Politics & Policy

Six in Debate

Watched Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate. Made some notes. Nothing comprehensive, just scattered. Share them with you?

‐Michele Bachmann gets this super-eager look on her face, her eyes shining. She literally licks her lips in anticipation. Kind of fun to watch. I like the woman, I swear. Wouldn’t want to work for her. Not sure she should be president. Like her.

‐Diane Sawyer gives a weird little paean to democracy, thanking the candidates for running. I feel this is a little gaggy. Am I just Joe Cynic?

#ad#‐Kudos to George Stephanopoulos for his grammar: He speaks of “questions from Diane and me.” Doesn’t he know the modern American way is “from Diane and I”? Between you and I, I don’t think so.

‐Newt talks about what to do — what to do to restore us to health: cut taxes, reduce regulation, develop energy, encourage employers. Ballgame.

This is the Republican consensus of 2012, and it is correct. (How nice when a consensus is correct!)

‐When I say “2012,” I mean, of course, the present presidential cycle. Get off me. Thanks!

‐When he looks at other candidates as they speak, Mitt Romney has a pained smile on his face. I don’t think he’s aware of it. He just does.

‐Why do they love Newt? Because he can talk. Republicans are always looking for a candidate who can talk. They almost never get one.

Remember when Dick Cheney debated Joe Lieberman in 2000? If you were a Republican, weren’t you comfortable, assured that our man could handle anything, verbally?

That was such an odd feeling for us Republicans. (I say this as someone who loved, to varying degrees, W., 41, Reagan, and others.) (Even Dole.)

‐When Sawyer speaks of a “distinguishing idea,” several times, I can’t help thinking of “distinguishing characteristics,” a phrase that was a distinguishing characteristic of the Clinton-Lewinsky era.

Sorry about that.

‐Mitt’s makeup seems a little off. A Nixon 1960 problem? Not as bad as that . . .

‐Man, does Mitt like lists — 1 to 3, 1 to 7, all that. I kind of do too.

‐Ron Paul talks like a cartoon character — some combination of characters, such as Elmer Fudd, Mr. Magoo, and Daffy Duck. I find him quite endearing, when he’s not expressing a worldview that’s demented and dangerous.

‐Rick Perry sings my song, when he talks about a flat tax. But would the American people ever stand for it? The politics of envy is very, very strong, I’m afraid. People are used to the idea that their neighbor who earns more should be taxed at a higher rate.

Democrats call that “fair.” Has never struck me that way. Different people live on different planets, when it comes to perceptions of fairness.

‐Bachmann thinks that everyone should pay a little something — that we should all contribute to the commonweal, even if it’s a mite. I agree. But, again, I’m not sure the American people would ever go for it.

You never know, though: People can be appealed to. Shamed, also. Why should other people carry the entire freight? Wouldn’t people feel better about themselves, contributing a little something, not leaving the entire burden to their neighbors?

‐I dig the way Bachmann says “code,” as in “tax code” — pure Minnesota. Like a lake.

‐I also love her phrase “legalize American energy” — make the production of American energy legal. The enviro-Left has declared it out of bounds. Tell it, Michele.

‐Sometimes, Rick Santorum gives the impression of running for president of American manufacturing. Everyone needs a theme, but . . .

‐Ms. Sawyer seems to be having some mascara problems. Tough to be a girl, I know. I’d go crunchy lesbian in a second.

‐Once, Reagan was described as having a “whiskey baritone.” Mitt has some whiskey in his voice too.

I know, I know: He doesn’t drink. I’m talking about a vocal quality — a certain graininess of tone. Pleasant, too.

‐Some people hold it against Mitt that he doesn’t drink. America loves a lush a lot more than it loves a teetotaler.

In fact, I knew people who held it against W. that he didn’t drink. They were actually offended.

The thing about drinkers: They take offense if you don’t. They consider it a personal affront, even if you’re happy for them to drink their own urine, if they want.

‐Mitt makes some sort of joke about Obama and his golf grip — dumb. So, the guy plays golf. Big deal. Frankly, it’s one of the best things I know about him. Keeps him out of the office, away from governing (although there are always cellphones).

‐I’m for more Obama vacations too! Workless vacations . . .

‐George Stephanopoulos grills the candidates on who’s the most conservative, and consistently conservative. Hilarious. It’s as though I demanded of Democrats that they give their bona fides as a McGovernite.

