Having watched the debate, I was happy about my decision. The demented lunatics running to lead our country manage to top themselves every time they appear on television together, as they do so often that I’m beginning to fear that people will become inured to their insanity.
This was CBS’ “Commander in Chief Debate”. I’ll bet the moderator had to practise saying that with a straight face for about six hours in front of a mirror before plopping himself down to question this bunch. I mean, imagine a country in which the highest political office is being sought by a group of religious fundamentalists, who don’t believe that people of different religious persuasions have a role to play in civic life, who believe that they’ve been chosen by their god to fulfil a mission (if you’re thinking I’m talking about Iran, think again). Some of them are close to people who believe we’re at ‘End Times’, and hence need to stand sufficiently close to Israel so when it all goes up in a mushroom cloud they’ll get raptured up.
At least a couple of these people literally believe they’ve been chosen by God. Rich Perry and Herman Cain have said as much. I suspect that Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum harbour a similar view (as Calvin, the eponymous character from Bill Watterson’s comic strip once observed, God must have a goofy sense of humour indeed if he’s told them all the same thing). The Newt-Who-Would-Be-King, of course, answers to a higher power still: namely his ego, which he keeps in a gold plated urn on his mantle, surrounded by offerings from Tiffany’s. It’s more than a little ironic that the two candidates whose religion voters are paranoid about are the least likely, along with Ron Paul, to claim some absurd divine mandate.
But it’s not just God who talks to these people. We heard time and again from them of the importance of following their instincts and listening to their guts. We had another President not so long ago who solicitously consulted his alimentary canal when making major decisions. I have to say that I’m a little jealous. I wish my gut spoke to me in the fulsome and wise terms as the GOP candidates are addressed by theirs. The most I can get out of mine is, “Oi! You! Time for lunch!”
But on to the debate...
The Newt, in case you haven’t heard, is surging. He is fond of words like “fundamental”, “most this”, “least that”. He’s also not fond of the media, except when they report what he says. Nor does he answer questions.
Herman Cain, you might recall, isn’t so good at answering questions either (warning, this is painful to watch). But at the debate tonight, he is clear on wanting regime change in Iran. Other GOP candidates agree. Romney refers to “Iran’s nuclear folly” (well, he’s right there, but I can’t think that nuclear weapons have done any country much good), and said that “in the final analysis...of course you take military action [if all else fails]”. Santorum says we need to “take out that nuclear capability”, which sounds a lot like war to me.
The Newt, at his most arrogant, demands “maximum covert operations”. He calls for assassinations, “all of it [done] covertly, all of it deniable”. Wow. Of course, he gets applause and laughs for this. For publicly advocating the assassination of scientists. So much for the moral high ground. Though we’ve had trouble finding that for a while...we must be holding the map upside-down.
On Afghanistan, Rick Perry calls a timetable “irresponsible”. When he says, “I think we’re making progress there”, he sounds just like W. Romney and others have been slamming Obama for overruling his generals and moving troops home more quickly than they’ve recommended. Yet Romney turns around and rules out negotiations with the Taliban. So much for listening to the generals.
Huntsman and Paul are the comparative voices of reason here. Although Huntsman fudges his problem by pledging to leave an unspecified number of troops in Afghanistan for an unspecified amount of time. Paul on the other hand decries talk of war over Iran, and calls it “similar to the war propaganda which went on against Iraq”. That war, he reminds us, led to “tragedy, death, destruction”.
Next up, Pakistan (I wonder how people in these countries feel about being punching bags for 15-minute intervals for a bunch of ignorant yahoos?).
The Newt, in one of his non-answers which a brainless media reads as an example of his supposed genius, refuses to say anything about Pakistan other than that the problem is “so much bigger and deeper than we have talked about as a country”. It’s amazing that reporters eat this up. Just saying the word ‘deep’ doesn’t make a person ‘deep’.
But I suspect that I know the reason for The Newt’s silence. His philosophy is that we are in for a “Long War” against Islamists (he has claimed that he fears that his grandchildren will grow up to live in a secular country dominated by radical Islamists...). He envisions this last war lasting a minimum of 50-70 years. But our wars are already increasingly unpopular with the public, so it’s unlikely that he is going to publicise these dangerous views.
Cain’s foreign policy will be based on clarity. He says we must label other countries as either friends or foes. So Pakistan? the moderator asks. “We don’t know”, Cain replies, with astonishing clarity, and then slides into what could charitably be described as gibberish. That is pretty much his answer to every question of the night. If Paul will be judiciously overruling his generals, Cain will be in their pockets, and when these people include the likes of “Backstabbing” Dave Petraeus and his friends, we’re in trouble.
Bachmann somehow turns the question about Pakistan into a diatribe about how “the table is being set for a worldwide war against Israel”. Obama, she tells us, stands with Occupy Wall Street, but not Israel.
The Newt, following up on his only-Christians-have-a-role-in-public-life comments of an earlier debate, says that he worries about “the degree to which the Arab spring might become an anti-Christian spring”. He then goes on to praise Mubarak, and say that he deserved far better for being such a wonderful leader. The moderator asks The Newt about his criticisms of Romney on television earlier. The Newt refuses to answer. It’s fine to be positive during debates. But there’s another word for describing someone who is willing to traduce someone’s record on television behind their back and then decline to criticise them to their face: a hypocrite.
