By Michelle Railey
Oh, how I love presidential debates! Now, I was all fired up to take the transcript and write up a blog post that both fact-checked and countered the candidates’ comments with my own questions/comments/responses. The reality, though, is this: it is three days after the debate at the Reagan Library and the fact-checking has already been done (here and here, for two) and besides being tragically late to that party, I just don’t have time to pretend to do the thing up right. So, from one list and from memory, my impressions of debate night, in no certain order and not to the standards of fact-checking, source-listing, and precision I would like to have presented.
Y’all ready? Here we go.
1.) Flag pins are so 2008. While at one point, it seemed you weren’t even allowed to participate in a debate without visibly demonstrating your membership in the Patriot Club, flag pins are apparently now démodé to the point of irrelevance. Great. So what distraction from substance will we find now?
2.) Looks like Michele Bachmann has lost the petting zoo advantage. Perhaps in a game-changing mood, she’ll reincorporate them into her campaign staff and cart them along to the next debate. Possibly couldn’t hurt.
3.) Or, she could continue playing the mommy card. As she is wont to do, Ms. Bachmann used some of her very limited time to reiterate her five-children-of-my-own-and-twenty-three-foster-children as an important piece of her argument about why she should be president. Motherhood is many things and it could very well be too honorable (when you get it right) for politics. It arguably could make one a better president but it definitely doesn’t qualify one to be president. Ms. Bachmann’s mothering resumé is an important piece of biographical information but we can now already recite it from heart. So why did she give up a minute of her time on it and not something–anything–else? (More on global caliphates, for example! Or does she or does she not also “give propes” to capital punishment, science, the number 9, and/or Galileo?) Besides, it’s a safe bet that the other GOP candidates also stand for “Motherhood, America, and a hot lunch for orphans.”
4.) Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution! This one keeps coming up and it got some play at the debate. To which, for the love of all things Brian Williams, will someone please ask the follow-up questions? To wit: “Many states with balanced budget amendments now find themselves in critical shortfall emergencies, resulting in a lack of liquidity to deal with short-term crises and the loss of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and public servants from employment despite the continuing demand for their services. How would the nation and its jobless rate benefit by adopting this as a permanent policy?” Or: “When states with this requirement run out of funds and into trouble they turn to the federal government for assistance. To whom will the federal government turn when it, under a balanced budget amendment, runs out of funds and encounters a national security situation or natural disaster that requires an immediate outlay of funds?”
5.) I’m not generally one for psychoanalyzing people based on use of language. However, anyone count the number of times Governor Perry used the word “liar,” “lie,” and “lying?” At the very least, it demonstrates an unwillingness to temper one’s speech. And that could present a problem when governing. (I picture Mr. President leaping over a table to grab Other Foreign Leader’s tie, while repeating “You Lie!” Great theatre, Yosemite Sam, but Bad Foreign Policy.)
6.) The biggest applause line of the night wasn’t one of the candidates’ answers. It was Brian Williams asking about capital punishment. He couldn’t even finish the question to Gov. Perry about difficulty sleeping before the applause started. It’s possible that some of us in TV Land found that difficult to sleep on.
And most of all:
7.) I admit my bias. It’s no secret that I’m a pretty safe vote for President Obama to remain president. (However, I don’t rule out the possibility of ever voting for a Republican, some day in some other election.) And, on the chance that my vote doesn’t take the day (Hello, 2000), I still want someone in the oval office who is well-informed and makes reasonable, careful decisions. So here’s the problem: there were too many moments on the stage in Simi Valley that left me wondering if these candidates were chronically under-informed or just plain inattentive; or if they hadn’t chosen their information and policy staffs wisely.
Examples abound. Be against Obama Care all you want but don’t then argue against it by saying you support things that are accomplished by the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Huntsman, the ACA does put things in to address cost-cutting, cost overruns, and the harmonization (digitization) of medical records. Gov. Perry, the ACA is not one-size-fits-all: if, as you believe, the states can do it better, they are absolutely empowered to come up with a plan of their own so long as it accomplishes the objectives of the bill. Too, dear GOP candidates, I understand you are against the mandate but object to the “forced to” language of your argument. No one will be flogged for failing to obtain insurance. A citizen will have to choose whether to purchase insurance or pay a penalty. There’s plenty of room left for debate on that, including the ideological issue of being asked by the government to purchase from private corporations. But since the ACA is not socialized medicine, it is a choice, perhaps unpalatable, but it is still a choice, somewhat similar to taxation: one must either pay taxes or pay the fines, interest, and consequences. I am always left wondering in these discussions if the candidates (or anyone on their staffs) has actually read the legislation.
Similarly, on energy: it seems ill-informed to me to pretend that energy prices and policies depend mostly on the United States’ actions and energy production. To discuss energy and not mention the growing demands of India or China seems almost absurd. To pretend the U.S. has control it’s just not exercising borders on irresponsibility. On the economy and jobs, it’s the same deal. This is not something that can be solved by a better president or, in fact, any president. There are so many things tangled up and causing this situation from housing markets, global economic instability, uncertainty with the euro and the valuation of foreign currencies, and the policies of international banks that no one person can just shout it down or legislate it back to Leave it to Beaver and Mayberry. I hate that the debates end and I’m wondering if our potentially next president understands that.
And it gets worse. One can take a defensible position on immigration and border security. But to suggest that if President Obama were serious he’d put drones on the border when drones are, in fact, being used on the border, well, I don’t know what to say to that. I’m Joe Schmoe, Joe the Plumber, the Average American. And I’ve known that for months thanks not to “the poorest intel” but to the likes of CNN, NPR, and PBS NewsHour. Too, I got no sense from the candidates on this topic that they realized that deportation of immigrants has actually increased under President Obama; no sense, either, of an understanding that our drug and arms policies figure into the violence of the Mexican cartels, despite the mentions of those cartels and their guns.
And I suppose you just can’t top “Please name one scientist you find credible” and the inability to even, say, name a scientist, one scientist, any one will do, hell, make one up. At least Former Governor Palin could come up with the answer “All of ‘em.”
I just want the next candidate for president to be able to do better than that.