The second republican presidential debate often seemed like parody rather than a serious discussion of the issues that define republican core values. Seemingly over rehearsed and often overly anxious, the candidates appeared to be waiting for their opportunities to hit their marks, say their lines, and breathe a sigh of relief that they didn't blurt out something the audience would perceive as bizarre, at least until the next round of questioning came around.
Among the players was the comic relief, "doesn't stand a chance Huckabee", whose comedic timing was unparalleled in the venue when he quipped, "Congress spends more money than John Edwards at a beauty parlor." The crowd went wild at this, laughter and applause all around! Except you sir, regardless of your affable, down-home every-man persona, are obviously a privileged individual as well or you wouldn't have been on that stage. Maybe you are self-made, but so is the mill worker's son, and in a society where earning ability often equates with personal integrity and worth, Edwards has made himself into a very worthy individual, and one who has spent much of his time actively focusing on poverty and ways to alleviate it since his failed vice presidential bid.
But with the republicans in general, it seems that it's the words that count, saying what you are and what you believe in rather than being sized-up based on what you do and how you've lived. The election and re-election of George Bush is proof that the republican electorate will follow who can talk the best game where points are scored based on being fluent in conservative-speak. Expert use of right-wing buzzwords, among which is one of my favorite phrases "judges who do not legislate from the bench", is the key to success, not thoughtfulness, ability or past history.
Any observer of the debate, unaware of what the republican party has come to stand for, could easily assume, not merely from the statements of the candidates, but rather from the adamant approval of the audience to these statements, that it's the torture, closed society, diminished civil liberties, anti-contemplative, anti-science, anti-gay party, in which it is paramount that their male political leaders conflate these capital-C conservative attributes with not only being a real American but being a real man. When a player wanders off script and reason is introduced into the mix, things turn ugly.
A case in point during the debate was when libertarian candidate, Ron Paul, was asked about his anti-war stance. Without pausing to parse his words to be more appealing to the hard-core conservative crowd, he answered honestly. His response amounted to outlining the long and complex history of the determents of foreign entanglements. He was then asked if his position, which is basically to stay out of conflicts on foreign soil, might need some tweaking given the events of 9/11, Paul basically responded that a decade of sanctions against Iraq and the enforcement of the No Fly Zone there might have contributed to the psychology of the 9/11 attackers. He went on to explain what is common knowledge in the reality based world. Western actions of any kind in the Middle East are seen by radicals and terrorist groups as oppressive, perpetual encroachments by imperial powers into the Islamic holy land and therefore grounds for terrorist attacks.
This invited Giulani in like Nosferatu. Waiting for any reference to 9/11, he responded to Paul, seemingly incensed and empowered by his experience as mayor of N.Y. during the attacks, which he seems to feel makes him an authority on terrorism. This is the same type of bona fides that qualifies his wife as an authority on health policy. Giulani has suggested that her experience as a nurse and a pharmaceutical sales rep. qualifies her to sit in on potential cabinet meetings on the subject. Giulani stated that he had heard some absurd reasons for the 9/11 attacks but Paul's just about takes the cake.
Cheers and thunderous applause rose from the audience as Giuilani asked for just another thirty-seconds to tie the ribbon around the package. The following day, Paul told Wolf Blitzer that the information he cited during the debate was contained in the 9/11 report and he suggested that Giulani read it.
Another question about the candidates' willingness to allow torture got most of their eyes twinkling with excitement and they even seemed breathless as they finally got to use their rehearsed answers on the subject.
At one point, Romney, the mega-millionaire who looks just like the man who sold me my car, gleefully announced that, although some people would like to see Gitmo done away with, he'd "like to see it doubled", whatever that means. (Does he seem real smart to you?) Giuliani answered that he'd do whatever it took to get info out of a pretend terrorist during a pretend attack scenario that was posed by Britt Hume. He did not discount water boarding when it was introduced into the imaginary scheme.
Tancredo (who?), said he'd be "looking for Jack Bauer" during this worst-case scenario, much to the delight of the approving FOX loving crowd.
John McCain, on the other hand, whose stance on the war and pandering I just can't stomach, was never the less the only person on the stage who actually had been tortured. He responded to the torture question by saying that America doesn't torture, it's not the way we do things. Of course a dead silence followed, and McCain looked dejected. Oh my God what did he just say? No torture! Blasphemer!
The hush that fell over the previously appreciative and vocal crowd watching the spectacle live illustrated right wing values in a nutshell. It doesn't matter if it's a pretender, a poser who is saying all the right things, it just matters that they say them. George Bush got elected that way, and they would much rather have heard McCain lie about his feelings on any given subject than hear him give a humane, well considered, authentic answer.
Seeming to possess the most authentic conservative values will be the ultimate factor that selects the republican presidential nominee and Giulani is attempting to adapt his historical positions to fit the conservative box the best he can, relentlessly exploiting 9/11. But he was not a victim nor a victim's family member, but rather, as Bill Maher and many others have famously pointed out, he was the man in charge of NYC when 9/11 happened and the man who refused to relocate the city's emergency operations command from the World Trade Center despite warnings that it was a obviously a vulnerable location, as it had been bombed once before.
If that wrong-headedness wasn't enough, his in-authenticity as a "true conservative" is apparent in his position(s) on abortion. His stance on gays is anathema to conservatism; his familial history is abhorrent to conservatives, yet he believes he can parlay his role as "America's Mayor" into a presidential bid merely by using a phrase, "9/11". He uses all the self-righteous words he can articulate to attempt to dismiss any considered thoughts on how to deal with terrorists' threats, without actually formulating any authentic, reasoned thoughts to answer what is now a world-wide problem. He simply relies on the fear card, which in the GOP trumps everything else.
Ron Paul is right of course; it's Giulani that should be doing the apologizing.