Rick Santorum, bizarrely, has what might be the most reasonable and realistic line on Pakistan (although Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman are hardly getting asked any questions, so we don’t know what they think): that we simply have to get on decent terms with Pakistan and “work through our difficulties”. We can’t afford to alienate a volatile country armed with nuclear weapons, the security of which is in doubt.
But then he starts going around the deep end (it was only a matter of time). The arming of kleptocrats, autocrats and thugs through our immoral arms sales are good because we create dependency on our weapons systems and create jobs at home, he argues, failing to imagine how we might develop a more moral economy on which to base employment.
Santorum also comes across as nuts as he discusses his management philosophy. He would “get people together who share my point of view”. He wouldn’t, he says, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world, consult with or hire people who don’t share his views. He also took advantage of his speaking time to reiterate his support for assassination.
Speaking of illegal activities...let’s move on to torture.
Herman Cain is against torture. “However”, he bleats, “I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to decide what is torture and what is not torture”. But he is willing to say that he supports waterboarding. Michelle Bachman agrees, to wild cheers. Obama, she shrieks, sensing that she has the audience on-side, “is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA”. “It is as though”, she goes on, “We have decided we want to lose the war on terror”.
Cue the token few seconds of sanity. Huntsman says that “we diminish our standing in the world...when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture”. Paul jumps in to say that waterboarding is torture, and that it is illegal, immoral, impractical, uncivilised and un-American. Except for the last (I’m confused about what is American these days, besides the Tea Party), he is, as through most of the foreign policy debate, spot on.
But the sanity couldn’t last. Cain accuses Obama of mishandling the Arab Spring. He can’t say why, but “as a result they have got out of hand”. They’ve put, he says (and boy, do I ever admire his eloquence), “that entire thing at risk”. You know, that thing... He’ll ask an expert and get back to us.
Then Romney steps up to declare his enthusiasm for ordering the deaths of American citizens. He also takes a swing at Obama: “We have a President right now who thinks that America is just another nation. America is an exceptional nation!” This line of thinking will someday be the death of us. I’m looking for suggestions on places to take refuge—I’m a little worried about New Zealand now that U.S. troops will be stationed just north of them in Oz...the fallout might be just that much closer. I found what looks like a whole lot of kroner in my wallet today, but it probably wouldn't be enough to buy me so much as a bottle of water in a fountain-less Norwegian airport, so Scandinavia is out as a refuge.
The Newt is also okay with arbitrary killings of U.S. citizens, because the one in question “was found guilty by a panel who looked at it”. A panel!? That is a Death Panel! “But that’s extrajudicial”, the moderate Scott Pelley intervenes. “It’s the rule of law”, The Newt replies. “No it isn’t”, a clearly bewildered Pelley replies. The Newt rages on, arguing that it is right to strip people of their rights when they oppose us. “The correct thing in an act of war is to kill people who are trying to kill you”. Cue wild applause. Someone next to him on the panel (it sounds like Perry, but I can’t be sure) says “Well said”.
Santorum agrees: “You don’t have rights unless you play by the rules”. This is a shocking statement, and shows us what a President Santorum (and some of these other idiots) might be doing to Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Perry has a novel way out. We should torture, he explains, but just don’t call it that.
Thankfully, Ron Paul gets to come back in about now. “This is why we get into this problem”, he snaps at Cain, “Overthrowing dictatorships that we have supported”. He goes onto pillory Romney and Santorum and The Newt: “We’re at war against a tactic. We create these monstrosities and we do things outside of the law. We come up with assassinations...lawlessness...you want to live within the law and obey the law because otherwise it’s going to be very bad for all of us”. Bachmann squawks about how useful torture is. Paul replies, “I don’t think we should give up so easily on our rule of law”.
Two Republican Senators (these people really live in echo chambers...they never get critical questions or hear from other audiences or viewpoints) ask about spending. Romney says we need to cut public broadcasting, the endowments for the humanities and arts. He calls for returning Medicaid and other programs to the states. The problem with this is that it doesn’t reduce the burden on people, it just means that taxation will come from somewhere else. This is a clear demonstration (as is The Newt’s call for a growth- rather than people-oriented economy) that for the GOP the public are secondary to this abstract thing called the economy, which could conceivably recover on paper while leaving most people behind.
Bachmann exhumes LBJ and labels him the root of our problems. She wants to uproot the Great Society. “It’s put us into the modern welfare state” (and I can just hear chuckles from any Europeans deranged enough to watch this). She cites China as a good example of how to grow without welfare (or democracy, openness, rule of law, etc), because we all know how solicitous China is of the needs of its people.
We’re back to Pakistan. The question: What would you do if a Pakistani nuke goes missing?
Romney shows that he can remember four things (two more than Rick Perry) by listing off four power spheres in Pakistan: civilian government, ISI, military, fundamentalists (but doesn’t answer the question).
Jon Huntsman has a macho moment and rambles about calling a Seal Team.
Santorum, again surprisingly, was the most mature on the issue, “You don’t Cowboy this one”.
This one. Well that’s cold comfort. Because if my calculations are correct, if these people had been running the country, by the end of the debate we’ve launched a Holy War against Muslims, bombed Pakistan for other reasons, created a hate list for countries we don’t like, assassinated all of Iran’s scientists and then nuked the country for good measure, attacked Syria, machine-gunned Occupy Wall Street Protesters, created Death Panels to judge the loyalties of U.S. citizens, and sent atheists, agnostics, and those of us who just couldn’t care less to Gitmo, and done lots of nice things for Israel.
Phew. Somehow I don’t think I’ll sleep well tonight.