This week’s debate among Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency was sponsored by Tea Party Express, which sounds like something you’d find next to the Orange Julius but is in fact an umbrella organization for grassroots groups dedicated to the pursuit of low taxes, small government and—to judge from the debate audience—$8 haircuts.
Broadcast on CNN, the debate began with a display of the gravitas we’ve come to expect from American politics—a snazzy video montage in which each candidate was assigned a cute nickname. Michele Bachmann was introduced as The Firebrand. Newt Gingrich? The Big Thinker! One immediately lamented the absence of Sarah Palin, if only to discover which nickname she’d have been given. (The Little Thinker?)
The frontrunner in the Republican field is Rick Perry, who has the look of a man who’s just returned from hoodwinking J.R. Ewing in an oil deal. The Texas governor scored big with his opening line, in which he vowed to “make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.” He should consider hooking up with a specialist in making things inconsequential, such as the person who wrote the final four seasons of Entourage.
Another of the candidates, Herman Cain, is a former CEO of the Godfather’s pizza chain. He began by declaring: “I believe that America has become a nation of crises. That’s why I want to be president.” Note his refusal to get boxed into a corner as being for or against crises. Pretty savvy for a political novice.
Each of the eight candidates assailed Barack Obama for the grim state of the U.S. economy. But how would they fix it? Mitt Romney touted a seven-point plan for a stronger economy, which includes balancing the budget, ensuring the creation of “fantastic human capital” and achieving energy security. So check off all those boxes and the economic rebound should kick in by Romney’s 17th term as president. Vote Mitt and the 23rd century shall be ours!
Alas, the pizza guy quickly trumped Romney’s seven-point plan with his “9-9-9” plan, which a) has more numbers, and is therefore better, and b) includes a flat nine per cent business tax, personal income tax and national sales tax. The most impressive part is the CEO’s pledge to get all required legislation through Congress in 30 minutes or it’s free.
Meanwhile, Bachmann made her pitch to the Tea Partiers by reminding them that she’s “a person that’s had feet in the private sector and a foot in the federal government.” Add it up and that’s three feet for America. Your move, Rick Perry.
The most delightful of the participants was the former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, who was the only candidate with sufficient gumption and insufficient instincts to drop a Kurt Cobain joke on the Tea Partiers. The reference went so far over their heads that it burned up on re-entry. A Huntsman victory at next year’s Republican convention is unlikely, which is a shame because he has a way with words. Specifically, he was a way of making words sound stupid. “Well, let me just say about workers,” he interjected at one point. “This country needs more workers. Can we say that?” He went on to describe the national debt as a voracious, unstoppable zombie. “It’s going to eat, eat, eat alive this country!”
Fear not the Killer Debt Zombie, America! Rick Santorum will defend you. The former senator referenced his own personal courage an amazing six times in the span of a one-minute answer. “You folks want someone with courage?” he asked. “I’ve got a track record of courage.” Pollsters agree that Santorum would be the frontrunner if the main crisis facing America was getting that spider out of the kitchen.
What’s deeply enjoyable about this phase of the U.S. political cycle is the flagrant manner in which candidates ignore the reality of the modern American presidency. Past administrations have demonstrated that a new president has a brief window in which to do a little something before his agenda is smother-killed by partisan wrangling. But the Republican candidates are dreaming big.
Gingrich said he’d find the money to reform Social Security in a single stroke—all he needs to do is reduce the unemployment rate to four per cent from nine per cent. (Oh, is that all?) Later, Romney went further by vowing to quickly “reform Medicare and reform Medicaid and reform Social Security.”
And then on Tuesday . . .