Eight Republicans who want to be president of the United States met on the stage in Iowa last night in a debate hosted by FOX News and the Washington Examiner.
The Winner? FOX News and the Washington Examiner!
I say that because the debate was at times heated, humorous, informative, off the wall and certainly thought provoking. In short it was great live television, and even though there is some criticism that some candidates resorted as often as possible to talking points and campaign rhetoric, there was more than sufficient spontaneity to offset the prepared comments.
Among the night's luminaries were former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich who showed once again that his intellect is sharp and his grasp of national and international issues is wide-ranging; Ron Paul who showed that if he ever became president he would give Barack Obama a run for the title of worst ever; and Herman Cain who got far too little attention.
If there was a dead spot in the night, for me anyway, it was that the panel of questioners, who overall were excellent, focused too often on the pissing match between former Wisconsin governor Tim Pawlenty and current Wisconsin Representative Michelle Bachmann.
Both are intelligent, opinionated and knowledgeable, but I don't see either of them as a national front-runner despite the polls in Iowa, and I don't care what they think of each other. I don't care who did what or how they interpret it and encouraging their back and forth attacks only took time away from the other candidates.
I watched both of them on Fox News Sunday over the past couple of months and I decided a week ago that when the primary season comes around I definitely won't be voting for Pawlenty. I made this decision because after questioning from Chris Wallace - on FNS, not during the debate - Pawlenty commented that Bachmann's level of experience is similar to that of Barack Obama's, adding words to the effect that we have seen how that worked out and we don't need to repeat that mistake.
When Wallace then asked Pawlenty point blank if Michelle Bachmann is another Obama, Pawlenty ducked the question! All he had to say was "Yes" or "No."
Instead he responded like a typical politician, using a lot of words but saying nothing. Obviously, if he is going to compare Michelle Bachmann's voting record and experience level to Barack Obama's then he is saying the two are similar and thus she is not worthy of the presidency.
But to try and parse or spin his comments is just more obfuscation and we don't need that, do we?
I was very pleased to see that when Herman Cain had an opportunity to speak he not only was forthright about his positions and past statements - in addition to having real world knowledge of how business and the economy are supposed to work - he also has learned from past slips.
For instance, on a FNS show a few months back he was not well versed on the issue of the Palestinian claim to Right of Return in the more-than-a-half-century-old dispute over the land that now comprises Israel. Cain muffed that question on FNS but obviously went right out and studied up on it because he was far better prepared last night.
Cain also did not duck questions about his support of the residents of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who do not want a Muslim center in their community. A group of residents filed suit against Rutherford County in 2010 after the Regional Planning Commission gave the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro site plan approval for a 58,000-square-foot facility.
FOX questioners have made reference to Cain's position on this dispute several times, with the implication that his resistance is racially based and as a black man he should know better.
But Cain has articulated his position in-depth numerous times and repeatedly has made the point as he did in the debate that his opposition is not to the Muslim religion, but to the institution of Muslim Sharia law in ANY community in the United States of America. Sharia law is based on the tenets of the Muslim religion and is seen by many to be inconsistent - in areas such as equal rights for women - with modern society and legal principles.
Cain was well-versed on the Constitution noting that it does not prohibit the practice of religion, but has no room for people in any American community to establish their own laws that are different - in the case of Sharia, markedly so - from our Constitution.
Elsewhere, I have watched Ron Paul on many occasions and while he has some positions on national issues that I totally agree with, his grasp of international affairs leaves me shaking my head. It is one thing to say you don't agree with the deployment of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to say that Iran has good reason to want atomic weapons and that there was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq are not supportable positions.
And to say kind things about Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - who wants to destroy Israel and thinks that if the world ends in a massive explosion of heat and light he will wake up in an instant in his version of paradise - is flat out naive.
So, thanks but no thanks on Rep. Paul.
Probably the most controversial question of the evening came from panelist Byron York, political correspondent for the Examiner, who, quoting Michelle Bachmann in an interview she gave in 2006 saying she was "submissive" to her husband, asked if that would carry over to the White House if she is elected president.
The crowd booed York but I think it was a fair question especially since Bachmann said she and her husband define submissive as meaning "Respect." I looked up submissive, submit, submission and several variations of that word, especially seeking synonyms and found nothing that even came close to "respect."
Interesting. Maybe we should vet her husband.
Overall, it was a good night, and the candidates at least had an opportunity to showcase their beliefs and positions. Bret Baier was a perfect moderator, and York, Chris Wallace and Susan Ferrechio of the Examiner were both fair and incisive in their questioning.
My scores: New Gingrich, up; Herman Cain, up; Tim Pawlenty, down; Michelle Bachmann even; Rick Santorum, even; Jon Huntsman, down; Ron Paul, down; Mitt Romney, even.
The next big deal is the Ames straw poll tomorrow which is a non-binding popularity contest that really has no great weight or meaning beyond what the media gives it.
What we'll learn tomorrow is how successful the candidates have been at convincing the residents of Iowa that they would be a perfect choice for president. After that, there is a long wait for the caucus and primary votes where the race for the nomination picks up speed, and drops off the losers.
Friday, August 12, 2011