The much-derided Republican presidential debates are doing the job they are supposed to do. They instruct us about important candidates’ features and, by doing this, they winnow them out. They are especially important with respect to the task of showing us the dark side of candidates we like. They force us to be more mature in our enthusiasms than we otherwise would be.
The Fox News-sponsored and conducted on 12/16/11 was head and shoulders above the predecessors in terms of intellectual conduct, in terms of dignity. Nothing surprising there but it’s worth mentioning because it’s chic in some environments to treat Fox as it were beyond the realm of intellectual responsibility. Conservatives who don’t watch television have been infected by their liberal buddies (who certainly don’t watch Fox either). It’s a cheap way to join the elite. It beats reading books!
Face it, there are only three candidates left. The others – fairly or unfairly – appear as lightweights, in terms of this forthcoming election. At this point, I am about ready to stop learning anything about any of the main three. I am getting this sense of redundancy that tells you you might just as well watch a movie.
During the debate, Mitt Romney convinced me in a few words that he did not understand the basics of this country’s immigration laws. He said something about illegal aliens presently in the country having to return home and go to the end of the line and, once there, they could apply for “permanent residency or even for citizenship if that’s what they want.” I have written on this blog about the widespread ignorance of our immigration laws among conservatives. (Search.) Romney committed three mistakes of fact in a bout two sentences.
First, the “line” is so long that illegal immigrants with American-born babies largely would not make it back until their children were of college-age. Romney did not think he was making this kind of pitiless statement. He thought he was being eminently reasonable. Then, there is the fact that “permanent residency” status and citizenship are not alternatives to each other but sequential events.
I keep asserting that illegal immigration is the wrong hill to die for for conservatives, in part but not only because you can’t fight effectively if you know little about what you are fighting. There are other reasons. Yet, if you know that a large part of your potential electorate is agitated by a certain topic you should certainly inform yourself on it. That’s especially true if the information is easy to obtain and not complicated. Romney’s superb indifference to facts on immigration tells me something negative about both his personality (lazy) and his intellect. Intelligent men are aware of danger; that’s a minimum.
Romney also said that “very few countries” other than the US enjoy the rule of law. That’s a mediocre high-school student’s view of the world. It’s embarrassing. “Very few” means, at minimum, all the countries of western Europe, most of the former eastern Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore. Israel etc… Why, on the same day as the debate, it was announced that a former two-term French president, a well-liked old man, had been sentenced for small-time graft that had taken place twenty years earlier! Why, isn’t the former President of Israel in jail as I write? No rule of law, indeed!
Romney is a chameleon. He does not know what his color will be tomorrow. He thinks he can always count on having learned advisers who will tell him what color to take on. In that situation, there is no compunction to burden one’s brain with trivial knowledge such as the basics of immigration law one is a discussing in a centrally important debate.
Another thing, about the revealing virtues of debates: The more Romney brags about his long career in the private sector, the less I think it’s important. You don’t really need twenty years in the private sector to understand markets. At least, there are diminishing returns. Three economics classes and occasional reading of the Wall Street Journal will get you 90% there, I think. Incidentally, I emerged from teaching for 25 years in a business school impressed with the number of downright fallacies business decision-makers usually carry in their minds. I was also taken by their retrospective blindness to the consequences of their own actions: I did exactly this at Pepsi in 1983 therefore it will work just fine for Apple in 1992. (I may have the years wrong; it does not matter).
I share most of Ron Paul’s views about how government is several times larger than it needs to be. I would subscribe to most of the radical measures he has announced to reduce the size of the federal government. Nevertheless, I have trouble imagining circumstances when I would vote for him for president. He gave more reasons for my acute concern in the debate. I think that pretty much most of what he affirms is false. Here is an example no one in the media has commented on. He said that this “country is completely bankrupt.”
First when a government is bankrupt, it does not mean that the country it tries to government is bankrupt. It can be; it does not have to be. The federal government still only accounts only for one in five dollars in the US. This means that if you told everyone to stop moving money around, at any one time, you would find only one in five dollars in some federal hands. Certainly government expenditures have effects, sometimes profound effects, on private wealth; they are not one and the same. In fact, in the perfect libertarian society – the one Paul he says he aspires to – the government would be starving and private parties would be rich.
