On the evening of Tuesday, 18 October, the newest of umpteen debates between the candidates vying for the Republican Party’s nomination for the president took place. It’s taken a while to make it really clear but this latest debate (there will be at least 22 in all) was convincing proof that these debates are one more variant of reality television – not the staged competitions like Survivor or The Great Chase – but more like a policy wonk’s special edition of The Real Women of Jersey Shore or Life in the Fab Lane with Kimora Lee Simmons. Scary thought, that. Kimora as moderator though, could be more interesting than Anderson Cooper was. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Of course it could be worse – perhaps the candidates could be encouraged to make on-camera rude faces and funny sounds at each other whenever they didn’t like what they heard from another on-air contestant. Just like on The Jerry Springer Show or the old Ricki Lake Show. Oops, sorry, they do that already – and the audiences even get a chance to join in sometimes. Or maybe they could be egged on to take swings at each other with some soft Punch ’n Judy-style bats. Well, it’s, more or less, come to that already.
We’ve already had debates where the audience applauded a candidate who effectively supported letting the uninsured ill die on the hospital steps and booed a gay, active duty soldier who dared to ask a question of one of the candidates. This time around, the candidates themselves got a bit frisky; they shouted over each other’s comments and Mitt Romney put his hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder in the way one gentles a nervous horse as if to say, “Easy pal, easy now” during one particularly testy exchange on Tuesday evening.
After it was all over and the spinning was taking off in earnest, the commentariat seemed to concur that Romney did himself no real harm – although not too much good – by continuing to do his imitation of an actor imitating a president, even if he flashed an exposed nerve when he was called out over undocumented/illegal aliens working in his garden some years back. Perry may have helped himself a bit, if for no other reason than he was obviously awake throughout the whole evening and he even took a couple of pokes at Romney that struck at least a glancing blow or two.
The newest great right hope, Herman Cain, on the other hand, has been stung by his obvious lack of familiarity with foreign policy and from shots fired at his tax plan. Over the weekend he fumbled the ball when asked whether he concurred with neoconservative attitudes on national security, and his 999 plan took some hits from economists who pointed out that most Americans would actually pay more in taxes from it – to make up for the tax cuts the rich would suffer under it. Tuesday night was no exception as it was clearly pile-on-Herman-night. Romney went the extra mile of condescension to tell Cain he admires his “chutzpah” but it’s just a no go; Perry told Cain that “I love you bro’ ” but it’s no on the tax plan as New Hampshire voters, who currently have no sales tax, would undoubtedly veto the plan; Rich Santorum pointed out that 84% of Americans would have their tax burden increase under 999; while Michelle Bachmann warned voters that in the future, those nasty liberal presidents would ride Cain’s new tax regime up to a 90% tax to finance their nefarious liberal spending plots.
Meanwhile the rest of the crew continued to demonstrate their obvious lack of gravitas and seriousness of purpose or less than effective dress sense (as in Ron Paul’s ill-fitting suit). This is, after all, live television entertainment every bit as much as it is an effort to make a political statement about the future of the republic. Bachmann managed to forget what continent Libya is part of when she accused Barack Obama of getting involved in flaky new foreign military commitments, first in Libya and then in Africa, oops.
For some reason, the candidates also managed to get their collective danders really up over the rampant waste in America’s foreign aid budget – and over how budgetary travails at home would be solved if that 2% of the total federal budget was trimmed. Foreign aid’s a red meat dog whistle to the right, but even eliminating it isn’t going to make much of a difference in the larger picture – and the candidates, collectively, chose not to use that moment to educate, rather than pander.
But without question, the clear loser last night was CNN moderator Anderson Cooper who seemed to lose control of this food fight, fumbled his own knowledge of America by blandly and incorrectly asserting that 57% of Americans pay no federal tax, and by the end of the night managed to cut two of the lesser contenders out of giving their final statements. Not his best moment.
The next episode comes up 9 November, somewhere in New Hampshire. The good news is that by then, a few of the lesser candidates would have dropped out for lack of funds to continue, and the remaining contestants will – presumably – have sharpened their answers; memorised the names of the presidents of Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan and all the other –stans; and perfected their applause lines. Of course by then, too, we would have likely lost from the chase the only candidate who isn’t afraid of evolution or in ignorance of climate change – Jon Huntsman. It is his misfortune that this year’s competition seems to be rewarding ignorance rather than understanding and civility. It seems that the soundtrack for this particular run for the nomination must be Sam Cooke’s immortal lyrics:
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took….
C’mon, sing along with those Republicans! DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine