Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Some Dogs and a New Guy

Apparently, a lot of debate viewers have dogs who did not respond well to Fox News’s last debate’s  “Time’s Up” bell.

As the latest debate got underway last night on Fox News Channel, paper doll host Bret Baier explained that they would use a new indication that a candidate had talked too long. He said the network got a lot of feedback from dog owners saying the last one (the Texaco full service ding) confused their dogs into thinking someone was at the front door.

All about the ding.

I’m pretty sure he was serious.

This time, they used that sound your Facebook page makes when you get a new instant message. Bret says they got the sound from Google, which co-sponsored the debate and contributed a lot of either confusing, pointless or largely unqualified survey stats to the evening, along with some citizens’ questions submitted via YouTube.

Before I really get going, let me say this: I always feel bad if I don’t assess every element of the debate, because I don’t want to leave out something that someone might have found important. But if I do every element, I’ll be here all day. So I hope you’ll forgive me if I hit some significant observations and don’t necessarily give you a complete blow-by-blow. I will, however, give you full coverage of the topics I present. I will tell you what each candidate who responded to the topic had to say. If someone is not mentioned in a topic, it’s because he or she did not address it.

Let’s begin.

Uh-buh-dee-buh-dee-buh-dee... get some drills in, Gov.

Gov. Rick Perry needs practice. For a front-runner, he’s just struggling in debates to make  his points smoothly. He spent the first half stilted and stuttering. It’s a shame for him, because if he could have delivered the lines better, they would probably have had more impact. But when you can’t even remember what month the newly-elected president gets to move into the White House, you’re not off to a great start.

He did enumerate a couple of ways he wanted to get small businesses to hire: lower the tax burden on them and institute sweeping tax reform that somehow adds up to not allowing frivolous lawsuits against doctors. I think, if he’d been able to say it right, he would have wanted to say that the health care industry is a major employer, both in small and large scale models, which he knows from his time as governor of a big state. And he wants to keep health care workers from fearing lawsuits, because fear of lawsuits (and needing funds to fight those that are inevitable) hinders hiring.

Is there anybody else in the hunt? Probably not.

The first zinger of the night, I think, was directed not at a candidate on the stage, but at President Obama. It came when Mitt Romney said, “To create jobs, it helps to have had a job. And I have.” He spent a little time last night reminding people that he’d spent his whole life in the private sector. He told everyone he had only spent four years as governor of Massachusetts and that was the extent of his political office.

Sooo… you just told everyone that you couldn’t get re-elected and you basically have a very limited amount of political leadership experience.

Interesting approach.

I get the “outside the beltway” thing, but sometimes I think it’s dangerous to tell people you barely know how to govern anything. It was the biggest threat to President Obama’s candidacy in the last election, but somehow it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican.

Romney says America’s economy depends on being more attractive to businesses by cutting corporate tax rates and making sure business and government are allies instead of opponents. He took a broad approach for a minute in explaining that the country needs a trade policy that favors the US rather than the other nations, and he briefly emphasized a need for energy security (which is my favorite “surprise” element of job creation and economic issues because we’re still not used to hearing it even though it’s true).

Then he stepped outside the lines of business a bit and said that the middle class is the part of America hurt most by Obama’s economic policies, so he would cut taxes for the middle class.

I find this to be an easy pitch to swing at, frankly. Of course the middle class is the most hurt; it always is. The rich (and by “rich” I personally am talking about people whose income is at about a million or more per year) are almost never really hurt, and the poor are so poor that nothing pulls them out of it; nobody talks about how to lift the poor out of poverty. I guess maybe poor people don’t vote. It’s hard to care who runs the place when you can’t feed your kids.

If we follow what seems to be the Tea Party theme, the way to get rich is to work your ass off without any help from anyone or any agency, and the way to stay rich is to pay fewer taxes. So Megyn Kelly asked Rep. Michele Bachmann: “Out of every dollar I own, how much do you think that I should deserve to keep?”

"Keep it all! Wait..."

Bachmann said you earned every dollar, and you should get to keep every dollar.

I was about to ask the television if that meant no taxes for anybody ever when she remembered that sometimes a populist approach is transparent bull puckey. “Obviously we have to give money back to the government, but we have to have a completely different mindset, and that mindset is the American people are the geniuses of the economy. It’s certainly not the government. Private solutions in the private sector give certainty, and that will drive the economy.”

At first I wasn’t sure I knew what she meant. Then I thought she must have missed all of 2008 and 2009, because I’m pretty sure we let the private sector try to come up with private solutions for decades and what they came up with was, “Our big bosses are really rich and we’ve gone bankrupt. Save us. After years of no one telling us to stop eating so much, we’ve grown too big to be able to wipe ourselves.” I don’t really know why business-focused, regulation-hating candidates don’t remember that.

Unions, gay people and educators: Talk to the hand.

Rick Santorum got a YouTube question about whether he would support a federal right to work law allowing workers to choose whether or not to join a union. His response was limited to public employees, which he says is the fastest-growing segment of union workers and the segment that is costing the country the most money. In short, he doesn’t believe that any of them should be unionized and he doesn’t want any of them to get negotiated wages and benefits.

I guess nobody is going to work for his administration, and he’ll clean his own office.

Herman Cain got to talk more about his 9-9-9 tax plan: eliminating the entire federal tax code and changing it to a simple 9% on companies, income and national sales. He was asked if that meant that, down the line, Americans could see hikes in all three of those categories. He said no, but never explained why not.

As the debate drifted away from jobs and budgets, Ron Paul got to make his first splash when someone asked how he would restore the 10th amendment (which theoretically limits federal government control over states) and allow states to govern themselves. His answer: the president would have to veto every bill that violates states’ rights.

"What? I was done."

That was his entire answer. He still had about 27 seconds left. Which was sort of refreshing. When the questioners told him that, he took the opportunity to talk about needing to bring health care and education back to state levels of government. Make no mistake: Ron Paul is not a Republican. He is a Libertarian. The RINO thing is just his best shot at a national spotlight. He’s an idea guy and although he seems jazzed by his relatively good performance in national polls, he knows he’s never going to get the party nod.

Then the questions turned to Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico.

Wait, who?

Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico is running for president. FYI.

Johnson has been in the race a while, but very quietly. It turned out there’s a reason for that, besides a lack of funding: He’s a one-note campaigner. He promises to submit a balanced budget proposal to Congress in 2013, which means a 43% cut in spending across the board, in every department. But it took him a little while to say it, so the Time’s Up ding rang out.

Or was that just someone Googling Gary Johnson?

I’d like to see his budget. I’m curious as to what happens to the highway I drive on every day and the banana I have for breakfast that may or may not be coated with poison.

That’s not all the guy said, so I’ll be fair and also tell you that he wants to get rid of the federal tax code and institute a flat sales tax to take care of everything. And that is really all he has on his platform. But his best line came far later in the debate. “My neighbors’ two dogs have created more shovel-ready programs than this administration.” The entire audience roared. That’s the line that will make people remember him. Expect to hear it going forward.

Time to discuss social security, and I got to learn something. Perry talked about the ability of certain state employees and retirees to opt out of Social Security and only get their retirement benefits from the state.  I don’t know how it would work – I’m not sure what the plan for payment would be, but Perry favors it.

This is where Mitt Romney’s moderation shows, and I think it’s to his benefit in the nomination fight. He basically insisted that’s a dumb idea to leave retirement funding to states, and that Social Security is the responsibility of the federal government and it needs to be fixed and the American people need to know that the president is committed to making it work. Romney, apparently, remembers that FDR instituted the program as a federal gig.

"First, you go to Chile..."

Herman Cain didn’t get this question, but he circled back to it later and insisted that the US adopt the Chilean model of retirement funding. He’s big on this. But since nobody knows what it is, and also it relates to a South American country and that just makes people uncomfortable, it’s a hard sell. Chileans use a personal retirement account and, according to Cain, 30 other countries have modeled their programs after it, and it’s successful. He’s going to keep pushing this. I’d look for some feature articles on it as the campaign goes along, because Cain did well in this debate and I think he might be around for a little while.