‐Romney says that Obama wants an “entitlement society,” while he himself wants a “merit society.” An excellent formulation. But will it fly, politically? There are a lot of people who aren’t so keen on merit, and are very keen on entitlement.

‐Newt is so right about Mitt: Would have been a career politician, if the voters of Massachusetts had cooperated.

‐Iowa State University is attracting “brilliant students,” Newt says. Really? Good. (Really?)

‐What Newt says about kids’ having jobs in school — makes perfect sense.

‐If I hadn’t followed Newt for 30 years — if I knew him through these debates, only — I’d vote for him as early and as often as I could. Such an impressive fellow, always has been.

But there is that “baggage,” to use the shorthand of the season.

‐Newt refers to his influence-peddling as private-sector work! Well, strictly true, I guess . . .

‐When Bachmann speaks of “Newt Romney,” Newt gives Romney a priceless look — a look that says, “Get a load of this weirdness, would you?”

‐Bachmann is so crisp, and she makes such great sense. But then she goes and says something cuckoo, such as, “They were for the illegal-immigration problem” (referring to Gingrich and Romney).

They were for the illegal-immigration problem? Apparently, the congresswoman can’t help saying these things. She’ll be coasting along, doing great, and then, bam.

‐Bachmann is one of the millions of Americans who say “advocated for” — as in “advocated for the individual mandate.” In my ears, it’s many millions of fingernails, scraping against a chalkboard . . .

‐People actually bought Newt Gingrich’s books? They were New York Times bestsellers? Geez.

‐Really, Michele, really? If Newt or Romney were the nominee, he would not be able to disagree with Obama? Really?

Quit being crazy! Be rhetorical, sure, even hyperbolic and unfair. But not crazy!

‐Romney gives a fabulous answer involving the Tenth Amendment — just great. Perry is supposed to be a specialist on that amendment, but I have never heard anyone talk about it more effectively than Mitt.

‐He’s also 100 percent right on ObamaCare: The Democrats could have done something about the uninsured; instead, they took the opportunity of a national economic crisis and big majorities in Congress to achieve their decades-long dream of socialized medicine, or something akin to it.

One of the most offensive things about ObamaCare is its immodesty. Gross.

‐Romney bets Perry 10 grand. Sure, it’s a rich guy’s figure. People will say — as they always say about Romney — “Richie Rich! Richie Rich!”

But you could look at the bet, and its magnitude, this way: It says, “You think you’re so right, Rick? You think you got me? Okay: Put a whole lot of money behind your proposition. You could pick up a quick 10 grand. You’re sure, right? Or do you want to rethink your charge against me?”

#page#‐A question is posed about marital fidelity, and with Newt on the stage. Yowzer! Wonder how he’ll answer. Wonder how Dole, McCain, and others would.

Billy J.?

‐I was on the radio last week, and a caller suggested a running-mate for Newt, if the former Speaker is the nominee: Herman Cain. I contemplated a Newt-Cain pairing, calling it “a ticket of rascals.” America would certainly know that the GOP, at long last, had left that family-values stuff behind!

‐My favorite line of the night comes from Rick Perry: “A vow before God is even stronger than a handshake in Texas.”

#ad#‐Should marital fidelity make a difference to a voter? A voter can vote for any reasons he wants — he shuts the curtain behind him and pulls the lever. He doesn’t have to tell anyone for whom he has pulled it, or why. People have a right to pick their values: to decide what is important to them, and less so.

‐Ron Paul paints the Patriot Act as something bad. He doesn’t say why it’s bad, though — not in this forum. Perhaps he has in others.

Do you think the Patriot Act has curbed your freedom? Or helped safeguard it? Or neither?

‐Newt says, “People have to look at the person whom they’re gonna loan the presidency” — a nice line, a nice formulation. (I’d have said “lend,” but okay.)

‐The Palestinians as a recent invention! So true. So very, very true. The “Palestinian people” came into being about two seconds ago, when Yasser Arafat waved his gun. Before Israeli statehood, it was the Jews who were the “Palestinians.”

I’m telling a story from memory, but the basics are true: Reagan was once asked how he got to be such a big supporter of Israel. He said he went to a home in Hollywood, where he listened to a “plucky little Palestinian,” talking about what the Jews were trying to accomplish in the Holy Land.

