One Night in South Carolina

Scott Kauzlarich
Issue CXL - January 22, 2008
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8:00—The candidates are on stage for the big debate hosted by Fox News. I crack my knuckles and prepare to record every question and every response. I can do this because I am a very fast typist. But first…the national anthem.

Mitt Romney gets things started by claiming to want to protect American jobs. John McCain tells us he’s “No Ms. Congeniality.” He’ll stop outrageous government spending. That would be a first. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee have plans to use the government to stop any and all economic downturns.

8:15—Ron Paul time. The good doctor gets his turn. He mentions Austrian Economics (somewhere Ludwig von Mises is smiling) and points out that the government itself plays a big role in recessions by messing with interest rates and interfering with monetary policy. He’s right, but his comments probably went over everyone’s heads.

8:23—John McCain goes for the Al Gore vote by talking about global warming. Fred Thompson gets the first cheers and boos of the night when he accuses Huckabee of being a liberal. Huckabee looks queasy and says he cut taxes 94 times. Giuliani promises to go on the offense against terrorism…apparently the last six years we’ve just been sitting on our hands.

8:30—One of the debate moderators, without so much as a hint of subtlety, tries to paint Ron Paul as a kook by asking him if he will disavow himself from the “9-11 Truthers” that support his campaign. Paul doesn’t take the bait. “Could I please participate in the current debate?” He rails against big government with the rest of his time and gets the second cheer of the night as Fox breaks for a commercial.

8:35—The recent naval incident with Iran is the topic. Huckabee agrees with the restraint our military showed but wants people to know that if you engage the U.S. military you should be prepared to see the “gates of hell” and “we need to make it crystal clear you can’t kick sand in our face.” Lots of cheers.

Thompson agrees but adds that if the Iranians had taken one more step…they would get to see those virgins they are always talking about. More cheering.

Guiliani warns that we shouldn’t consider Iran benign and shouldn’t assume that they won’t someday be a nuclear power. McCain wonders if maybe the Iranians think we are weak and maybe they are still trying to deal in nukes. I can’t wait to hear what Ron Paul will say.

8:43—Paul doesn’t disappoint: “I would urge more caution than what I’m hearing here.” He reminds the audience of the bogus Tonkin Gulf incident and pleads to not rush into war, especially over a couple of speedboats. He points out that some people in Washington were disappointed to hear intelligence indicating that Iran is no real threat.

Fox News moderator Brit Hume suddenly cuts Paul off by saying that all the other candidates said they agreed with the military’s passive response and questioning the sanity of Paul’s response. Paul doesn’t hear Hume at first and seems confused by the moderator injecting himself directly into his answer. Romney jokes that Paul has been reading too many Iranian press releases.

In Hume’s defense, the four previous candidates did give a cursory nod to the restraint the U.S. Navy showed in the Iranian incident. But if we roll the tape again we can see that mostly they were competing to be bellicose and provocative, which is what Paul was responding to. I’m used to seeing candidates take shots at each other, but has a anyone ever faced a hostile moderator? I guess in Hume’s world, talking about showing people the gates of hell is a “passive” answer.

8:50—Guiliani and McCain are done congratulating themselves for supporting the “surge” and the successful war in Iraq. Ron Paul disagrees, of course, arguing that our efforts have done more harm than good and it’s time to let the world solve its own problems. Echoing the Founding Fathers, Paul urges a new foreign policy based on trade and commerce rather than military intervention.

McCain retorts that he “…isn’t interested in trading with Al Qaeda because all they want are ‘birkas’ and he isn’t interested in traveling with them because they are only interested in one-way tickets.” In the most heated exchange of the debate so far, a riled-up Paul responds with another attack on U.S. foreign policy and claims that McCain would commit us to war in the Middle East for the next 100 years. McCain gets the last word, telling the audience that we shouldn’t condemn our troops.

Romney is up next and says that our foreign policy used to be simple, like a game of checkers but now it’s more like “3-D Chess.” He closes by saying we should come together with other free nations to move the world of Islam towards moderation. Oh, is that all?

9:01—Huckabee discusses what he’ll do with Pakistan, part of his plan to run for President of this country and that one as well, apparently. He then joins in on the stomping of Paul, accusing the Congressman of wanting to leave Israel to get wiped out by its enemies.

Paul responds that the U.S. treats Israel “like a step-child” and that what they need is real sovereignty. He claims Israel would be safer without us and points out to Huckabee that the U.S. gives three times as much aid to Arab states as to Israel. My guess is that Fox News at this very moment is not scrambling to verify that fact.

Right on cue, Guiliani piles on, calling Paul’s position “absurd.” He’s been to Israel, after all, and “they are a close ally of us.” They are critical to our defense, Rudy tells us, ignoring the obvious fact that they are also one of the major sources for antagonism against us in the Islamic world. Maybe what Rudy meant was that Israel was critical to our needing defense.

9:07—My notes are getting more incoherent, just like Mitt Romney, who says he keeps hearing that Washington is broken and that he “will take it apart and put it back together better.” I can’t believe that this kind of muddle passes for political debate.

McCain growls some more. He reversed a losing strategy in Iraq. He did? He’s going to be the Sheriff and make sure tax-payers don’t get ripped off. Tax-payers not getting ripped off…a complete oxymoron.

9:15—Guliani has a catchy new line. “The Democrats talk about change, but what they really want is the change in your pocket.” This response has nothing to do with anything he was asked, I guess he was just dying to get that in somehow. He also says he had a lot of foreign policy experience as mayor of New York. Sure you did. McCain takes this as his cue to recite his much larger body of foreign policy experience. I begin to suspect that the goal here is to boost up certain guys for the big race yet to come against Hillary/Obama.

That suspicion is further reinforced when Huckabee is asked about signing on to a “women should submit to their husband” statement back in the day. This wasn’t a “gotcha” question, it was a “would you like to clarify this so you don’t look like a nut if you get the nomination” type of question. His response was lucid and funny, drawing cheers and applause. Take that Hillary/Obama!

9:20—Time to kick around Paul some more. “Congressman Paul, are you really a viable candidate? Why are you running?” The guy actually looked embarrassed asking such an insulting question. But it’s nice to know that a moderator of a major debate had the balls to ask one of the candidates to take a hike and quit bothering the public. Can you imagine what they will say to John Edwards?

Paul gave his best answer of the night, blasting the GOP for losing their way and not following the Constitution or upholding limited government. “And you’re saying this isn’t Republican?”

Paul’s answer drew cheers and applause, but I wonder if he really gets it. The Republicans are nothing more than a variant of the Democrat party, and Paul is out of place. Until he proves he can win, he’ll be treated like a party-crasher, like a virus that needs to be purged.

9:29—The debate wraps up with a round of questions about immigration, and then it’s time for the post-debate reaction. I can barely stomach to watch, as this means it is time for Sean Hannity. Every candidate has a post-debate interview except Paul; like I said, to them he’s a wrinkly, liberty-espousing virus.

When the text-message polls are conducted, Ron Paul trounces the field yet again and Hannity mutters under his breath, “Here we go again.” To which I must concede the point. If Paul got half the support from voters as he did from text-messages, he would be treated with far more respect. Either that or they would have dropped a stage light on his head.

9:35—The Fox ‘focus group’ comes to the consensus that Fred Thompson is the big winner that night. The next five minutes is a Fred Thompson commercial where everyone gives completely stupid and shallow answers for what is so great about him. When the focus group was asked who the big loser was in the debate, they all chorus, “Ron Paul!”

Back to you Sean...

Scott Kauzlarich is a professor of Social Science at Ellsworth College in Iowa Falls, IA.

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