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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rick Perry's Debate Debut: Handicapping the Candidates

I watched the debate via Internet, but I assume the sound quality was the same for those watching on the TeeVee – boy!  did that suck!  The amount of reverb present whenever anyone was talking gave me a headache and sometimes made it next to impossible to figure out what was being said.  I don’t know if that was a problem with the audio equipment or somehow resulted from the fact the debate appeared to have been held in an airplane hangar, but it was extremely annoying.  Almost as annoying as the hagiographic video they ran of St. Ronald Reagan and his missus.

As for the GOP base audience, I took notes of the things to which they seemed to react/applaud.  These included:

--Newt Gingrich’s charge that the “liberal media,” acting as the debate’s moderators, were “carrying water for Obama”;
--Michele Bachmann’s claim that the Affordable Care Act constitutes “socialized medicine”;
--Jon Huntsman’s charge that Obama should “get out from behind a teleprompter;”
--Santorum’s announced goal of cutting way back on food stamps and housing assistance; and
--Rick Perry’s assertion that Social Security was “a monstrous lie” that “won’t be there” for our children. 
But by far, what drew the loudest and longest applause was Brian Williams attempt to ask Rick Perry about the record number of people he has executed as Governor of Texas.  The really chilling thing about this applause is that it started before Williams could even finish setting up the question.  He got as far as saying “Governor Perry, you’ve presided over the executions of the largest number of people of any modern governor –” when the audience broke into sustained and spontaneous applause.  They were applauding Perry for killing a lot of people.  If you wanted evidence of the bloodthirsty nature of the GOP base . . . There it is.

Individual assessments of each candidate's performance are below the fold.


            Was too goddamned entertaining to only get a sketch treatment.  Click here to read about how Ron Paul is “crazier ‘n a bag of snakes.”


            On Jobs – Perry attempted to take credit for the “Texas Miracle” of his state having higher than average job creation; when the moderator pointed out that many of the jobs for which he tried to take credit, Perry disputed that assertion because 95% of the jobs created are “above the minimum wage,” which seems like a pretty low bar to clear.  Perry claimed that deregulation and lower taxes would somehow “free entrepreneurs” to risk their capital and create jobs again, which presumably they will do regardless of whether there is actually any demand for further goods and services in our exceeding weak economy.  Perry lost no time in going directly after Mitt Romney, telling him that Texas had created more jobs in 3 months than Massachusetts had created the entire 4 years Romney was its governor; hell, Perry said, Michael Dukakis created jobs 3 times faster that Mitt Romney ever did.  He seemed to step on an attack line when he said that Romney had created jobs “all around the world” while in the private sector, but that Romney’s public sector experience did not match that performance.  I’ve seen Perry use this line before, and what he (presumably) meant to say was that Romney created jobs all around the world but none at home in the U.S.; I think it is supposed to be a dig at Romney’s history of buying companies, stripping them down, and laying off workers.

            On Health Care – Perry asserted that Romney’s experience in Massachusetts showed the country “what won’t work, which is an individual mandate to buy health insurance,” but given that Massachusetts actually has the greatest percentage of its population insured he never bothered to explain how this “didn’t work.”  He asserted that his first job as President would be to issue an Executive Order wiping out the Affordable Care Act, but didn’t explain how that would work, exactly.  When pressed as to why Texas has the highest number of uninsured people in the nation, Perry claimed it was because the federal government wouldn’t give Texas the “flexibility” to insure people, but failed to explain precisely what flexibility would be required to get his people insured. 

            On Social Security – Perry doesn’t back down from the statement in his book that when Social Security was passed the Congress “violently threw away states’ rights,” and doubles down on calling it a Ponzi scheme and a “monstrous lie” to tell our kids that Social Security will be there for them when they retire.  When the moderator pointed out that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney both suggested that he back away from statements like this, Perry refused to do so and said that he’d stand by every word in his book, which means Newt’s (see below) attempt to give him some cover was for naught.  I don’t think Perry realized that Newt had tried to throw him a lifeline a few minutes before.

            On Immigration –  Perry is in favor of putting a whole lot more guards in place and policing the Mexican border with Predator drones.  Only then can we have an “intellectually appropriate discussion” about immigration reform.  Translation:  I don’t know what to do about immigration issues except to stress keeping all the brown people out, with Predator Drones if necessary.

