of drone attacks and otherwise reminding liberals how the Democrats have become a pro-war party. Paul's explosive political baggage as well as the 'rigged' political system that he says makes a serious third party candidacy impossible is retiring from the House of Representatives.
The prospect of an Obama vs. Romney/Santorum/Gingrich race promises to be less than informative with an emphasis on emotional 'fringe' issues meant to stimulate the right-wing of the Republican party. The American people will be the losers without an opportunity for a serious debate on many of the same issues George Washington warned about 216 years ago -- the impacts of a bloated military and a perpetual war economy, constant cuts to social programs that devastate those citizens (and children) most in need, on-going favoritism to the bankers and financial elites and an erosion of civil liberties in the name of 'terrorism.' Without a serious challenger to force the discussion, Obama will slide into home base without getting his uniform dirty.
One potential difference between Obama and the Republican candidates who are reckless in their support for another war (with the exception of Ron Paul) may be the extent of U.S. participation with an Israeli attack on Iran. Despite Joint Chief Martin Dempsey's recent warning to Netanyahu of U.S. non-participation, it remains to be seen whether the president will opt for sanity and steer clear of another potentially disastrous conflagration. Even if the U.S. remains on the sidelines, which is problematic, any Israeli attack on Iran will be viewed by the rest of the world as a U.S. responsibility given America's close ties and extensive military aid to Israel for the last 40 years.
With no George Washington on the horizon to save the country, it is more than discouraging that such a large, diverse country has yet to produce one, just one, individual worthy of Washington's mantle.