Is it just me, or are the broadcast “spectacles” that now serve as televised political debates tiresome and annoying? You get a big auditorium filled with partisans whooping and hollering for their candidates, you get these podiums lined up in front of swirling colors, and candidates attached to them looking like a bunch of freakin’ monkeys on display at a zoo. You got two or three people (or more) asking questions that you have to try and answer substantially in less than a minute’s time, and if you want to question another candidate you have to look over the heads of two or three other candidates (or more). I mean, it’s ridiculous format – if you’re a candidate vying for elected office, all you are is an answering machine tryng to spit out talking points fast; if you’re a voter, you’re not getting any sense of the person behind the politician.
For tonight’s Iowa debate, these problems were compounded by the sheer number of candidates. With so many people you could never get a sense of any kind of rhythm to the evening; it was a total mess. And the fact that, with all the problems involving our massive deficit not one – not one! – question about how each candidate would tackle the issue of Social Security and Medicare is beyond belief. I would have expected more from the Fox News and the Washington Examiner panel. Instead, we got a lot of questions attempting to provoke one candidate against another, and only Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich seemed able to stay above the fray with any success.
When you have this many candidates perhaps a better format would have been all of them sitting around a table and just hashing out their own views to each other in a more conversational fashion – at least that way you’d end up covering more ground, and let the candidates be themselves a little bit more. Perhaps at this stage of the game it really doesn’t matter – after all, it’s still way way too early for these events to begin with. Maybe the media cares who wins the Iowa straw poll fifteen months ahead of the 2012 presidential election, but I sure don’t and I doubt most people do as well. Call me after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and the South Carolina primaries in January, then we’ll have something do discuss.
Nevertheless, the question is who won and who lost? More accurately, who bettered their current position and who didn’t? Here are my quick thoughts on each one:
Rick Santorum – not impressive. Has this weird quirky smile. While I respect his pro-life position defending his position of prosecuting doctors who perform abortions is absurd. He didn’t help himself or hurt himself, he was just taking up podium space.
Herman Cain – he helped himself tonight by staying focused on his role as businessman and jobs creator. He’s not presidential timber, but he’d make a great VP pick for someone.
Michele Bachmann – Pawlenty went after her pretty good tonight and hurt her – a lot. She showed her relative inexperience by taking Pawlenty’s bait and going off the reservation on particular votes she made as a state legislator (who cares?) and worse, she fell back on the same talking points she’s been using for weeks about congressional legislation she either proposed, voted for, or voted against. Showing that, while the darling of many Tea Party activists, she’s not very influential in congress. She’s not presidential timber yet, but she’d make a great VP candidate for someone.
Ron Paul – What can I say, the guy is nuts. But I’m sure he helped himself immensely tonight, inserting himself into every discussion point that came up. Although I agree with him as far as decoupling ourselves from all the foreign military engagements we presently find ourselves in, he’s off the wall. Not that it will, but if it were to come down to Ron Paul vs. Barack Obama, I’m staying home.
Tim Pawlenty – I think he hurt himself big tonight by going after Bachmann. Had a funny line about offering to cook someone dinner or mow their lawn if they could show him Barack Obama’s plans for Socioal Security and Medicare, and if he left it at that it might have been the highlight of the debate. Instead he used it to make a crack about (I guess) Romney’s wealth, and it came off as petty, as were his non-stop attacks on Bachmann were. If he wanted to show how “tough” he could be by attacking Bachmann, it failed. All he came across as is churlish. He turned me off, I’m guessing others will feel the same way.
Mitt Romney – he helped himself tonight by staying above the political attacks. He’s sharp, but comes across as weirdly detached in some way. Still, I think his message about being a businessman resonates. Wish he’d talk more about how he rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics; there’s a real story of accomplishment there.
Newt Gingrich – Newt also helped himself tonight, especially when he pointed out the “gotcha” journalism being practiced by Fox’s Chris Wallace, whose repeated attempts to get the candidates to attack one another was annoying beyond belief. Newt came off as statesman-like, but he has way too much baggage to ever get the GOP nod.
Jon Huntsman – Like Santorum, he was just there. He didn’t help himself or hurt himself, he didn’t do or say anything that would make you want to hear any more or any less of him.
As far as the GOP race is concerned, it’s still way too early, and with Texas Governor Rick Perry and Sarah Palin due into the race at any time, that’s where you will see the race start to take shape. These are just the warm-up acts; it will be a Romney-Perry-Palin race by the time it’s all over, and tonight’s debate will be a long-forgotten blip on the too-early 2012 election scene.
Do we really have fifteen more months of this before us?