2016 Republican Presidential Debate #4

The Thinker by Rodin

By now these candidates are all getting a bit uncomfortably familiar — at least to those of us that tune into these debates. With some exceptions though they all pretty much sound the same and parrot the same ideas. What made this latest debate a bit more interesting than the other ones is that from time to time some actual debating happened.

This debate, hosted by the Fox Business Channel and held in Madison, Wisconsin had a heavily conservative tone to it, which made the candidates happy after the last debate when the moderators had the audacity to backtalk the candidates with actual fact checking. Moderator questions came laden with assumptions that doubtless made its owner Rupert Murdoch happy. Stuff like this from moderator Maria Bartiromo:

Today the national debt is at record highs and growing unsustainably. Interest will be the fastest-growing part of the federal budget, tripling over the next 10 years. Social Security, the lifeline of millions of American seniors, is rushing toward insolvency.

In fact, the budget deficit has been cut by more than two thirds since the start of the Great Recession, virtually zero interest rates have made financing the debt a lot more sustainable, Social Security is reaching a point where it may pay out more than it receives, but is not anywhere close to insolvent as its assets are invested in U.S. Treasury Bills that will be redeemed to pay benefits. Given the false assumptions that underlined many of the questions asked, the only surprise was that some actual debating took place. As usual, it was the marginal candidates that did most of the pot stirring, i.e. John Kasich and libertarian Rand Paul because what do they have to lose?

Kasich went for being the only grownup in the room again, which he was. In fact much of the time he sounded like a Democrat, which was why toward the end he was actually booed by the audience. Kasich did feel neglected and felt compelled to barge into the debate at inopportune moment near the end, but in fact he got plenty of airtime. Kasich’s sensible and pragmatic solutions though were not something fellow candidates and the audience wanted to hear. I found myself agreeing with much of what Kasich had to say. If he had a realistic chance at the nomination, the party might also have a realistic chance of winning next year’s election.

Rand Paul was the other discordant note, in particular when he called out Marco Rubio for not being a true conservative because he wanted to give a tax credit to lower income people, which he accurately portrayed as an entitlement. On foreign policy Paul was definitely the isolationist and kept noting that defending the country costs lots of money and our foreign interventions usually backfire. Again, this did not win him any favors from other candidates or the audience because cognitive dissonance like this apparently gives them severe migraines. Everyone was like: just shut up Rand and John already!

I really wanted Carly Fiorina to just shut up already. She went on an impassioned rant about the need to cull regulations and to have zero-based budgeting. However, she wouldn’t adhere to the regulations of the debate to stop talking after her ninety seconds was up. Two bells calling time went blithely ignored as she just kept yammering and yammering. While the most egregious violator, she was hardly alone. One of the biggest yammerers from the last debate, Chris Christie, has been disinvited to the debate and sent to the humiliating “undercard” debate instead.

Picking winners was hard, but picking losers was easy. Kasich is likely to get undercarded soon because he speaks to a vanishingly small moderate base. Ditto with Rand Paul, for stroking libertarian feelings largely absent in the Republican Party. And Carly Fiorina is coming across as a simply nasty lady, so she will likely get undercarded again soon, particularly given her mediocre polling numbers which barely qualified her for this debate.

Donald Trump specializes in nasty, but with a dose of humor that Carly doesn’t have. He was repeatedly called out by Kasich for his impossible to enforce plan to deport all undocumented immigrants but as usual he said he could part water and get it done along with his thousand mile wall along our border to Mexico, which presumably they will somehow pay for. On this topic none of them noted that President Obama has been vigorously removing undocumented immigrants, something that gives most Democrats heartburn. However, they did latch on to his executive order that makes it less likely that these immigrants who are caregivers would be deported anytime soon. Apparently it’s really evil to keep parents and their legal children united.

Jeb Bush managed to improve his performance but not in a distinctive way. Marco Rubio held steady, coming on strong but falling back toward the end of the debate in part due to lack of airtime. Ted Cruz will probably get a bump, as he stayed with nasty and unrealistic, which is what Republicans want to hear. He did say he wanted to eliminate the Department of Commerce twice, which would be quite a feat. He also wants to eliminate the IRS, which is a great thing if you don’t want to go to prison for not paying your taxes. Cruz was mostly in comfortable La-La Land, which is where most of the audience wanted to be as well.

