The Thinking Voter’s Debate

There are a lot of people who haven’t paid much attention to the presidential race so far. They may know for whom they’re voting, but base their decision on very little education. For them, last night’s debate mattered.

They might be voting for Mitt Romney.

Unless they like PBS, which he promised to desubsidize as part of a plan to defund everything he deems unworthy of borrowing money from China. Despite professing a love of Big Bird. Who immediately ended up trending on Twitter.

That’s a lot of programs on the chopping block, so if you’re a fan of things like art and culture and  umpteen other less touchy-feely things subsidized by the government, you might be a little concerned by this.

Mr. Romney clearly outperformed President Obama in last night’s face-off in Denver. The debate was civil, there were no fireworks, and it offered a lot of detail and lots of mentions of Bowles-Simpson (actually officially Simpson-Bowles), which people who don’t pay attention to politics may have never heard of. (It was a bi-partisan commission formed in 2009 to make no-holds-barred suggestions for how to trim spending and the deficit. Neither candidate loved it 100%, but both candidates liked it to some degree.)

For those who haven’t paid attention to politics, this would have been the problem with last night’s debate: it was info-heavy, which is exactly what they want but not exactly what keeps their interest… since, by virtue of not having been paying attention, they don’t know what the candidates were talking about.

Let’s talk about the most common refrain we’ve heard throughout the campaigns: job creation.

Mitt Romney says if he’s elected, he’ll help create 12 million jobs in his first term. How he’ll do that remains mostly a mystery, though he says that fostering energy independence will create four million of them. His ideas for energy independence include increasing the production of “clean coal.”

“I like coal,” he declared simply.

And I laughed out loud because it sounded so much like Brick Tamland’s “I love lamp.”

He did not mention green energy initiatives at all.

The president has long been about fostering new energy alternatives, and he does claim that, while he supports green energy initiatives, drilling for oil is up under his administration. And it is, but as Mr. Romney pointed out, it’s up on private land. On public land, it’s down significantly.

I’m not going to turn this into a debate over energy, but the Obama Administration has made it very clear that it’s time to actually do what we’ve been talking about doing since the 1970s and create energy alternatives. His Republican counterparts, including Mr. Romney, don’t want to do it because it doesn’t have a big enough profit margin. It’s clear on which side the planet loses, and frankly, on which side consumers, in the short term, lose. If you want to think long-term, you go with the president’s plans. If you want to think consumer short-term, you go with the Republican plan.

But it’s difficult to argue that any amount of job creation would be meaningful without an increase in American manufacturing. To that end, both candidates want to decrease the tax rate on American businesses, particularly manufacturing, in order to encourage them to keep their business here instead of outsourcing jobs. The president wants to drop the corporate tax rate to 25%. It’s currently 35%. The president also said that, right now, businesses get a tax break to ship their jobs overseas. Mr. Romney replied that he has no idea what the president is talking about.

This is where I had the  biggest problem with the president’s performance. If you were watching on a network that provided a split-screen at that moment, you saw the president make a face that I inferred to mean, “Well if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t know enough.” But he never verbalized it. Time after time, there were clear disagreements that the president never took the opportunity to voice, corrections he never tried to make. I don’t know why. But that was frustrating to watch. 

Mr. Romney said his plan for America basically has five parts: energy independence, open trade, ensuring skills for work in part by having the best schools in the world, championing small business and a balanced budget.

Sounds fantastic. How?

Didn’t really say.

But Mr. Romney did come to this debate extremely well-prepared. He cited specifics in numbers that went a long way toward informing Americans about what is going on in the economy, and the president simply repeated two: Romney’s supposed plan for five trillion dollars in tax cuts along with an increase of two trillion in military spending that he said the military hasn’t asked for. It’s a decent argument, because his point was it can’t be done without revenue (and Mr. Romney has refused to consider tax increases of any kind). The problem is that Mr. Romney responded that he does not have a plan to cut five trillion in taxes, and the president never laid out his reason for using the number. He just repeated it.

What I found interesting about Mr. Romney’s assertions, though, was that he insisted that he would not reduce the “share of taxes” on the wealthiest Americans. This is a new verbage. This is the first time in the campaign that he has said this. What he means is that, while he would decrease the income tax level for the wealthiest Americans, they would wind up paying just as much because he would also close loopholes and decrease available deductions, exemptions and credits. It’s not a stretch to understand why he might not have mentioned this before: either he didn’t have the idea before, or it’s a little scary to American homeowners to hear they may lose the tax deduction for their mortgage pr maybe even – dare he? – pay a higher tax rate on capital gains. Mr.Romney did not say which deductions and credits he’d change, but in the past when questioned, he has said he would have to work with Congress to establish them. That adds the layer of uncertainty: he can say this is what he’ll do, but he can’t do it unless Congress agrees, and though he may have a friendly Congress, it will be hard to get them to go along with things like decreasing the amount of tax deduction available for mortgage loan interest, for example.

