The most disjointedly hilarious, squirm evoking, pathetic thing on the airwaves Thursday night was not the gang of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia getting humiliated at their high school reunion, or the Jaguars giving up 41 consecutive points before finding the end zone. It was the Republican Presidential Debates in Sioux City, Iowa.
Watching the GOP hopefuls flail about on live TV was like watching a cock fight between a bunch of headless roosters, an orgy of blood lust and blind aggression replacing any kind of tactical attack. Obama bashing was the theme of the night; hardly a question went by that was left without some sort of disparaging remark about a supposedly terrible president who can seemingly not be run against. The revolving door at the top -- to unseat who conservatives are decrying as one of the worst presidents we've ever had -- has become so flooded that it is currently choked off by the bloated Newt Gingrich. Election year is fast approaching, and all the saber rattling on the right has done is provide sacrificial lambs for this Easy Run to the Presidency to eat alive. Remember when the Grand Old Party actually rested hopes on Herman Cain?
People rushing to get on the Anyone But Romney Train found more reasons to crush towards the doors, as Mitt looked like shiny, malleable plastic while getting outmaneuvered on various fronts. Cursed with both the intellect and social skills of a mathematical genius, Romney is nigh impossible to connect to. It is telling that one of his strengths -- the ability to adjust and change his position over time, rather than marching lockstep his entire career -- was not only attacked as a weakness, but is legitimately considered one in today's hyper-polarized atmosphere. Romney was ran down by the open minded monster towards the end of the night, with Rick Santorum gleefully getting in the last big bite on the jugular. Watching the former Pennsylvania Senator and Mitt lock horns over who was the biggest bigot when it came to gay marriage would have been sickening, if it was not so funny. When questioned on his same sex marriage track record, Romney quickly backed into the seemingly indefensible position of being against both discrimination and gay marriage. His reasoning? That he was for "the sanctity of marriage" -- a quasi-religious and spiritual position to take; separation of church and state is not a founding father doctrine that gets an invite to the Tea Party -- while in no such way discriminating against anyone based on their sexual orientation. This seems feasible, so long as there is a separate-but-equivalent solution to the issue. Romney badly needs to be seen as the smart conservative's choice. Getting out gunned at every turn by the rouges gallery assembled against him is not going to pave the way to the nomination. Everyone else is rushing the train, but Mitt is laying the tracks.
Front runner du jour Gingrich's portrayal of himself as the Champion of the Middle Class was almost the spit-take inducing moment of the night. Thankfully for the Newt, Michelle Bachmann is the queen of unintentionally hilarious sound bites. After being called out by Ron Paul for "not getting her facts straight," Bachmann, in a stormtrooper white ensemble that brought out her saucer sized and frightened eyes, railed back.
"I am a serious candidate for President of the United States, and my facts are accurate," she spat venomously into the microphone. It seems to me that if you must, in what is perhaps the most savage and important race in the world, have to take the time to establish the base fact that you wish to be considered as more than a joke on a nationally televised debate, you are already out of the running. This was not the only cringe inducing moment from Palin Jr. Her hawkish attitude on the Middle East, including the assertion that Iran would take over Iraq, wipe Israel "off the face of the map" and team with Syria to rule from the Gulf to the Mediterranean was a slap in the face to the men and women whose services were officially being brought to an end that very day. She told wild-eyed tales of a jihad spreading across the world, shades of the old domino theory that lead to Vietnam echoing through her speech.
Whereas in the last election Iraq was all about who could pull out faster, it is now considered crucial to stay to the end to fight the good fight. After all, Obama had victory in Iraq on a "silver platter," according to Bachmann. She would be well advised to ask a returning vet how good the service was before continuing down that path. Bachmann was particularly vehement in her Obama references. She continuously found new ways to lay blame on the President while deftly maneuvering around true answers and anything that would threaten to expose her as the far right, completely insane choice that she would be.
Ron Paul did himself no favors. Nebbish and clever, he was the stoner freak outcast at the table with the jocks and cheerleaders; the smartest guy in the room, but shouted down by the cafeteria crowd. He flexed some muscle during his tussle with Bachmann over the future of the Middle East and America's defense forces, calling out the fatalistic representative on her dramatic portrayal of what could be. After Bachmann ascertained that Paul's slightly dove direction was the most dangerous response there could be, the wily former Libertarian played the vet card to fantastic effect. He told her to compare the climate now to 1962 when he was drafted, as Kennedy stared down the Cuban missile crisis and avoided apocalypse with a phone, not a firearm. It was a moderate, well thought out stance that will be cyanide by convention time.
Rick Perry tried to play the cowboy role, comparing himself to Tim Tebow while riding gallantly bearing the standard of state's rights. When asked if he was guilty of providing the lenient environment for oil companies in Texas that he accuses Obama of for green businesses, Perry quickly wrapped himself in the 10th Amendment as a dodge to the apt analogue. His reasoning was that it was okay to pander to industries as governor; the District should surely be above such non-sense.
"We need 50 states out there competing with the government out of their hair," Perry said. One wonders how Iowa would fare by itself in the current economic climate.
Perry and Santorum took turns feasting on an elaborate scare ploy involving the inevitable marriage of Islamic extremists with Central and South American cartels. Santorum disparaged the president for embracing the "scoundrels" in South America and the Middle East while alienating our allies. Conveniently lost in the Latin American/jihadist Southern Axis of Evil was the fact that many of the bullets, blood and dollars being funneled into these groups and making the Mexican border a war zone exist because of a War on Drugs that is perhaps the most un-winnable and quixotic an undertaking ever perpetrated so acceptedly by the government. When the great prohibition experiment failed, the country and the government came to it's senses involving the evils of alcohol compared to the spoils of the black market. By perpetuating a skyrocketing shadow economy, the War on Drugs has given the drug czars something worth killing for. Perhaps it is because most of the victims are in Mexico, not our own cities, that we do not equate the violence of cartels with Capone. In any event, a political spider web has begun to be woven, the next silken fears being carefully laid for the future.
Immigration was surprisingly benign, with the back of the line solution being the most popular. Gingrich's promise to eliminate lawsuits against Arizona was disturbing; a desert police state would not be my first choice to throw in with.
As the knives were drawn and the right seemed ready to claw its eyes out over an obvious victor, the debate come to a close in a saccharine display of party unification against a common enemy before devolving into a one-upping round of Reagan worship. It should be noted by the religious right that the Pharisee prayed the loudest.
Unsurprisingly, no one seemed to roar forth from the muck to unseat Gingrich. Newt will have to fall on his own foil like the other candidates before him. Yet the suicidal desire to sink their only two feasible candidates -- the almost sane Romney and Paul, the only man who has a modicum of a chance at stealing any of the middle/left votes -- makes the GOP the place to be for tragic comedy of Shakespearean proportions.
Of course, in Shakespeare, no one ever gets out alive.