And then there was a bunch of silliness about books. It was like Perry and Romney were slapping each other over whose book was better. They used each others’ publications as battering rams: “You said this in your book.” “Well you said that in your book.” It seemed like a strange distraction, but in reality it was a way for two governors without Congressional voting records to push each other about their stances on various issues. I’d say the most successful jab (or the one that would have been most successful if Perry could speak without tripping over himself) was when Perry pointed out that Romney’s hardback book said Romney believed the whole country could benefit from Massachusetts’ established “Romneycare,” but the paperback edition did not show that sentence. Romney didn’t do much to dispute the point other than to say he never really said that. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the assertion was more nuanced than Perry would have us believe.

"Anything your book says, my book says better."

By now you may have noticed I’m not talking much about anybody other than Perry and Romney. That’s because nobody really is. In a USA Today/Gallup poll last week, Perry pulled a 31%, while Romney took 24% (that’s a smaller distance from first to second than the previous polling). Rep. Ron Paul garnered 13%. And believe it or not, Rep. Bachmann, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were all tied at 5%. Five percent. Michele Bachmann fell off a cliff when Perry got into the race, and I still haven’t quite figured out why, but it’s possible that her freefall could leave the door open for Sarah Palin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Palin has been watching for it to happen – the old Early Flame-Out. With Bachmann fading, and time ticking away, Palin might decide to get in on the double-dutch jump just when she can peak at the right time.

"Atta boy, Jonny."

But that doesn’t mean the other candidates aren’t worth listening to, because they bring ideas to the table that the frontrunners don’t articulate. Take, for example, Jon Huntsman. I was surprised to hear him flatly declare that he would not raise taxes. Period. And then he started quoting Ronald Reagan. (It always gets around to that, but he’s not the guy I thought would do it, so this tells me he’s trying harder to look like a Republican and shed the image of having worked for Obama as ambassador to China.) But if you hung through the easy lobs, you got to hear him say we can’t fix anything in this country until we fix the economy, and we can’t fix the economy without fixing its underlying structural problems. For him, that means phasing out loopholes and deductions, and creating an 8-14-23% personal tax rate. He wants to take corporate tax from 35% to 25% to encourage business growth, but he would eliminate corporate subsidies because the country can’t afford them. When questioned about his stated willingness to subsidize alternative energy sources, he deftly explained that he would be in favor of initial short-term subsidies with a rapid phase-out plan because we need a bridge between our current energy sources (coal, oil) and the sources of the future (wind, solar)… like natural gas.

Then the moderators brought out the Haterade and it was time to talk about which departments in the federal government they hated most. Herman Cain actually got the first question, which was “if you were forced to eliminate one department, which one would it be, and why?” I don’t really know why he grinned, but he said if he was forced (and I thought his emphasis suggested that he wouldn’t necessarily want to get rid of any of them), it would likely be the EPA, which he says has gotten out of control with its regulations. He cited a plan for the agency to regulate dust.

One look at my home right now tells me I’m in trouble with the EPA.

And then we moved on to hating the department of education. Almost all the candidates say they want to get rid of it and give full control of education to states and localities. This gave Rick Santorum a chance to get back on his family-focused horse and give out some hard numbers at the same time: 20 years ago, the federal funding contribution for education to the states was 3%. Now it’s 11% and education is worse. He says it doesn’t serve the customer (using a business approach here), and that the customer is the parents, who have the real responsibility for educating children.

I see his point, but I think the “customer” is the child, and there are so many parents who fall down on the job at home that the schools had to step in. If we give all that control back to parents, we’re in for a world of hurt. Which is why I was glad to hear Jon Huntsman say that the federal input on education is all about the nation’s competitiveness. I got a little excited, because I happen to agree, and here’s a guy who was ambassador to freaking China who’s about to explain why.

Except he didn’t.

Instead he pushed for localizing education, but never said he’d eliminate the federal department. And he emphasized the need for kids to learn critical reading and writing skills by the age of six.