His implication is that it’s a zero-sum game, which it’s not, but it was another specific citation that made Mr. Romney look like he knew more about the economy than the president did.

It’s not that the president gave no specifics in the debate. He said he wants to hire 100,000 new math and science teachers and create two million slots in community colleges to give people opportunities for less expensive higher education. He said he’s cut taxes on small businesses 18 times. He said the average American family has seen its tax burden decrease by $3,600. And he drove home the point that Mr. Romney’s plan for closing the loopholes, trimming the deductions and credits, etc., will not be enough to pay for his plans for tax cuts and to pay down the deficit as he says he wants to do. Plus he says independent economists have determined that under Romney’s plan, the average American family would pay $2,000 more in taxes per year… for nothing.

He’s saying it’s impossible to get the fiscal debt down without asking for more revenue. It’s not a new point, but this was the first time he got to explain why Mr. Romney’s plan won’t work, even if it does get through Congress.

The other specific conversation I found intriguing was the one about tax rates for small businesses. The president says that, for 97% of small businesses, the tax rate will not increase. But Mr. Romney pointed out that the three percent that’s left employs 25% of American workers. And he says the increase on that three percent, from 35% to 40%, will cost 700,000 jobs.

I don’t know where he got his numbers; he didn’t say. But the president didn’t argue, though I sensed he wanted to.

That’s a point you have to argue.

What he did say is that Mr. Romney defines small businesses differently, and that somehow under Mr. Romney’s definition, Donald Trump owns a small business. I don’t know what that means and he didn’t explain it.

What the president did explain was that he hasn’t been shy about trimming wasteful spending in the federal government. He pointed out that he’s eliminated 77 programs, 18 of which were for education, because they just weren’t doing enough. He said he’d cut $50 billion in waste and trimmed a trillion dollars from the federal discretionary spending budget – the largest since Eisenhower was in office.

Mr. Romney went a long way to clarify his lack of extremism when it comes to regulation. He expressed very clearly that he understands that regulation is necessary in order for capitalism to function well. What he didn’t balance with that is his laissez-faire approach to failing markets. He reiterated that he wouldn’t have classified banks as “too big to fail,” and while that’s a good populist approach, it doesn’t take into account the fact that if those banks had gone under, they would have taken millions of jobs and investments with them. It also reminded the attentive viewer that Mr. Romney would not have bailed out the auto industry – arguably the single most important manufacturing industry the country has left – an industry that reported last month that its sales are up… 41% for Toyota, 12% for Chrysler, 2% for General Motors (Ford was flat) over last year.

And the president did hit back on Romney’s point with a bottom line that’s hard to debate: when the economy crashed in 2008, was it because there was too much regulation? No. It was because there wasn’t enough, and things were allowed to run wild. So he made sure that every bailout given was returned 100% plus interest (he’s right), and he instituted the toughest reforms since the 1930s.

You’ll recall that’s directly after the stock market crash of 1929.

Much has been made among the punditry about the president seeking reelection with the highest rate of unemployment since FDR. That stands to reason, doesn’t it? He’s also dealt with the greatest economic crisis since FDR. I went looking for a breakdow”n of unemployment rates in presidential election years and couldn’t find a comprehensive list that dated back before 1956, but I’d be willing to bet that Mr. Obama and Mr. Roosevelt were the only presidents who had to run when unemployment was above 7%. It’s an arbitrary comparison that I believe a thinking voter has to dismiss.

And that’s really the key here, as it always is. The voter has to think. The voter can’t fall for things that seem substantial but aren’t. Today, I found this post on Facebook: “What our economy runs on is free people pursuing their dreams. That’s what makes America work.”

That’s a meaningless jumble of words meant to stir patriotism without thought. The American economy runs on a lot more than that. The post came from the Romney campaign.

Think before you “like” a candidate.

Beyond the Sea

People, I know this is my second political debate post in four days. That’s because it was the second GOP presidential debate in four days. I will get back to my non-political, non-stomach turning (depending on your taste) wit and Everywoman humor soon, I promise, but for now… it’s another installation of Thesinglecell’s Guide To Not (Further) Screwing Up the Country: Foreign Policy Edition.

