Politics & Policy

The Latest Audition

I’ve been a debate-watchin’, note-takin’ fool lately (and some of my readers may want to emphasize “fool”). Last night, the Republicans rumbled in Orlando. And I’ve again watched and taken notes. Here they are, for better or worse . . .

‐So, we’ll have one more candidate, Gary Johnson? Great. Yet more clutter. Listen, some of my golf buddies and I have an interest in being president. Should the networks invite us?

‐Speaking of networks: The Republicans are now debating under the auspices of Fox. Last time, they debated under the auspices of CNN. Before that, MSNBC. They’re an ecumenical bunch, these candidates.

In the Democratic primaries, last time around, the candidates were scheduled to have a debate hosted by Fox. Then they pulled out, the candidates did. The debate had to be canceled. Fox had cooties, you see.

Evidently, the Republicans don’t believe in cooties.

‐Mitt Romney likes lists — 1, 2, 3, 4. I like lists, too. Lists can be very effective. But he should leaven his answers with stories, anecdotes, examples. The bullet points can be wearying, and a tad bit inhuman.

Now that I think about it, you can always make a story one of your bullet points.

‐Michele Bachmann gets an interesting look on her face when she is being asked a question. She smiles, blinks, and purses her lips — and her eyes shine with anticipation.

‐People get a huge kick out of Newt Gingrich, as do I. A question: When they applaud him, laugh with him, and relish him, do they also know they’ll never vote for him?

‐About Herman Cain, same statement, same question.

‐I’ve never thought that Chris Wallace resembled his father in appearance — until now.

‐I think I heard Jon Huntsman say that the division in America was “unprecedented, unnatural, and un-American.” I’m thinking, “Unprecedented? Civil War? Over 600,000 dead?”

Never mind.

‐I wonder whether it’s hard for Wallace to talk, even hypothetically, about a “President Cain.” Maybe if you slipped a “Mc” in there. (Slip him a Mickey?) Even that got far-fetched, in the last weeks of the 2008 campaign.

‐When Cain used the phrase “That dog won’t hunt,” I thought, “I first learned that expression from Haley Barbour, when he was a political op in Washington. Or did I learn it from Bert Lance, when he was budget director? Can’t remember.”

The Carter administration introduced many Americans to southernisms.

‐I realized something tonight: Ron Paul has a little Frank Perdue in him, in appearance. (I know Perdue’s widow, here in New York. Lovely woman, a delight to be around.)

‐When Johnson talked about his business experience, starting something small and modest, making it a roaring success — I was amazed and impressed. If I had known that about him, I’d forgotten.

‐Johnson, quite simply, is a radical. This is fine, even helpful, as governor of New Mexico. The presidency is something else.

‐This will strike people as anti-democratic — that’s okay — but I don’t know why we have to have questions from e-mailers and tweeters and YouTubers and so on. How about good questions, asked by professional journalists?

That’s their job, one of them: to ask pertinent questions.

‐Remember Ponytail Man, from the 1992 debates?

‐When I was in college, I hated it when the professor said, on the first day, “Now, we’re all going to learn from each other.” I wanted to learn from a good, authoritative professor. I didn’t want to learn from my classmates, the ones fornicating and puking back in the dorms. I could hear from them any old time.

‐The answer that Rick Perry gives, repeatedly, on Social Security is exactly what George W. Bush said, from 2000 onward: No one currently drawing on Social Security, or about to do so, has to worry. Such a person won’t experience any change. But we have to have some options for younger people.

‐I’d give Romney $20 to stop saying “different than.”

‐If I were Mitt, I’d avoid criticizing other candidates on the basis of inconsistency or flip-flopping. Glass houses, etc.

‐Mitt said, “I actually wrote my book,” in a jab at Perry, I believe. If I’m right — mean and unnecessary.

‐I have a memory of George W. Bush. This was many years ago. He referred to “the book I wrote,” then grinned and said, “or that they say I wrote.” How could I not love him?

‐Perry made a charge: that Romney said something in his hardcover edition, then sneakily changed it in the paperback. Charge never answered. Will it be?

‐Mitt has the habit of answering a question — giving his spiel — then ending with a pat “Thank you.” Doesn’t work well, after two or three times.

‐He was very good on “Is Obama a socialist?” Didn’t call him one. But said, in effect, “He might as well be.” Then there was this line (and I paraphrase): “The European model isn’t working in Europe, so why should we impose it on America?” Clever, good.

‐Here is my opinion (not that you asked): The federal government is not what ails education, contrary to what the candidates said, over and over. The federal government is not ruining education. What’s ruining education is the unions and our culture, including broken families.

‐In response to a Perry line of attack, Romney said — quipped — “Nice try.” Good.

‐Loved this line of Bachmann’s: “the mother of all repeal bills.”

‐From time immemorial, presidential candidates have pledged to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the nation’s capital, Jerusalem. Never happens.

Similarly, conservatives often pledge to abolish the Department of Education. Never happens.

Could it? Before pigs fly?

‐Newt had a wonderful point: America makes it too hard for people to come here legally — to do such things as visit Disney World, or give a piano recital. And we make it too easy for people to come here illegally.

