They’re off and running! Last Sunday saw the first debate for the Republican presidential nomination. (Actually, there was an earlier “first Republican debate” in South Carolina on May 5, but none of the big guns showed up, so it’s been erased from the history books.) Anyway, this one was in New Hampshire. In the old days, a candidate had to win the primary there. Not anymore, but candidates and journalists still flock north to the Granite State.


Don’t worry if you missed it. There will be many, many more debates, all conducted in the idiom of political infantilism, as was bleakly conceded by David Brooks, the New York Times‘ leading Republican columnist, himself the retailer of noxious policies at a more devious level.

“The Republican growth agenda—tax cuts and nothing else—is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible,” Brooks moaned. “Gigantic tax cuts—if they were affordable—might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis.

“Republican politicians don’t design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices—as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox.”

There were seven of them lined up, and the single woman, the fiery Rep. Michele Bachmann, was acclaimed the winner the next day simply because she elected to wear the mantle of relative sanity for a few hours. She made no excessively preposterous onslaughts on history, as her rival Sarah Palin had just done by claiming that Paul Revere had undertaken his famous ride to warn the British of an impending uprising.

Espying lips unmarred by the foam of political delirium, journalists raised cheers for Bachmann. At this rate, they’ll be calling this toast of the tea party “statesmanlike” by the third debate.

Palin herself was a no-show. So was the current favorite of the Republican elite, Jon Huntsman Jr. He’s a former governor of Utah, more recently U.S. ambassador to China and now burdened with a lethal thumbs-up from Henry Kissinger, who praises Hunstman as a “very intelligent man” and “a very good ambassador” to China and a credible Republican candidate. Kissinger added that he doesn’t do formal endorsements because when he does, his choice plummets to disaster.

Huntsman has the advantage of having a billionaire dad in the form of Huntsman Sr., who made a fortune out of Styrofoam packing, which Americans spend many hours a day picking out of their carpets after opening the day’s haul from eBay.

Huntsman is a Mormon, thus putting two in the race this time. Mormon Mitt Romney, defeated for the nomination by McCain in 2008, is back again. He’s reneged on his best-known achievement (aside from putting his dog in a cage on the roof of his car), the health plan he engineered when governor of Massachusetts, regarded by the tea party crowd as the harbinger of hated “Obamacare.” He’d no doubt like to give up being a Mormon because all evidence suggests that Americans don’t care for the idea of a Mormon in the White House. The right-wingers prefer fundamentalist Christians, and your average middle-of-the-road nonbeliever prefers astrology, which is why they liked Ron and Nancy Reagan, who had astrologists counseling them at all times.

So much for Huntsman and Romney.

Newt Gingrich is a busted flush. His entire senior staff quit on him on this week, claiming Gingrich was under the thumb of his third wife, Callista, whose form he has bedizened with half a million dollars worth of jewelry from Van Cleef & Arpels. It seems Gingrich is her love slave, dumping all political business whenever she crooks her finger and demands a restoring jaunt to the Caribbean.

He also briefly attacked the lunacy—de rigueur for all Republican candidates—of pledging to end Medicare.

Ron Paul, the libertarian assailant of America’s wars, often sounds like a Grade A crank, calling for abolition of Medicare and Social Security, though his denunciation of Obama’s wars did raise a cheer.

The only black contender, Herman Cain—founder of Godfather’s Pizza—did not put up a convincing showing. Nor did Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, who wimped out on the opportunity to punch Romney on the nose for his health plan, even though he was standing right next to him. Rich Santorum brought up the rear.

It has to be said, imbecility was in evidence on both sides of the footlights. The questions from the so-called labor and intellectual spokeswomen/men were not always of a high standard.

Huntsman is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy next Tuesday, in the shadow of the State of Liberty. The only other name being bandied is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, but he’d better hurry up.

Does this crowd of Republican nutballs mean that Obama is going to canter home in 2012, assuming his family lets him?

The big threat to Obama’s re-election is not his family, but the economy, where the news is very bad.

The recovery is failing. The most recent figures show the economy growing at an annual rate of just 1.8 percent. Manufacturing is at its slowest pace of growth in 20 months. Employers hired only 54,000 new workers in May, the lowest number in eight months. Jobless claims increased to 427,000 in the week ended June 4. Nearly half of all unemployed Americans have been without work for more than six months. More than 44 million Americans—one in seven—rely on food stamps. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.

The record in presidential races suggests that if unemployment is higher than 7 percent, things look bleak for the incumbent.

Obama can rely on support from the left—even though from a left perspective, his record is in many ways worse, as regards war and constitutional issues, than George Bush’s.

Years ago, I remember Auberon Waugh electioneering in Fulham, England, in a challenge to the Labour and Conservative candidates. Waugh was outraged by the betrayal of Biafra, a chunk of Nigeria that had dared to secede in the late 1960s. Catholics, from the pope to Waugh, backed Biafra. Not the Labour government, whose foreign secretary, Michael Stewart, MP for Fulham, stuck firmly to stentorian support for oil-producing Nigeria. About a million people died.

“People of Fulham,” I remember Waugh bellowing to a modest throng, “an awful choice confronts you: the choice between a mass murderer and an imbecile.”

But then, the American political system right now is hospitable to imbeciles and has always had a soft streak for them. Obama is certainly a mass murderer if you count up his wars and body counts of innocent bystanders. But then, the American political system has been hospitable to mass murderers, too.