            On Misc. Issues – Perry stands by his executive order requiring girls to get an HPV vaccination unless they choose to opt out of it; he wishes he had gone through the legislative process instead, but he just hates cancer so darned much.  Perry acknowledges that Texas has terrible education statistics and that he nevertheless cut the Texas education budget, but claims that the cut were “appropriate” and that Texas is making great strides in not sucking as much.  When asked what he would do about alleviating African-American poverty, Perry – who is known to have a penchant for the Confederacy – ignores the question and talks about how we need to get the economy going again.  Perry agrees that any budget deal that would cut spending by $10 for every $1 dollar of extra tax revenue is a non-starter; no taxes, no how, no way.  Perry says that America should not be involved in “military adventurism,” but refuses to identify any such adventurism – cou  gh, George W. Bush, cough – we’ve ever entered into.  Perry claims that “science is still out” on climate change, and compares climate scientists to the religious officials who convicted Galileo of heresy.  Perry says that he has absolutely no concerns about the 234 people he has had executed while governor of Texas.   Perry claims that Obama has “proved” that Keynesian economics does not work – huh? – but “tips his hat” to Obama for catching Osama bin Laden and for keeping Gitmo open.

            Impression of Rick Perry – Well, he’s pretty much what we were told he was:  and extremely confident head of hair and teeth capable of eliding a tough question and doling out right-wing bromides with ease and charm.  He seems a bit of an idiot, and some of his statements – Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that should be scrapped for anyone not currently on it – pretty much write themselves as anti-Perry campaign ads.  His failure to recognize Newt’s attempt to help him and his decision to “stand by every word” in his book will come back to haunt him when the crazy shit he said in there gets used against him as well.  But I can easily see why he is now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.  He’s got the macho swagger and the bloody viciousness that always seems to impress Republicans.  What most distresses me is his seeming graciousness in acknowledging that Obama had accomplished at least a few things he agreed with while in office; it was clearly a planned attempt to come off as something other than a Texas shitkicker and was almost undoubtedly insincere, but it didn’t seem that way.  His ability to pull this kind of thing off will make him a more formidable opponent than I had anticipated.


            On Jobs – Mitt Romney was really stressing his experience in the private sector and his supposed understanding of the economy as the reason to vote for him.  He acknowledged that he didn’t have a great record as a job creator while governor of Massachusetts, but blamed that on the fact that Massachusetts was in such a bad way when he got the governorship that – essentially – his poor performance should be graded on a curve.  When Perry hit him with the fact that Michael Dukakis had created more jobs than he had, Mitt hit back nicely by responding that George Bush had created more jobs than Rick Perry.  Unfortunately for him, he almost immediately undermined this by claiming that Rick Perry had an easier job than he because Texas doesn’t have an income tax, Texas is governed by Republicans, and Texas has a lot of oil and gas; from where I was sitting, it sounded a little like whining.  When questioned about his company Bain Capital’s practice of buying companies, splitting them up and laying off the workforce to make money, Romney essentially lied and said that Bain Capital hadn’t done that.  He also played up the “economic war with China” angle that was contained in the 59-point economic plan he revealed yesterday.

            On Health Care – Romney has to acknowledge that nobody is going to support what he did in Massachusetts, which is too bad because that is really his best and biggest accomplishment.  He offered a truly bizarre rationale for why his plan was okay but Obama’s plan was not:  Romney only wanted to cover 80% of Massachusetts residents, and Obama wants to get 100% of Americans insured.  I don’t understand why that makes Romney’s plan “better” unless it is simply speaking to the viciousness that now seems to animate the Republican party.  Romney promised that on his first day in office he issue waivers to all 50 states so that they would not have to comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

            On Energy – Romney asserted that America could be “energy secure” if only we exploited all of the energy resources we have:  oil, coal, nuclear and – oh yeah, I almost forgot – “alternative sources too.”  Romney falsely claimed that Obama was restricting oil drilling, when in fact right now America has more ongoing oil operations than at any time in the past 10 years.  When offered the opportunity to take a swipe at Bachmann’s absurd suggestion that she could get gas back down to $2 a gallon, Romney refused to attack and simply said that he would not presume what the price of gas would be a  year from now.

            On Social Security – this was the biggest policy difference between Romney and Perry; Perry doggedly asserted that Social Security was improper, a Ponzi scheme, and should be replaced, and Romney replied that Social Security was a success that could be saved.  Unfortunately, he never really explained from what it needs to be saved or how he would go about saving it.

