Along with practically everybody else, I have been somewhat fixated on the Republican presidential contenders. The predominant catalyst for this widespread interest (aside from the hype-generating political media, which is trying to compete with an American Idol culture) is, of course, the economy, appearing as it is to be caught in an undertow of the present administrations own making.
The numbers sketch a pretty dismal image; unemployment remains over 9%; growth continues to crawl along well short of the post-war 3.4% baseline; home prices continue to decline; gasoline prices crawl ever higher.
The only “good” news out there is that housing and retail sales numbers are not quite as abysmal as predicted.
Toss in the $14 trillion debt (brought on largely by policies which, though billed as economic life preservers, ended up having the same effect on the economy that tossing a sandbag to a floundering swimmer would have on his buoyancy) and the looming spectre of taxes and inflation, and the public is left anxiously looking about for an alternative.
And so, eyes were cast on the first official GOP presidential debate Monday in (where else?) New Hampshire.
As far as the debate itself, it was heartening to see the increased willingness to finally discuss the issue of entitlements, too long considered sacrosanct despite the economic disaster they indicate. The debate’s format left little room for serious discussion of the problem, but the discussion is needed, and it would do both the candidates, and the country, a great service to use this election year as an opportunity to illustrate the harsh realities surrounding these programs, and explore solutions to alleviate the problems.
It was less heartening to note the regrettable lack of discussion on foreign policy, inarguably the president’s primary responsibility. Next time, maybe.
Now as for the candidates:
Monday’s debate cemented Mitt Romney’s position as front-runner. For much of the debate he looked, spoke and acted presidential, and espoused a conservative agenda. That said, he was not challenged in any meaningful way, even when the CNN moderator tried repeatedly to get Gov. Pawlenty to renew his attack on what he termed “Obamneycare” the previous day.
Romneycare will continue to be the albatross around the neck of the former Massachusetts governor, unless he quite emphatically concedes its failure. He is correct in characterizing it as a state issue, subject, quite properly, to experimentation by the states, but until he admits his experiment failed (which he did come a little closer to doing), he will be hopelessly tethered to it.
This debate should have been former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s golden opportunity to stand out, one he unfortunately missed. Pawlenty has some admirable strengths, not the least of which is an outstanding economic platform released last week, one that hearkened fond memories of Jack Kemp. He has a stellar conservative record on all fronts, and proven mettle, evidenced, for instance, by campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa, of all places. But he needs to effectively communicate this, and differentiate himself from the other candidates, particularly Romney.
The brightest star in Monday night’s constellation was Michelle Bachman. The Minnesota Congresswoman’s performance Monday moved her up into the top tier, at least for now. She was well spoken, demonstrated a good grasp of the issues, and her decision to announce her candidacy at the debate was political brilliance. She is succeeding in the first thing she had to do, which was to prove that she is not Sarah Palin. She needs to capitalize on this strongly, and in such a way as to convince voters that her lack of governmental executive experience is not an issue – that will be a tough sell, but her intelligence and principled conservatism will continue to add to her appeal.
As for the rest: Gingrich is smart as ever, but past his prime, and saddled with too much baggage; Santorum holds a lot of appeal for conservatives, and is very capable, but needs a supernova moment; Cain’s lack of political experience, however endearing to populists, will be increasingly problematic for him. Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul.
Bottom line, what is most needed for one of these candidates to win the nomination is to convince the Republican electorate, quite profoundly, of their worthiness to lead this nation out of the abyss. Someone needs to come out with a speech worthy of Henry V, one that would make you as proud to put your mark beside their name as if you had fought on St. Crispin’s Day.
We will be eagerly waiting.