As my favorite political blogger, Charlie Pierce, would say, last night was the 10,575,629th, and last, debate of this primary season. There were no fireworks or confetti cannons to celebrate the event, though for those of us who have followed this damnable process since its outset, there very well should have been. It has been, to repurpose an oft-used Iraq War descriptor, a long slog. Even armchair punditry has become a horrible reality in the new, drawn-out campaign season that took shape in 2008 but has reached a sort of marathon perfection this year. How long can it all go on? What’s happening here? Can these people really be saying what I think they’re saying?
All these questions kept returning to my head as I watched last night’s debate. Especially the last one. Some of the rhetoric, especially that which got the greatest applause, seemed to be crafted for a particular subset of Republican voters that, while significant in primaries, represents a small minority of the American populace, one whose Neanderthal worldview will not capture a great deal of votes outside its own, weird bloc come November.
A lot of the particularly noteworthy stuff has been largely overlooked here on the morning after. Take Newt Gingrich, who referred to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the country’s “dictator.” No doubt Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would take some issue with that, were he the type to watch American presidential primary debates, or take anything Newt Gingrich says seriously, something even people as warped as the ayatollah are loathe to do — which should tell you something about Gingrich’s supporters. Speaking of taking what others have to say seriously, not long after erroneously referring to Ahmadinejad as Iran’s dictator, Gingrich said that Iran’s president was a man who disbelieved in the Holocaust and promised to wipe Israel off the map. He followed this with, “I’m inclined to believe dictators.”
So, Speaker Gingrich, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says there was no Holocaust, you believe him?
More important than the verbal slip-ups, though, was the wanton belligerence, with Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney all essentially swearing to do to Iran what Ahmadinejad promised to do to Israel. Rep. Ron Paul served, as he sometimes does, as the lifeline leading back up the rabbit hole and into reality. His explanation that there was no evidence that Iran was actually building a nuclear weapon was greeted with thunderous boos from the typically amped up audience. (Side note: In their defense, the audience didn’t, say, boo an active-duty soldier or applaud the early demise of someone with no health coverage.)
In his own “Hey, wouldn’t yet another war in the Middle East be a fine idea?” moment, Romney noted that he would take military action against Iran if they got the bomb, and doubled-down on this by adding that, because of this threat, they won’t get one. But, if Obama is re-elected, an Iranian nuclear weapon can’t be far behind. It was reminiscent of one of the foulest moments of the 2004 campaign season, when Vice President Dick Cheney said that if Sen. John Kerry were elected president the chance was good that “we’ll get hit again.”
But, fear works. Keeping the masses cowed and afraid is a long-standing conservative election tactic, whether it be fear of hippies, liberals, commies, terrorists, welfare queens, border-crossing Mexicans, blacks wanting to vote, women wanting to vote, or whatever the bogeyman du jour may be.
In his anti-war defense, Paul took aim at the Bush doctrine of preventive war, noting that “preventive war is aggressive war.” He did not go on to the logical conclusion, which is that aggressive war is a crime against humanity, and the worst one at that. At the war crimes trial in Nuremberg after World War II, the prosecution noted that a war of aggression “is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” So, Dr. Paul, when can we expect you to support dragging former President Bush in chains to The Hague?
At least when it comes to women serving in the military, the rat pack seems to have ameliorated its somewhat 19th century views. Even Newt Gingrich allowed that women could serve on the front lines, and back when he was Speaker he said, “If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections.”
Well, that’s the last of it anyway. The last debate before this Tuesday, when Arizona and Michigan vote. Arizona still seems like solid Romney territory, though Michigan, where Romney’s father served as governor, looks like a dead-heat between Romney and Santorum, with Gingrich waiting in the wings for Super Tuesday, March 6, when Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and several other places where his race-baiting campaign can depend on getting a few votes, all step into the voting booth. By March 8 or 9, we ought to be down to three candidates. Or maybe not. Gingrich’s titanic ego may not let him leave the race, and Santorum’s so used to a shoestring budget and so convinced he’s doing God’s work that he can carry on till the convention. Either way, it should be a hell of a ride to Tampa.