The GOP Tea Party Debate


Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate Participa...

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The Republican candidates have done two debates this week. Tonight’s debate was the best of three. The questions were focused and the candidates showed vim and vigor. Those lagging behind Romney and Perry in the polls needed to up their game, and two of the candidates did. Michelle Bachman shined and Rick Santorum did pretty well. Bachman is still in the game. Santorum is probably going to continue to lose traction.

Until tonight, I was looking forward to hearing more from John Huntsman. After tonight, I don’t care if we never hear from him again. I don’t see any potential there for this guy to break out. He’s glib, the opposite of self-effacing, and petty.

Ron Paul’s only real potential is as a spoiler. Tonight, as a senior congressman from Texas, he played the spoiler to Rick Perry. Paul’s presence will be a nuisance to Perry as long as Paul stays in the race.

Perry proved vulnerable on several points, including his HPV vaccination plan and his handling of illegal immigrants. Michelle Bachman may have succeeded in raising Perry’s weaknesses on these points to a level of appreciable resonance with his own base. Perry was on the defensive most of the evening. He limped through one defense after another in front of ultra-conservative Republicans, many of whom want to see Perry do well. And he was booed following one of his comments about the immigration issue.

Sometimes Perry looks and sounds like he’s channeling George Bush. He’s not an effective debater. I have real doubts about his ability to survive under close scrutiny in future debates.

Mitt Romney hit harder than he has in the past, but with the aplomb we’ve come to expect from him. I believe his problem is that he is uninspiring. He also comes across like a real establishment-type politician. But he’s in this race for the long haul and is the candidate to beat if Perry peters out. Romney projects stability. But he looks like the rich guy he is and hasn’t been comfortable reaching out to Tea Party Republicans who will, for better or worse, make a difference in the Republican nomination process.

Herbert Cain is a refreshing presence at these debates, and he’s doing a number of things well. Can he go the distance? It will be interesting to see. It’s nearly certain that he won’t get the nomination and I doubt that he would be anybody’s first choice as a vice presidential running mate. He could have a place at the table in the next president’s cabinet, though. He’d make a fine good-will ambassador.

That leaves Newt Gingrich.

At every debate so far, Gingrich has excelled. John King of CNN agrees. Newt Gingerich has had “back-to-back-to-back strong debate performances.” King blames Newt’s low poll numbers on his age. He thinks that voters are looking for the younger candidates to get the job done. I’ve wondered about this. But Newt does look like the adult in the room. This could turn things in his favor. When others are petty, kicking sand in each other’s faces, Newt just keeps taking the battle to Obama. He understands that the coming election will be very much about whether Obama should be re-elected. Newt is singularly capable of challenging Obama head-to-head. I suspect he’s the candidate that Obama fears the most.

So why is New Gingrich lagging in the polls?

1. Gingrich is especially disliked by the liberal media. They almost uniformly acknowledge his political prowess. His debating strengths are readily acknowledged. But he’s dangerous to the liberal cause.

2. The media prefers to cover the sensational. This explains, I think, the favor that Rick Perry enjoyed before even announcing his candidacy. Gingrich’s strengths will not be noticed as long as attention is poured on candidates whose substance remains a mystery.

3. Gingrich is the elder statesman of the group. He’s been around longer than anyone, except Ron Paul. He isn’t such a fresh face and he hasn’t been leading the new Republican charge to change the way business is done in Washington.

4. Gingrich has a couple of personal negatives to overcome. These were bigger news earlier on. If he begins to garnish renewed attention, they may return to haunt him.

These aren’t deal-breakers for Newt. The personal issues may already have been aired as much as they can be, and his interval of invisibility may have been good for him on this score. Ron Paul is polling in double digits, and Gingrich is down around 7%—about even with Bachman. Ron Paul is an anomaly. He won’t last. That should give Gingrich room to move up. And if Perry peters, as I expect (hope?), he can move up dramatically. If Gingrich endures and moves up in the polls, that will be a sensation and the media will have to cover the story. And he isn’t ancient. John McCain was ancient.

