Who came up with this brilliant idea? Oh, let’s have a hundred Republican debates in the primaries of 2012. We’ll start, like, four or five months early, assemble a cast of a dozen or more Republican wannabes and have them really go at each other.
So, we are still in the “debate season”. There is another one tonight, Thursday, 1.26.12, and the candidate count is down to four. Two actual, threatening candidates, one “family values/religion first” candidate and one pretender who has about as much chance of getting the Republican nomination as waking up at Tranquility Base on the moon next week.
To the Republicans, the idea of all these debates must have seemed wonderful. Their candidates would get showcased, the cost of running campaigns might go down and the debates would set the winner up for the fall campaign. Be careful what you wish for. The debates have been something of a disaster for the Republicans, showing the weaknesses of weak, pretender candidates who were not ready for prime time. The debates have also highlighted, as did South Carolina, how far out a candidate has to go to get Republican support this year, something that might not help in the fall. Some slip-ups are always expected, but this has been a tsunami. The only thing we were missing was Sarah Palin with one of her wind up pitches and complaints about the lame-stream media. (“They just don’t get it, do they?”)
Here’s a question and an important one: why are these debates being televised nationwide? Where is the interest? Of course, the answer is well known. The “campaign/media complex” needs these debates, even if we don’t. We’ve got half a dozen cable “news” channels now and they need content. Content with some minimal drama thrown in is irresistible, particularly if the aura of public service hovers in the background. (I don’t know about you, but I love that hovering aura.)
The result of all these debates is that the Republicans who want to replace Obama have gotten about ten times as much national airtime as the sitting president. The Republican debates have, to a degree, represented a premature end to the Obama presidency, one that cannot be overcome with a single speech to Congress.
Many years ago during the Kennedy administration, Charles DeGaul recognized television as a vital part of modern government when he came to the United States and was surprised that the government did not control television. “How can you govern without television?”, was the quote attributed to him. Much latter, French PM Francois Mitterrand also came to visit and headed straight to the CNN complex in Atlanta to see how it was all done. Television is one of the perquisites of power, one that is attached to the White House like a giant umbilical cord. The endless debates send a message: this guy’s time in the White House is tightly measured. Why do you even want to listen to him?
But what is not good for Obama is not necessary great for the Republicans. Thanks to the ready meanness of Newt Gingrich and the participation of marginal candidates, the debates seem to be doing more to defeat the Republicans than any effort by the Democrats. Though they might not have the last laugh, the political pros in Washington have been sitting back shaking their heads in wonderment over what the Republicans are doing to themselves. The most outrageous has been Republicans attacking Republicans over the excesses of capitalism. Wait! I thought there could be no excesses. Wasn’t that the Republican message heretofore?
The television networks and cable news channels will want to make all of this into a new American tradition, debates from shore to shore, from sea to polluted sea. I say: no. Please don’t do this again. Think about it. A debate that would be entirely appropriate to Florida this week is not helping the nation. Unless the debate train is stopped, we might never elect a president again who hasn’t been muddied, bloodied and half ruined before the game even starts. Some people are already wondering when the Romney administration is going to finally come to an end. And, is the primary season really this long?
Doug Terry, 1.26.12