A few words on last night’s presidential debate in Arizona — four men vying for the Republican nomination.
‐As he walks out onto the stage, Newt manages to seem both dorky and gladiatorial. Kind of an amazing combo.
‐Mitt, as he walks, has a bit of a mince.
‐Ron Paul has just a hint of Monty Burns, as he walks. Tough old bird, though (Paul).
#ad#‐An Arizona State chorale sings the national anthem. Not bad, but something tells me the ASU golf team is much better.
‐The candidates are sitting down, rather than standing. Usually contributes to a more relaxed exchange.
‐Santorum makes a nice, crisp opening statement — a winner of a statement.
‐Did Romney really refer to a character on the Seinfeld show? To George Costanza?
‐Newt just slays me with, “And I’ve developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again . . .”
Brilliant. Actually, the bow to the Saudi king was the least bad of the three bows. The worst was the bow to the PRC premier, and the second worst was the bow to the emperor of Japan (the first for moral reasons, the second for historical reasons).
‐A man named Gilbert Fidler (I believe), from Gilbert, Ariz., asks the first question. Gilbert from Gilbert!
‐Santorum calls him “Gilbert” — and the man is considerably older than he. I don’t like that, particularly. But it’s modern, I understand.
‐Santorum: “When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It’s now 60 percent of the budget. Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It’s now 17 percent.”
Nicely put forth.
‐Romney calls Gilbert Gilbert too. Oh, well.
‐Some people don’t like it when Mitt runs “autobiographically” — when he cites his background, in the various spheres. I think the autobiographical stuff fits nicely with the policy stuff — and that he should keep doing it.
‐Says Romney, “Government servants shouldn’t get paid more than the people who are paying taxes.” Is the implication that government workers don’t pay taxes? If so, not real cool.
‐Looks like Rick’s trying to behave, not be peevish: no eye rolls, no sighs, no clucks, no head shakes so far.
‐Speaking of peevishness, let me mention one of my grammatical peeves: Rick says, “I wish I wouldn’t have voted for No Child Left Behind.” About 15 years ago, people stopped saying (for example), “I wish I hadn’t voted for . . .” I don’t know why. A real puzzler.
‐The moderator, John King, calls Gilbert Gilbert too.
‐So does Newt. The man is “Gilbert” all around.
‐Newt continues to talk intelligently about energy, and I think the Republican field at large has too. I think this is a consensus position for Republicans: the “all of the above” position on energy (i.e., let’s get energy from all sources available).
I especially liked a phrase of Michele Bachmann’s: that it’s time to “legalize American energy.” One of the best bits of rhetoric in the entire campaign.
‐When someone else is speaking, Romney looks intently at him. I don’t know whether I could do this. Don’t know whether it’s natural to Romney or something cultivated.
‐I wonder if libertarians, in their hearts, wish they were represented by someone other than Congressman Paul. The libertarian case, across the board, can be made better. Although Paul has that pluck.
‐I suppose the other candidates don’t feel it’s a wise use of time to explain to Paul, and to the audience, how foreign aid can be in the American interest. (Foreign aid can be dumb and counterproductive too, of course. It depends.)
‐Santorum sort of lectures Paul about “Pennsylvania folks.” Which is fine. But I’m thinking, “Paul started out as a Pennsylvania folk.”
‐People for whom Romney can do no right howled and scoffed at a phrase he applied to himself: “severely conservative.” I’m glad John King gives him a chance to explain what he meant. I always thought the phrase was perfectly clear, if unconventional.
(Remember when Nixon said, “Let me be perfectly clear . . .”?) (Another great one was, “Let me say this about that.” I think that was Nixon, too.)
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Readers have pointed out, “That was JFK!” (“Let me say this about that.”) Quite right.
‐Newt knows how to campaign: Before this Arizona audience, he says, in essence, “The Obama administration should stop picking on Arizona.” Odd the other candidates don’t do the same.
‐Santorum says “radical Islamists.” People are always doing that, to cover themselves. But really, it’s “radical Muslims” or “Islamists.” All Islamists are radical. But people can’t bring themselves to say “radical Muslims.” So . . .
Saying “radical Islamists” is like saying “fat obese people.”
‐Rick on earmarks. Very good. Clear and correct. Appropriators should have a say about where appropriations go, right? And if we don’t like it, we can vote ’em out.
‐Mitt shouldn’t get into the weeds on this earmark stuff. Looks petty. We have huge fish to fry in this country — fundamental choices. Two paths (social democracy, basically, or the old Republic).
‐Oops, there’s a move from Santorum’s repertoire of juvenile moves: open-mouthed incredulity. He looks like an adolescent or a cartoon character — or an adolescent cartoon character.