Here’s how Gingrich improves his standing, if he can hang in there long enough. The Perry fanfare fizzles as his debate performance deteriorates. This depends on Perry’s own limitations. It’s also reinforced by Bachman’s vigorous and effective attacks, as seen in the Florida debate. Bachman needs to play the spoiler long enough for Perry’s cache to diminish. In due course, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, and Rick Santorum need to drop out of the race. Herbert Cain must follow suit. That would leave Romney (a known quantity, but a force to be reckoned with), Perry (paired down to size), Michelle Bachman (maybe), and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s stature is sure to rise if there’s ever a two-way or three-way debate in which he participates. He can hold the Tea Party folks if their favorite candidates drop out, and he can win with independents who are weary of Obama.

But time will be a factor for Gingrich. He needs to win in the South Carolina primary. Rick Perry has the edge there now. Bachman could do well in SC, but for Perry. If the New Hampshire primary comes early enough, John Huntsman could cut into Mitt Romney’s strength there. This could minimize the effect of New Hampshire on a Gingrich bid.

I have no idea what to expect from Iowa, though it’s expected that Bachman could do well and is out of the game if she doesn’t.

Rick Perry has deeper pockets than Newt Gingrich. But Obama has deeper pockets than everyone. And I view it as cynical to suppose that the one with the most campaign money is the likely winner for that reason alone. (What kind of treasure chest did John McCain have during the last Republican primary?)

All of this may be wishful thinking. I would like to see a contest between Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. This would be a contest between two radically opposed ideologies on a national stage that is itself deeply divided. Gingrich’s penchant for clarifying ideas might force Obama to be more explicit about his own ideology. The electorate would be faced with starkly contrasting agendas defended by more-or-less articulate spokesmen.

There is one other variable that is important to Newt Gingrich’s chances: Sarah Palin has to remain in the sidelines . . . .

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Democratic Terrorists in Egypt?


I’ve been watching coverage of the mess in Egypt and have not commented here until now. I’m stunned by what I’m hearing . . . and not hearing.

TV commentator Rich Lowry spoke tonight as if the Obama administration had only two choices. He could support Hosni Mubarak, the evil dictator, and watch the Egyptian President shoot down the demonstrators in the streets. Or, he could support the “democratic demonstrators” in the streets of Cairo. Obama, he thinks, rightly chose to support the democratic demonstrators.

Where does Lowry get the ridiculous idea that the protesters are “democratic”? Their demonstrations have hardly been peaceful.

And who are the Muslim Brotherhood? They sound like barbarians, and the likely heirs to the evil Mubarak regime.

John McCain said it well yesterday. Mubarak has been a friend to the United States for many years, and he has helped to keep some stability in the Middle East—which is otherwise hell-bent on the extermination of Israel. But Mubarak stayed too long and did not use his position to institute a democratic government in Egypt.

After watching the mess on the streets every night from the comfort of my living room, I’d like to know what democratic measures anyone, Mubarak included, could have introduced. I can’t visualize these people stowing their molotov cocktails the day after tomorrow and going peacefully to the polls to elect a respectable government in a free election.

The Egyptians are making a spectacle of themselves in front of the rest of the world. Their actions have galvanized dispirited citizens in countries elsewhere in the region. What exactly is their message, and why should we care what they want if all they can say is that Mubarak has to go?

Mubarak says he would like to leave, but believes the country would descend into greater chaos if he just walked away right now. Maybe people should consider the possibility that he’s right.

Here’s another possibility. Our president has been telling us, the American people, that he’s been talking tough to Mubarak on the phone. When our president announces this on television, then it doesn’t matter what he said on the phone. The world has heard Obama scold Mubarak and tell him what to do about the mess.

So what’s Mubarak supposed to do in response? Is he supposed to let Obama dictate to him what he should do? What if Mubarak is as vainglorious as Obama?

Does Obama really understand “the democratic process”? He seems to think that the process begins with a free election. This is simply naive. A “free election” isn’t an important step in a democratic process if that election results in a fascist government. And it looks like that’s the result we should expect. Dana Perino told Greta tonight, “Democracies take time.” Obama doesn’t know that?