As if I have any authority to publish a Guide for that.

This debate, televised (at least 2/3 of it) by CBS News, was all about the actions of a Commander-In-Chief. The focus: foreign policy. The mood: gentle and respectful, if not entirely agreeable – keeping with the Ghost of Reagan’s apparently renewed admonishment about speaking ill of fellow Republicans. But if you watched, you saw what might have been the most telling and educational debate thus far.

When you have three people who are or were in Congress (Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum), you have three people who automatically know far, far more about foreign policy than non-politicians and current or former governors. The wild card here was Jon Huntsman, ambassador three times over and American-Abroad once more than that. Still, when it came down to knowing what they were talking about, the candidates of Capitol Hill held the night.

The current top tier

Herman Cain is polling highest despite a very ugly week, so he got the first question: What would you do to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power? I thought his “first thing” was interesting: to assist the opposition in Iran (meaning the Iranian people) to overthrow the Ahmadinejad regime. It’s not necessarily wrong – I can see a sense to it, though what do I know? – and he didn’t say why he’d do it first, so our reasons may not match. (Mine is that it might be less messy to encourage a “democratic” overthrow of a despised leader than for the US to just take him out and suffer the wrath of a faction of extremists.) The second thing he said he’d do is develop the US’s own energy strategy. Iran uses oil as a weapon, he says.

There was a third thing, but, like Gov. Rick Perry last time, I’ve forgotten it.

It wasn’t a bad answer, just a superficial one. After watching all these debates and reading a lot about this campaign, I have not once been swayed from my feeling that Herman Cain never thought he’d get this far. Americans love a good civil uprising, so he can’t go wrong supporting a people’s revolution. But apart from ruling out military action, he didn’t say how he would do it or whether it would be any more, or different, from the current administration. He also didn’t say how he would develop energy independence. Granted, most candidates don’t dole out specifics, but I really don’t think Herman Cain has any idea how to do anything when it comes to global leadership.

Still, after all that analysis, perhaps the most ballsy declaration of the campaign thus far came from Mitt Romney a moment later: “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If the country elects me, we won’t.”

Whoa. That is a call-out. A big one. I don’t know where he’s going to go with it, but that is the first bona fide scare tactic of the campaign, and I have a feeling it’s going to show up again.

Newt Gingrich (with whom we know I have a love-hate relationship, if we’re playing the home version of our game) got specific: maximize covert operations. Use a strategy closely akin to Reagan’s policy with the USSR to break the regime. Take out scientists and break up systems, all in secret, “all totally deniable.” Well… maybe a little less deniable now that he’s said this is what he’d do if he were president. Damned YouTube. Damned worldwide web.

By the way, Rick Perry’s approach was economical: shut down the Iranian Central Bank with sanctions so tough that they force Iran’s hand. Though there was lots of talk of further sanctions on Iran, Perry was the only one who said this.

"Yeah! Nukes! Woot!"

The thing about Iran that most people on the stage understood is that everything in the Middle East and Arab world is tied together. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Israel is staring into the face of an epic nightmare in a Members Only jacket. And Israel probably won’t flinch. Syria, India and Pakistan are all but locked and loaded with everything pointing toward the Holy Land. Iran with a nuke is a firestarter, and it’s hard to put out a nuclear warhead. The only guy out in the cold on this is, not surprisingly, Ron Paul, who can just be summed up as an isolationist and we can move on from discussing any of his foreign policy dogma any further in this post.

But when it comes to Pakistan, the newly convivial GOP candidates don’t reach consensus. Herman Cain says we don’t know if Pakistan is our friend or not; they’re not clear. (He’s big on clarity.)  He would demand that his Security Council find out what commitments the nation is willing to make in order to keep us on its Friends List.  He talked about a recent interview in which Afghan president Hamid Karzai told Pakistan that, if the US goes cold on Pakistan, the Afghans would support Pakistan instead of the US. He said we need a regional strategy in the Middle East so that the outcomes will be beneficial for all the allies.

I’ve finally boiled down my problem with Herman Cain: I could be him. I could say all the stuff he’s saying (except the stuff about sexual harassment of women, as I prefer to harass men).  And  you don’t want me being president of a book club, let alone the country. Other oversimplified answers to complex situations:

-Q: How do you know when to overrule generals?
Cain: make sure you surround yourself with the right people. I can assess the call when I     have the cabinet and joint chiefs together. You know if you need to overrule when you         consider all facts and ask for alternatives. The Commander-in-Chief makes judgment call     based on facts.

