Dear Lady and Gentlemen,
As you all know, we are living in parlous times, the most economically precarious since the Great Depression and the most militarily threatening since the fall of the Soviet Union. Many of our citizens fear this great country of ours is on the edge of collapse. Desperation stalks the land.
Yet if we were to watch the Republican debates, for the most part, all we see is bicker, bicker, bicker, with candidates looking to score points off their opponents. Worse yet, most of these points are based on obscure malfeasances that would have little to do with how they would actually perform as president.
Tuesday night in Las Vegas it almost reached the level of opera bouffe, with one candidate vitriolically accusing another of, albeit unconsciously, using an illegal alien in his gardening service (something so common here in Southern California that, were laws enforced, three quarters of the population would be in jail). Nevertheless, instead of waving off this petty accusation or, better yet, turning it into a joke, the second candidate came back even harder. For a moment it almost seemed the two would come to blows — over nothing.
Everybody’s got an ego, everybody wants to win, but if you have to achieve that by cutting down the other guy, maybe you don’t deserve to lead — not these days, anyway. Things are too extreme; the stakes too high. We need someone who can rise above it. Maybe even smile.
The two candidates who appear to have gained the most in the polls since the beginning of the debates are Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, and they seem to be the two who spend the least time on the attack, the most on laying out proposals.
The one who has done particularly poorly is Rick Santorum, who spends almost all of his time on stage as a hatchet man — or looking for ways to be one. What a turnoff. (Obviously, the voters agree.)
Meanwhile, speaking as an ex-Democrat, you all have a real opponent. His name is Barack Obama, and at that Vegas event he was barely mentioned. To most Republican voters these days, his political demise is way more important than the identity of his successor. The war cry is ABO — Anybody But Obama — and it should be.
So ix-nay on the itriol-vay, even though we all know the media conspire to increase it. There’s nothing better than a slugfest. But don’t play into them. Again, you are giving the enemy what they want, but you are simultaneously doing something worse — you are diminishing the opportunity for meaningful dialogue.
Every minute spent in minor internecine rivalry is a minute spent away from the ideas that can cure our dire situation. Nothing really gets evaluated. (Of course, the media again conspire by setting up one-minute limits on matters difficult to explain in 20.)
For all the endless back-and-forth about Cain’s 9-9-9 plan — seemingly the one substantive proposal on the table for the entire GOP (It shouldn’t be; where are the others?) — I came away from Tuesday’s debate with no more knowledge of Cain’s plan than I had before I watched. I learned far more reading Arthur Laffer’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal the next day — or trying Cain’s own calculator.
But speaking of Cain, I’m a little worried about him. He’s caught the world’s attention by being the very model of the constructive private citizen running for public office — a twinkle in the eye of the Founding Fathers.
But even he seems to be infected by this campaign vitriol disease. In an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Carol Costello, he said the following:
COSTELLO: So, in the next debate, you’re going on the attack?
CAIN: I’m going on the attack.
COSTELLO: You’re ready to do that.
CAIN: Yes, I am.
COSTELLO: Really, you’ve been the nice guy through all this.
COSTELLO: The likable guy.
CAIN: I’ve been trying. But they’re getting on my last nerve.
Say it ain’t so, Herman!
(He did have a grin on his face in the video version.)