What’s really going on in Egypt? Everybody is guessing here, including our officials. They’ve made that pretty obvious. Shame on them for being so out of touch with world realities. And shame on us if we stand by and watch without criticism the naive, oddly paranoid and aggressive response of our government to a complex conflagration.

We’ve ostracized a valuable ally. Israel is mystified by our response. Things aren’t getting better on the streets of Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood lurks in the background. Obama chastens a proud dictator who no doubt has his own ideas about what he should do. Mubarak won’t budge (as of today). Western reporters are crying foul for the mistreatment they’re receiving in their efforts to scoop the story.

I would like a clear and detailed statement from Mr. Obama that explains his view of our relationship with Egypt, and how it will improve if Mubarak walks away and the people participate in the kind of free election he has goaded them to demand.

Spinning Joe Biden


The Senator with the foot-shaped mouth fired off a real whopper this time:

Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

Barack Obama’s admirers are dumbfounded—that includes people running his campaign. How do you spin a statement like that? Biden’s remarks were so extensive and emphatic that even a retraction would do nothing to mitigate the unease he has created. Besides “the cynical electorate” already knows what retractions mean.

Media response should be interesting. If Obama really is “their candidate,” it may be gut-wrenching for them to report on this story. And let’s remember what “news reporting” means today—it means editorializing in an effort to influence viewers.

This time, Biden’s comments are not mere trifles. They are sober reminders of what everyone knows. The threat of more terror—the likes of which we may not have seen yet—is a real and present danger. That will still be true no matter who becomes President. But would an Obama presidency intensify the risk? That’s what Biden seemed to be saying. And no one can say it isn’t true, because no one knows that it’s false.

It is easy to see why a McCain presidency could have a different effect on our enemies. And now, consideration of that has suddenly become a factor in this election. Maybe this is the “October surprise” that pundits say could change the numbers that pollsters have been producing.

Foreign policy is back on the table, with only two weeks left in this election season. More specifically, the prospect of a new chain of crises has to be considered. Thus we find ourselves asking two questions:

  1. Is Barack Obama as ready as John McCain to lead our nation should new challenges come?
  2. Is it more likely that new challenges would come during an Obama presidency than during a McCain presidency?

Thanks to Joe Biden, the economy is not the only thing we’ll be thinking about when we vote on November 4th.

Was Obama Really as Comfortable as He Looked in Last Night’s Debate?


To me, last night’s debate was the third—and, mercifully, the last—in a series of lackluster debates between senators Obama and McCain. But somehow the media have managed today to cull from the regurgitation of campaign sloganeering some rich moments truly worthy of playback. Maybe it wasn’t so lackluster after all.

Could McCain have done better? Pretty much everyone agrees that he missed opportunities. That’s interesting. It means two things. The first is that McCain has a platform of strength that might really resonate with people if he could only launch his case with compelling pizzaz. Second, Obama has opened himself to some pretty withering criticism that McCain has been reluctant to exploit.

Contrast Obama. What opportunities did he pass on last night? Could he have made his policies more compellingly attractive than he did? Could he have put McCain on the defensive? I don’t think so. Obama did what he could, and all that he needed to perhaps.

Once again, Obama “looked presidential.” But did he feel as comfortble as he looked? The question can’t really be answered objectively, except by Obama, and we all know what he would say. But Obama will raise taxes during “the worst economic crises since the Great Depression”; and McCain made that stick. Obama has fraternized professionally with people most of us wouldn’t shake hands with; and McCain reminded everyone that we still don’t know who Obama really is. McCain was unequivocal in his pro-life stance, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate how radically pro-choice Obama really is. But this was not a comfortable topic for Obama. He had to nuance his way out of the spotlight while McCain beamed confidently in the background.

