Reagan Presidential Library Debate

A few troubling (to me) themes that emerged from tonight’s debate:

The Magical Presidency – Worse than the imperial presidency, this is the idea that a president can (and should be able to) accomplish anything he wants. Only Ron Paul seems concerned about this model. The others are happy to imagine that it’s already a reality, meaning they can blame Obama for everything (without attention to context) while simultaneously assuring voters that they’ll magically fix everything. This model is unsustainable in the long run.

All Regulations Are Bad – Bachmann want to eliminate all regulation that limits energy production. Can she really mean that? It would mean no environmental regulation, no zoning requirements to protect nearby residents, no health or safety protections for workers, and the list could go on. Surely she and the candidates who agreed with her can’t mean that, that energy production is such a priority that it should trump every other human concern. But that’s what she and others repeatedly argued.

The Federal Government Is Always The Worst (Except When It’s Not) – It has become a creed of Republican politics that the federal government is always worse than local and state governments. But in almost the same breath candidates called for more federal agents at the border, more money for disaster relief, Pell Grants for K-12, etc. It’s one thing to argue, like Goldwater and other conservatives have, that the federal government should not be involved in certain areas. It’s another to imply that all government employees are incompetent or malicious just because they work for the federal government, and then turn around and demand more federal involvement on your pet issue.

We Can’t Talk About Difficult Issues Until They Are Made Simple – Only when the border is “secure” – with some combination of a fence, massive troop presence, hi-tech equipment, predator drones, more stringent punishment on businesses who employ illegal aliens, laws against providing illegal aliens with even life-saving medicine, etc. – can we even talk about what to do about the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country now. Because, you know, they can just wait, unaffected by the rest of that stuff. And on the climate change, best not to act until 100% of scientists believe the issues is “settled.” Heck, we might as well wait until every 2nd grader believes it too, just to be safe. Don’t want to risk our economy, after all.


Surprising internal party fissure revealed tonight:

“Restructuring” the Economy – Simply contrast Romney’s jobs proposal with Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Romney repeatedly argued that he was uniquely qualified to “restructure” our economy. Cain, Paul, and others don’t think anyone is that qualified and would rather extract government from “picking winners and losers” as Cain put it.


Questions I’m left with:

How Exactly Are We Going To Create Jobs? – So far, these seem to be the Republican principles for job creation:

  1. The government can’t create jobs. Only the private sector can do that. (Unless we elect one of them as president.)
  2. Giving corporations more money (in the form of tax cuts) will lead them to create more jobs. Giving corporations more money (in the form of cheap loans brought about by an increase in the money supply) will prevent them from creating more jobs.
  3. Cutting corporate taxes to zero will encourage companies that couldn’t be profitable by hiring American workers to bring those jobs back.

That last principle at least has the benefit of being consistently applied. Though I think it fails a simple economic test. For example, a Company increases its net revenue by X dollars by employing foreign workers, this making the difference between a profit and a loss. If we lower the taxes on the Company, increasing its net profit by Y dollars, how does that provide an incentive to trade the foreign workers for American workers, thus sacrificing X dollars of its net profit? I can imagine ways in which lowering corporate taxes might be good for the American economy, but this jobs claim doesn’t make sense. It just sounds as though the Republicans are attaching their ideological preference (low or no corporate taxes) to the current buzz topic (job creation).

Why Is Newt Gingrich Here? – I get that attacking the moderators is his thing. But today’s attack on them for trying to get the candidates to flesh out their differences? Does he not understand the premise of a debate? This wasn’t the “Republican Presidential Candidates’ Forum for Holding Hands While Bashing President Obama.” It’s a debate meant to help Republican voters decide which candidate to choose as your nominee. If you want to refrain from attaching your fellow Republicans, that’s one strategy and your business. But to pretend that the moderators have suddenly sprung this debate on you is ridiculous.

(To answer my own question: He’s not actually here because he’s running for president. There’s no way he can win this nomination. But he’s not doing anything else, he’s got enough money to keep touring around the country giving speeches, and he wants to remain relevant. So he’s “running for president” and will keep appearing at debates as long as they let him. At least Cain, Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman, though long shots, are still trying.)

One Response to Reagan Presidential Library Debate
  1. Seth
    September 13, 2011 | 7:43 pm

    You captured so many of my impressions on the debate. Although, I would point out that in the past, whenever I’ve thought “Surely [fill in tea-party candidate here] can’t literally mean what they said when they stated [fill in sweeping critique of government here],” they usually meant it 🙂

    I also did think Newt went for the easy applause my criticizing the moderator’s attempt at distinction. But like you say, this is a DEBATE. It’s the moderator’s job to highlight the differences so that voters can make a selection for the primaries.