            On Immigration – like almost everybody (see Ron Paul, below) Romney is in favor of securing the border with border guards and a 2600 mile fence.  He also wants to “turn off the magnet” by stopping people from hiring illegal immigrants which, as I recall, didn’t work out too well in Georgia, where a lack of immigrant workers resulted in millions of dollars worth of crops rotting on the ground. 

            On Misc. Issues – Romney sympathized with Perry’s big ol’ sad about cancer and trying to get little girls immunized, but is really sorry that Perry went about doing so “the wrong way.”  Romney believes in “a lot of what the Tea Party does,” but refuses to identify himself as a Teabagger (it’s probably a sin for Mormons). Romney doesn’t want to raise taxes on anybody, but believes that when 47% of Americans pay no income tax (because they are so poor they don’t make enough to be pinched by the tax bite) that needs to be “corrected”; however, he would eliminate capital gains taxes for everyone making $200,000 or less, so you won’t have to declare the 0.5% interest you make on your savings deposits.  Romney would fire  Ben Bernanke because he has been pumping too much money into the system and has overinflated the currency in a way, I suppose, unique in history – since prices haven’t in fact gone up.

            Impression of Mitt Romney – Like Perry, Romney did not surprise.  He appears to have a game plan and he is sticking to it.  He understands that Perry is his chief rival, but also that Perry is much less electable and – let’s face it – not nearly as smart as Romney.  When Romney expressed his sympathy for Perry’s “tough call” in trying to immunize little girls from developing cervical cancer, it was almost worth the agony of sitting through this debate to watch Perry grimace as Romney told him “your heart was in the right place.”  Romney expects to win the nomination based on some combination of Perry imploding, his own electability and the sheer inevitability that attaches to GOP candidates whose “turn” it is.  Until then, I expect we’ll see Romney continue to campaign as a placid animatronic candidate.


            On Jobs/The Economy – Rick Santorum attempted to stress his experience but didn’t do much except to assert – as he had in the first debate – “I’ve done things.”  Santorum favors eliminating all corporate taxes, and granting corporations a tax holiday so that they can repatriate Two Million Million ($2Tr) Dollars that they’ve earned overseas without paying any taxes on those monies.  (Why not?  It’s not like the country is concerned about is deficit, right?  Oh . . . yeah.)

            On Poverty – Santorum claims to have done more to address poverty than any other candidate; specifically, he reformed welfare and kicked a bunch of people off of the poverty rolls.  He explained that he wants to reform housing assistance and food stamps in the same way.

            On Immigration – Santorum basically had no answer as to what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, but he is very much in favor of building a 2,600 mile fence along the Mexican border.

            On Misc. Issues – Santorum was offended by Perry’s decision to inoculate young girls against cancer, because Perry has a bunch of children and he thinks that should be a parental decision.  Santorum was also offended by the suggestion that America might want to rethink its military adventurism, referring to any such policy as “isolationism.”  Despite the fact Qaddafi has been ousted without the loss of a single American life, Perry claimed that America had squandered a chance to “be a force for good” with respect to Libya because Obama was “confused,” and only began the air campaign against Libya after the UN “told him to.”

            Impression of Rick Santorum – L’il Ricky knows that he’s doomed, and it seemed to show on his face last night, which looked both petulant and constipated.  I’m not sure why he is still in this race, except perhaps out of a deluded religious sense that his God has called him to be president and he can’t quite grasp that maybe his God has gotten this one wrong.  The main distinction b/w Perry and any of the other candidates seemed to be his unapologetic willingness to commit American military forces anywhere around the world, without limit.


            On Jobs/The Economy – Herman Cain has devised what he considers to be a catchy slogan called “9 – 9 – 9”; essentially, his plan calls for eliminating the capital gains tax, the payroll tax, and the estate tax (in fact, pretty much all taxes), and replacing them with a 9% flat tax for both individuals and corporations, and a 9% national sales tax.  He didn’t have present any numbers to demonstrate that this would generate sufficient tax revenue, but seemed content to promote the plan merely because “it is simple and easy to understand.” 

            On Healthcare – Cain claimed that Romney’s plan in Massachusetts “did not work,” which seems odd given that Massachusetts leads the nation in having its citizens insured.  Instead of the individual mandate that is at the heart of both “Romneycare” and the Affordable Care Act, Cain favored “patient-centered, market-driven reforms” – but he never explained what he meant by that.

