Monday, May 9, 2011

The Ultimate Game Show

It’s been 4 days since the first Republican Presidential debate, sponsored by Fox News, was held in South Carolina.  I recorded the entire spectacle like any other political junkie would for future viewing.  I started the replay on Thursday night, but I only survived the first 45 minutes of the debate.  I’ll try to finish the remainder of the show tonight.  I learned a tremendous amount of new information during the limited time I did spend with the program.  Apparently, the 5 candidates view the Obama presidency as seriously flawed in every way.  Who knew? 

The line up at this stage on that stage does not contain much star power.  Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and two others with even less name recognition — former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and pizza magnate/radio talk show host Herman Cain participated in the event.  They're the only candidates who met the sponsors' criteria to participate. Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party required all participants to have formed a presidential exploratory committee, filed state Republican Party paperwork and paid $25,000 to get on the primary ballot.

Wearing the immunity idol this week were non-candidates Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee and half-term Governor of AK; Mike Huckabee, the 2008 Iowa caucus winner and accomplished bass player; Trump, the reality TV show host and carnival barker; and the coy Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniels.  They could not technically be voted off Nomination Island because of a verbal debate gaffe if they did not participate.

The field will grow, even as our attention span withers.  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to tweet his intentions for a full-fledged run today or tomorrow.  Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann – who knows when they’ll Facebook their plans.  Dissatisfaction with the choices runs deep, however, even with these potential players.  Iowa Republicans have sent a delegation to New Jersey (Iowans would never go to NJ voluntarily) to woo every neo-con’s favorite bully, former college classmate of mine, Gov. Chris Christie.  No doubt conservatives would nominate Reagan, Weekend at Bernie’s style, if they thought they could get away with it.  Come to think of it, I’ll bet the birthers would believe it and vote for the late President…

Back to Thursday evening’s debate festivities.  What struck me most was the game show format, and the mandated 60 second responses to questions that require hours to fully answer.  I expected Richard Dawson to come out on stage and kiss each contestant.  (“Welcome to the show, love.  Let’s meet the other members of your family, shall we, darling?”)  I had forgotten how hollow and staged in particular the early debates can be.  Lord help us when we add more suits (and pants suits) to the mix.

Regardless of my opinion on the flaws in the nominating process, I still watch all the rough and tumble fun, and I have some comments on each contestant to share with you today:

Rick Santorum
  • Stated that we should have toppled the Iranian regime 18 months ago “when we had the chance”.  Yes, overthrowing another Middle East country would have been a great strategic move, Einstein.
  • Spent a few minutes defending that he was not anti-Islam…while simultaneously proving that he was anti-Islam.
  • “Fully supports” the Ryan budget plan.  Republicans in Congress don’t even fully support the Ryan Plan.  Based on recent statements, Paul Ryan doesn’t even support the Ryan Plan.
  • My favorite part – Santorum claimed that the President controlled all legislation and could have gotten any bill passed that he wanted in his first 2 years.  The Constitution still includes a role for Congress in passing legislation, last I checked.  Rick, that’s a silly statement to make.
Herman Cain:
  • Has no opinion on Afghanistan.  None.  Says he’d ask the “experts” after he wins, and then decide on what to do.  I’ll tell you what, vote for me, and I’ll do the same.
  • Loves the Fair Tax.  He and Huckabee have that in common.  Hopefully once Huckabee joins the race, they’ll be a full discussion of that option among the combatants.  Tax policy needs a debate in specifics, not generalities – boring, but important.
  • On foreign policy, the Cain Doctrine is – if it doesn’t help the US, we won’t participate.  Practitioners of genocide around the globe will be thrilled to hear that.
Ron Paul:
  • His Libertarian views actually dovetail with too many liberal ideas for him to have any shot with the Far Right primary voters. 
  • He advocates an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
  • He advocates for an end to all secret prisons and torture of prisoners.  In fact, when Santorum said that torture led to the killing of OBL, Ron Paul said, “That’s a lie.”
  • Against national tort reform, but advocates all tort reform at the state level.
  • Poor guy has aged since last campaign, while his supporters seem to get younger.  His fans were out in full force in the audience.  What they lack in decorum they make up for in energy and enthusiasm for their candidate.
Gary Johnson:
  • I keep up with presidential politics, and I did not know this guy.  Easily the least presidential looking character in the bunch.  He’s looked like the guy getting sand kicked at him on the beach…by Jimmy Carter.
  • “People who are on unemployment for too long are lazy, and if we stopped all payments, they’d find work right away.”  Yes, if only we’d try harder, we’d be at full employment according to Mr. Johnson.  Good idea, Ebenezer. 
  • Here’s a winning argument from Johnson – cut Medicare by 43% and let the states figure it out.  Good luck with that one.  Hopefully, one candidate on the GOP side will eventually address health care COSTS in their proposals, instead of just shifting existing costs to the people.
Tim Pawlenty:
  • This guy has been practicing, and he was clearly the best prepared to address national issues through the prism of South Carolina politics.  He was a little stiff, but hey, he’ll get better.
  • I give credit to Fox News for this question, and I paraphrase: “Gov. Pawlenty, you have voiced opposition to Romneycare in Massachusetts, but 84% of Massachusetts residents say that they like the state’s program.”  Pawlenty never addressed that finding in his response.
  • Chris Wallace nailed him with another question, basically accusing Pawlenty of balancing the Minnesota budget with accounting tricks, and pushing mandatory expenses to future budgets.  Pawlenty will be a target because he’s the most electable candidate in this field, but I did not expect the first shots of the season to be fired by the moderator.
  • Pawlenty said we should have assassinated Gaddafi in the 1980s.  Did I hear him correctly?  We as a nation should kill the leaders of other nations as policy?  Hopefully, other nations will not endorse the same policy.
  • He railed against the NLRB for its involvement in dictating to Boeing where it could and could not set up shop in the U.S.  For the record, I completely agree with him on this issue.  A private U.S. company should have the right to establish their operation in any state they please.  He was smart to hammer this issue that is so important to South Carolina.  It’s a jobs issue, plain and simple.
I may never finishing watching this debate episode, so don’t keep hitting refresh looking for Part II commentary.  Besides, it will be a few more months before “the tribe has spoken”, and someone’s torch gets extinguished, either for lack of crowd support or lack of funds.  It’s best to tune in for that part of the show anyway, and let me suffer through the boring parts for you.

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