-Q (from National Journal’s website): C0nsidering what is happening in the Arab Spring, how can you make it work for us and not against us?
Cain: You have to look at Libya, Egypt, Yemen and all the revolutions going on and see how administration has mishandled them. They have gotten totally out of hand.

(Not only is this overly broad; I’m not even sure what it means. The American administration has mishanded someone else’s revolution? All three of those revolutions were eventually successful, and the US managed its support on a multilateral level with no casualties to American soldiers. And what’s out of hand, exactly? The rebellions themselves? They were violent. They were brutal. I’m not dismissing the horrors by any means, but that’s what rebellions are like, and if the US had gotten any more involved it would have been fingerprinted with blood rather than ink. The only thing I can think of is the very real question of who will be in charge now in each of those places. Fair question, I’ll grant, but if that’s the point, make the point.)

And I don’t think Cain is saying the simple stuff to preserve the almighty soundbite. I think it’s because he lacks depth as a candidate. If you ever want to apply a test to the depth of Cain’s responses, try this: if he’s talking like you’re an idiot for not having already known the answer to the question, like this is all incredibly obvious… he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If the folks who back him don’t see that soon, the Party is going to upset them next summer when it nominates someone else no matter what the polls say. And if the Party does pick Cain, well… that’s going to be a landslide victory for President Obama.

Too general about the generals

Let’s move on to questions about Afghanistan. Here, I fault Gov. Rick Perry for the same problem as Mr. Cain: generalities that prove he doesn’t have the depth he needs to discuss the topic. Example: “the mission must be completed… the timetable (for withdrawal) is irresponsible… we’re discussing the combat on the ground with commanders in the field and making progress, but we have to train Afghan security forces so that they can protect their own country. ” That was almost the entirety of his answer to whether the American effort on the ground was working.

He didn’t say a thing there that we haven’t been hearing for at least five years.

Bachmann knows her numbers

And then the Capitol Gang weighed in and took the rest of the kids’ lunch money. Had to see it coming, really: what governor or ex-governor or pizza CEO is going to have a grasp on this stuff? Foreign policy, believe it or not, is where Rep. Michele Bachmann shines. She’s on the House Intelligence Committee and it shows: she gives out numbers and explains why she thinks a 40,000-troop surge would have been better than the 30,000 the US sent to Afghanistan (it would have allowed the US to go into both the south and the east at the same time, instead of focusing on the south). Her attempted populism and her struggle to regain ground come through eventually, but she’s at her most confident when she’s talking solid facts, and she understands those facts and their implications, not just in Afghanistan, but in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rick Santorum has a good deal of foreign policy experience from his time in the Senate.  His biggest points last night may not have played well to the base, but he was right about them: Pakistan has to be a friend to the US, by which he means, Psst… be nice to Pakistan. They have nukes. If we piss them off, they start a fight. Gov. Perry wants to start his administration with zero dollars going to any foreign country until they make their case that they deserve it. That’s a cute parental allowance approach, but Santorum pointed out the flaw right away: If Pakistan starts getting money from someone else, the other benefactor gains the upper hand over the US, and that creates, by default, a more dangerous situation for the US. Santorum’s prescription: Get through the quagmire with Pakistan the same way we had to get through it with Saudi Arabia after 9/11.

That’s a slam dunk answer, not because it’s populist, but because it’s realistic. And it’s the same one Bachmann had.

In debates, we often look for the applause lines, the lines that get the audience to cheer. But in this debate, there was one particular statement that froze everyone solid and silent for a second, which, in politics and live television, is an eternity. It was the sound of Newt Gingrich answering a question from CBS’s Scott Pelley: “Mr. Speaker, how do you make peace in Pakistan without negotiating with the Taliban?”

The answer?

(Beat.) “I don’t think you do.”

It was a stunning, and amazingly frank, response that I give the former speaker credit for. Which might only be because I agree with him. That’s typically the circumstance under which I give people credit for things.

Even Scott Pelley was taken aback when Gingrich said it, and so had to take about half a second to recover before beginning to clarify with a second question, which Gingrich interrupted. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be.” He meant “we” as a country, not just the folks on the stage. He meant “we” as in the Pentagon and the administration and Congress and US allies. He went on to explain that the Taliban and other terrorists have sanctuary in Pakistan. It’s a safe haven. And until the US figures out a way to end that (presumably while understanding the points Santorum and Bachmann made about friendship), it’s never going to stop.

