I don’t think these shootouts among the Republican presidential candidates are good for anybody. Except the Democratic Party come 2012 in the general election, when they’ll be using clips in campaign ads.
The best questioning of the candidates by far was in the American Principles Palmetto Freedom Forum. I wrote about it before. It bears repeating.
Five major GOP candidates stood nakedly on the stage, taking deep questions about constitutional principles—without a podium or a reporter in sight—for 20 minutes.
Strong, new, and newsworthy commitments emerged from almost all of the candidates on social issues, aka “civil rights.”
For the first time, presidential candidates were asked: Does the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection apply to unborn human beings, and if so, doesn’t Congress have express constitutional authority to enforce this guarantee?
(Herman Cain told me afterward that this was the one question that surprised him.)
Michele Bachmann opened ground on the life issue by saying “yes,” while Mitt Romney showed he understood George’s question by saying he would decline to create a “constitutional crisis” over the issue by confronting the court and instead would pledge to appoint justices who would interpret the Constitution correctly.
Ron Paul retreated to his Maginot Line of “states rights.” Murder, he points out, is a state issue and so should abortion be. Well, yes, pointed out George, unless and until some state decides to deprive a whole class of human beings of the protection of their lives, in which case the 14th Amendment expressly authorizes Congress (not the courts) to step in to remedy this gross violation of civil rights.
Also newsworthy: For the first time, all the major contenders (except Texas Gov. Rick Perry) have pledged to nominate a vice presidential candidate who supports life and marriage. Romney at first left himself some wiggle room, but in the end firmly committed to a pro-life, pro-marriage veep: “These are important enough issues that the person I select would share my views,” he promised.
And for the first time, major presidential candidates committed to protecting people and religious organizations in danger of being excluded from the public square because they do not support gay marriage or gay adoption.
That was the one and only such forum, which established the model for what they all should be. The debates since then have reverted to the standard model of panelist firing line and candidate stump speech answers.
What good came out of this debate? I really liked the ideas of how to get the government out of its chokehold on public education and open the system to school choice, voucher, and the primacy of parental involvement in their child’s education. The healthcare issue was crystallized most sharply when Herman Cain recounted his personal drama of cancer diagnosis and swift lifesaving treatment because he had the option to pursue the treatment he needed quickly when doctors gave him a 30 percent survival chance. Under Obamacare, he said, he would likely not have survived the bureaucratic process.
This is personal at this point, having just gone through this in my family. But my family has gone through several things that are bell ringers in these presidential debates, and the values we hold about human rights and dignity are squarely at the center of the debate.
Interestingly, Ron Paul consistently polls a strong third place in this race so far, and someone made the point that in the last election campaign, he did the same and the two frontrunners then were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, and they fairly quickly fell away.
So what does this mean? It’s early, and there’s a lot yet to happen.