The Embarrassing Republican Debate

The top Republican Presidential candidates

I’m starting to wonder if one of the main problems in American politics is that the electorate is so tied up in news entertainment that they don’t know what actual news and actual politics look like. American politics don’t seem to be about the actual issues, but rather about flag-waving, ideological rhetoric, and sound bites.

The October Republican debate highlighted the problem to the degree that it almost felt like a parody.

The entertainment

The entertainment aspect was provided by the CNBC “moderators”. I found myself deeply embarrassed for them. The questions they asked weren’t designed to differentiate the candidates’ policies, but rather to mock them and cause dissent.

Trump was asked, “Is this the comic book version of a presidential campaign?” Gee, the answer to that question will help everyone decide who should be the Republican nominee.

Kasich was asked, “You said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?” Because to the moderators, the issue isn’t the policies themselves, but rather to see if they can get the candidates insulting each other directly.

The moderators felt the need to point out to Bush, “Governor, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made.” How does a moderator think that is even close to something reasonable for them to say?

It just went on and on, like a bad burrito.

They asked Huckabee whether Donald Trump had the moral authority to unite the country…. Because one candidate smearing another candidate makes great TV.

One of the moderators spent a minute talking about Hewlett-Packard’s stock price before asking Fiorina why someone who was fired by HP’s board should be hired as President. It felt like they actually gave Fiorina less time to answer than it took in the lead-up to the question. Perhaps to CNBC, the key requirement of running a country is the same as managing the price of a stock, so the question’s more important than the answer? I don’t know.

The whole thing just made me cringe. What the heck were the moderators thinking? I’m really into investing, but the debate made me really not want to watch CNBC.

The ideological rhetoric

The candidates were much more reasonable than the moderators, but the ideological rhetoric was still nauseating.

The tired refrain that “cutting taxes will cause the economy to surge enough to make up for lost tax revenue” came up several times. This statement is true at some tax levels (like, if there was 100% tax, people would pay more tax if the tax rate was cut 50%) and not true at some levels (if tax is at 5%, and you cut it to 0%, you will obviously lose tax revenue). Most economists believe at the current tax levels, cutting taxes will reduce government revenues. But I’m guessing having any nuance of thought on this issue excludes you from being a Republican presidential candidate, so you just have to act like the “tax cuts pay for themselves” statement is an absolute truth.

The whiny “left-wing mainstream media” bias came up again several times. This one is really amusing to me, because pretty well all the mainstream media companies are owned by billionaires and managed by millionaires, both of which are far more likely to be right wing than left wing.

So to believe in this left-wing bias, you have to think that all these Republican-supporting owners and managers are completely out of their depth trying to control their ravening hoards of left-win peon reporters, unable to convince them to tell an unbiased story, powerless to change their messaging. At the same time you also have to believe–because of your faith in the free market–that all these billionaires and millionaires became that way because of their superiority to everyone else. I don’t know how you deal with that cognitive dissonance, that these same people are both gods and imbeciles.

I suppose in the end, it’s just convenient for the right wing to pretend the media has a left wing bias, so that they can howl about it when they’re called out on some stupid things they say. And some people will actually believe them.

Finally, the random pot shots at the Democratic party and Clinton in particular made me laugh. The Republicans occasionally talked about the problems in the Democratic platform, but mostly seemed to want to communicate that Clinton is the boogeyman. The highlight for me was when Cruz accused the Democrats of having a debate without substance.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that this debate was set up by the moderators as entertainment, rather than a serious discussion about policy. To their credit, at times, the candidates did try to steer some of the questions towards actual issues. But I’d guess that policy discussions made up less than 20% of the content of the debate. And even the policy issues weren’t handled that well. I’d guess that only people who already supported the Republicans would be convinced by any of the content in this debate.

The interesting questions for me are, “Do the American people realize that this debate was embarrassing, and that coverage of politics in the USA is deeply inferior to that in Canada and Britain?” I’m guessing that the answer was “yes” to the first, and “no” to the second.

But maybe the former is enough. Even if most Americans don’t recognize the degree to which their political coverage is broken, younger generations are starting to recognize how unscientific and nonsensical the current Republican platform is. As these young people grow in number and the elderly shrink, I think the Republicans will be forced to shift away from ideology towards more moderate, reasoned platforms. And I think that would be a good thing, for Americans, the country, and the rest of the world.

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