I am so embarrassed for my country right now. Last night’s first debates of the 2016 presidential campaign weren’t as hilarious as they could have been, nor were they as haywire as they could have been. Instead, they were just sad. Both of them. Depressing even. I hang my head in sorrow.
The positions taken on the issues were often the worst possible stances. If you made a list of political issues, and then made a list of possible stances on each issue, it would be difficult to find worse positions than the ones chosen by these (mostly) men (Carly Fiorina was in the second-tier debate). If the political issue was dinner, and the best possible stance was “tasty-yet-healthy meal catered personally by Scarlett Johansson”, the candidates chose “gunshot to face”. It was that bad.
A great example was when poll leader Donald Trump was asked about his previous derogatory and despicable remarks about women. A superb answer would have been: “The women of this nation are amazing, incomparable. We wouldn’t be where we are today without strong American women.” Instead, he said “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness” — basically saying it’s just a PC trend to treat women well. This was possibly the worst of all possible answers.
When asked about limits to the federal government’s power to spy on citizens, Lindsey Graham could have answered that the Constitution protects the privacy of citizens and that legitimate security threats must be dealt with swiftly and directly. Instead, he said: “If I have to monitor a mosque, I’ll monitor a mosque… If I have to take down a cyber wall, I’ll take down a cyber wall.” In other words, the worst possible response, that the privacy of citizens means nothing to him. He added that in order to keep Americans safe, he wanted to militarily occupy several other sovereign nations.
When Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked Marco Rubio about exceptions to abortion laws, Rubio could have noted his previous support for bills that explicitly carved out exceptions. Instead, he gave the worst of all possible responses: that women should be required to give birth to rapists’ babies, and that women should be required to die when a life-threatening pregnancy arises.
Mike Huckabee went farther, saying we should defund women’s healthcare programs.
Rick Santorum, when asked whether the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of marriage equality was “settled law”, could have been honest and played to his base, but instead compared it to the infamous Dred Scott decision, apparently saying that people being allowed to marry is similar to people being allowed to own slaves.
When Scott Walker was asked about the “Black Lives Matter” movement being “the civil rights issue of our time”, he could have said any number of admirable things. Instead, he answered without mentioning black people at all, and worried that police officers need protection, somehow turning the issue on its head. In case he wasn’t clear that he completely misunderstood the issue, he concluded with: “we treat everyone the same here in America”.
On the recently concluded Iran treaty, which wasn’t discussed much, there are basically three general positions to take (1) favoring the deal, which reduces tensions and prohibits Iran from building nuclear weapons, (2) going on as before — heavy economic sanctions while Iran continues to build the weapons, or (3) all-out war. Republicans heavily favored the last (worst) of these, or at best the second (next-worst).
When the subject of torture came up, Ben Carson defended it.
Yes, these are just cherry-picked examples, but to me they seemed representative of candidates’ statements.
The candidates were not alone in making poor choices. The moderators (Fox News) made conscious decisions to not even ask about the most serious issue for the future of the human species: climate change. It was never mentioned, by anyone, perhaps to save the candidates from embarrassment — their positions are already known.
Further, they chose not to mention growing income inequality, despite that being the top issue of this campaign season, and despite general agreement that capitalism itself is untenable without basic checks and balances. The candidates could have taken any number of positions on the issue, but every one of them chose to ignore it in their opening and closing remarks, and the moderators chose to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. (To be fair, Kasich hinted at the subject, but left it quickly and offered no specifics.)
Prior to the debate, Republican candidates stood accused of denying climate change, favoring the rich in their battle to crush the poor and middle class, having anti-women, anti-minority, and anti-gay platforms, being warmongers, and ignoring the rights of citizens in the name of security. So, when presented with yet another nationally televised chance to refute these accusations, they instead owned up to them in a surprisingly robust way.
It remains to be see whether Democratic candidates will take advantage of this startling and saddening lack.
(I did find a handful of sensible comments. Rand Paul noted that negotiating with Iran isn’t all bad, reminding us that Reagan negotiated with the USSR. Paul also stood for the rights of Americans when it comes to warrantless government spying on citizens. Carly Fiorina made several coherent statements. John Kasich, when he had a chance to deride Trump, instead made the true point that Trump is popular for a reason, and that it wouldn’t be wise to ignore those who support him. Kasich also noted that economic growth is only fully successful if the less fortunate are helped too. But most of these moments were throwaway lines, mentioned in passing, and — unsurprisingly — heavily challenged.)