Hear him out on Pakistan

Holy crap. He’s, um… he’s probably not wrong. Pakistan really kind of sucks. And we kind of have to be nice to them.

Two candidates tried to at least see the bets laid by the Capitol Gang on foreign policy: Gov. Rick Perry, who talked about his experience commanding 20,000 National Guard members in Texas on the border with Mexico (a point I read as desperate), and Jon Huntsman, whose experience overseas in political and business capacities earn him more stars than the governors (his experiences are valid and he couches them in the context of worldy reality vs. ignorant idealism, but none of his answers were significant enough politically to earn him major points). He did get a China trade question in this debate: see his answer to same in the last debate.

One other thing I’d like to mention: the candidates’ position on torture.

  • Cain – against torture, considers waterboarding to be enhanced interrogation
  • Paul – waterboarding is torture; torture is illegal in American and international law, not to mention immoral and impractical… and un-American.
  • Huntsman – this country has values and a name brand in the world. “We dimish our standing and our values of liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. Waterboarding is torture.”
  • Bachmann – willing to use waterboarding, says the president is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA.

This gets me off on a bit of a tangent: Herman Cain wants to keep Gitmo open and allow the use of all enhanced interrogation (ended by Pres. Obama in an executive order). Santorum and Perry agree, though Perry made a point to say he’s against torture. Okay, I gotta jump in, here… what exactly is the problem with the Obama administration’s way of handling terrorists? Osama bin Laden: dead. Ayman Al-Zawahiri: dead. Anwar Al-Awlaki: dead. I’m sorry, is something not working?

It was good to see a debate focusing entirely on foreign policy. It was good to see those who lack depth exposed. You might have noticed I didn’t mention Mitt Romney much; he handled himself perfectly fine in this debate, and I didn’t end up feeling uncomfortable with the idea of him at the helm of a global superpower, but he didn’t shine. If you afford me nothing else, afford me this: nobody wants to elect a president who doesn’t know what he or she is doing in the world. If you can prove me wrong on that, then you can prove to me why Herman Cain should still be on top in the next round of polls.

Read the full transcript here (remember to click through to Part 2 – this debate was segmented for broadcast)

Now On My Bookshelf: Hiroshima In the Morning – Rahna Reiko Rizzuto


Them’s Fightin’ Words

The gloves are off.

There were a lot of accusations, recriminations, spats and flat-out confrontations in the latest debate in the Republican race for the presidential nomination, aired on CNN last night.

It was like the political equivalent of the Real Housewives.

Not that I watch that.

Fine. Just the New Jersey one.

"Rick, I'm speaking! I'm speaking! I'm speaking! I'm speaking!"

You might be rolling your eyes, thinking this is the last thing you want to see or hear, and I get that. But I think it was great. Not because I don’t like these candidates, and not because I love it when politicians squabble over petty disagreements, but because I think it shows two things: character and un-spun approaches. A good fight is going to show you who can outwit whom and who can think fast on their feet. Being president requires both those strengths. Also, it’s good television, and if audiences are bored by debates, this is how to get them to watch.

Since Herman Cain hurdled over Mitt Romney in some polls since the last organized face-off, it was his turn to bear the brunt of the harsh questions off the top. Target: 9-9-9, Cain’s tax plan that he says is simple, transparent and effective. He would wipe out the entire federal tax code and replace it with a 9% tax across the board on income, corporations and sales. He says the reason it’s been attacked is because lobbyists, accountants and politicians don’t want to throw out the current tax code. He says it’s an easy plan. But he spent a lot of energy telling the other candidates they didn’t get it.

When you’ve got everybody on stage (except for Newt Gingrich, who seems to really like Cain) telling you your plan is crap for reasons they can specifically enumerate, you’ve got a problem.

Herman, we've got a problem.

Rick Santorum pointed out that a report from the impartial Tax Policy Center shows that 84% of Americans would actually pay more in taxes if Cain’s plan was implemented. I took a look: the worst hit would go to the low and middle class, smacking those who make between $10- and $20,000 with an increase around $2,700 a year. But homes with the highest incomes would pay less; those making more than a million per year would pay nearly half of what they pay now.

Texas governor Rick Perry told Cain that all he has to do is go to New Hampshire (or any other state that doesn’t have a sales tax) and he would find that the 9% consumer tax Cain calls for would, in fact, be a tax hike. Especially since, as Mitt Romney pointed out, the individual state sales taxes would not go away. Now you’ve got a 5, 6, 7% sales tax on top of Cain’s 9% federal tax. That’s 15% sales tax on everything you buy, every time you buy something. Plus, there’s no provision in the plan for a standard income deduction like we have now, and there’s no plan that helps families by decreasing the percentage of tax levied on income relative to dependents.