Broken at both ends, so to speak.

‐Mitt’s answer on Texas, illegals, and college tuition? I thought it was cold, crabbed, and bad. He might have shown an ounce of sympathy — even an ounce, while holding to his position. All good politicians do this.

Would it have killed him to hint that Perry had a tough problem to deal with? That there are two sides to the question? That life is complicated, occasionally?

There’s room for that in presidential politics — even in a debate with 30-second answers.

‐It was rather amazing to hear an auditoriumful of conservative Republicans whooping it up for Israel. That could not have been imagined, short decades ago. Unimaginable.

The world simply turns. Don’t get too wedded to one party. (Think of the issues of trade, color-consciousness, internationalism, etc.)

‐Perry fumbled woefully when talking about Pakistan — or “the Pakistani country,” as he said. Needs coaching bad.

‐In giving some answers, of course, he was natural, persuasive, and reassuring. And damn likable. In fact, he was pretty much always likable.

A valuable ingredient, that.

‐For years, pro-life politicians have been saying that they’re against abortion “except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.” I have long asked, “If you say that abortion is the wrongful taking of an innocent human life, how can you have exceptions for rape and incest? What do the circumstances of conception — no matter how beautiful or how horrible — have to do with the innocence of the child, or the child’s right to life?”

Something like that was asked at tonight’s debate. I was surprised and impressed.

‐Perry was asked what were the differences between him and George W. Bush. Isn’t it enough to say, “Each of us is his own man”? No?

‐When Cain was asked about his past illnesses and Obamacare, I didn’t have much hope — hope for an effective answer. I thought Cain handled the question very well. Almost brilliantly.

‐This is terribly subjective, and you may have had a completely different reaction, and I may be full of it: but I thought Huntsman’s citing of his daughter’s illness was gratuitous and distasteful. Just about nauseating.

Again, very, very subjective.

‐I liked very much a phrase that Huntsman used — a classically American phrase: Obamacare has “gummed up our system.”

‐For the past two debates — or has it been three? — I’ve cringed when Bachmann has said “twelve-year-old little girls.” (This is about the vaccine thing in Texas.) “Twelve-year-old girls” will do.

‐In my view, Romney made a mistake when he said “Nice try” again. It sort of canceled, or diminished, the effectiveness of the first time. Don’t fall in love with your lines.

Reagan blundered terribly when he trotted out “There you go again” on Mondale.

‐Every time Romney is asked about Romneycare, he gives the same answer (more or less). Which is fine. First of all, if it’s true, it’s true. Second: Maybe people are listening for the first time.

‐Between 1976 and 1980, Reagan gave the same speech, a lot. Deaver went to him and suggested that he work up another speech. Reagan said, “I like this speech, Mike. You find me new audiences.”

‐Perry tried to do this shtick on “before and after” — Romney before, and Romney after. In other words, he tried to recite a flip-flopping rap. Botched it hideously. He didn’t get elected governor three times campaigning like that.

‐Something Herman Cain said reminded me of something John Bolton said — you’ll find it at the end of this piece, which I wrote at the end of last year. I asked Bolton whether America was in decline. He said, “No. I think this administration, if its policies were pursued for an extended period of time, would take us into decline, but there’s nothing wrong with this country that a real president couldn’t cure.”

‐Cain had an excellent line — that we’re sliding down the hill we ought to be a shining city on top of.

‐You know what Romney doesn’t do well? Criticize. He does so without artfulness. He does so bluntly and crudely. He’s much better at saying what he’s for, and what he’d do.

‐The candidates are in broad agreement — frankly, in specific agreement — about what is necessary to get the country working again.

‐Reagan’s line from the 1980 campaign is still drawing whoops and hollers. I thought Newt did a good job of paraphrasing it.

But this is what Reagan said, I believe. President Carter criticized him for saying we were in a depression, instead of a recession. He said that Reagan was too loose with language (which he was).

Reagan said, at stop after stop, “If Jimmy Carter wants a definition, I’ll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. Recovery begins when Jimmy Carter loses his job.”

The crowd would go nuts. And the traveling press corps, weary of hearing these lines, would recite them along with the candidate.

‐Johnson’s line about shovel-ready jobs, and his neighbor’s dogs, was of course fantastic. I thought, “I wish that line could have been saved for next fall’s campaign — for use by the Republican nominee.”

‐I loved Romney’s laughter — big, genuine laughter — over Johnson’s line.

‐Can we just admit it? Everyone loves a poop joke.

‐Did Newt Gingrich really say “criteria,” when he should have used the singular, “criterion”? Shocking.

‐Romney said he’d be comfortable with anyone onstage as president. At least I think he said that. He was being polite, for sure. But I hope he didn’t mean his comment. What would a President Paul or Johnson mean for our national security? If we ceased the War on Terror — terror wouldn’t cease. Quite the opposite.

“You may not like war, but war likes you,” unfortunately.

‐Huntsman joked about the similarities between him and Cain, and the possibility of their running together. He was being cute — but I also thought he was a tad condescending. Just me?

‐A quick summary: Perry did a little better than in his first two debates; Romney did a little worse. In this third debate, they were about equal.

Have a good weekend!




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