Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) ORG XMIT: OHJM122

Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) ORG XMIT: OHJM122

Along with a few million others, I recently watched the republican debate which had received nearly as much hype as the Super Bowl.  Well I should qualify that statement by admitting that I checked out and went to bed after the first hour.  When the next day I asked my political junkie wife if I had missed anything important, she thought I had, but couldn’t remember what.  It has always seemed to me a bit disingenuous to call these spectacles debates.  My understanding of debates is that opponents line up on either side of an issue and present their arguments in favor of or against it.  When I was in high school we had a debate team which the smart kids were invited to join; consequently I received no such invitation.


Presumably those who reach the level of presidential candidates must be intelligent.  I heard one pundit mention that Senator Ted Cruz who is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law school was an outstanding student and is extremely intelligent.  Perhaps he is a more humble person than he appears, as he has managed to hide this quality quite well so far.  The show seemed more like a Miss America pageant as the presidential hopefuls were all putting their best foot forward and doing their best to look presidential.  Mr. Rubio was by far the handsomest of the group in a boyish sort of way.  Mr. Trump had appeared to modify his coiffure; although he did not show up in his baseball cap, which he wears at campaign stops presumably to let us know he is just one of the guys.  I have also noted that many of those running for the office now give their stump speeches dressed sans coat or tie and often even with sleeves rolled up, just like normal people.  But on this night they all wore suits and white shirts adorned with their favorite power tie.


The viewership of these so called debates may also be explained by the public’s hope to witness an historic calamitous gaff, much in the same manner as some watch auto racing to see if there will be a crash.  Now, any politician knows that if one is to be successful it is imperative that he/she never directly answer any question.  During the time I watched I thought the interrogators did a credible job of asking questions, but they were outmatched by this chorus line of masterful diverters.  In most instances they were able after their non-answers to slide seamlessly into a dissertation of all the qualities and experiences that guarantee they are the most electable candidate.  Of course in politics electability always trumps ability.


There appeared to be a consensus that it was necessary to convince the electorate that they were all just like us.  Those with humble beginnings used their childhoods as proof that they were of high character, and understood our problems.  I did listen with interest as my own Governor Kasich listed his accomplishments.  Frankly, until then I didn’t realize how good I had it.  Although I thought he had done some good things, I could not understand how the fact that his father was a mailman figured in as a qualification to be President.  On the other hand when Jeb Bush insisted that he was proud not only of his father, but also his brother, I felt this called his judgement into question.


After thinking more about the subject I realized that it would not have been possible for a debate in the classical form to have taken place.  Since all republicans in congress vote together on almost every issue, it would be difficult to find an issue in which one could find opposing sides.  While democrats seem to think it is cool to disagree, republicans agree with each other on all important issues, which brings to mind the famous quote by Walter Lippmann: “where all think alike, no one thinks very much”.  One should not generalize; however as they do have some outstanding thinkers in their distant past: Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln for example.  Far be it for me to disparage any of today’s best and brightest, but it seems unlikely that any of these contestants could channel those spirits.  Conversely; I believe it was Will Rogers who said “I am not a member of any organized political party, I am a Democrat”.  Somethings seem never to change very much.


It has been nearly a week since that momentous occasion, and the pundits are still at it.  Since there have been no major catastrophes to report other than a couple of shootings of unarmed citizens, which have now become so common that they are hardly newsworthy, they continue their focus on the big show.  My charming wife is addicted to CNN; consequently I have endured continuous exposure to a long line of experts with often conflicting observations.   There did appear to be a consensus that “the Donald” was the victor.  It is true that he made the most noise and received the most attention, and in this day and age that is probably all that is needed to be victorious.  He apparently subscribes to the widely held premise of agents and advertising experts that there is no such thing as bad publicity.


