I watched the Republican debate on Fox News the other night. I don't know why presidential candidate debates draw me in as much as they do. I don't follow a ton of political news, or at least I don't think I do. I don't read Politico, I don't watch cable news on TV, I tend to be about as interested in political news as I am in business news, which is to say, I'll read stuff once in a while, especially long-form pieces that grab me (a Rolling Stone profile of Michele Bachmann, sure; a Michael Lewis book, absolutely), but the day-to-day isn't something I pay attention to. Until I see that there's going to be some kind of debate, between anyone, anywhere. Is it the live-ness of it? Is it the chance for someone to say something incredibly stupid, or, conversely, incredibly eloquent? Maybe. I mean, I'll watch baseball games live but for as many times as I've tried to DVR something to watch it later-- a playoff game, etc-- it has never happened. I have no interest once I know the world has continued on its axis after the game has finished. If something extraordinary had happened, I would have heard; since I didn't hear, nothing extraordinary happened. So why bother? Chuck Klosterman wrote a nice piece on Grantland a couple of months ago about why live is the only way sports can be watched, and I'm probably repeating some of his points here, so go there and read his piece and then you can come back.
But the debate-- yeah, where was I? I don't know why I'll take two hours to watch a debate between eight people I'm almost definitely not going to vote for. I'd read a long New York Times magazine piece a few weeks ago about Jon Huntsman to make me curious to see how he presented himself. The consensus from the handful of blogs I read afterwards was that he was the only moderate / centrist / reasonable person up there, and a moderate can't win the Republican nomination-- but none of them seemed to react the same way I did to one of the things he said. He seemed to be the only one up there who supports civil unions, and he said something like, "I believe we have a problem with equality, I think civil unions are appropriate, I'm in favor of them--" seemed sensible enough so far, and then, "but that's just what I think, people can disagree, and I understand that, I'm just telling you what I think." Wait a minute. If he's saying it's an issue of equality and he supports civil unions because he thinks there's a reason to support them-- doesn't it completely undercut that support to say that it's fine, I believe it, but you don't have to, you can believe whatever you want? At least Rick Santorum draws a line in the sand-- "I'm pro-life, it's a moral issue, there should be no exceptions, let's criminally prosecute doctors who perform abortions, etc etc etc." And maybe Huntsman is merely acknowledging the reality that he can't get the nomination if he loses the vote of anyone who doesn't support civil unions-- but it makes the whole exercise seem sort of pointless, not that a candidate debate isn't pointless for twelve other reasons, I guess.
Mitt Romney pulled the same "I can't admit to having a centrist position on anything" move with health care, basically saying that, sure, his Massachusetts plan looked like Obamacare, and people should have to have a health care plan if they can afford one, *but that's just what worked for Massachusetts, and other states should be able to decide what works for them.* Excuse me now-- did I miss a memo where illness is different in Massachusetts than in other states? People go to hospitals in Massachusetts but nowhere else? Here's what I don't get about the debate over mandates in health care, and forcing people to have some sort of health insurance-- public, private, whatever, this is different from a government health care debate-- if you are sick-- and everyone will get sick eventually-- you go to a hospital and you will be treated. In an emergency, you will be treated. And that money will come out of taxpayer money. Why is some Medicaid-like system, that poor people qualify for anyway, not just considered the baseline for everyone, and taxes charged appropriately to cover it for anyone above the Medicaid qualification level? Michele Bachmann was saying absurd things about how government can't force people to pay for a good or service. Um, we don't let people opt out of garbage pickup and get their tax money back? I can't call the government and say I don't want police or fire protection, so send me back some taxes. Why is health care different, at an emergency level? Why is it OK to incentivize people not to see doctors and wait until they have enough of an emergency that they need to go to a public ER and be treated there? We require car insurance if you want to drive a car-- I don't get what is fundamentally terrible about requiring health insurance if you can afford it, since we're providing it for people who can't anyway. I understand there are practical implications-- cost, capacity of doctors, etc, public vs. private plans-- but in principle, why is this so objectionable to every candidate who was on the stage?
Watching the debate can't possibly make anyone less cynical about politics than they already should be-- there was no intellectual honesty, there was pandering and rehearsed talking points and a lot of nonsense that either these candidates don't actually believe, or they do, which is the scarier option. None of them explained how a President can create jobs, even though they all said they would-- and instantly! Not that this is a new thing for a presidential candidate to say, but, still, I don't know. I don't know why I watched. Same reason people watch car racing, I guess.