One Night in South Carolina

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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.

Giuliani
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
too. I'm used to seeing candidates take shots at each other,
but has 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 —
Giuliani 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 u2018birkas' 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, Giuliani 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!"

And back to
you Sean…

January
12, 2008

Scott
Kauzlarich [send
him mail
] is a professor of social science at Ellsworth Community
College in Iowa Falls, Iowa.

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