- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
For political junkies, the mere thought of it gets us all to tingling. It’s the equivalent of the day pitchers and catchers show up at spring training or the kick off of the Hall of Fame game for football fans. (For U.S. football fans, that is. For soccer fans, it’s the equivalent of handing out the first bribes of the season to a FIFA official.) It’s a new beginning.
It’s the first real debate of the presidential campaign season and it was scheduled to take place last night in New Hampshire. Dutifully, I settled into the dent in my couch made the night before while gleefully watching the self-destruction of LeBron James, and I waited for the fireworks to begin.
Unfortunately, I must have had the channel wrong because what I saw on CNN was something that looked like an elimination round for the Stepford version of "America’s Got Talent." A combination of the vaguely deranged and the semi-robotic moving their lips but apparently speaking in sounds only Republicans can hear.
I squinted and leaned closer to the screen looking for some semblance of presidential candidates but this group look like they were roughly up to competing for the job of Deputy U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
Here we have a country that is in the midst of a protracted economic calamity, precious little is going right, the current president may be the last holder of that office ever to be referred to as "the most powerful man in the world" and these seven non-entities were the best America’s opposition party could come up with?
Pizza executive Herman Cain? A man who could barely string three words together and yet managed to reveal volumes about how little he knows or understands about domestic or foreign policy? Governor Tim Polenta … a big, steaming plate of bland mush? Ron Paul? America’s crazy uncle who looked like he wandered into the wrong bingo game? Mitt Romney? A man whose name is Mitt? The man most likely to become America’s first animatronic president? Newt Gingrich? The unsightly piece of spinach on the big fake smile of Republican politics? Michele Bachmann? Who indicated proudly that she had had 23 foster children? 23 foster children? Was she auditioning to become the first human collector to have an episode of "Hoarders" devoted to her? And Rick Santorum? Mr. "Man on Dog?" Mr. "Intelligent Design?" The guy who tried to blame the Hurricane Katrina disaster on its victims?
Where do they stand? They’re against big government … except when it comes to women’s reproductive rights in which case they feel the government should regulate what women do with their internal organs. They feel government is incompetent … except apparently the military to whom all but Ron Paul would defer on most big issues ranging from how to handle Afghanistan to how to manage the basic civil rights of citizens who happen to be in the military. Muslims, for the most part, make them uncomfortable but they are not for deporting them immediately. Or was that immigrants? Well, basically they don’t much like either group. They believe Obama has it wrong on the economy and that the way back to growth is through a lower deficit and lower taxes. The impossible math of that aside, apparently they think the main structural problem facing the U.S. economy is the structure of the U.S. government and that other competitive factors … like, say, the comparative advantages of the rest of the world don’t really figure in the equation.
Of course, I oversimplify. They had differences of views. And apparently the commentators were all very impressed that they didn’t fall down like Shania Twain at the CMT Awards. But I have to admit, I came away pretty disappointed. At least when the Mavs-Heat game slowed down, I was able to switch to watch the Tony’s. I mean try as these G.O.P. wannabes might to tap dance around substance, facts, or the substantial reasons why each of them would fare badly against President Obama, they really couldn’t hold a candle to the amazing Norbert Leo Butz or spectacular Sutton Foster. The only thing the two telecasts had in common was that the acknowledged big winner of each was Mormon. But as you might have gathered, I’d only actually pay to see one of those. (Hint: It’s the one where you actually get to see a live performance.)