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December 07, 2007
Republicans can quit whining about the YouTube debate Last week (November 28, 2007), the Republican candidates for POTUS appeared in a CNN debate based on questions posted by YouTube users. For my money, this was the most interesting debate of the campaign season so far - which is not to say that it's the one that has made the candidates look the best. This was in large part because CNN picked out some relatively adversarial questions, and also some perhaps more oddball questions (as appropriate to the YouTube gimmick).
Because of this, right wing types of even the more respectable stripe (ie National Review pundits) have been bitching for a week about how awful and unfair and even scandalous this debate supposedly was. They really need to guzzle down a big ol' glass of shut the hell up.
The main point of complaint is that some of the questions were from people with ties to Democrat candidates, or people who just aren't Republicans. These folk have been repeatedly described as Democrat "plants." But the more I look at it, none of them appear to have been in fact operatives for any Democrat organization, give or take the lead paint mom. For example, John Podhoretz (whom I know for his writing at National Review) says, "The scandalous aspect last night is that three Democratic operatives were allowed to pose as 'unaffiliated voters' asking questions specifically designed to embarrass the entire Republican party, not just the candidates on stage."
Yeah, so? Are you saying that the candidates should not be asked questions by people who aren't supporters, that this is somehow illegitimate and dishonest? Why shouldn't they get grilled good and hard and long by people who disagree with them? For one thing, these guys are running to be president of the whole United States, not just the red states.
More importantly, this should be valuable even to a hardcore Republican looking for the best candidate to put up against whoever the Democrats pick. Friendly questions lobbed by Fox News reporters are all well and good, but maybe you should see how the candidates are going to respond to the concerns of the larger electorate before you commit to them. Is Rudy going to blow up at them? (He didn't.)
The biggest criticism there was for the gay retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, who wanted to know why they didn't support allowing gays in the military. Turns out he's on some or other gay steering committee for Hillary. Joe Scarborough says that it's "total crap" that CNN didn't know he was affiliated with Hillary. So what? The guy has a legitimate issue, even if it's not on the top of most voters minds. Plus, it's obviously his issue, not Hillary's. If she were planting a question, this would surely not have been it.
As someone who dedicated his career to serving his country, seems like this guy has every legitimate reason and right to ask about this. You might reasonably disagree with his opinion on the matter, but why shouldn't candidates be put on the spot? The completely weasel like answers from the candidates in fact support his point. He got easily the worst answers from the candidates of any questioner all night.
There wasn't an honest answer among them, fumbling over meaningless pandering to prejudice with crap about 'unit cohesion' and such. I was particularly unimpressed with Romney's bit about asking generals if it would be okay to allow openly gay soldiers. Yeah, then there's that little thing about civilians controlling the military. Then again, a more honest answer about not wanting to offend Bible thumpers and bigots would not have sounded so good. Their answers were illuminating - putting every candidate who answered the question in a bad light.
And this exchange was also illuminating in showing the true colors of the Republicans in the audience, who booed the general, apparently intent on shouting him down. Kind of gives the lie to the "support our troops" rhetoric, doesn't it? Sure, they support our troops - unless one of them expresses an opinion they don't like. Again, this was a useful and illuminating little exchange all around. It's just that it accurately put the candidates and their supporters in a bad light.
Also, you can't necessarily 100% know what everyone's intentions were. There was a question from a Joseph Dearing waving a KJV Bible, demanding to know "Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?" From the Branch Davidian style of his phrasing and presentation, I took it as some militant atheist daring the Republicans to profess belief in this foolish book. Turns out, Joseph Dearing really is a fundamentalist Christian and in fact WANTED the candidates to answer 'yes.' Even Rev Huckabee is not enough of a Bible zealot for this guy to vote for. Plus, turns out he's a Ron Paul supporter. Also, the question about the Confederate flag turns out to be from a Paul supporter.
I will, however, call out one questioner for a particularly cheesy and utterly dishonest, poopie licking question. Question #12 involved a LeeAnn Anderson using her young children as an emotionally manipulative prop to nominally ask about what the candidates would do to protect her against toys from China with lead paint. But really, she didn't give a rat's ass about lead paint. She's an activist for John Edwards and the United Steelworkers union. The real point of the question was to argue for protectionist trade policies - not anything to do with product safety. See, it's not just a self-interested point of protecting overpriced American union labor - she's just concerned about protecting The Children. That's dishonest and manipulative.
This woman should have been considered the most objectionable questioner of the night, but she was not. Indeed, some of the Republicans are only too happy to get on that bandwagon - notably Mike Huckabee.
Besides the supposed Democrat plants, some Republicans have grumbled about some of the rightwingers whose questions were used, on grounds that their individual nutjobbery made all Republicans look like nutjobs. Most particularly, there was a question about gun control from a gun enthusiast who ended up his question by having a shotgun thrown to him from off camera, which he pumped in mock intimidation of the candidates. I thought it was cute, but I can see how some Republican partisans might say that this tended to make all Republicans look like a bunch of nutjobs.
Yeah, well some of them are arguably a bit nutty - not like there aren't plenty of nutjobs on the other side. Was it CNN's job not just to ask questions of Republicans, but also to make sure they only used questions that reflected favorably on the party? I think not.
As an aside, I beg gentle readers to indulge me in a bit of my own rightwing nutjobbery, regarding question #21 in which an apparently Muslim woman asked the candidates what they would do to repair America's image in the rest of the world. The candidates didn't pander particularly, but they were all understandably and appropriately to their position as candidates way too nice to her. Considering that the US has both might AND right on our side, why is it US needing to appease the opinions of every irrational and envious schmuck in the world? I'd like to ask her instead what the Muslim world in particular is going to do to repair their reputation with US?
Special award to Fred Thompson for best answer of the night on another gun question about how many and what kind of guns the candidates personally own. Thompson, God bless him, declined to say what kind of guns he has - or where. Good answer!
Now granted, the Democrats haven't gotten anything like this kind of oddball and adversarial questioning. But that doesn't mean that the Republicans shouldn't. We in the general public are better off to see how the candidates respond to these questions, and it's also informative to Republicans in seeing how they'll do dealing with people outside their warm, cozy rightwing bubble. Hillary's already been tested that way significantly, but perhaps it would benefit Democrats to see how Obama would deal with some of these rightwing types before they select a candidate.
In fairness, I note that the conservative whining has not been directly from any of the actual candidates. But by rights, I would expect a proper alpha male wanting to be leader of the free world to positively publicly ask their people not to whine.
Yes, the Democrats are a bunch of whiners, what with Hillary carrying on about "the politics of pile on" and John Edwards leading a charge to refuse even to appear on Fox News. But we expect that, don't we? The modern Democrat Party is little else but a collection of groups competing for who has the greatest and most grievous claim of victimhood. I expect at least a little better from Republicans.