Gingrich, Perry and Paul advocated school choice at the very least, and something akin to a voucher program that lets parents decide where to send their kids instead of automatically plugging them into the public school in their district.  But Paul wants to go so far as to give tax credits to people who opt out of public schools. Gingrich wants something like a Pell Grant system for grades K-12 so parents can pay for their kids’ education at schools where tuition is charged. And Romney made what I thought was a pretty impactful point: “all the talk about classroom size is promoted by teachers’ unions so they can hire more teachers.” Wow. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s a big jab that allowed Romney to say he would stand firm against teachers’ unions. When Rick Perry pushed the point that Romney “favors” the current Race To the Top federal plan, Romney explained that he thinks Education Secretary Arne Duncan is right to believe that teachers should be evaluated and thrown out if they’re not performing well, and he believes kids should be tested to make sure they’re meeting educational standards. Once again, Romney’s moderation comes through, though he does favor school choice.

On the topic of illegal immigration: Rep. Bachmann wants to build a fence on every inch of border with Mexico. It’s a popular response for the Tea Party and others, but when the governor of Texas says there’s no way in hell it’s going to be practical, I think you have to listen; his state has 1200 miles of border with Mexico. The problem with him is that his record on preventing illegal immigration is suspect and Romney tried to hit him on that a little in this debate. He pounded Perry on in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, who themselves never became legalized. He pointed out that four years of in-state tuition at University of Texas equals $100,000 in discounts to illegal immigrants, and that’s a magnet that doesn’t make sense. It was a good blow, but Perry stopped stuttering when he explained that he still thinks it’s more important to educate people so they don’t become drags on society. Which is a fair point until Rick Santorum emphatically opines that nobody said they couldn’t go to college at all– but why subsidize it and give illegals a reason to come to Texas? It might have been Santorum’s finest moment.

"Do you unnastand the wuhds that ah comin' outta my mouf?"

Gingrich believes nobody should get that in-state benefit. He also firmly believes English should be the official language, favors a fence and points out that the visa system makes it too difficult for foreign nationals to visit the US, and the immigration laws make illegal entry too easy.

Ron Paul wants to eliminate birthright citizenship so parents aren’t motivated to come to the US to deliver their babies. The moderator asked him about his assertion in the last debate that a fence might eventually be used to keep Americans in. This was really the only point in the night where Paul went to the zoo a little bit. He tried to make the point that Americans do sometimes want to leave the country with their money. (I’m pretty sure they don’t go to Mexico, unless it’s for vacation.) But he did land a decent point when he said that a data bank keeping track of citizenship would keep track of everyone, not just illegals, and that amounts to a national ID system that infringes on personal liberties.

At this point in the debate, the natives started getting a little restless and the interruptions began, particularly when it came to discussion on the Middle East. With the Palestinian Authority in the news for formally requesting recognition from the UN, the GOP has its claws out. Romney took the most emphatic stance that there should not be one inch of space between the US and its allies (in this case, Israel), and that no one should apologize for that. If you have a problem with your ally, discuss it privately, but support them staunchly in public. Although he didn’t mention the late president, this is a very Reaganesque attitude, and it was clearly a shot at the Obama administration.

Herman Cain insisted that the “peace through strength” philosophy Reagan espoused needed one element added at the moment: clarity. He says the Obama administration has sent mixed signals on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. (For the record, President Obama told the UN this week that the only way peace can be achieved in the Middle East is for Israel and the Palestinians to find it between themselves, and he does not think the PA should be recognized by the UN.)

Rick Perry got a question about Pakistan and the hypothetical that it may lose control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban. He believes he would first build a relationship with Pakistan that’s stronger than the current one. He had a little trouble articulating it, but I suspect it’s because he was trying to show he has somewhat of a handle on foreign policy issues and his head was moving faster than his mouth. He brought up a specific terror network in Pakistan called Haqqani (I Googled it; it’s closely allied with the Taliban) and said India needs to know for certain that the US is its ally. He believes we don’t have strong enough allies in the region to help us if the nuke situation became a reality.

You can't call him expressionless.

Then there was some acrimonious disagreement between Rick Santorum (who, frankly, is very pouty and angry and has no poker face whatsoever) and Jon Huntsman over military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Santorum says he does not favor taking troops out of Iraq; he’d rather heed the generals’ call for 20-30,000 troops to keep force protection, and he believes the US needs to stand by its reasons for being there. Huntsman went in (unasked) for the throat when he differed, saying he’s the only person on stage with foreign policy experience, but he wound up sort of foundering on his point. He drew a line back to the economy saying that America can’t fix other countries’ problems without fixing its own economy, and that the only people who can really save Iraq are the Iraqis, and the only people who can really save Afghanistan are the Afghans. It was a bizarrely isolationist point I’d more expect from Ron Paul, and Santorum shot back with what I think was another really good punch for him on the night:  “Just because our economy is sick doesn’t mean our country is sick or our values are sick. And we are going to stand up for our country.”

But then he got a question, asked by a gay service member via YouTube, about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which was officially eliminated from policy this week). Santorum insisted that if he were president, he’d put DADT back into effect. He believes repealing it injects a social program into the military and that we can’t conduct social experiments on the military. I find this to be sort of idiotic. It’s not like the military has been the first line in the introduction of gay rights issues for the country. In fact, it’s pretty much the last line. “Any type of sexual activity has no place in the military, and the fact that we’re making a point to recognize them and give them a special privilege in the form of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell injects a social program into the military,” Santorum emphatically pronounced. To me, that’s incredibly ignorant and shows that Santorum doesn’t understand that sex has a place everywhere in human sociology and that it’s not a “special privilege” to try to keep people from being beaten or discharged because of who they love.

I really wish some conservatives would begin to understand that homosexuality isn’t just about sex.

Speaking of sex, let’s revisit Rep. Bachmann’s HPV vaccine argument, shall we? After the last debate, Bachmann says a distraught mother told her that her daughter developed mental retardation after getting the vaccine. The American Association of Pediatrics shot back immediately, telling the world that there is zero evidence of this, and that the vaccine has an excellent safety record. The moderators asked Bachmann if she stands by her statements on the matter. Bachmann’s response was curious. She said she never actually made that claim.

“I only related what her story was,” she said. It was jaw-dropping.

"Hey, I was just telling you what she told me."

Again, Bachmann shows she’s bad at walking missteps back. But she recovered when she argued that the real issue is that it’s not appropriate for a governor (Rick Perry) to decide that a child should get a shot to prevent an STD, and she pointed out that he took money from the drug company that makes the vaccine… a company that hired Perry’s former Chief of Staff to lobby on their behalf.

Perhaps Perry’s most powerful moment of the night came next. “I did get lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old woman who had stage four cervical cancer.”

Everybody got quiet.

“I’ve readily admitted we should have had an opt-in, but I don’t know what part of ‘opt-out’ most parents don’t get. I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

As I’ve said, there were other topics discussed in the debate that I did not go into here. You can find a transcript here. In general, Rick Santorum had some strong moments in this debate, but his stance on DADT doesn’t keep with what most Americans think at this point, and he’s still just pissed off at everybody all the time. Michele Bachmann did nothing to gain points. Ron Paul played it less crazy, I think because he’s moving up in the polls, and that might have done him a favor or two, but he also didn’t get to pontificate on his signature issues. Herman Cain had a good night, and the audience learned about his recovery from stage 4 colon and liver cancer, which earned him a well-deserved and respectful ovation. Huntsman missed some opportunities and Gingrich didn’t do much at all. Johnson basically confused everyone with his presence and didn’t say anything other than “I promise to present a balanced budget to Congress in 2013.” Rick Perry got in his own way more than any one else did, but I think all these debates are bearing out the notion that Mitt Romney is the most poised and gives the most solid responses to questions.

From now on, Perry and Romney are the only people in the room.

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5 thoughts on “Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Some Dogs and a New Guy

  1. You know I always depend on your summaries – I was working on a presentation and couldn’t watch the debate. I’m sure there will be more. Don’t know that I’ll read the transcript, but I AM getting a little better at following along with the players and stances.

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