Politics & Policy

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.

#ad#‐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.

#page#‐Santorum says that Newt, in the past, wouldn’t stand up and risk his position. Newt kills him on this question. Kills him. Just lays him out.

A very unwise line of attack, from Rick.

‐I wish Mitt wouldn’t damn Washington politics, in such a glib way. Politics is very important. Very. Who governs in Washington, and what they do, is critically important.

That’s why we’re going through this campaign!

#ad#‐Mitt saying that Newt wasn’t very important to Reagan because he only mentioned Newt once in his diary, and in a negative light — petty. Clumsily done. Backfiring, too.

‐In Norway, a social-democratic culture, “solidarity” is extremely important — “social solidarity.” Everyone’s tax return is on the Internet. This creates great resentment and other emotions in the society. As someone in Oslo once told me, “You look down on everyone who makes one crown less than you, and you hate everyone who makes one crown more than you.”

Any Norwegian with wealth does his utmost to hide it.

‐Mitt raps Obama for playing golf. This is cheap and stupid, in my view. As I keep saying: The more golf Obama plays, the better. Keeps him away from governing, and choking American enterprise.

‐Never has Santorum been folksier than when he talks about doin’ his own taxes.

‐When the question is SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act — Newt says, “Well, you’re asking a conservative about the economic interests of Hollywood.” A wonderful line. Romney, standing next to Newt, gets a kick out of it, and I get a kick out of his getting a kick out of it.

‐Santorum’s comments on being in “the Final Four” strike me as just slightly Sally Fieldsian. Let me go to the transcript:

. . . to be standing here in the Final Four is about as amazing a thing that I could have ever conceived of happening; someone who had no money; who lost his last race; who everyone basically ignored as I traveled around South Carolina, Iowa, and — and New Hampshire and just talked to people.

That sort of thing is for other people to say, I think. But then, I think a lot of what Santorum says about himself is for other people to say, if it is to be said at all.

Harsh? Yeah, possibly.

‐Wonder if anyone has ever asked Ron Paul whether he supports the right of Israel to exist.

‐Mitt gives what is to me a surprising answer on immigration: “You know, the issue of illegal immigration is relatively straightforward compared to the tough issues we face,” issues such as the Chinese military, the jihad, and our entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

I sort of believe him.

‐Romney is very good in discussing abortion, I think. Better than I have ever heard him. And he schools — absolutely schools — Santorum on his record in Massachusetts (his own record, of course). Rick just has to take it as Romney patiently lays it out.

Candidates should know, the other guy is likely to know his own record better than you do.

‐Shocked that Mitt uses the term “Romneycare” (instead of “Masscare,” not to be confused with “massacre”). Has he ever done that before?

‐At a loss for words, he uses the phrase “abortion care” — a most unfortunate turn of phrase. Let him stifle that one, “going forward,” as they say now.

‐I’m surprised that, in giving his pro-life bona fides, he doesn’t mention Mary Ann Glendon, the Harvard law professor and former ambassador to the Vatican who is backing him, and calling him a strong pro-life governor.

‐“I have to be honest here.” That’s what Romney says, once. Candidates will want to avoid that sentence. Makes a person wonder, “What about the other times you have spoken, or will speak later?”

‐Passed over on the subject of abortion, Ron Paul interjects, “It’s a medical issue, and I’m a doctor.” Oh, is that what it is, a medical issue?

‐Frankly, I found the debaters’ discussion of abortion interesting. More than usually interesting.

‐One thing I like about Paul: He won’t tailor a message to South Carolina. His message is national, and probably universal.

‐Paul’s closing pitch: Quite good.

‐Newt’s closing pitch: Damn good.

‐Mitt’s closing pitch: Damn good.

‐Santorum’s closing pitch: Unfair, for one thing, because, unlike the others, he attacks other candidates, and they will not have the opportunity to respond.

‐Santorum says, “We’re the only people in this race that actually has won a swing state.” I can hear Romney thinking, “Well, I won in a liberal state.”

‐More Santorum: “I come with the working class and strong credentials, not just with a plan, but with the character that fits in with exactly the voters we need.”

Gag me, gag me. Barf, barf.

‐Overall, I think this has been an excellent debate, with all the candidates at their best, with the exception of Santorum, who I think has performed less well than on Monday.

‐I’m going to miss these debates when they stop. I really am. They have been an enjoyable series, for this hard-bitten political junkie.

Later, y’all, and thank you.



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