Looking at America’s pretzel politics

Published 10:49 am Friday, September 23, 2011

It’s fitting that Pennsylvania is land of the pretzel – where “Pennsylvania Dutch” Swiss and German immigrants introduced the food to America in the 19th century. Citizens of nearby Philadelphia reportedly consume 12 times the national average of the twisted, baked delight.

A gas station here has pretzel sandwiches and inexpensive bags of broken pretzels. Both are metaphors for what is happening politically to Democrats here, to President Barack Obama in Washington, and to the Democratic Party around the country. The political fates in 21st century America have more twists and turns than a pretzel.

The big news in this state once headed by Democratic powerhouse Gov. Ed Rendell is about a GOP power grab: a proposal by GOPers including the present Republican Governor Tom Corbett seeks to dump Pennsylvania’s winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes and elect Presidents by congressional districts.

Email newsletter signup

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller notes that the only other states that do that are Nebraska and Maine. Democrats won Pennsylvania in the last five elections and Obama won the state by 10 percentage points.

“Our state has 1.1 million more Democrats than Republicans, yet the congressional delegation consists of 12 R’s and seven D’s.” Heller writes. “How did this happen? Magic! Instead of gerrymandering, we have GOPermandering.”

Although partisans will screech “false equivalency!” – that obnoxious phrase used by members of each party to look the other way on their own party’s past history – gerrymandering and voter suppression in various forms has not been exclusively practiced by one party. But Republicans have been exploiting their 2010 wins of governorships and legislatures at break-neck pace, seeking to shove through voting rules and requirement changes in several states. In Nebraska, GOPers may change electoral vote allocation TO winner-take-all to make it tougher for Obama. All this reflects a Democratic Party weakened after having virtually squandered its historical 2008 win.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama often resembles a pretzel sandwich. Each week left and right media narratives provide new twists with Obama in the middle. Obama’s polls are declining. Wait! Now he’s making a big speech! Will he rebound? Will he be “another Carter?” Obama will create a new category for future Presidents: “an Obama.”

Former President George H. W. Bush reportedly felt campaigning was a chore but loved to govern. Obama seemingly thrives in campaign mode but sags in governance.

The Obama administration often seems like a bunch of college students cramming at the very last minute for a final exam. It’s in constant ad hoc, crisis-coping mode.

Obama and the Democrats seem politically outmaneuvered by and reacting to Republicans. Will Obama be a single term President famous for being the Democratic President who presided over dismantling parts of the Great Society, New Deal and Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Republican eras? Or will he convince Americans the GOP is more interested in winning an election than fixing the economy and improving his poll numbers?

Obama’s recent decision to take Republicans head on and press for taxing the wealthiest Americans has sharpened the choice for voters. GOPers call it class warfare. Obama says it’s math, shared sacrifice and added a veto threat if there are entitlement cuts without new revenues. This faceoff could add up to zero progress on the economy until after the election — but Obama could regain losses from his liberal base.

Meanwhile, in another twist, Ralph Nader – that guy who in 2000 insisted there’d be no difference between Al Gore and George Bush as President — is trying to find Democrats to launch a primary challenge to Obama, arguing it would HELP Obama. (History schmistory…) Will some Democratic liberals once again be mad enough to agree with Nader? (Supreme Court, Schmupreme Court…)

If so, on Election Day Democrats and Obama may be eating not twisted pretzels, but rancid humble pie.

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com.