Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The GOP debate helped no one

Having a debate every week has helped to give voters more of an outline of these candidates, but the format of having all these people up on stage giving short answers is just too jumbled up to really fill in that outline. And seeing them jump all over each other and then turn to Anderson Cooper to beg him to assert some control over the whole process was dismaying. We don't need Newt Gingrich's suggestion of new Lincoln-Douglas-length debates, but encouraging such a free-for-all is not a way to pick a president.

The Perry campaign even announced
ahead of time that their guy wasn't going to follow the rules. By that, I guess they meant that he was going to keep interrupting and not allow Mitt Romney to finish his sentence. And he did succeed in getting under Romney's skin by saying that Romney couldn't be trusted on immigration because he'd hired illegal immigrants. Then he kept interrupting when Romney started to explain. The story seems to me to be a lot less than Perry was making it out to be. It turned out that Romney had hired a lawn care agency that hired an illegal. When the Boston Globe reported on that, Romney told them to stop. There was another incident and Romney fired them. Unfortunately, Romney's explanation was revealingly self-serving.
"We went to the company, and we said, 'Look, you can't have any illegals working on our property,'" Romney said. "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals."
Ugh. That is just what people suspect about Romney - that his principles are elastic depending on what position he's running for. But the substance of the accusation is not such a big deal and not in the same league as planning state policy towards illegal immigrants. Perry's demeanor was unpresidential and his attack just seemed ugly without much substance.

I actually was enjoying the back and forth in the beginning when they were talking tax policy and the other candidates were criticizing Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. It was an opportunity to see that Cain didn't have much defense for his plan. He kept talking about apples and oranges and referring people to his website. He needed to have more to say about the objections to his plan that it would be regressive, but he didn't seem to have much of a response. The other candidates had the right tone by praising Cain for coming up with a comprehensive reform plan and then attacking his plan on the substance. If the great supposed virtue of 9-9-9 is its simplicity, why can't he defend it more coherently without simply referring viewers to his website. If we are going to be reading documents on economic plans, Romney has a plan on his website also.

The debate continued with the other candidates attacking Romneycare. He keeps defending it using federalism. I don't think the defense holds up when examined, but it might be enough for those who haven't been paying much attention and are just looking for someone who sounds like he would have the best chance against Obama.

An earlier moment before the debate when Wolf Blitzer asked Cain about Netanyahu's decision to trade over 1000 Hamas prisoners for one Israeli soldier, Galid Shalit, provided another bad set of quotes for Herman Cain. Blitzer asked Cain if he'd ever, as president, if Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group would demand for one American soldier to give up all the prisoners at Gitmo. You can watch the exchange here.
BLITZER: Could you imagine if you were president…and there were one American soldier who had been held for years and the demand was al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, “You got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay” – several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo. Could you see yourself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?

CAIN: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer but what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information. I got all of the input, considered all of the options. And then, the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I can make that call if I had to.
Later in the debate, Cain tried to change what he said by saying that he would never agree to trading with a terrorist organization.
“My policy would be we cannot negotiate with terrorists. That’s where we have to start as a fundamental principle,” Cain continued. “I would never agree to letting hostages in Guantanamo Bay go. That wasn’t the intent at all.”
Er, they're not hostages. Afterward when Cooper asked him again about the contradiction, Cain admitted his mistake.
“I spoke in error,” Cain said. “Maybe I didn’t understand the question.” When the tape was replayed, Cain said, “I misspoke because I was moving so fast. I would not do that, I simply would not do that.”
It wasn't a tough question the first time. Why did that throw him? It is continually dismaying to see how clumsy he is on anything in foreign or defense policy.

I find Gingrich's elder statesman pose tiring since anyone who followed his career knows he didn't rise to prominence as being the guy who was above-it-all. And Rick Santorum still comes across as whiny and given to false braggadocio about his record of getting elected twice in Pennsylvania without mentioning that he lost by 18 points in his last election.

And it was a sorry moment when all the candidates asked sucked up to Nevadans about Yucca Mountain. They were willing to ignore the science about the safety of Yucca Mountain being the depository for nuclear waste and instead on assuring Nevadans that no one wanted to force them to be the state holding nuclear waste. It's been bad enough that candidates have to kiss up to Iowans about ethanol and now we're going to have to see them doing the same thing to Nevada just because they have early caucuses. Yech.

I just don't want to see these candidates interrupting each other to score gotcha points. It's unpresidential and unseemly. I wouldn't tolerate that sort of behavior in my students; I don't want to see it in a potential president.If that is what is necessary for people to get their time in the spotlight, then we need another format.

And we need some different questions. I'd like to see the candidates drilled on what they'd do about the looming fiscal disaster in Medicare after they repeal Obamacare. How can we have had all these debates and that hasn't come up at all?

And with the Obama administration announcing almost a complete pull out from Iraq and Afghanistan and the incursion into central Africa, isn't it time for a few foreign policy questions?

I'm glad we're going to have a break from these debates. If people want to find out more about these people, we can watch their longer interviews on the Sunday shows and on cable news. Debates like last night help no one except Obama.

No one looked particularly good last night. But then none of them is all that great as a candidate. This is a real clothes-pin vote for many Republicans this year. Michelle Malkin is exactly right when she says that Republicans will need nose clips for their vote this year. She has a handy "Hold-Your-Nose-Tracker" to remind Republicans of what we don't like about each of these people.