There were other amusing faux pas:

  • Marco Rubio actually talked about the “Democratic Party” when every good Republican knows the Right and Fox News has rebranded them as the “Democrat Party”.
  • Ted Cruz also talked about going back to the gold standard and how great the country was when we were on the gold standard. The Washington Post wonk blog though noted that the Great Depression was caused by slavish adherence to the gold standard.
  • Ben Carson claimed that by 1876 the United States was the largest economic power in the world, which no doubt was news to the United Kingdom, which claimed that title at the time.
  • Carson also said that the Chinese were deeply involved in the conflicts in the Middle East, while China has wisely largely stayed out of the conflict.
  • Donald Trump said we are losing jobs like crazy when we added 270,000 jobs just last month and we have netted jobs every month for the last seven years.
  • Macro Rubio said there was nothing more important than being a parent, effectively slamming singles.
  • Rand Paul wants everyone to pay a flat tax of 14.5 percent, less a home mortgage and charitable deductions. So a poor person earning $10,000 a year should pay $1450 a year income taxes, in addition to the sales taxes they disproportionately pay? It’s sounds fair I guess in Rand Paul’s insular world.
  • Carly Fiorina thinks it’s bad that Obamacare brought the uninsured rate below ten percent because of socialism or something.
  • Ben Carson said only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, which would mean 80% of black teens do not, when in fact more than fifty percent of black teens do have jobs.

So there was the usual obfuscation and erroneous claims, par for the course for these fact-free debaters, but it seemed the more wrong the statistics were the more the audience ate it up. More dubious facts will doubtless be revealed in their next debate, which fortunately won’t be until December.

Next up: a second Democratic debate this weekend.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #3

The Thinker by Rodin

I’m not much on Twitter but I decided that if I was going to watch the latest Republican Presidential Debate at least I could be trendy and live tweet it. Alas, it didn’t occur to me until shortly before it started. So unless you happened to follow me on Twitter you wouldn’t have known. (And if you aren’t following me on Twitter, why not? Follow me here.)

Those asking questions got dinged by a couple of the debate participants. The questions did not seem too bad to me and if the questions seemed unusually snarky then it’s because the candidates don’t watch much CNBC. I’ll agree the question on fantasy football was a bit silly, but most of the rest were actually fair questions. The questioners were not shy about pushing back with facts when the candidates steered away from toward their own versions of the truth. I’d like to see more of this in future debates. In fact, live fact checking should be a feature of debates, with check-ins from the fact checkers periodically so viewers could know when candidates are blowing a lot of smoke. So overall, I liked CNBC’s format, although I know I am in a minority.

Live tweeting the debate also gave me a great way to take notes, and I use them here as memory jogs. You can see all of them on my Twitter feed.

I didn’t like the opening question when candidates were asked about their weaknesses. This is another “When did you last stop beating your wife?” sort of question. There’s no good way to respond to it. You invariably pick some tiny little thing no one will care about and go with that, which always comes across as insincere. In any event, it takes enormous ego and chutzpah to run for president in the first place. Just by declaring your candidacy you are stating that there is something extra special about you compared to the rest of us.

You could tell Donald Trump didn’t like this debate any more than the last, mainly because he wasn’t allowed to dominate it. He looked sort of neutered and peevish. It would not surprise me if he invents a reason to opt out of these soon. He did manage to get off one attack on John Kasich, but only after Kasich had offered the opinion that many of his policy solutions were nonsense, which in fact they are. This immediately elevated Kasich in my mind, which sort of gave permission for others in the debate to speak moments of actual truth. Some of these moments were pretty bizarre. Ted Cruz, whose campaign is largely funded by moneyed business interests, said that principally the middle class was supporting his campaign. Carly Fiorina cried out about “crony capitalism” which she said was a result of corrupt government when it’s a result of policies championed by pretty much all Republicans since after Teddy Roosevelt to put the interests of the moneyed and businesses ahead of everyone else. That’s what caused our oligarchy.

