Going to the Candidate’s Debate
It’s hard to write anything like this without seeming to endorse a second term for Barack Obama. This is difficult for me to do, since I’ve generally found Obama to be a Clintonian disappointment; he’s squandered one political opportunity after another, bowed down before the G.O.P. with barely a struggle, catered to the center-right, surrounded himself with corporatists and free-marketeers, and put together a record that resembles George H.W. Bush’s more than it does any liberal politician I can think of. Were there anything like real choice in the American political system, he’d never get my vote.
However, in these United States, we get to visit one of two doctors for treatment of the bleeding head wound we receive every four years; one of them offers us a children’s aspirin, and the other offers to punch us in the skull with brass knuckles. The Republican candidates did a fine job of illustrating last night how unthinkable it would be to allow any one of them to become President; or, to put it a more
pessimistic realistic way, they gave us an exciting preview of what the years 2012-2016 are going to look like. Here’s some lowlights:
– Rick Perry, the ambling coiffure that non-governs my home state of Texas, set the tone with the first question. Asked why he should be entrusted with the supervision of America when Texas scores near the bottom in so many categories, he pointed out what a shitty job Obama is doing. In other words, how could be be any worse? The message is clear: Perry has no ideas, and no plans on how to improve things; he’s just counting on people liking him more than they do Obama, which shouldn’t be hard to pull off given the last four years of non-stop vilification of the Kenyan usurper from Perry’s side of the media.
– Perry and Mitt Romney, the glad-handing multimillionaire from Commie-chusetts, fought fiercely over their job creation rates, which was their idea of pretending to give a crap about unemployment. Largely missing from the debate, which largely focused on numbers and arcane details, was the question of how new jobs would be created. This is because everyone there was in agreement: they would come from the private sector. This is exactly where they’re coming from now, or, to put it more accurately, where they’re not coming from now. So despite the prominence of the job creation issue in the debate, the Republican answer to the question “What, as president, would you do to spur job growth?” is universally “nothing”.
– Romney (after hyping Texas’ right-to-work status as an economic advantage rather than what it really is, a means of suppressing unions and keeping people out of the middle class) proved that the ol’ “Al Gore invented the internet” gag still has life in it. This illustrates the fact, often denied by idealists, that negative campaigning works: Romney got the biggest response of the evening by recycling a 12-year-old slander against a Democrat who was never even president.
– Pizza man Herman Cain is this year’s capering clown candidate, so of course the tea party nuts love him. He has as much chance of winning the presidency as does a can of dog food, but he’s sure to provide plenty of entertainment until the day he drops out. He’s a great illustration of how the conservative notion of having CEO types run the country crashes comically into the steely fact that CEOs are frequently not very smart; as witness, consider that last night, Cain suggested that he will be taking his domestic policy advice from novelty singer Ray Stevens.
– Speaking of mistakes people keep making over and over, it’s often said that we need a candidate with intelligence, and not a candidate with charm. Much better is a candidate with good ideas and the political savvy to see them enacted into law, but those days are probably gone forever, and Beefheart fan Jon Huntsman, who has recently won over the press with his smarts, is a good illustration of why being bright isn’t enough. Speaking Chinese just made him seem like a showoff (and, to the anti-intellectual crowd, probably a traitor), and his attacks on the job records of Romney and Perry might as well have come from a left-wing blogger for all anyone in the crowd paid attention. They were delivered with passionless non-umph, and the few people who registered them at all were no doubt wondering, as is the entire rest of the nation, who the fuck Jon Huntsman is.
– Ron Paul appeals to people all across the political and intellectual spectrum, which is hard to understand, because he is crazy. Whatever his views are on America’s wars, its drug policy, and the gold standard*, he is, at heart, a committed Libertarian, and this means he thinks, as he stated last night, that pharmaceutical companies should be free from government regulation and their products should be governed only by ‘the market’. In case the intricacies of Libertarianism escape you, this means they should be allowed to develop products and test them on you. By selling them to you. And if you die because they haven’t been properly tested, as thousands of people do every year, well, you can just stop buying them!