Obama is counting on his lead and the lateness of the hour to carry him to victory. From this point on it’s a matter of damage control. That’s one thing McCain really doesn’t have to worry about. The most seriously debilitating event for his campaign was the egghead announcement by Hank Paulsen that the sky is falling and the whole world is going to go bankrupt. Paulsen’s alarmist tactics and his timing could not have been worse. You have to wonder if he isn’t a liberal democrat himself, given the tone of his message and the nature of his proposed solution—socialize the entire market in America.

The irony is that Obama is specially vulnerable on this point, if the message gets out. He wants bigger government on every flank and surely relishes the opportunity to preside over the socializing of medicine, our economy, education, and who knows what else. But people are ticked off at government right now. It can’t be just the Republicans and the Bush administration they distrust, but the whole lot of them. So bigger government portends more to be angry about as the months and years tick by.

Obama has two other things to be worried about before the election: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Read. It is an undeniable fact that under Obama our government would be on the verge of its most controlling ever. The democrats are pro big-government. Pelosi and Read, party leaders in their respective houses in Congress, and Obama are democrates, and they are among the most liberal democrats. This is a frightening prospect for anyone who wants government to downsize.

The only way that Americans across this country can prevent unchecked government by tax-and-spend democrats is to vote for John McCain. That’s bad news for Barack Obama, and a reason to be uneasy, even if he looks presidential.

Talk about an Abuse of Power


An Alaska ethics probe concluded today that Governor Sarah Palin did abuse her power in the ordeal surrounding the dismissal of state official Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire state trooper, Mike Wooten, who had been married to Palin’s sister until that marriage ended some years ago. Wooten had, Palin alleged, tasered his 10-year-old stepson and threated to kill Palin’s father. This before Monegan’s departure from his job.

Inquiries into Gov. Palin’s possible conduct in the matter had already begun prior to her nomination to be John McCain’s running-mate. There is evidence, however, that the probe was managed by Obama supporters and was speeded up to result in a decision soon enough to have a bearing on the presidential election.

I don’t know the facts, but if this suspicion is true, or even if the suspicion is well-founded without being demonstrably true, then there ought to be a very speedy inquiry into the ethics of the ethics probe and the possibility that those who conducted the probe are themselves guilty of an abuse of power.

* * *

It’s not surprising that Alan Colmes (of Hannity & Colmes) was pleased with this result. He interviewed Dick Morris, who noted that trooper Wooten had made a death threat on Palin’s father and tasered his stepson. Colmes’s response was interesting. He said that Wooten denies making any death threat. Apparently, Colmes had done his homework and knew that this did not apply to the allegation that Wooten had tasered the young boy.

A few weeks ago, during a televised interview, the officer in question acknowledged that he had tasered his 10-year-old stepson. He said he did it because the boy was curious about tasers and asked to be tasered. He agreed in the interview that it was a dumb thing to do.

I mention this because of the example it provides of the deterioration of public discourse. Morris’s statement was a conjunction: Wooten made a death threat against the father-in-law and Wooten tasered the stepson. To defeat this statement, Colmes challenged the second conjunct and ignored the first. In challenging the second conjunct, Colmes offered as evidence Wooten’s denial of the allegation. This is hardly compelling evidence, especially if the first conjunct is true. And the first conjunct is true. The evidence for that is that Wooten confesses to that.

Now, logically, if the second conjunct of Morris’s statement is false, then the entire conjunction is false. But it doesn’t follow that the first conjunt is false. That part of the conjunction is true. And Morris’s comments clearly indicated that he believed its truth is a sufficient condition for Sarah Palin to have fired Monegan if he refused to fire Wooten.

If the trooper had been anyone else than a former brother-in-law, then an ethics probe might never have been started. Who can say? But the grounds for questioning her ethics would certainly have been different, since the findings in the actual probe are tied to the investigators’ judgment that Palin’s behavior was, in some sense, payback. Again, I don’t know the facts, or the evidence that was produced during the probe. But I wouldn’t imagine that Palin’s previous relationship with Wooten would count as sufficient evidence that this was her motive.