With attacks from all sides, Cain really couldn’t deflect the criticism. He wanted viewers to read the analysis of the plan posted on his website and see for themselves. Good luck. I’m fairly bright and I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. Admittedly, I’m not a business person, so I haven’t had to come up with tables and indexes; maybe someone else can look at the scoring and figure it out.

This might be the first time I can remember candidates flat-out calling for what amounts to an increase in taxes on the poor. The reality is that about half the country pays taxes. The other half have various reasons for immunity, but largely, it’s because they don’t make enough to meet the government guidelines for income tax liability. Now not only is Herman Cain saying they have to pay 9% income tax and 9% sales tax; Rep. Michele Bachmann says everyone should pay something as well. I understand that sentiment, but it’s not like the impoverished are getting away with something scandalous. Let’s find a serious way to lift them out of poverty instead of leaving them there and taxing them more.

One of the more fiery moments of the debate came when Rick Santorum challenged Mitt Romney on the issue of health care. He told Romney he has no credibility talking about “Obamacare” because of the health plan instituted in Massachusetts, accusing him of changing his story about whether it would be a good national plan. When the squabbling rose to a level at which Romney demanded to be heard without interruption, Santorum said, “You’re out of time.” It leaves Santorum looking petulant, but for a guy who can’t possibly win, he does a good job in challenging the guys to fights (he never engages Rep. Bachmann- he prefers to spar with Romney and Ron Paul). It might be his greatest value in the campaign.

Gov Rick Perry (3rd from right) stands like a cowboy. All the time. "Come 'n' git me."

This debate was, to a degree, make-or-break for Gov. Rick Perry, who’s crashed and burned in the previous face-offs. And he came out like a gunslinger last night. Perhaps the single most acrimonious moment was when Gov. Rick Perry flat-out accused Mitt Romney of hiring illegal immigrants. Romney at first denied knowing what he was talking about; then, upon challenge, he explained that his wife and he hired landscapers, who turned out to employ illegal immigrants, and when the Romneys realized it, they terminated the service with that company. But wow, did this get heated between the two men. I mean there were death stares. These two guys really don’t like each other. It led to another showdown of interruptions, so intense that Romney asked Anderson Cooper to break it up. When Cooper allowed Romney to speak and Perry interrupted again, Romney condescendingly, but with humor, said, “You have a problem with allowing people to finish speaking. And if you want to be President of the United States, I would suggest that you allow both people to speak.”

Fightin' words all over the place.

If Mitt Romney were my father, I would be terrified. My father was big on manners.

There were three controversial issues raised in the debate that I thought provoked compelling responses. Anderson Cooper asked, in light of Rev. Robert Jeffress’ condemnation of Mormonism as a “cult” while speaking at a Value Voters event headlined by Gov. Rick Perry, whether faith was fair game in a campaign. Rick Santorum, who is a vigorous Catholic, made his stand clear: values are important. If a candidate professes a religion, it is entirely fair to look at the values taught by that religion and parse how it will affect a candidate’s decision-making. But parsing the road to salvation is entirely different and should not be part of the debate over politics.

It was, to me, an impressive and fair-minded answer from a guy I often consider to be a closed-minded hot-head.

What? I admit my biases.

Gov. Rick Perry, by the way, repeated that he did not agree with Rev. Jeffress’ statements, and Romney was gracious enough to accept that without offense.

Another controversial topic was the Occupy movement. I’m surprised that it only rendered one question. Days ago, Herman Cain had said that if a person is angry that they’re jobless and not rich, they shouldn’t blame Wall Street; they should blame themselves. It’s exactly the kind of thing most self-made, successful businessmen would say. He stood by it emphatically at the debate, even though it’s not going to sit well with independent voters. Ron Paul countered, saying he understands why people are angry, and he said Cain’s approach blames the victims in most cases. He used it to get into his adversity to the Fed, and that’s where Cain accused him of mixing problems. But Cain also suggested that the protestors are in the wrong place; he wants them to march on the White House instead of Wall Street.

Which means they’re blaming government instead of themselves. I’m confused.