– Newt Gingrich suggests that Barack Obama is unfit to lead the nation because he does not frequently invoke the oracle of Ronald Reagan. Is this a policy position? Is this an idea? I don’t know what it is. Newt Gingrich is unfit to lead a shoe box.
– Rick Santorum, speaking in the third person, responds to a question about how his Catholicism shaped his policies on helping the poor by talking about his role in ending welfare. This ‘helped’ the poor by taking away their only safety net, which made their lives better by the same alchemy that visiting the Reagan Presidential Library would make Obama a better president.
– Michele Bachmann illustrates that she can sound completely insane even when she isn’t talking about Jesus by claiming that if elected, she will lower gas prices to $1.79 per gallon. Somehow. This is stupid, and Jon Huntsman points out that it is stupid, but even that can’t make him look presidential. This might be another central metaphor for American presidential politics: Bachmann comes off better proposing an unworkable fantasy than Huntsman does pointing out that it’s a dumb idea.
– I don’t generally find the anti-science stance of a lot of Republicans to be as big a deal as some people do, but it’s still pretty dismaying to hear Rick Perry talk about how Galileo was “outvoted for a spell”. That Perry thinks (a) the validity of science is subject to a vote and that (b) there is nothing unseemly about scientific facts being suppressed by authority figures doesn’t say much for either his approach to governance or his understanding of science.
– The real meat of the debate, and the heart of why no one with even the slightest sense of economic reality should vote for Rick Perry, came after the break when he began raving about Social Security. After an opening bit where he seemed to imply anyone who collected Social Security in the first place was some kind of moocher, he then attacked it as a Ponzi scheme (which, no one reminded him, is a still-popular innovation from the private sector) and demanded its abolition. I don’t think for a minute that Mitt Romney is the man to save Social Security, but he at least had the balls to point out how grievously offensive this is. America’s pre-Social Security retirement program consisted of two options: (a) being rich and (b) dying; the latter was used far more often than the former, due to its wider accessibility. Tens of millions of people, all of them hardworking, decent Americans, have been able to afford a decent old age only because of Social Security. Rick Perry’s only attitude towards it is a dogmatic insistence that it is a wasteful government boondoggle relied upon by the lazy and weak, and his only alternative for it is a return to the days when only private wealth protected the elderly from a few years of impoverished illness followed by miserable death. That’s the idea under the haircut. Republican dogma writ large: the government helps people by letting them help themselves, and if they can’t, well…
It’s at this point, just after the hour mark, that things get really screwy; having exhausted the Obama-bashing and sniping over micro-details of their jobs non-plans, the candidates largely feel free to go off on whatever tangents are flitting about their pretty little heads. Ron Paul calls TSA agents a bunch of sex perverts. Newt Gingrich takes credit for designing a system to keep the government functioning after three nuclear attacks, which is typical of Newt insofar as it bears no resemblance to any issue that exists in reality; he later suggests — apparently seriously — that the documentation of immigrants be made the purview of credit card companies, because they are so good at preventing fraud and they never make mistakes. Rick Perry repudiates Keynesian economics with a vociferousness only found in people who don’t understand Keynesian economics. Herman Cain again pushes his 9-9-9 tax plan, reminding us all of the days when Steve Forbes ran for president and answered every question about every issue by talking about the flat tax, because it was the only idea he had.
I suppose it’s possible for someone to come away from this with an impression other than “Obama = stinko”, but I’m not sure what it might be. To say that none of the candidates came across as remotely qualified to govern a country will remain the understatement of the campaign until 2012, when one of them is actually given the chance to prove it.
*: At one point, Paul says, contra Bachmann, that gas really should only cost a dime, because a real silver dime is worth $3.50 and all of our money would be worth more if conniving politicians hadn’t regulated his dragon horde to the point that a platinum piece could no longer buy you a +1 dagger. Honestly, this is probably a failing on my part, but my eyes just glaze over when he talks like this.