A Lively Stage


Did you watch the Republican presidential debate in Charleston, S.C., last night? Well, I did. No, I didn’t watch it in Charleston itself: You know what I mean. Just a few notes for you.

CNN plays some pounding, gladiatorial music as the candidates emerge from the wings. Incredibly vulgar, I think. Oh, our democracy!

Mitt Romney has a bit of a buzz in his voice. You know what I mean? You can hear it the second he opens his mouth. I think his first words are, “Hi, guys.” And then he says (I think), “And then there were four.” There are now four candidates on the GOP stage, down from nine, I believe.

John King, the CNN guy, says that we are “blessed” to have the national anthem performed by cadets from the Citadel.

Wow, did he say blessed? And in connection with the national anthem? And the Citadel?

Holy-moly. Is that legal at CNN? Wouldn’t Ted Turner have had the guy drawn and quartered?

I’m afraid that standards at CNN have become all too lax. Next thing you know they’ll be voting Republican.

The candidates, and the audience, I suppose, look at a video image of the American flag as they sing the anthem. The flag is waving in the breeze. I’m sorry, but I think the video image, in such a circumstance, is incredibly cheesy. Better to turn and face some nice, limp flag on the stage, as we all did in elementary school eons ago.

Didn’t we?

As soon as he can, Mitt says he’s been married to Ann for 42 years, as Newt stands beside him. Well, that wasn’t obvious!

Newt says he’s glad to be home in the South. Of course, he says this in the northern accent that is natural to him.

Then we have a congressman from Texas, Ron Paul, speaking in his strong, unsuppressable Pittsburgh accent. (“Insuppressible” is the legit word, but I like “unsuppressable.” And, hell, it’s my language.) (And yours.)

Paul says, “I’m the only U.S. veteran on this stage tonight.” The veterans I admire don’t talk like that.

Besides, “only U.S. veteran”? Someone else a Danish veteran?

John King says to Newt, “Your ex-wife gave an interview . . .” I’m thinking, “‘Ex-wife’? Could you narrow that down, John?”

Newt always manages to be the victim, doesn’t he? When he says “destructive,” “vicious,” and “despicable,” he’s talking about what others are doing to him, never about what he does to, for example, someone to whom he has pledged his life and honor.

When he can tangle with the media, of course, he’s at his best. He shines brightest.

I wonder whether Newt’s “personal” record will hurt him, electorally. When you think about it, betrayal and divorce are as American as apple pie.


He’s a clever one, Newt: Out of his ex-wife’s testimony, he makes a Republican, conservative, anti-media cause.

Mitt says the “right” thing: “Let’s get on to the real issues.” But I put “right” in quotation marks, because, you know, for some — moral character is a real issue.

As I listen to Newt go on to talk about various policy matters, I think, “We used to say that Clinton could ‘compartmentalize.’ Boy, can Newt do it too.”

Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina: a hell of a smile.

Rick Santorum again seems to be running for president of the manufacturing sector. I know it’s important . . .

I have a funny reaction, in the middle of this four-man debate: “The answers are too long now!” Dumb reaction, I know. But I still have it.

Great answer from Santorum: Obama gutting defense so as to keep the welfare state nice and bloated.

Mitt trips over himself when he talks. The words tumble out, and on top of one another. He talks with an eagerness, often an overeagerness.

A strong answer from Romney, on health care. Want your health care to be like Amtrak and the post office? Trite, but true and effective.

Fabulous, boffo line from Newt: “I have an offer to the parents of America: Elect us and your kids will be able to move out, because they’ll have work!”

Candidates have to watch insiderness. Santorum says “Heritage” like everyone’ll know he’s talking about a think tank in Washington, D.C. Most people would hear that word without the upper case, you know?

In general, Santorum quite strong on health care.

When in accusation mode, he is quite whiny and unpleasant, I think. Also sneering. Mean.

Says “playing footsies” when he means “footsie.” At least it’s “footsie” where I come from. Can’t vouch for western Pennsylvania.

Santorum excellent in saying, I am solid and steady. I can’t excite a crowd like Newt. But you don’t have to worry about my character or mental state. I won’t shock or embarrass you.

Newt is right: He did build a Republican majority, in the House. And people did doubt him. They did doubt that it was possible.

Newt needs to commune with his dictionary: He “owns” the word “grandiose,” applying it to himself in a self-congratulatory way. “Grand” is good (often), “grandiose” is bad. Newt the intellectual should know this.

The Santorum-Gingrich squabble over the early and mid-’90s in Congress? Ancient history. But interesting, I find.