It looks like the Democrats are moving toward a coronation of Hillary Clinton as Obama and Edwards seem so weary or stale. Obama has decided to attack flag lapel pins, and Edwards has gone from being a populist to a prissy wealthy liability lawyer. So that gives us time to focus at least for now on the Republicans. And one can see them in bloom at their Detroit debate, celebrating capitalism, Bush, budget cuts, and themselves. Like an old marriage, we have heard all that before with some exceptions.
Whether you like his strange idiosyncratic views or not, Ron Paul represents what the Republican party of our fathers used to be like. When the other candidates suggested that they would go to war without a Congressional declaration, he went bonkers. And when Mitt Romney waffled (what else is new?) and said he would have to ask the lawyers whether as president he could wage war, Ron Paul reminded him that he did not need to ask lawyers, but only to look at the U.S. Constitution. When Mitt decided to take on Rudy on the latter’s opposition to the line item veto used by President Clinton, Rudy reminded him that the problem was the courts have been clear that the line item veto is unconstitutional. Haplessly Mitt concluded that he had used the line item veto as governor of Massachusetts. Can it be that the commonwealth of Massachusetts has a state constitution that allows its executive a line item veto? The U.S. Constitution is taking a beating from guys who are supposed to be strict constructionists. Where is Justice Scalia when we need him?
The GOP candidates are stepping all over each other to show how they will all use force in Iran to get their way. There seems to be no recognition that such actions would imperil our forces in nearby Iraq, a possibility with which Pentagon planners have lately been concerned. A retaliatory attack would not hit the White House or Cheney’s residence, but brave men and women wearing our colors on the Iran borders. Again, only Ron Paul seemed to call for restraint. Tom Tancredo and Doug Hunter just love the idea of using force wherever America faces difficulties. Tommy insists that all our problems are due to illegal immigrants, including probably our parking problems; Doug, on the other hand, doesn’t even want to let Dubai invest in a portion of the stock markets.
Giuliani has decided that he will get the nomination by running against Hillary, so he takes slaps at her and her proposals. He has criticized universal health care as socialized medicine (“Hillarycare”), but yet no one asks him why if he so opposes government paid medical care, did he use it when he was fighting prostrate cancer several years ago. I guess it is bad for the children, but ok for the major of New York City. Those kids have got to get tougher, walk it off, children.
And of course I was pleased to see Fred Thompson finally arrive like Godot. He looks a bit tired, but he is a nice guy with no real instinct for the jugular. Mitt had some corny lines comparing the debates to the Law and Order series. It was so obviously contrived, that it got few laughs. Fred’s model is Ronald Reagan, but he isn't the Gipper. He lacks Reagan’s charm and good looks even in old age. The Gipper was kind of bored by the job also, but Thompson shows that feeling too easily. At least in the beginning, one has to seem excited about being the leader of the free world. George Bush II was, and look how well that worked out for us.
And we are seeing the return of John McCain, who has reinvented himself into a Bush supporter and a firm advocate of a war that he himself once criticized for being mismanaged. Since he was obviously such a fine war hero in Vietnam, he is given some credence for his views on staying the course in Iraq.
The questions were not well thought out, but frankly it did not matter since the candidates tended to avoid the issues. In the middle of Michigan, the candidates usually celebrated the benefits of free trade. Did someone tell them it was Florida they were in?
Should Republicans emphasize balanced budgets as they once did over their long history? Yes, but they would rather continue the war and give more tax cuts to the wealthy. That does not add up, of course, but neither of the questioners wanted to spoil our evening. So we celebrated untrammeled capitalism, saluted unfair free trade accords, whacked down the children’s health bill, and supported a war that two thirds of the people have come to detest.
As a Republican president Abraham Lincoln once observed—you can’t fool all the people all the time. A quote that Rudy actually brought up that night. As for Mitt, when he was asked if a “house divided against itself cannot stand”—he responded “why not? We must be optimistic in this country.”
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.