This year, to high ratings, the Republican presidential candidates’ debates are functioning as showcases and battlegrounds. In a single forum for a certain amount of time, each candidate gets an audience with the American voter, a chance to distinguish him/herself from the rest and argue for policy solutions to national problems. As staged tonight live from Las Vegas, the debates were spectacular political theater, an entertaining look at those who would be our leaders.
Tonight was the first debate I’ve seen in this election season, and it featured those determined by CNN to be front-runners. Although the network’s selection may be an instance of media influence on political discourse, the organizers assembled what seemed a wide spectrum of style and substance, race and gender among the Republicans. It certainly was not the white boys club of the 80s and 90s. And the setting seemed to energize the characters in the drama. Just as the red, white, and blue set packaged the event as a glitzy Las Vegas show, the way Anderson Cooper orchestrated verbal fights and then stepped aside reminded one of the prize fights Las Vegas is famous for. It was a Battle Royale, with minimal moderating and a fast pace that probably got everyone’s adrenal glands pumping. At one point, it looked as if Perry and Romney might come to blows–I swear they laid hands on each other in a heated exchange of insults!
No one landed a decisive knock-out punch, and they all succeeded in branding themselves as distinct types. Here are the analogues I came up with. Feel free to add your own.
Rep. Ron Paul was the genial, straight-talking grandpa, full of sincerity and talking about upsetting the status quo in a way no one will take seriously. He is patronized and ignored. Here’s Ron Paul addressing the way Latinos have been unjustly treated by the courts.
He impresses me as honest and understanding, but Perry condescends to him as if he were senile. He’s not.
Herman Cain is the Samuel L. Jackson, or strong black man on the stage, talking boldly about disruptive change. Others tried to dismiss him as a bold talker but a Snakes on a Plane crazy. Yet I appreciate his radical tendencies.
Rick Perry‘s overt aggression and arrogance (“you ask the questions,” he told the moderator, “and I get to answer the way I want”) revealed a Cowboy, maybe one who’s just been down at the saloon.
Mit Romney comes off as the reasonable fatherly type, acting like the adult to Perry’s wacky teen. I predict folks will gravitate to his genial gravitas and forgive his wacky God.
Newt Gingrich is the intellectual and a bit crazy uncle, full of nice historical allusions and wisdom, staying a bit above the fray and probably hoping not to get kicked out to further his punditry career. He is the geek on the team.
Rick Santorum is the cute suburban dad, the family man in the bunch, and the one who just wants to do the right thing in this crazy world. He’s positioned himself as the “values” candidate and meant to appeal to moms, but he showed a bit of verbal muscle using an old argument Romney and then trying to call time on him:
Finally, there was Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was pushed all the way to the edge, away from the men. She was dressed tonight like the captain of an American spacecraft, circa 2050. She did not mix it up with the guys, positioning herself as the cheerleader in chief for the GOP. She mainly spouted “we can do it,” and made broad attacks against the common enemy, Barack Obama. “Go team!” was pretty much her line.
Overall, I would have liked it if they’d given more credence or just thoughtfully responded to Ron Paul’s anti-war, “Goodbye, US Empire” realism. And it would have been even better if just once the candidates had mentioned the role education has in curing America’s ills.
But schooling and children’s absence from tonight’s debate, and the panning of Paul’s disruptive notions allowed me to see mainstream American Republican values rather clearly. Because alhough they the rest all claimed their goal was jobs for the American people, there was in the other candidate’s remarks much on machines, systems, and tax policies and very little on the average human who struggles to survive in our country.
Would the Democrats do any better? I don’t think so, and even agreed when Cain said the Occupy Wall Street folks would do well to take their protest to the White House. Certainly Barry hasn’t done much for their (our) economic woes. When and if they do stage their next national debate, the Dems could do a lot worse than the slick show CNN pulled off tonight.
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