The Israel Philharmonic began life as the PSO — the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. It was filled with plucky little Palestinians — the string players were especially plucky, in their pizzicatos — and they were conducted in their first concert by Toscanini.

I could go on . . .

‐I wish Mitt Romney could realize: A presidential candidate is not a diplomat. He can speak the truth now and then, as Newt has. The prevarication, or shading, can come later, once the candidate has gained office.

‐Ron Paul keeps saying that we don’t have to be “the policeman of the world.” He is selling the reeking lie that, if we only came home, kept our heads down, and tended to our knitting in our fortress, the world and its monsters would leave us alone.

He’s an old coot, but did he miss the entire 20th century?

‐Talking about the Arab-Israeli conflict, Newt Gingrich has moved me, actually. He is right on: There has been enough lying about the Middle East, enough butt-smooching of bad actors, enough walking on eggshells. A little truth is in order, every so often. It is incredibly refreshing.

‐What the heck is Mitt talking about? Newt never claimed to be speaking for Israel. He was speaking for himself, giving his own view.

‐If Mitt’s going to claim buddyship with Netanyahu, he’s got to work on the pronunciation of the prime minister’s name.

‐Honestly, I don’t see why Mitt’s being such a weenie on this issue. Newt is not involved in sensitive negotiations. He gave his opinion — told the truth — on the campaign trail. Mitt should not wet his pants.

‐In this whole back-and-forth on Israel, Newt smashes Mitt, smashes him to smithereens. I’ll say again, if you didn’t know so much about Newt, you could vote for him in a heartbeat . . .

‐Um, how exactly did Newt get to be known as the “outsider” candidate? He took $1.6 or $1.8 million from Freddie Mac. What’s the threshold? Do you have to take $2 million to be considered an insider? At $1.9 million, you still get to be an outsider?

‐True, true, there are outsider aspects to Newt, always have been, even when he was Speaker.

‐At any rate, I exult in what he has said about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I don’t think I’ve been this happy since Donald Rumsfeld uttered the immortal phrase “the so-called occupied territories.”

‐Rick Perry mentions being on Des Moines radio, WHO. What favorite president of yours got his start there? You got it, baby: the Gipper.

‐Romney’s answer on his “personal story”? His upbringing, his church work, and all that? Magnificent, just magnificent.

If he’s the nominee, I hope the Democrats call him a rich kid a lot, just so I can hear parts of that answer again. (There was a touch of noblesse oblige in it, and people get annoyed by that, but still . . .)

‐Santorum’s remarks on the importance of an intact family — great, just great.

‐When he speaks of his legislative career, does he have to sound like he was the greatest thing since Daniel Webster, if not Draco? Bragging comes with campaigning. But the lighter the touch, the better.

‐Michele Bachmann, too, gives a moving answer on her upbringing. And to call divorce a tragedy — well, that’s very un-modern, and of course right.

‐I like her Great American pronunciation of “coupon”: “kyoupon.”

‐Did Nancy ever look as adoringly at Ronnie as Michele’s husband looks at her?

‐Someone says (I paraphrase), “You know, after all this time, I’m not sure how RomneyCare differs from ObamaCare.” Romney has a look on his face that says, “What more can I say?” But repetition, as he well knows, is part and parcel of political life. He soldiers on.

‐You know, he’s a damn good debater. Damn good. But everyone expects him to be good, so he doesn’t get any credit for it. If “second tier” debaters manage not to drool, people say, “Wow, they were awesome!” But people have higher standards for Romney, which is both flattering to him and unfortunate for him.

Huge applause comes when Ron Paul warns against having a government bent on “protecting you from yourself.” He’s a bracing little guy. I agree with much of what he says.

‐Newt cites and hails Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who’s in the audience. Branstad, says Gingrich, got out of politics, did other things, returned to politics when people said he was past it, and won. A brilliant citation, even moving.

What a wonderful talker Newt is. Have I mentioned that?

‐Bachmann is clearly making a play for Herman Cain’s fans, even reciting “9-9-9.” Without the Deep South accent, however, it’s got nothing.

‐Hey, have you noticed we’re down to six, at least for this debate? At one of the debates, there were nine candidates (including New Mexico’s Gary Johnson, of dog-poop-joke fame).



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