Sunday, December 16, 2007

Republican YouTube debate?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 6th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I watched the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on CNN while I was in Berlin last week and so today I want to discuss what I saw and heard as well as a few candidate insights and some recent examples of what I meant when I wrote of the growing lack of propriety in US political campaigns.
The debates were organized by CNN based on questions posed by ordinary American citizens of all ages, ethnicities and religious or political persuasions that were video-recorded on YouTube. Each of the 8 candidates was also allowed to record their own 30 second YouTube political ads which were played at various points throughout this 2 hour long so-called debate.
I say so-called, because in a true debate, each candidate gives a timed response to the same question and then is allowed some additional time later for rebuttal. Such was not the case here, since only one to three candidates was asked to respond to each question and rebuttal time varied from none to as often as three times depending on the issue. Still in all, CNN debate moderator Anderson Cooper did a fairly good job of spreading the questions around and following up when candidates tried to avoid answering the question (as so many politicians are famous for doing).
Predictably, the dominant issue in this debate, and the one that drew the most fireworks, was illegal immigration. Are you surprised it wasn’t the Iraq war? Well don’t be, because a shrinking majority of Republican voters still support Dubya and buy into the President’s argument that the Iraq war is ground-zero in Bush’s global “war on terror”. As such, only a single GOP candidate is against the war and that candidate, maverick libertarian Ron Paul, has no chance at winning the Republican nomination.
In fact the only question that was asked about the Iraq war came towards the end of the debate when a questioner asked whether the candidates felt that the US should maintain a “permanent” military presence in Iraq in order to protect the nation from Islamic extremists. Nor were the responses from the candidates to this question surprising either. Fred Thompson said the US should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes as did anti-immigration demagogue Tom Tancredo.
When Ron Paul said that he would pull US troops out and turn the country over to Iraqi political leaders, he justified his position by rightly pointing out that there wasn’t nearly as much violence in Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq or in Southern Iraq since the British had basically withdrawn and been replaced by Muqtada al Sadr’s Shiite militias there.
Senator McCain then responded sharply to Ron Paul accusing him of being an isolationist and harkening back to his days as a Vietnam POW, saying the US never lost a battle in Vietnam but had been forced to leave the job undone because American public opinion had turned against the war. McCain then went on to say that we can’t afford to repeat this mistake again in Iraq to a resounding round of applause.
But the first four and largest number of questions dealt with illegal immigration and what the candidates would do to stop it. I happen to believe this has become the Republican Party faithful’s hot button issue because the President and my party have performed so dismally in all other areas, that immigration is the only issue left they can get self-righteously indignant about.
I will write a column later which will delve into this issue in more detail, but suffice to say that all of the candidates espoused the “no amnesty” and “let’s build a bigger fence to keep them out” approach. John McCain was the only one who even attempted to point out that these so-called solutions still don’t address the issue of what do we do about the estimated 12 – 15 million illegal immigrants already residing in the US. Are we supposed to believe that we can arrest and deport them all?
On questions about the huge deficits that Bush and the Republican led Congress have run up since 2001 and the 40% increase in spending on areas other than Social Security and Medicare, all of the candidates beat the same drums, saying that they would veto pork barrel spending measures and impose across the board spending cuts and or eliminate Departments like Education and Energy. Give me a break!
On questions like abortion and gun control only Giuliani took a position supporting the status quo while the others voiced support for anti-abortion laws and US citizen’s 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. In response to a question about the death penalty stated as “What would Jesus do?” Mike Huckabee gave the best response saying that “Jesus was too smart to run for public office”. Yet he and all the other candidates claimed that they regarded its use as a difficult but appropriate means of punishment for certain crimes.
While there was nothing new or unexpected in the candidates’ views on these and a number of other issues, Fred Thompson’s campaign ad attacked Romney for his flip flopping on issues like abortion and Huckabee on raising taxes. I think this showed how desperate Thompson has become since he trails them in Iowa and New Hampshire. By contrast, the other candidates’ ads either attacked Hillary Clinton or burnished their credentials as “true conservatives”. What a waste of my time watching this debate was.
While most of the Republicans have been attacking Hillary regularly in their ads, Barack Obama has been subjected to patently false claims by conservative magazines like Insight and Human Events that he is actually a Muslim and not a Christian. These false rumours have also been picked up and passed along by conservative talk show hosts like Michael Savage. Even more interesting is the editor of Insight’s claim that the source of the rumour was the Hillary Clinton campaign. Clinton denies this and for her sake I hope her campaign’s being honest about this.

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