            On Immigration – Life almost everybody else, Cain wants to build a fence along the Mexican border and, with respect to the undocumented workers already here, he wants to “promote the path to citizenship” that already exists which, as I understand it, means that such people would be deported to their home countries and then have to re-apply to enter the U.S.

            On Misc. Issues – Cain indicated he wants to privatize Social Security along the lines followed in Chile.  He doesn’t want to get rid of FEMA but wants to “fix” it – which seems odd since after Katrina I’m not sure that FEMA has failed to work well.  Cain seemed to agree with Cantor that any emergency monies paid out b/c of Hurricane Irene would have to be cut from the budget elsewhere, but did not seem to think that emergency payments should wait until the necessary cuts had been found.  Cain took Obama to task for failing to create as many jobs Ronald Reagan had coming out of the 1980-81 recession, but failed to acknowledge that one of the ways Reagan had created jobs then was to run up massive deficits.

            Impression of Herman Cain – seriously, why are we even contemplating this guy.  There isn’t the slightest chance he is going to snag the nomination, and he never says anything provocative (or definite) enough to report on.  At this point I think he is being kept in the race because it allows the GOP to pretend that they don’t mind black people.


            On Jobs/The Economy – like Perry and Romney, Jon Huntsman pointed quite a bit to his experience as governor of Utah to provide his bona fides  when it comes to economic issues.  On more than one occasion, Huntsman reminded everybody that Utah led the nation in creating jobs under his stewardship.  Huntsman took a dig at Romney by suggesting that now is absolutely not the time to start a trade war with China, but that he looked forward to addressing China itself in Chinese.  (Somehow I don’t think the fact Huntsman speaks Chinese is what the GOP base would consider a selling point for his candidacy.)

            On Oil/The Military – Huntsman was alone in flatly stating that Bachmann’s promise of $2 a gallon gas was not realistic; what was more interesting was his assertion that if you count “the cost of keeping our troops around the world and maintaining sea lanes” the cost of gas is more like $13 a gallon; this seems to be a clear acknowledgement that the U.S. uses its military not for defense, but to secure the flow of Spice oil.  Huntsman decried what he described as a “fortress mentality” that has come to control America in its endless quest for security and its relation to the rest of the world.  He wants to get the troops out of Afghanistan. 

            On Immigration – Huntsman said the first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the immigrants are people too (that is going to hurt him with the GOP base), and that we need to relax our legal immigration policies in order to bring more high tech, educated people into the country (that will also hurt him).

            On Misc. Issues – Huntsman took a dig at Obama for using a teleprompter, which seems a petty way to attack the guy who gave you your last job.  He flat out refused to pledge not to raise taxes, because he refuses to take pledges of any kind.  Huntsman refuses to attack anybody by name for being “anti-science,” but stressed that in order to be viable the Republican party had to recognize that climate change exists and that evolution is real.

            Impression of Jon Huntsman – of all the people on the stage, Huntsman seemed far and away the most intelligent and reasonable candidate, a fact that he tried to stress at the end by arguing that he could attract independent candidates and was “electable.”  The truth is that he is probably correct about this; if Huntsman were to get the Republican nod, I think he would actually be a real threat to Obama’s re-election.  Fortunately for the Democrats, Huntsman’s intelligence, reasonableness, and lack of xenophobia make it pretty much impossible that he will get the nomination.


            On Jobs/The Economy – Michele Bachmann was eager to throw out a lot of statistics and numbers all of which are almost definitely complete bullshit.  The big tip-off was when she claimed the Affordable Care Act, nearly all of which does not kick in until 2014, has now “taken over” one-sixth of the national economy.  When asked what regulations, in particular, she blames for holding the economy back, Bachmann went right to the ACA.  She announced that she wants to get rid of “all” energy regulations, and would be more than willing to drill for oil in the Florida Everglades, but promised that – even without regulations – her administration would do so “responsibly.” 

            On Immigration – Bachmann has absolutely no idea what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.  When asked what she would do about them, assuming the 2,600 mile fence with Mexico already had been built, Bachmann responded that she would build a fence along the Mexican border.  When the question was asked a second time, Bachmann deflected it by talking about “Mexican narco-terrorists” and her experience with “Hispanic immigrants” with whom she recently met at the Versailles Restaurant in Miami, who told her they wanted the gov’t to cut off aid to immigrants.   What she failed to mention is that the Versaille is in Little Havana and is a political center for right-wing Cuban-Americans . . . who, by virtue of an historical accident, get a much sweeter immigration deal from the U.S. government than do other Hispanics. 

