Repub debate

AP Photo via WaPo

Watching the Republican candidates “debate” — or rather, respond separately to questions — on MSNBC last night, I was struck by how few serious problems the country has. The candidates were quick to remind us we don’t have enough vetoes of spending bills, but these men all assured us they love nothing more than vetoing Democratic spending bills; that problem will be solved the moment any of these men becomes President. With a few more border fences to keep out those brown people, things are pretty good in America. Republicans are still dreaming it is 1980, the world is as simplistic as Ronald Reagan believed and all we need is to be optimistic.

You’d think questions about Iraq would be problematic for these men, but except for Paul, the lone non-interventionist, no one suggested that invading Iraq was a mistake; there was only a problem in execution — so criticizing the execution was safe territory. We just need to keep fighting; changing course or strategy is not necessary, because as McCain observed, we already have a new General and new strategy. And because Iraq was not a mistake, there are no lessons that apply to Iran, so we can be as belligerent towards them as we want.

If you listen to these men, it appears we do not have a credibility problem with the rest of the world, so we don’t need to worry about how we will restore America’s honor or prestige or repair alliances or international institutions. Torture was not mentioned, nor the Military Commissions Act, with its denial of habeas corpus (except for Paul), nor restrictions on attorneys, nor use of secret evidence or evidence extracted through torture. Kidnapping and renditions weren’t mentioned either, so I guess Canada, Europe and the Middle East are not upset about that; there was no mention of secret prisons, nor Guantanamo, nor indefinite detention without charges or trials, nor warrantless wiretapping, misuse of national security letters by the FBI, and so on. Only Paul, now just a curious anachronism in his own party, a true believer in the limited government credo of what used to be the Republican Party but not longer is, could offer a few lines about the continuing expansion of executive powers — and then only in reference to Terry Schiavo.

No one brought up problems at the Justice Department, nor concerns about politicizing justice, or interfering with prosecutions. Matthews asked about Karl Rove, but no one took the opportunity to say anything bad about Karl. When asked which of the Bush mistakes (unnamed) he would avoid, Huckabee said he’d avoid sending US jobs overseas.

According to McCain, Republicans lost the 2006 elections because Congress spent too much money. It had nothing to do with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the loss of over 3000 US troops and no end in sight. No one said it’s a mess. In fact, Huckabee said it’s too early to give the Administration a grade on the war. Republican corruption was also not a factor in the elections, and apparently doesn’t matter now either; after all, Democrats keep money in their freezers, so it is a bipartisan sin.

The candidates were mostly opposed to abortions, but some were ambivalent about how much they’d impose that view. No one took the opportunity to criticize the most recent Supreme Court decision and McCain couldn’t wait to tell us what swell Justices Roberts and Alito are.

They seemed more united in their willingness to kill radical islamists anywhere they try to set up their caliphate. If was curious liistening to these Christianists castigate proselytizing religions, but Romney was clear about his willingness as a Christian to kill Islamists. And Osama bin Laden learned last night that McCain will follow him to the gates of Hell. These are belligerent men who think they know their enemies.

The candidates split on stem cell research, but they were unanimous in their opposition to cloning, so I can’t understand why they basically all sound alike (again, Paul excepted).

According to these men, the President’s tax cuts for the rich are fine and can be made permanent, and there were many proposals to cut different taxes further. But those Democrats need to be stopped from pork barrel spending, because the budget is out of control. Drunken sailors came in for praise by comparison. There was no support for increasing revenues, even to pay for their glorious war.

There was a split vote, by show of hands, on belief in evolution, a clear sign that US educational standards are dismal; Crooks and Liars captured the moment,. Only McCain was asked directly; he said he believed in evolution, but also saw “the hand of God” in the Grand Canyon. Darwin said little about the Grand Canyon that I recall.

After the “debate,” MSNBC’s panelists tried to hype the disagreements, but they missed the fact that these men share a common mindset detached from where the rest of the country is. These people do not live on the same planet as the rest of us. When they wake up and look out the window, they do not see what we see.

They do not see a nation angry at them about the war nor shamed by a government that sanctions torture. With their Reaganesqe optimism, they do not see families struggling with health care costs, job security, retirement security, and college tuition. They don’t seem to worry whether the government is doing enough to protect us from unsafe working conditions, unsafe products, unsafe foods and drugs. They apparently don’t see global warming as a national security or economic threat. American democracy is not threatened; the Constitution is not under siege, and Americans don’t hate the Bush regime for what it has done to our liberties (Paul excepted). Attacks on the rights of women, gays, and immigrants and anyone who looks like the “enemy” are non-issues.

The collective denial shown by these men was even more surprising because one of the first questions asked concerned the fact that about only 22 percent of the American people think the country is on the right track, but you’d never know it from listening to these men. And because they seem so completely disconnected from what the American people believe, there is no possibility that any of these men could successfully address the nation’s concerns. Last night, the Republican Party declared itself to be in denial and irrelevant except as an out of touch opposition party with no ideas left for any of the hard questions of governnance.

And the moderator? Chris Matthews was his usual self, asking lots of questions and occasionally following up, but not often enough. To be fair, having to deal with 10 candidates is probably impossible. But I have to wonder how someone who prides himself on provoking debate was not able to frame questions that would elicit more of the deep chasm between what these men were saying and what the majority of the American people think.

Poll after poll indicates that the beliefs expressed last night are consistently out of step with the American public. Nearly 70 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. It’s not just that Americans disapprove of the job President Bush is doing; probably half of the country is angry, deeply angry at the Bush/Cheney regime and the Republicans who supported them without question for six years. And after a few more months of investigative revelations, they’re going to be even angrier. But last night, these men pretended that that was not true. Are they that clueless? Or that cynical?

Several of the questions from VanDeHei seemed superficial; did he choose them? But those were not as bad as when Chris Matthews gave every candidate an opportunity to slam Bill and/or Hillary Clinton. I’m no fan of the Clintons, but that was an unprincipled, gratuitous cheap shot. Firedoglake could teach Matthews a lesson in fairness.

KO helped the apres-debate discussion, which was otherwise a bust. They missed the great divide between these men and the majority of Americans. We needed Jane and Christy, Josh and Marcy, Atrios and Swopa et al on the screen explaining reality. What a difference that would make.

More media coverage from the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and WaPo.



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley