Surrealism in Orlando: The Republican Primary Debate

I admit, when Newt Gingrich last night took credit for creating a couple of million American jobs when he was Speaker of the House and looked down to see if his nose had grown six inches, I was in the minority who remember that Newt spent most of his time as the top dog in Congress tearing down President Bill Clinton’s economic agenda. The man still has a way with words, verbally keel-hauling President Obama for “class warfare and bureaucratic socialism”. He stakes his ground with the certainty of a labrador retriever. One almost wants to reach out affectionately while steering him away from the young ones.

It is entertaining to watch the Republican primary debates. They are of course nothing like debates. These are tailored opportunities to match sound bites against sound bites. Every flash of wit is greeted like droplets of water traversing a desert. During the general presidential campaign, the Republican candidate will wear his or her “reasonable hat”, hoping to reach out to swing voters, independents and Democrats. But primary “debates” are like short track stock car races. They kick up dust. You wait for the crashes. Then it is over. These are unique opportunities for aliens to ferret out (and I mean extra-terrestrials, not the illegals who would have been hog-tied and burned at the stake last night if any in the audience had raised their hand to self-identify) what is driving the United States apart.

Fox commentators continuously referred back to the debate as the “most interactive” in human history. And it had to be seen to be believed. What a pinnacle of achievement. Little pull-out moments like showing results of single phrase google searches. Questions posed to the candidates by YouTube clips from hither and yon; Ohio bikers, Virginia young Republicans. Word clouds. Online polls. (Loved that the candidates, when asked or needed to slip in a comment about which federal agency they would eliminate, all piled on the US EPA but how the Fox/Google online poll showed only 12 percent of viewers agreed.) Florida Governor Rick Scott had his moment in front of a nation-wide audience at intermission, thanking corporate sponsors Fox and Google along the lines of, “corporations create jobs and we are glad you are here. When my ratings improve, I’m going to Disneyworld!”

All the bells and whistles in the converging world of internet and television can’t add up to a reasonable debate format when there are eight or twelve men or women up on the stage, playing “badminton” (Gov. Rick Perry’s said so, to Mitt Romney) with charges and counter-charges. Swatting the imaginary birdie overhead the length of the stage is not improved with Google or Fox commentators’ darts.

I propose the answer: Charlie Rose. Well, not Charlie Rose. Maybe Charlie Sheen, who proves that once you have made it as an entertainer, you can never be too embarrassed to be redeemed. Let the candidates go two by two up the ramp to the Ark of Television and spend an hour with each other and one interlocutor. Let the test of time on camera reveal which candidates can stand on their own, outside of sound bites meant to enrage, enthuse, and otherwise stir up the popular passions. What gladiator in a Roman colosseum would have done with a 20 second rebuttal?

Overall impression: Republican candidates for president of the United States uniformly detest the federal government they will lead if elected in 2012. But we just had one of those, didn’t we? One after another, the latest crew bashed federal authority and seemed, to a man and woman, to ignore the fact that two terms of one of their own, uber conservative George W. Bush, wrecked what he could and planted ideologues in federal agency staff positions where he couldn’t knock the walls down from the outside.

If this doesn’t feel like 1931 all over again, go back to your history books. Among the enthusiastic, cheerful and cheering Orlando crowd, how many channeled what happened in the United States after the stock market crash of 1929? Pick up a book, you want to say. Turn off your TV.

I still think John Huntsman makes the best case for a Republican candidate, but the thin applause from the audience bodes poorly for the only candidate who knows first-hand how America is regarded on the other side of the fence Rick Santorum wants to erect on 1200 miles of the Texas border and the US coastline. How did Rick Santorum ever get elected to the US Senate? John Huntsman wants to bring the troops home. Me, too! Oh well.

Michelle O’Bachmann could not restrain herself from jumping in, on the issue of air flights to Cuba. No! she challenged the former Governor of New Mexico who wants to cut the federal government in half and he will do it. How pleased she looked.

I confess a soft spot for Ron Paul, who reliably lets honesty get in the way of his chances. When he makes a point, you can almost hear the red meat audience whistle a breath between their teeth before the applause. It is a breath of recognition that if you are true libertarian and abhor government, by the time you get there and pass all the signposts of the conservative right/Republican agenda; there is nothing left but to applaud the cinders of the fire. Someone said, “localize, localize, localize”. Music to the ears of the polluters, the rock miners, and the sugar barons. What Paul means is: leave us alone. He is the Candide of the Cato Institute. At one point Paul forgot he had more time to answer a question that had been posed and lost the train of his thought. So do I! Then he was talking about “that fence” that could as easily be turned to keeping Americans in, as keeping aliens out. The data to identify people is there; meaning citizens as well as aliens. And in economic hard times, money wants to leave the country. I would lean for Paul; an absentee voter living in exile in Paris.

The odd piece is that holders of the Euro are all rushing back to the dollar these days. Greece would be cheaper. Switzerland, safer. The longer the debate in Orlando last night, the more I fancied thoughts of flight.

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One Response to Surrealism in Orlando: The Republican Primary Debate

  1. Tere says:

    I have to admit that the whole episode looked like something out of a Fellini movie.

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