Many of these candidates went into friendly la-la land when responding to questions. Ted Cruz basically said that Democrats were communists. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy would not have gone this far. Everyone said that Social Security and Medicare were failing systems but no one bothered to mention that Social Security would be solvent if the payroll cap was simply raised. No, benefits had to be cut and the retirement age had to be lifted. For many poor people whose life expectancy is about 70, this effectively means never even getting to retire. Some talked about reigning in government spending, but not one of them had the courage to say that you can’t keep cutting taxes and solve the budget deficit.

Certain words grated, like Chris Christie’s repeated declaration that the government was “stealing” your social security deposits. It was known from the start that the system was pay as you go system, not a lockbox system. The reason why it is under stress is there are fewer workers paying into the system than in the past, something that could be mitigated with immigration reform. These are the real causes of the actuarial problem; there was never anything nefarious about it.

Kasich again was the sanest person in the room but also its least photogenic. He looked grey, washed out and unattractive as well. I enjoyed watching Trump, particularly the violent way he turned his neck toward someone saying something he doesn’t like. Ben Carson looked so unanimated it’s a wonder why anyone would be enthusiastic about him. Ted Cruz bizarrely talked about how much he respected the constitution, even while he and his party worked hard to keep people they don’t like from voting. Jeb Bush had a hard time getting noticed or even called on. Trying to reproach Marco Rubio for voting so infrequently got him bitch slapped by an animated Rubio. Pundits said Rubio won the debate. I doubt that, but I do think Bush lost it by sounding petulant and insincere when he did talk, and by otherwise fading into the background.

No one asked the obvious question about Trump’s wall: even if you build it, how do you keep people from digging tunnels under it? It has been done for decades as a way to smuggle both illegal immigrants and drugs into the country.

Policy though did not matter as much as attitude, or maybe I should say sassitude. They were going for applause and that mainly occurred by berating the questioners or finding some other way to sound mean or pissed off. This record has been played too many times before. You would think even Republicans would be tired of it.

If Rubio “won” the debate, it’s only because he made himself look marginally better than the rest of the tired candidates and was more prepared with scripted comebacks. It’s an advantage of relative youth, perhaps.

Anyhow in less than two weeks we get to go through this whole tired scenario again. I’ll try to live tweet that debate as well as it helps to stay awake through it. They sure don’t make it easy.

2016 Republican Presidential Debate #2

The Thinker by Rodin

I skipped the first of these interminable Republican presidential debates because I simply couldn’t stomach it. I did watch the second debate last night with some misgivings, mostly because like everyone else I wanted to see if Donald Trump would get his comeuppance. Still, I have limits and yesterday’s was two hours worth. I kind of felt sorry for them forced to stand there for three hours with Reagan’s Air Force One as a backdrop. I know my bladder wouldn’t hold out for three hours and I’m betting most of the men on the stage have enlarged prostates too. I’m betting they were wearing Adult Depends.

Trump did not exactly did get his comeuppance but he was sort of neutered because the moderators wouldn’t allow him to yammer on and hog the stage like he did during the first debate. This was good because it gave other candidates a chance to talk about issues instead of personalities. With the exceptions of John Kasich and Ben Carson though the rest seemed shopworn, irritating at worst and uninteresting at best. Carson was clearly going for the nice guy angle, which helped contrast him not only with The Donald but everyone else except Kasich. Granted that Carson’s actual policies are just as wacky as the others’ are, and are in some cases even wackier. Kasich was the sole moderate on the stage, although even Ronald Reagan would not have recognized him as a moderate Republican. Kasich at least sounded reasonable and pragmatic, as did Carson at times simply because he wouldn’t raise his voice or criticize any of his fellow candidates. That doesn’t seem to be what Republican voters want in a nominee this time, but we’ll see.

Carly Fiorina generated the most buzz. She did so right near the start with some false statements about the highly doctored Planned Parenthood videos. She essentially inflamed the Planned Parenthood funding issue in highly emotional and clinical terms to shamelessly draw attention to herself and it obviously worked. She also one-upped The Donald with her caustic reply to a question about Trump’s earlier remarks about her ugly face. I hope that Republicans are wising up to Trump, who is basically a very rich bully. In any event these two events allowed Fiorina to look sort of presidential, at least by comparison to the low standards the other candidates set. Trump’s rampant sexism and plain bad taste seem to have finally become counterproductive. He also made a snide remark about Rand Paul’s disheveled hair, perhaps because his hair is a frequent news story in itself.

