Friday, November 30, 2007

The Educated Soldier's Take on the G.O.P. Debate

It was surely my intention to respond to the G.O.P. presidential debate that occurred last night in St. Petersburg more quickly. However, school matters delayed my response until tonight. As a benefit of this delay, however, I have been able to digest the entire broadcast, reconsider its contents a few times, and I should now be able to produce something more worthwhile than had I simply written a quick, “from the gut” response.

However, before I begin with my analysis on the debate, I would be remiss to fail to mention the most surprising, if not extraordinary, news that I have read in a while. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that stalwart anti-Iraq War Congressman John Murtha has identified the surge in Iraq to be “working.” Of course, those of us with ties to the soldiers on the ground reported these successes months ago. Credit should go out to endeavoring journalists such as Michael Totten and Michael Yon who, from their embedded positions, have been attempting to convince a skeptic American public of the on-ground truths occurring in Iraq. You can access the John Murtha article HERE.


Reflecting on the big-picture aspect of the G.O.P CNN/YouTube Debate, I must comment that this was the most entertaining, cut-throat presidential debate that I have witnessed in some time. Others seemed to have agreed. TV Newser reports that this debate has been the most watched thus far in the campaign.

While I am prepared to declare clear winners and losers walking away from the event, I want to first make a larger observation. IT’S A SHAME… It’s a shame that so much of American politics hinges on some abstract concept declared “electability.” I say this because I identified two candidates during the debate that may be the best for America. My assessment may come as a surprise as I continue to be a Fred Thompson supporter, but I value my integrity more than my biases. That being said, I genuinely think that both Mike Hucklebee and Duncan Hunter may be the “best” for America. In this sense, I prefer Hunter, all things being equal, over Hucklebee. Despite his on-screen time being limited by his lower status as a candidate, Hunter demonstrated that his knowledge of foreign affairs is far greater than any of the other candidates. In a time of growing global tensions, a man of his international expertise would be incredibly valuable as the President of the United States. And, of course, Hucklebee displayed the same charm last night that has so many excited that he could possibly unite a divided United States.

But, alas, they both lack a prerequisite quality: “electability.” I don’t know what defines this term because in most manners of affability and oratorical skill, Hucklebee proved superior last night to even Giuliani. However, this critical trait of electability that is missing, for whatever reason, from Hucklebee and Hunter has left them to ostensibly compete for the Vice President spot. In which case, I have Giuliani or Romney choosing Hucklebee as their running partner should either of them be granted the nomination and Thompson choosing Hunter should he gain such an opportunity.

Back to Giuliani: Reports that I have read so far commenting on the debate do not reflect my own observations. However, I find this to be true: Mayor Giuliani, more than any other candidate, hurt his chances last night. He started off petty with his personal attacks on Romney concerning illegal immigration. Giuliani had previously established a successful political career by maintaining self-assurance in the most difficult of situations. Nonetheless, last night I found him to be a bumbling mess. He stammered through his defense of New York City’s status as a sanctuary city. He was caught often looking down and uncomfortable. He lacked the professionalism and stately manner that we have come to associate with the Mayor. And, worst of all, he managed to alienate social conservatives in ways that he not in previous debates. His stances on gun control, immigration, and abortion caused him to travel further to the left on a night where all his opponents were fighting viciously to establish themselves as the true conservatives.

Approaching the debate, I found myself really disliking Romney as a conservative choice. However, last night I genuinely felt that he did a good job of establishing himself as steadfastly on the side of the Right. Romney’s performance for the initial hour-plus was the antithesis of Giuliani’s. He maintained calm, order, and clear confidence. I found myself buying into this image that he was selling. I was even ready to admit, sadly, that he responded well to Thompson’s attack ad. He seemed sincere in his plea that he is reformed in regards to his former Pro-Choice stance. In fact, I think he is, indeed, sincere on this topic. However, my overall assessment of Romney’s performance turns downward sharply when I reflect on how badly he handled the question concerning homosexuals in the military.

This issue of gays in the military is one very important to me. Romney’s response was problematic for two reasons: 1) His apparent stance against “Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell” is opposite of my own and 2) He seemed bullied by moderator Anderson Cooper when prodded to provide a concrete answer concerning his opinion on the manner. I think history will show that the question was a bogus one (as reports have shown) supplied by a Hillary Clinton campaign contributor which should tame the damage incurred by Romney on the issue. That question aside, of the major candidates, I have to admit that I left the program probably most impressed with Governor Romney.

Beginning the campaign, Senators Thompson and McCain were my two preferred choices. Thompson remains my choice. I feel that both of their performances last night were equal in effect. Thompson came across as very likable. Most interestingly, Thompson – the one considered to have the least legislative gumption – was the only candidate that I heard last night offering any authentic plans. He proposed authentic plans for Social Security and tax reforms. The other candidates broach the subjects but have no meat behind their rhetoric. Thompson does but, unfortunately, he receives no credit for his solid stances. It’s unfortunate. Thompson’s weakness was exposed when he occasionally and too obviously dodged questions. When asked of three agencies that he would remove from the federal government to curb spending, his answer was especially weak. Overall, however, I find myself satisfied with my choice for President.

For both McCain and Thompson, the problem was this: They performed well on a night when someone like Hucklebee performed superbly. While others favor Hucklebee’s response to the “What Would Jesus Do” question, I noted that Hucklebee’s off-the-cuff comment that he would send Hillary to Mars when questioned about potential funding increases for space-exploration particularly amusing. Had Hucklebee been less the focus of last night’s debate, I genuinely feel that both McCain and Thompson would have benefited more significantly from their quality performances.

I will even bother to mention Ron Paul for two reasons: 1) To point out that Senator McCain made a farce out of the Texas congressmen when arguing Paul’s isolationist tendencies and that 2) Paul caused me my only disappointment in my home state last night when a portion of the crowd cheered the option of a premature exit from Iraq.

I didn’t intend to complete this entire report sans a Tancredo reference. He didn’t do badly. His problem is that he seems to be a one-trick pony, relying on his heavy stance against all sorts of immigration solely. He was unsuccessful last night in presenting any indication that there exist other topics that he can use to gain footing in this election. Sadly, I think he fails even as a viable competitor in the Hucklebee / Hunter Vice President race.

So, there you have it: I’ll reluctantly give the debate victory to Mitt Romney. Hucklebee left the runner-up. I think the clear loser, despite the “experts” disagreeing, was Rudy Giuliani. McCain and Thompson motivated their bases but probably failed to extend them. Duncan Hunter failed to gain the face time that he probably deserved and suffered because of it. Congressman Paul didn’t convince any on the fence about him concerning his political sanity with his bumbling Mexico-to-Canada super highway madness. I guess, ultimately, Tancredo will look at this debate as an opportunity lost as I am sure he will be withdrawing soon.

And that’s it. Thanks for sticking with me. I hope this was informative.