Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Republican Debates: Two-Way Theater

Arizona conservatives follow Florida Tea Party debate via video.
I enjoy following the debates more by registering the reaction across the Web than I do by tuning in to the TV. I like to read what Steve Kornacki at Salon thought (Gardasil is Perry's big problem), or what PPP polling is revealing about Perry's debate performances (Social Security is killing him), or what everybody, including Andrew Sullivan thinks about the Tea Party audience's crying out for the death of a hypothetical uninsured man. My favorite take might have been Josh Marshall's at TPM. I might have liked it best because it supported my own suspicions: Perry is not ready for national exposure. Even Ross Douthat -- not my favorite conservative columnist -- compared Rick Perry to Howard Dean in 2004, as in "Dated Perry, married Romney."

What's horrifying, really, is what the candidates are actually saying:
  1. The Republican candidates uniformly agree that Social Security is broken, and only they are "serious" enough to face up to that and "fix" it. How? They don't say.
  2. Government is the problem, not the solution. This they say while wanting to win the job of being the most important person in American government.
  3. Vaccinating girls so they won't get cervical cancer is a violation of American freedom. (Actually, they believe that "good" girls don't need the vaccine, only "bad" girls that want 'em some sexytime.)
  4. Austerity is the way to cure our economic ills, not taxing the wealthy the way most advanced nations do. That wouldn't be American. The American way is having 1 in 6 of our citizens living in poverty (new report just today from the U.S. Census Bureau).
  5. Rick Perry: "I said that if you allow the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes that it would be almost treasonous. I think that is a clear statement of fact. I am not a fan of the current chairman allowing that Federal Reserve to be used to cover up bad fiscal policy by this administration." Michele Bachmann also dislikes Bernanke. Bernanke, of course, is a Republican appointed by George Bush, whose Federal Reserve is independent from the current administration. What does Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann want to do, abolish the Fed and go back to the gold standard? They haven't said.
  6. Ron Paul said, more or less, if a guy doesn't want to buy health insurance, that's his damn problem. Crowd agreed. Paul hedged, saying back in his day the religious hospitals took care of the uninsured. Crowd loved that, too. Boy, there's a health care policy if I ever saw one.
I find that I don't have much to say about Mitt Romney because I don't think much about what he says because I have no confidence that he means a single word of it. I do have a somewhat tentative faith that Romney is cut from a similar cloth to that of his father, George Romney, who was a Republican back when "moderate" might still have been allowed in connection with ideology. Therefore, I feel a Romney presidency might not be an unmitigated disaster. Trouble is, how would I know? Not by listening to Romney over the last few years.

No, there's no joy in watching the GOP debates, unless it's to hope that we keep seeing how weak the candidates in the field are. One thing's for sure: there's a lot of wag-the-dog going on, with the audience just as big a part of the theater as the performers on stage. Another thing to hope for: that the Tea Party really wag them some dog. That'll give them a really sharp Republican candidate, I tell you.

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