But here’s the moment that may do Cain the most harm going forward: he got a question about his stance on negotiating with terrorists. Could he see himself making a deal for a prisoner swap, similar to the one made yesterday in which the Palestinian Authority released an Israeli soldier. Cain said yes. The reason it’s a bit of a flap is because, in an interview prior to the debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cain if he could see himself making a deal that, say, released all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a benefit to the US.

And Cain said yes.

After the debate, Anderson Cooper did an informal one-on-one with Cain, and played the soundbite from the Blitzer interview. Upon returning from tape, a slack-faced Cain said very succinctly: “I misspoke. We were moving fast (with the interview) at the time and I misspoke. I would not do that.”

Generally I would suspect this was a bs answer because he’s trying to walk back a mistake, but his response here struck me as genuine. Still, if fewer people saw the Cooper interview after the debate, the negotiation question may come back to bite him.

I don’t know if Herman Cain will hold on to his momentum after this debate. Not being able to explain his “simple” tax plan is a problem, and he was exposed for novice levels of knowledge in other areas, like foreign policy. If Rick Santorum stays in the race just to hammer away at the poll-toppers, his greatest service will be to make people think twice, and that’s not a bad thing. Rep. Michele Bachmann is done. She can’t claw her way back from the basement with anything near the way she performed in the debate, spouting answers unrelated to questions and shooting for cute turns of phrase. Ron Paul may hold steady, which is to say he’s not going to rise; he’s got his staunch supporters and I don’t think he’ll gather many more (though I believe he’ll get the Occupy vote). Gov. Rick Perry did much better in this debate; he may come back a bit in the polls. Mitt Romney may actually suffer a tad for his patriarchal condescension and his anger at interruptions. And Newt Gingrich continues to fascinate me. But I’m sensing a pattern now. His intelligence means he’s easily and genuinely clever. And the crowd ate it up.

I think I’m finally starting to figure out debate audiences.

"Now you're getting it!"

You can read the full transcript of the debate here. (I feel sorry for the transcribers in this one.)

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.

Taking Shots

CNN snuck a debate in on me while I was out of town, so I didn’t get to watch it or recap it. You’re devastated, I know. But I have seen a fair amount of fallout from it, and on one subject in particular, so that’s what I’m going to focus on here: the HPV vaccine and the apparently fascist administration thereof. If you listen to Rep. Michele Bachmann, at least.

Now before I go further and alienate anyone who didn’t like the idea of a federal or state requirement that girls receive Gardasil injections, let me say that I do respect a parent’s decision on whether to opt out of that vaccination, or any other. These are careful considerations and not every parent wants to give their child every injection that’s recommended.

But if you’ll bear with me: there is a reality to face, here.

According to the National Institutes of Health, HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is actually an umbrella term for 150 viruses, more than 40 of which can cause cancer via sexual transmission. It causes a very high percentage of cervical cancers. It does not cause all cervical cancers, and it does not always cause cervical cancer. HPV is a virus that, in most women, will clear itself from her system in about a year and not cause any further problem. For those women who are unable to clear the virus, it alarmingly often causes cervical cancer.

Here’s my question: if we’ve finally found (and by “we” I mean “people I don’t even know,

HPV vaccine. Image from

much less claim bloodline with, but with whom I share the fraternity/sorority of being human”) a way to prevent a type of cancer… why are we bitching about it?

The reality is that even if a woman is a virgin upon marriage, there’s a decent chance her husband is not. (God love him.) There’s a decent chance he’s carrying HPV. It’s a silent virus; there are no symptoms for anyone.

So if your daughter is ever going to have sex with a man (I know nobody likes to think about it, but it’s going to happen unless she’s a lesbian… and even then she might try it once with a guy just to find out for sure), this seems like a pretty good vaccine in which to invest. Because it’s going to keep her from getting cancer from a silent virus that the majority of men carry. (According to, 60% of women contract HPV in their lifetime; the estimate is that it is the same for men, but there are no true diagnostic tests for men.)

Now, Rep. Bachmann is making some serious political hay with this argument. And frankly, if she wants to gain ground against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, she has to. It’s the one thing she can beat him down on. He issued an executive order requiring girls (as young as 11) to get the vaccine. The recommended age was because of two things: trying to get to the girls before they became sexually active, and using the most effective window for their immune systems to absorb and process the vaccine. Perry included an opt-out plan, allowing parents to choose not to have their daughters inoculated. He has said, politically, he would like to go back and change the way he did it so that it would go through the state legislature. But I don’t see anything wrong with requiring girls to get a vaccine that will prevent cancer, and, by extension, help suppress the cost of healthcare diagnosis and treatment. It’s a win-win for girls, women, parents, and the healthcare industry. And again: parents were able to choose not to participate.

