MSNBC Presidental Debates – Part II

Last Thursday, MSNBC hosted a debate between the ten Republican candidates for President. Recently, I blogged about the previous week’s Democratic version of this event. In the interest of fairness, I decided to watch these debates as well. Furthermore, I was interested in seeing Congressman Ron Paul speak. For those not familiar with him, Dr. Ron Paul is an honest and principled man who values liberty and who has served his congressional district in Texas since 1997. Despite my philosophical disagreements with him on several points, I respect Dr. Paul and would recommend voting for him to any liberty loving true conservative. Dr. Paul has been an outspoken critic of big government, big media, big corporations, and the Iraq War. Thus, I expected to see him given the Gravel “potted plant” treatment as seen in the Democratic debates.

Despite my lofty intentions of cheering for Dr. Paul while documenting the bias of big media and the banality of the American elections circus on both sides of the aisle, I’m afraid that my wife and I had a hard time stomaching this one and will not be watching any further Republican Primary debates. Clinton and Obama are pretty awful, and it was fairly sickening to watch them get so much attention in the Democratic primary while they spouted vague “feel-good” political talk, dodged questions, and buttered up the public, but many of these Republican candidates simply made my jaw drop and my stomach lurch with all their meaningless “feel good” praise of some idealized version of America that lives only in their fantasies and their bending over backwards to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. To make matters worse, my own political beliefs made it very hard to evaluate things like whether a candidate was delivering a good or great answer in the sense of one that truly answered the question when so often they delivered answers that I found deeply disturbing and upsetting. Just ten to fifteen minutes into the debate, my wife and I were pausing the TiVo and seriously pondering if we could make it through another hour and twenty minutes.

We persevered, and I’m delivering my report on the event, but I’m afraid that I just can’t handle doing it again.

As expected this debate wasn’t particular fair in how it allocated questions to the candidates. Once again, you could roughly get an idea of the question distribution by looking at the poll numbers of the candidates and how much media attention a candidate gets.

McCain Romney Brownback Guiliani Gilmore Tancredo Huckabee Paul Thompson Hunter
Questions Given 20 18 17 17 13 13 12 12 11 11
Opening Questions Given 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1
Vague ‘Political’ Answers 6 4 7 7 5 1 3 0 1 0
Dodged Questions 1 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Great Answers 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 5 2 0
Good Answers 0 2 0 1 0 3 2 2 1 2
Excessive Stolen Time 1 2 1 2 2 1 0 0 1 0

While the question distribution was skewed, it didn’t have the property that the Democratic debates did where the skew was much worse until the last 30 minutes that were not aired on local NBC stations. Instead, the skew actually got more pronounced as the debate went on which is better in that at least the people only watching the first part get a more balanced exposure to the candidates.

I must give credit to the moderator Chris Matthews. Unlike Brian Williams who hosted the Democratic debates, Matthews actually cut candidates off fairly aggressively when they tried to go over their allotted time, stealing time from other candidates. His heavy-handedness here was very fortunate considering the number of candidates who tried to become offenders of this sort was quite higher than in the previous debate where only Clinton, Obama, and Richardson were particularly odious in going over their time limits. Another great quality that Matthews brought to the table was that he often refused to let one of these slippery fellows get away with not answering the question. Frequently, he would also call them out on statements that seemed to contradict things they had said elsewhere. Overall, I got the impression that Matthews tried to keep things debate-like and tried somewhat to hold the feet of the candidates to the fire now and then. One downside to his reluctance to let a candidate get away with not answering a question was that several times, he effectively gave “top tier” candidates extra questions.

As I mentioned earlier, it was simply unreal and disgusting how many times many of the candidates tried to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. I’m not a fan of Reagan. I’ve learned far too much about the killing fields that he illegally sponsored in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Also, I get rather annoyed when some clueless pundit gives Reagan undue credit for the fall of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had been decaying ever since the end of World War II both from the damages caused by Hitler’s invasion and from the costs of the Cold War. It would have collapsed regardless of whether Reagan had been in the White House and may have done so sooner without all of his Evil Empire rhetoric. Regardless of what I think of Reagan, it was pretty sickening to watch these politicians try their hardest to associate themselves with him in hopes of gaining political capital. Romney was probably the worst offender here, but McCain came pretty close as did several of the others.

