Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Republican Presidential Debate in South Carolina

Call it the night that Fox spun off its fictional show "24" into a reality series. Ten Jack Bauers prepared to whack theoretical bad guys, or the world at large, or pregnant women ... depending on who got in their way first.

Make that eight candidates itching to emulate Keifer Sutherland, since there were two notable hold-outs ... John McCain, who forthrightly called El Presidente's "enhanced interrogation techniques" what they are -- "torture" -- and libertarian Ron Paul, who was alone in talking actual historic sense about the foundational reality of 9/11.

The "traditional values" party went all gaga for a bit of the old ultra-violence in the last 30 minutes of a 90-minute-long broadcast when Britt Hume gave the ten presidential candidates a "fictional but plausible" terrorist scenario to react to. Because this was, after all, FOX, it went something like this: "Terrorists are holding your granny and threatening to shove a nuke up her alimentary canal, once they've finished roasting her slowly on a spit over a fire fueled by hundreds of Bibles and copies of our Constitution. The terrorists have already set off neutron bombs in six U.S. cities, killing approximately a zillion innocent, God-lovin', National Anthem-singin' Americans, but American troops have captured several of the terrorists and are holding them at Guantanamo. What would you do to them?"

The question went first to John McCain, who to his credit resisted the soft plum of that fictional scenario and delivered a patient if unappreciated lecture on why torture was more about our lack of morality than it was about getting useful information out of enemy combatants.

Everyone else (except Ron Paul) bit into that juicy fruit Britt Hume dangled. Rudy Giuliani said he would want his guys at Guantanamo to use "every method they could think of" -- and he repeated that line -- "every method they could think of" to stop a nuke from being shoved up his granny's ass.

This is what the Republican Party has come to ... picking their guy the way the medieval Catholic Church picked its Grand Inquisitors: "Which one of you can stare most steadfastly at the severed limbs of our American reputations and not flinch?"

The other refusenik of this bunch was Ron Paul, who stood out so much as a voice of reason that there were calls to oust him from future debates. I quote him here at length for the necessary context he provided for the attacks of 9/11:
The reason they attack us is because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for ten years. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if someone else did it to us. I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted we're over there. Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand, because we can target you so much easier."
To which Rudy Giuliani, who (don't you know?) OWNS 9/11, went all Jack Bauer on Ron Paul. (Truth to tell, Paul should not have used our bombing of Iraq as the main source of Muslim resentment against us, but rather our military presence in Saudi Arabia and our slavish support of Israel. But never mind.)

Paul stood his ground against Giuliani. Paul said:
I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when it talks about "blowback." When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes, there was blowback. The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages. If we think we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and free. They attack us because we're over there. What would we think if other foreign countries were doing that to us?
It either takes incredible guts or incredible stupidity to thus pull the cloak off El Presidente's talking points since 9/11 ... to wit, "They hate us for our freedom." To suggest that the emperor is naked, and that Giuliani's main claim to the presidency is a mess of delusional lies, made last night's exercise worth watching. We've begun rooting for Ron Paul.

If Giuliani's candidacy is purely the product of a delusional foreign policy, his position on abortion gave us the other main contrast of the evening -- the delusional nature of the GOP's platform on "values."

This excellent question was posed to Giuliani:
You have said that you personally hate abortion but support a woman's right to choose. Governor Huckabee says that's like saying, "I hate slavery, but people can go ahead and practice it." Tell us why Huckabee's wrong.
Giuliani replied quite sensibly: "There are no circumstances under which I can imagine anyone choosing slavery or supporting slavery. There are people, millions and millions of Americans, who are of as good conscience as we are, who make a different choice about abortion. If you want to keep government out of people's lives, from the point of view of coercion, you have to respect that."

That was a good answer, especially the last sentence. But turns out that most of the Republican candidates on that stage would be as Jack Baueresque about women seeking to end their pregnancies as they are about hypothetical terrorists. Huckabee: "I believe we should do everything possible to protect the life that begins at conception."

Everything possible? Well, at a minimum, that would have to include "fugitive women" laws and the death penalty for any woman who successfully aborted. How exactly is doing "everything possible" to prevent abortion different from using "every method we could think of" on suspected terrorists? The logic is inescapable: women who abort are terrorists, and Republicans are into torturing terrorists.

I'm telling you, O my brethren, it's a brave new world that has such politicians in it!

Stigmata Award ... goes to FOX News, which felt a need to label all the candidates as they were introduced with on-screen box scores toting up their "religion" and their "family." Under the family stats, I was disappointed that Fox didn't go ahead and tally "1st wife, 2nd wife, and 3rd wife," as that would have been genuinely helpful too. Under the "religion" labels, we had three Catholics, one Episcopalian, two Baptists, one Presbyterian, THE MORMON, and one (Ron Paul) curiously labeled "Protestant," which I took to mean he's really agnostic.

General Tackiness Award ... also goes to Fox News, which felt compelled to build two commercial breaks into the architecture of the debates, so that between rhetoric on fiscal responsibility and dealing with terrorism, we saw ads for acid reflux in babies, Smart Balance buttery spread, Days Inn, Bayer Crabgrass killer (how appropriate was that!), Plavix (since more old white guys prone to stroke watch these debates?), AARP (yep! a plethora of old white guys!), Franklin Templeton Investments (old rich white guys), DoubleTree hotels, E-Loan, Mercedes-Benz, and in North Carolina at least, an ad for the asphalt king Fred Smith, who's a Republican running for governor

Mr. Disagreeable ... Tommy Thompson, who always wants to brag about the "nineteen hundred vetoes I used when I was governor of Wisconsin"

Whiny Baby ... Mitt Romney, who, being cornered for his liberal record as governor of Massachusetts, starts talking about how haaaard it was to run the bluest of the blue states. It was, like, sooo blue it looked black to me. Oops! I mean...

Best Biblical Allusion ... Tom Tancredo: "I see so many conversions around me in this room tonight on a lot of things ... conversions on guns, conversions on abortion, conversions on immigration. It's beginning to sound like a Baptist tent revival. I'm glad to see conversions, I'm glad they happen, but I must tell you, I trust those conversions when they happen on the road to Damascus and not on the road to Des Moines"

Putting Mitt in His Place ... John McCain: "I've kept consistent positions on reforming immigration, on right to life, and I haven't changed my positions in even-numbered years or haven't changed because of the different offices that I may be running for"

Bizarre Braggadocio ... Duncan Hunter: "I built the border fence in San Diego!" (We half-expected him to throw down his tool belt and post-hole diggers right there on the stage)

Best Lawyer Joke ... Mitt Romney, who said he was glad that Brit Hume's fictional terrorists were being kept at Guantanamo, "to keep them away from lawyers"

Best John Edwards Joke ... Mike Huckabee, who said the Republican Congress had spent money "faster than John Edwards in a beauty parlor"

George Orwell Memorial Award ... Ron Paul, for his allusion to "1984" in describing the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques" as "Newspeak"

Going Down in Flames ... John McCain: "I'll be the last man standing in Iraq if necessary"

Women as Unwilling Vessels Award ... Sam Brownback, on why he would prohibit abortion to the victim of violent rape: "We must look at it as it really is ... the beautiful child of a loving God"

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