More revealing was his degree of sexism, which should disqualify any thinking female from voting for him. He had already criticized Megyn Kelly with a vague reference to menstruation. In trying to dodge his remarks about Fiorina’s ugly face, he dug himself in further. He had earlier said he meant her persona was unpresidential, not her face. In the debate, after Fiorina caustically replied to his comment, he said she had a beautiful face. Would he say this about one of the handsomer men on the stage, like Marco Rubio? Not likely. He sees beauty as an important aspect of a woman. Beauty however is simply a matter of genetics and taking care of yourself. Beauty has nothing to do with judgment. By seeming to suggest it’s important for a woman to be beautiful to be successful suggests that he is handicapping all women that are not or won’t try to be. It must be his cluelessness because there is nothing clever about this at all.

It’s not surprising that when they weren’t criticizing each other or the minutia in their policy differences they were complaining about President Obama and his “disastrous” presidency. They said he was weak on foreign policy, which was laughable as he was the president that got Osama bin Laden, a goal George W. Bush saw as unimportant. Obama also got us out of an unwinnable war in Iraq and is getting out of a similar one in Afghanistan. They chastised him for the nuclear agreement on Iran, even though it keeps us out of the folly of a pointless war and reduces Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. They said he was a disaster for the economy, even though he created more jobs than any other modern president and dropped the unemployment rate lower than their hero Ronald Reagan ever did. It all sounded so hollow. Obama is simply a projection of their own inner frustration at his many accomplishments in spite of their relentless obfuscation. Their solutions to his alleged deficiencies were to do more of the same failed things that haven’t worked before. Not one of them had the courage to admit this was retarded.

At least there was more debate about issues last night and less blather from Trump. Their solutions did not vary much, but it took the focus off of Trump, who seemed out of his element. Trump spent much of his time off camera giving peculiar stairs at the other candidates when they spoke. He seemed to have lost his footing and was only willing to engage when it gave him the opportunity to be judgmental about other candidates. He is a one trick pony who looked very played last night.

It was so painful to watch certain candidates. They are all pretty grating, but Ted Cruz just oozes obnoxiousness. No wonder he doesn’t have a single friend in the U.S. Senate. Ditto Scott Walker and Chris Christie, both well seasoned bullies. Cruz though just has this look that is totally off-putting. Seeing someone like him on the street I reflexively move to the other side. Memo to Cruz: picking fights all the time and saying “my way or the highway” is not leadership. Taking the initiative to solve problems, generally by collaborating with others to find common ground, is leadership.

Jeb Bush tried hard to sound reasonable and affable but none of it made him particularly interesting or helped him shine. Did you notice him standing on his tippy toes when pictures were taken? He was already the tallest candidate but he had to be seen as taller, maybe because he knows history tends to favor the tallest candidate. He wants to look as dominating as possible but this was over the top.

Most of the other candidates tried to get words in edgewise but didn’t have much luck. None of these candidates though, not even Donald Trump, can master a stage like Barack Obama. Of course he’s not running although they were talking about him so much he did sort of command the stage in abstention.

My dream would be to have a debate between Trump and Obama. Trump thinks he’s a wizard on the stage. On the same stage with Obama debating the issues, he would be road kill under Obama’s shoes. I hope during the final campaign the Democratic nominee is wise enough to bring Obama on the road with him/her. History will vindicate Obama’s presidency. None of these potential Republican nominees is ten percent of the person that he is.

I’ll try to critique more of these debates in the future, but it is a struggle. It is intensely painful at times to hear such ridiculous tripe and such nonsensical and counterproductive solutions to our many vexing problems. With the possible exception of John Kasich, it’s horrifying to think what wreckage any of these people would be likely to do if they actually became president. On the plus side, any of these candidates except Kasich might actually make George W. Bush look the better president in retrospect.