There were a few negative comments about Ran Paul’s temper, but I sensed some disappointment at the lack of any major screw-ups. It would have been nice if someone would have forgotten their lines a la Rick Perry, or something like the famous John Kerry gaf: “I voted against it before I voted for it” could have spiced up the narrative.   Mostly the contestants “made nice” with Mr. Trump because of his implied threat to run as a third party candidate  if they were mean to him which would likely  result in a democratic victory.  Besides it would be sacrilege to violate their hero, Ronald Reagan’s, eleventh commandment that one “should never speak ill of another republican”.


In response to comments about the selection process, a preliminary affair was arranged for those who could not make the cut.  CNN gave the unanimous decision by a knockout to Carly Fiorina.  The ones I listened to seemed mildly surprised at her performance, but made no mention of her having been fired from Hewlett-Packard.  Since the show, I have heard little more of the also rans, and it seems unlikely that they will be able to raise enough money to buy a place on the ticket.


If you a think I am cynical about politics, it is because I am.  From the looks of what is happening during this campaign, it appears that I am not alone.  One need only look at the crowds of thousands that are attending the speeches of an admitted socialist, and polls that show a person who had been labeled a joke a few months ago in the lead for the republican nomination to realize that the electorate is fed up.  They are clearly saying that anyone is better than those we now have.  How is it that when nine out of ten people disapprove of the job our congress is doing that incumbents continue to be reelected.


Something is seriously wrong when our representatives admit that they spend more time raising money to be reelected than doing the work for which we pay them.  There are some estimates that the Presidential election alone will cost 5 billion dollars.  Add an equal amount for all the other races for federal offices and as Senator Everett Dirksen famously said “a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking real money”.  Candidates sit at the feet of billionaires, and beg for contributions.  Commentators assume that those with the most campaign money will win their elections.  If money is speech as our ideologically tainted supreme court says, then thousand dollar a plate dinners speak volumes.  It seems to me that we could fix a lot of pot holes and feed a lot of children with a few of those billions.


The election cycle is a thing of the past for campaigning is now continuous.  The term: statesmanship is rarely heard anymore.  Campaign TV choreographers put more focus on personality than qualifications.  Ads denigrating and slandering opponents have proved to be effective; consequently we are deluged with negative ads.  The media outlets are the only ones I know who like this stuff, but it seems to work.  Repetition must be a necessary component for successful brainwashing.


In many countries elections are rigged usually by intimidation or fraud.  As an enlightened and democratic country, we are proud to say that our elections are fair and closely monitored.  That is not to say that our political parties have not looked for creative ways to shift the odds in their favor.  Undoubtedly those involved in these ploys would find ways to rationalize their behaviors, and deny unfairness.  Our news media give less coverage to these sorts of things than they due to an under inflated football, and it disappoints me that there is not more outrage.  My favorite peeve of these strategies is the gerrymandering which has become an accepted means of revising boundaries to give one side an advantage.  It has become accepted practice by both Republicans and Democrats.  Even more outrageous and deserving of contempt however are those attempts by some states to limit voting of certain groups by requiring ID not readily available to them.  In most cases they are not only undemocratic, but racist as well.  These are the kinds of shenanigans that bring shame to a democratic society, and undermine the faith we need in our government if we are to survive in a hostile world.


There is no doubt in my mind that we live in the best country on earth.  It is also clear to me that it can be better.  History informs us that no government is free from risk of decay from within.   We remain the most powerful nation on earth but we need to remember that power does not guarantee righteousness.  I am grateful that in my country I am able to write these kinds of criticisms of my government without being hauled off to jail or worse.  In my opinion that is the most important freedom of all.  Well there I go again, starting to preach when my assignment was only to apply my extraordinary journalistic skills to cover the debate.  Hey, that giant ego thing works for Trump, why not me.

2 thoughts on “THE GREAT DEBATE

  1. I hear the network calling…your insights are better than any of the other political “analysts” pretending to be journalists. By the way, I can’t comment on the debate since I COULDN’T WATCH IT. It seems only those with cable were afforded that opportunity. I was told I could watch it on the internet (streaming), but when I went to log on, the FoxNews website required that I enter my cable account number!!! Caroline said, “I feel like I’m living in China.”


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