            On the Military/Foreign Policy – Bachmann claims it was wrong for the U.S. to get involved with Libya at all.  She further claims that Obama has weakened America militarily and globally because the debt limit deal might result in substantial cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.  She identified the most serious foreign policy issue facing America today as the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. 

            On Misc. Issues – Bachmann condemned Perry’s decision to inoculate little girls against cancer because “parental rights trump state rights.”  She also used Obama’s recently capitulation on ozone regulations to attack Obama, claiming that Obama’s decision not to enact tougher ozone regulations prove that “even Obama” recognizes that environmental laws are hurting the economy.  (So, y’know . . . well played, Obama.  How could you ever have foreseen that after giving Republicans something they wanted they would attack you anyway?)

            Impression of Michele Bachmann  - she looked frazzled.  Perry’s entrance into the race has sapped her mojo with the Tea Party crowd and Bachmann looked like she knows it.  My sense was that her early tossing out of numbers and statistics was designed to get the media to report how “serious” she is as a candidate, much the way it did after her first debate.  But she benefited then from seriously low expectations; all she had to do to impress the Villagers was not spin her head and vomit split pea soup.  Perry is the new media darling, and if Bachmann wants to impress the media again the only way to do so is to generate enthusiasm with the GOP base that she has been losing.  She won’t be able to do that by quoting numbers and statistics – no matter how much bullshit they are – but only by throwing out red meat, which she failed to do.
            Also, and it is a shame I have to say this, but Bachmann didn’t look all that good last night.  I don’t mean to be sexist, but the reality of the political world is that looks matter in a candidate, and they especially matter in a female candidate, and they really especially matter in a female GOP candidate.  Bachmann looked frazzled last night, and a little older and more worn than she did in her first debate appearance (maybe the campaign is getting to her?), and that wouldn’t have helped her either.


            On the Economy – Newt Gingrich said that he would fire Ben Bernanke “tomorrow,” because Bernanke has been the “most inflationary, dangerous” Fed chief in history; Gingrich failed to explain how “inflationary” Bernanke could possibly be when inflation stubbornly remains under control here and – in fact – a little more inflation would probably be beneficial.  He is, however, in favor of auditing the Fed.  He accused Obama of engaging in “class warfare” (of course) and demonstrating an unwillingness to learn economic lessons because Obama was unwilling to take advice from the Republican party responsible for driving the economy into the ditch in the first place.

            On Immigration – as to the 11 million undocumented workers already here, Gingrich said he would not just “automatically deport” everybody, which won’t help him with the GOP base.  He would focus on “controlling the border,”  creating a legal “guest worker” program, mandating that all immigrants learn American history (they already do, in order to pass the citizenship test), and make English the official language of the government. 

            On Misc. Issues -- Gingrich attempted to deflect the moderators’ attempts to get the candidates to discuss their differences by accusing them of trying to get the candidates to “fight” with each other; uh, well . . . yeah – that’s why it’s a contest.  Gingrich referred to the moderators as “the liberal media” and charged that by trying to get the candidates to compete with each other they were “carrying Obama’s water.”  Gingrich suggest we elevate our military goal from being able to fight two wars at once to being able to respond to three “nuclear events” at once – I’m not sure how one responds to a “nuclear event” other than either (i) clearing the hell out of there, or (ii) nuking somebody back, which, y’know, America can pretty much already do.   He said he admired Obama for “taking on the teachers’ unions” by promoting charter schools.

            Impression of Newt Gingrich – Jesus!  Is this guy still running?  The last I heard he no longer has a campaign staff and is at the bottom of the polls, down around Huntsman territory.  He is Santorum except with more weight (in all meanings of the word).  Of course, Gingrich knows this but he is stuck running this race until at least after the Iowa and NH elections because his entire persona for the past 15 years has been as the GOP’s resident intellectual/idea man.  This is probably why he tried to extend Rick Perry – currently the favored candidate – a little cover regarding Perry’s book by explaining that the book was “an interesting collection of ideas but not a manifesto for someone running for the presidency.”  Of course, as noted above, Perry was too dumb to pick up on what Newt was doing.

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