Romney also drove me crazy with his over the top America-is-the-most-perfect-of-perfect-countries, apple-pie, land-of-the-free song and dance. Stick to the issues, man. I’m not watching you and your buddies debate to have you stroke my national ego! When asked to name one of America’s faults, he stammered and pandered as if the question didn’t make any sense. We don’t need a President who wears rose-colored glasses. We need someone who can see America for all her strengths and weaknesses. Sadly, buttering up your audience is a far more effective propaganda technique than giving concrete solutions to concrete problems. Flattery will get you everywhere… Especially, when the media doesn’t do their alleged job and point this stuff out.

Oddly enough McCain, who usually looks good in interviews (except when making asinine statements about “success” in Iraq or singing songs about bombing Iran), looked really sweaty, shaky and uncomfortable during the first half of the debates. I wonder what was up with that. I’m thinking things aren’t looking good for his candidacy despite his being one of the media’s anointed. I don’t get why he was ever labeled a “maverick” by the media. He’s always seemed a very standard mainstream modern Republican to me. Nothing here changed my mind as he played the part to the hilt and also seemed very much the pandering politician. At one point towards the end of the debate, I half-expected someone to come up to the stage from off camera and hand him a baby to kiss.

Governor Tancredo of Colorado is someone with whom I wasn’t familiar before the debate. Like Senator McCain, he looked extremely uncomfortable on stage. Unlike McCain, he also came off as rather timid. I liked his answer to a barbed question about women’s rights where he correctly stated that you can be a champion of women’s rights and not be a defender of killing babies.

The pro-life issue is one where I do agree with many of these candidates although I find that the Republican party simply uses abortion as a handy issue for rallying single-issue voters in the Christian Right. It’s far too useful politically for them to ever actually do anything substantive about it. While agreeing with their pro-life position, I found it fairly disgusting to hear the candidates pontificate about the preciousness of life while talking about strengthening our military, seeking new enemies, and supporting the murderous Iraq war. I suppose the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians killed by our invasion and on a daily basis by the civil war that is fed by our continued presence in Iraq are somehow second class and not precious to these hypocrites.

I was surprised to find Guiliani came off fairly well. I haven’t liked much of what I’ve seen or heard about the man before these debates. I find his “Mayor of America” title obnoxious and the idea of his having any political capital from 9/11 ludicrous, but he was one of the few candidates not bending over backwards to compare himself to Reagan, he didn’t dodge questions too often, and he actually managed to describe the difference between the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. Also, he used the term “Islamic fundamentalist terrorist” at one point instead of uttering the completely inflammatory and inane “Islamo-fascist” label that Romney, Brownback, and Huckabee all used during the debate. You can call Islamic terrorists several things, but associating fascism with Islam or any of the terrorist groups in the Middle East is simply dishonest propaganda attempting to rally public support by equating the War on Terror™ with the so-called “good war” against Nazi Germany. The supreme irony is that while there are no ideological similarities between Islamic terrorist organizations and fascism, there are actually MANY similarities between fascism and the neo-conservative ideology embraced by the Bush administration and many of the candidates aspiring to be the next President. There’s a reason why the United States has a sordid history of propping up fascist military dictatorships in third world countries and why Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were admired by big business and high society prior to the American entry into World War II.

I was hoping to root for Ron Paul during the debate, but sadly, I didn’t think he was as good as Dennis Kucinich at summarizing his points and taking full advantage of his time in the debate. He plays out much better in his written articles and when he is given a chance to fully express himself such as in interviews and lengthier debates. Still, he did make several good points if not as powerfully as I would have liked.

There were a lot of seriously warped views being thrown around on stage. One particularly glaring example was when Brownback made the ludicrous observation that the day Roe v. Wade is overturned will be a great day for freedom and liberty! You can believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and that abortion is wrong (as I do), but describing such a reversal as a win for freedom is Orwellian and a great example of how politicians love to use words for their positive connotations while divorcing them from all meaningful content.

That’s all for this eRant. God save America.

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1 Comment

  1. I admire your capacity for suffering and the sacrifice on our behalf, and I agree with all your comments regarding the meaning of the “content”. I could only read the highlights later on the web, where I learned (was not surprised) that all candidates, to at least some extent, criticized Bush’s bumbling. My own fantasy is that the big boys will follow through on drafting the Cronkite-like Fred Thompson (tall, great voice, actor-so-good-at-being-convincing-at-what-is-not-true) He is a Reagon, but sadly without the required good hair – possibly the Cronkiteness sufficiently compensates. Good Grief, I am seeing him as having a CHANCE to win against Clinton, Obama, or Edwards! Scary! I hope not – maybe it was just a bad dream. Love your site, JP

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