What is of interest—because we are in a position to judge based on observation—is the conduct of the press in this matter and the jockeying that will go on among chieftains of the two presidential campaigns. Barack Obama is under closer scrutiny than ever before because of his financial support of ACORN and his relationship with sundry scoundrels. Treatment of the Palin news will be an illuminating test of the objectivity of the “mainstream media.” I make no predictions about what will transpire over the weekend, but if the several prominent news and commentary shows direct more attention to the Palin issue than the Obama probe they themselves should be conducting, it will be very telling.

This Election as a Referendum on the Liberal Media


Voting for John McCain is a referendum on the liberal media. They have made it obvious that they support Barack Obama and will cover for him by not covering him when that’s in his (and hence their) best interests. They are doing what they can to get Obama elected a few weeks from now. This is patronizing and offensive. They presume to know better than voting Americans who should be the leader of this great nation. They filter the news and editorialize without restraint, believing that we must rely on them to get the facts that matter. Since we do rely on them for this, and they have not fulfilled their noble duty, voters can send a powerful message of disapproval to the media by voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. If they do, they will also have a President they actually know something about.

“At Least He Looks Presidential”


Any number of people would look equally presidential in the situation we witnessed tonight. Some of them are good friends of mine. They are self-possessed, have an authoritative bearing, are practiced public speakers across a full range of contexts (including debates), and could have learned everything that was said tonight in less than a week just watching a selection of Obama’s and McCain’s campaign speeches. But none of these friends of mine has any business running for president. Thankfully, they are not.

But Barack Obama and John McCain are running for president. And they both look like they could be president. It’s befuddling and disappointing that this is the single most significant factor the pundits have utilized in calculating the net result of tonight’s debate. Obama only had to look presidential to win—even if McCain also looked presidential—as long as McCain did not deliver a knock-out punch. This because Obama’s lead in critical states has lengthened. And that’s more-or-less how things turned out, if we’re to believe post-debate chatter.

What do pudits mean by a “knock-out punch”? What many of them mean is the slick delivery of a purely rhetorical zinger. An example, courtesy of Brit Hume (Fox News), is Ronald Reagan’s admittedly clever and endearing jibe about not taking advantage of Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience.

Give me a break. Has the media gone bonkers? The most charitable spin I can put on this is to suppose that the punditocracy is merely speculating (perhaps quite plausibly) about how viewers (especially undecideds) will perceive the outcome. But that isn’t exactly what the pudits are saying. It sounds like it’s what they themselves believe. And they should know better. More than that, they would serve us better if they attempted to educate us in the proper criteria for evaluating a candidate for the presidency. Otherwise, we don’t really need them.

Maybe they think that’s what they are doing—educating us in a tradition of collective wisdom. If so, they and I disagree about what that is and what criteria matter most.

I’m of the anachronistic opinion that we need to distinguish between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions for being qualified to serve as president of the United States. Looking presidential (talk about a subjective variable) may be a necessary condition—may be. But in my judgment it is by no means a sufficient condition. A candidate must have other qualities. And among the preeminent qualities are proven experience and policies that make sense on close inspection.

That probably sounds like an endorsement of a particular candidate. But I’d like to know who disagrees with me about the criteria. “Proven experience” may be a lock for John McCain. “Policies that make sense on close inspection” will be matters of principled disagreement among those who take pains to understand proposed policies thoroughly, know what to look for in sensible policies for times like these, and have the disposition to embrace those policies.

Do you reckon you’re one of those people? I’m not sure I am. Remember that “zen-like” question the candidates had to answer at the end of the debate? “What is it that you don’t know now that you’ll have to learn after you become president?” Maybe those of us who plan to vote in November should be asking ourselves a parallel question: “What is it that we don’t know now (about the candidates) that we’ll wish we knew after one of them becomes president?” Something tells me that tonight’s debate did little to dispel our dangerous ignorance.

Our democracy is threatened by a glib populism. I suppose that’s always been true to some extent. But greater access to modern media by more people, and the dumbing down of America, is cause for concern. This can’t be what the Founding Fathers had in mind, though I’m sure they feared the possibility of its emergence.

Let’s at least think as hard as we can before we “pull the lever” (to use a quaint expression).

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