#page#‐Rick says he opposed both the Wall Street bailout and the auto bailout, making him consistent, whereas Romney supported the Wall Street bailout and opposed the auto bailout — making him a politician of convenience. “I believe in markets,” says Santorum, and “not just when they’re convenient for me.”
Romney’s answer reminds me of something Vice President Cheney said to a group of us journos, just before he left office. He was explaining why he supported the bank bailout but not the auto. I thought the veep had a case. See if you agree.
Here’s my write-up, and the bailout portion is on the third page. (Cheney said, in a nutshell, that the banking system is the lifeblood of the economy, and if it dries up, so does the economy as a whole. Plus, the federal government has its nose in banking anyway, through the Federal Reserve, the currency, the Treasury Department, and so on.)
#ad#‐The house in Mesa feels a little stacked for Romney, is my impression.
‐I don’t care for audience noise in these debates — all the whooping and booing and whatnot. Detracts from the debates. A circus atmosphere is for conventions and other things. The audience, so to speak — the public for these debates, the real audience — is the television audience.
This is a little extreme, but the live audience should be like people who happen to be attending a studio recording session.
‐I guess Romney thinks he can demonize the UAW, in advance of the Michigan primary. Okay.
‐Newt demonizes ’em more!
‐In case I don’t have another chance to say it — in case there’s not another debate — let me just say it once more: What a talker, Newt is. What a talker. Probably none better in American politics.
The presidency, of course, requires other virtues too.
‐I love it when the other candidates get a kick out of what Ron Paul is saying. Of course, there’s a bit of condescension in their mirthful reaction. What they convey is, “Isn’t this coot entertaining?”
‐Um, dear readers, you probably remember the 18-and-a-half-minute gap. (I seem to be mentioning Nixon a lot in these notes.) Well, I have about an hour’s gap. Owing to a DVR malfunction, I was able to watch the first 40 minutes of the debate — and the last 20. Oops (as a governor once said).
No worries, though — at least the column will be shorter.
‐When Santorum says, about the Iranians and their drive for nuclear weapons, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who isn’t going to stop them,” I’m afraid he’s right.
‐Gingrich says “Straits of Hormuz” — which is surprising from him. It’s “Strait of Hormuz,” which I’d expect Newt to know, but not the others.
Maybe he’s going along, not wanting to sound out of step? (I sometimes do that, depending on the audience and the circumstances.)
‐Rick says that, in supporting No Child Left Behind, he was taking one for the team, following his leader, President George W. Bush. Later, he gives a more respectable defense.
In my recollection, a lot of people supported NCLB because they agreed with Bush that money should come with strings attached. You didn’t want to keep shoveling money at the schools; you wanted to be sure you got something for it.
But the law, as I understand it, turned out to be too restrictive — a straitjacket for schools.
Sorry to say it, but I still believe in strings attached, if there are to be federal dollars for education at all.
‐Rick scores big when he denies that he’s for one-size-fits-all: “Look, I’m a home-schooling father of seven. I know the importance of customized education for our children. I know the importance of parental control of education.”
Hard to refute.
‐I see that Mitt figures there’s no percentage in going easy on the teachers’ union — not in the primaries, anyway.
‐Newt seems a little subdued. Is he still running, still hungry for the nomination?
‐If I were Mitt — I’m serious about this — I might pledge, right now, to use both Santorum and Newt in my administration. (Santorum could do the same, regarding Mitt and Newt.)
‐A classic Gingrich moment: In schools, “you’re told you have self-esteem, even if you can’t read the word ‘self-esteem.’”
‐John King’s question “What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now?” is Barbara Walters-esque — but it’s a good question, at this moment.
‐Newt gives an interesting and compelling answer, about how hard it was — harder than people know — to get the conservative reforms he and his allies were able to get in the 1990s.
‐Mitt doesn’t answer the question, instead giving the closing he planned to give (apparently). Some months ago, in an Iowa debate, I think, he took on the notion that he has “no core.” He made a rather beautiful statement, actually. He would have done well to repeat it here.
‐There has been a lot of talk, among conservatives, about ditching the “MSM” for the 2016, or 2020, debates. Fine with me. But I believe that, no matter the questioners, no matter the format, candidates reveal themselves: their thoughts, their personalities, their capacities. They will out (whether they like it or not).
And I think John King has done a commendable job.
‐Friends, do you like these debates? I do. Many are tired of them, but I’m not. And no one has to watch them (except for those professionally obligated). I hope we have more. I might even like to participate in one of these bad boys myself one day.
Before Walter Mitty takes over entirely, I’d better sign off . . .