Second, the federal government is not “bankrupt.” I, and conservatives in general, fear that it’s moving toward bankruptcy. We fear even more that, without ever reaching bankruptcy, federal debt will impose an inhumane burden on our children. But there is near-objective proof that the federal government is nowhere near bankruptcy. Private parties, individuals, companies at home and abroad, foreign governments, are still rushing to buy American government federal bonds. That’s federal debt. Their confidence is so great that they are buying at a time when those bonds are paying next to no interest.
Congressman Paul does not know what he is talking about or his words exceed his knowledge; he exaggerates for effect. Reminds me of someone, or some ones. (More on this below.)
Mr Paul also said, à propos of nothing, “To declare war on 3,5 billion Muslims…” No US official ever did that, no one ever came close, no opposition figure did either, not unless you assume that declaring war on the violent jihadists who conduct terror against Americans is the same as declaring war on all Muslims. Strange twist of perception!
I don’t hold it against Congressman Paul that he has secret information that no one else has demonstrating to him that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon and is not working toward one. Neither do I mind that he, alone, has knowledge of a carefully guarded secret: How many nuclear warheads Israel possesses. (By the way, Paul says 300. I wonder what Israel would do with so many on such a small territory. I mean the whole Middle-East rather than Israel itself.)
I don’t mind Mr Paul’s deviousness. It does remind me however of my three-year old grand-daughter subterfuges when she has been caught, she knows she has been caught, but will still not acknowledge whose hand was in which…. Mr Paul was asked three times in three different ways what he would do if he were President and if he received incontrovertible proof that the Islamic Republic of Iran actually possesses nuclear weapons. Each time he insisted that there was no such proof, that the Iranian nuclear program was all illusion and that it was an understandable response to Iran being “encircled.” (I don’t know how you can have it both ways.) In other words, each time, he changed the subject because he did not want to answer that straightforward question that might arise in any presidency and with respect to any number of countries other than Iran.
Understand my point: You can answer this kind of hypothetical question irrespective of what you believe about its premise. You can always say, “ I don’t think it does…If it did, if, I would do the following….” If you are going to be Commander-in- Chief, you have to answer this kind of hypothetical question. To refuse to do it is dishonest or childish. Mr Paul is not dishonest; he holds to his line of thinking with remarkable firmness. The problem is that part of him enjoys affirming things that no one believes. He likes to be in your face if you are one of the uninitiated. He likes to be bad. He is petulant.
I ask myself who Ron Paul reminds me of besides my high-spirited grand-daughter. First, he reminds me of the New Left leaders I knew in the seventies who never stopped affirming that the North Vietnamese Communists were going to create a workers’ paradise as soon as they won in the south of the country. They kept affirming that as workers were fleeing Vietnam in leaky boats by the hundreds of thousands. Second, he reminds me of spokespeople for the current climate change movement who will keep talking the same talk as the public evidence of their mendaciousness piles up at their feet. With both comparisons, I am referring to style, of course, not to content. Ron Paul is not a Communist and he is not a global warming advocate. (I have to state the obvious because some of my casual readers are silly.)
And then, there is Newt Gingrich. He is obviously the best informed and the most intelligent of all the candidates for President (of all parties). He speaks to the issues. He never fails to answer questions. He does so rationally and clearly. His view of American exceptionalism matches mine. He is decisive. He would be good in a crisis, including as a Commander-in Chief. And yet, yet, I agree with just about every negative thing that’s been said about Gingrich. He did seem to endorse the climate change madness. He became involved in bio-fuel boondoggles when it was predictable that they were boondoggles. He did earn piles of money being a de facto consultant with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He had every right too, of course, as a private citizen. I am very, very sorry he denies it though he does not do it petulantly but really, really hoping it will pass, like a kidney stone. There are style issues too: I keep wondering what would make a small-time history professor in a small university even want to have a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s. Hunger in men that age troubles me.
I am surely glad I don’t have to vote tomorrow. I trust I will know more in a few weeks. Things are looking good, in fact; I understand the candidates a lot better than I did after the first debate.
Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011 06:05 PM
A few days after I posted this essay, Thomas Sowell pretty much made up my mind for me. Herd is the link to NewsMax: