Debate? What debate?

Debate:

noun: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

Let’s start with the assumption that whatever it was that aired on Thursday night on Fox News, it was not a debate in any sense of the word. It was sometimes entertaining, sometimes infuriating, occasionally surprising. Republican or Democrat, Liberal, Conservative or Moderate – everyone should have been watching or listening, or at least reading the transcripts. Because no matter what your political leanings, this was actually important (if way, way too early in the election cycle).

For starters this drew an arbitrary line through the large pool of GOP candidates, and effectively neutered those that were relegated to the ‘Happy Hour” debate. In spite of Carly Fiorina’s slight resurgence in popularity after her participation, the fact is that the main media focus will swing to the big 10, and none of those at the bottom can hope to recover – although out of forced obscurity a VP contender could arise. There’s been quite a bit of criticism over the way this was done since the numbers were very close at the middle bottom of the group, and the margin of error leaves room for the possibility that some of the potential candidates were in the wrong slots, but it likely doesn’t matter all that much because the pool is simply too large. I don’t find any particular fault with Fox’s approach – they had to draw a line somewhere since the pool was too large for a 2 hour slot. I would probably have limited the prime time debate to the top 8, which might have left room for something closer to a debate, but that was never really the point here, though was it?

The point with these single party debates is not about winning over Independents, those in other parties, or undecideds – it is 100% devoted to winning over the base – whichever portion of the base you are clamoring to grab onto. Although the TEA Party, and the extreme Christian right heavily dominates the media, the GOP is still relatively diverse – but politicians willing to admit to moderation, or even Goldwater Conservatism, are getting to be harder to find. But that portion of their base has, over the past couple of presidential elections, been left largely unattended to until closer to the primaries when sanity prevails, and the need to try to run someone who might be electable starts to gain traction. For now, it is the noisier wheels that get the attention. Fox News has been heavily on forefront of promoting much of the anger, fear, and anxiety that keep the more extremes mobilized, so it made sense that the questions kept up that trend.

It was interesting to me that the questions, which were all specific to whoever they were being directed at, were, for the most part, quite pointed, and perhaps Fox deserves a bit of credit for using phrasing that came close to grilling in some cases. But no, Donald Trump was not singled out for any more criticism than anyone else even though other candidates were not asked the same questions he was. Jeb Bush was hit hard to with questions of his own – but he doesn’t have Trump’s penchant for loudly saying offensive things, repeatedly and unapologetically. He does, however, have a brother that has already been in the White House who ran up a phenomenal debt, and grew the size of the federal government. And as governor of Flroida, he presided over a solid economy only because of the housing bubble – which crashed hard in Florida after he left office. And so it was with all of the others on that stage – each had their own specific set of questions. Which is, of course, why it was emphatically not a debate. I found that I did agree, though, with Ben Carson’s evident frustration when he noted that he was finally being asked a question at one point about 20 minutes in.

I was impressed with Marco Rubio, although I do not think he is really in contention for the nomination – I think that will go to either Bush or Walker. But he is young, smart, and articulate. And he certainly has the extreme right wing credentials. His day will come unless he screws it up somehow in the next four to eight years. I was also more impressed with John Kasich than I’d expected, and he gave the best, most sincere answer to the marriage equality question:

“Wait, Megyn, the court has ruled, and I said we’ll accept it. And guess what, I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn’t think the way I do, doesn’t mean that I can’t care about them or can’t love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and I would accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith. So the issues like that, issues like that are planted to divide us. I think the simple fact of the matter is, and this is where I would agree with Jeb, and I’ve been saying it all along, we need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect, and let them share in this great American dream that we have, Megan. So, look, I’m going to love my daughters, I’m going to love them no matter what they do. Because, you know what, God gives me unconditional love. I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”

I personally think that Ben Carson, although very intelligent, is not at all rational, so I was also very impressed with the answer he gave to the question he was asked about race relations. Of course, moving beyond the racist divide is only possible when racism is truly dead, but that’s a different topic:

“Well, I think the bully pulpit is a wonderful place to start healing that divide. You know, we have the purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it, and drive wedges into people. And this does not need to be done. What we need to think about instead — you know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often. I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And you say — I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that. Because our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states. And those who want to divide us are trying to divide us, and we shouldn’t let them do it.”

That question, directed specifically to Carson, was an addendum to the Facebook-originated question being asked of all of the candidates about God. Yes, indeed. “I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.”  I wonder if Fox would have asked a variant of the question had Facebook not done it for them? The answers were silly and in a couple of cases told me things I probably didn’t really want to hear from a potential world leader. And the rest of the world is uncomfortable with the focus on religion in US politics. As they are with any country where religion begins to dominate the police arena. And the question itself was silly. And had no place in a US political debate (if we insist on calling it one). But they need to keep the base happy. And they did – a couple of my friends & family rated Cruz, Huckabee, and surprisingly, Christie highly. No one seriously gives too much to Trump – and his post-debate behavior was appalling, but not at all surprising. He has a pathological need to keep his name in the press. Good or bad is not important. And his polling numbers are still higher than they should be. And his ego is apparently so out of control that he really thinks he will be the next President of the US – whether as a Republican nominee or a third-party candidate.

And that leads me to perhaps one of the more galling things to come out of the debate. Trump cheerfully admitting to what we all already know is wrong with our current political system:

“I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”

And afterwards, I once again got the “all career politicians are corrupt” line from a couple of conservatives I know – as if that makes it okay. Since “Hillary does it” is apparently an argument against any call for change.

So, for anyone in the US that chose to bypass the debate, I urge you to seek it out. It really isn’t too early to start paying attention, after all.

“I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.        — Andrew Jackson

Photo borrowed from Yahoo News

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