I don’t understand what the problem is.

I, for one, wish the HPV vaccine existed when I was young. It would be great to know that I don’t have to worry about cancer on top of everything else that every woman has to worry about once she becomes an adult, regardless of her risk factors. Even if she uses a condom (they break sometimes); even if she’s a virgin when she gets married. My mother is as Catholic as they come, and she and my father agreed that my baby sister should get the shot when it first came out. Maybe it was a year later; either way, she was a teenager. My parents would never give their daughters birth control, even if they knew we were sexually active (and we weren’t) because they believed it would encourage – by way of less discouragement – sexual activity. I’m now 34 and I’m pretty sure they still think that. But they got my little sister vaccinated as a teenager. Because my uber-Catholic mother, who once told me that French kissing is a mortal sin (ruh-roh Rorge), understood that this vaccine is not about sex. 

It’s about CANCER.

Fine. It’s a type of cancer we can get from sex. So what? It’s cancer.

And there’s a vaccine for it.

How is this NOT a “glory, hallelujah” no-brainer?!

The reason Rep. Bachmann can make hay from this argument is trifold:

1) It implies sex, even if it’s not really about sex. A sure win with Evangelicals, Tea Partiers and others who base their political votes on religious views.

2) It’s about big government. Any time any member of the government requires you to do something (besides pay taxes or obey laws), that’s a violation of Tea Party standards.

3) It’s about campaign/political contributions. And nobody likes a sell-out.

Rep. Bachmann has claimed that Gov. Perry got money from Merck, the manufacturers of Gardasil, and that’s why he pushed through an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV.  Gov. Perry says they gave him $5,000. Other sources show he got more like $30,000.

You know what? That’s one lobby I’m happy to have around. Whatever lobby there is that says, “We’ll pay you if you make people get a shot that will prevent cancer” — I’m on-board.

And in terms of political interest, I can’t help but take issue with the way Rep. Bachmann framed her attack on Gov. Perry. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. That’s a violation of a liberty interest. That’s– little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a Mulligan. They don’t get a do-over. The parents don’t get a do-over.”

“Innocent little 12-year-old girls.” “Government injection.”  How does that not sound like a scare tactic on a grand scale?

Rep. Bachmann claimed, after the newest CNN debate, that she met a woman whose daughter became mentally handicapped after receiving the vaccine. If that’s true, I’m heartbroken for that family. But according to the American Association of Pediatrics, it’s not true. They say there have been 35,000,000 HPV vaccinations given out and the drug has an excellent safety record, and there is zero evidence that Gardasil has caused mental handicaps. I’m not saying vaccines are perfect and I’m not saying manufacturers don’t hide things, but if you’ll give your kids shots for diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and myriad other illnesses, what is so different about one for HPV?

Odds are, it’s going to prevent cervical cancer. And that’s all it will do to your daughter.

Again, I respect it if you choose not to immunize your daughter. You have your reasons. My youngest nephew is 18 months old and has had no vaccines, and as much as that scares me, I respect his parents’ decision. But let’s remember: the government requires children to be vaccinated against several contagious viruses and/or bacteria by school age. How is this vaccine different, in a government overreach sense? If not inoculating your young daughter against HPV is your decision, I may not agree, but I’m not her mother, and that’s that. But if, God forbid, she ever gets the virus and winds up with cervical cancer, she might have a problem with the fact that you refused to let her get the shot. And you might regret it, too.

I would – truly respectfully  – ask you: is your decision because you’re afraid your daughter will have sex? Or is it because you’re worried about the potential medical side-effects of the vaccine? If it’s the former, I guarantee you: she will have sex one day. And it won’t be about her. It will be about her partner. Who you did not raise, whose morals you did not shape. And he, unwillingly, regretfully, could expose your daughter to HPV that may develop into cervical cancer. He won’t mean to. He won’t want to. He won’t even know he’s doing it. He will love your daughter and never want to hurt her. But it could happen.

If your reason is the side effects, I remind you that all the evidence thus far shows that the vaccine is very safe.

Politics are one thing. Life and death are another. If Rep. Bachmann wants to pander to Tea Party Religious Right extremists, that’s where the votes are for her, and that’s what she needs to do. But I hope Americans see it for what it is, and I hope Rick Perry never apologizes for wanting girls to be protected.

It’s not about sex. It’s about cancer. And there is something Rep. Bachmann was right about. Innocent girls don’t get a do-over. And neither do their parents.