There were plenty of TV-worthy moments in the Republican presidential debate on Fox News Thursday, but there were plenty that weren’t.
The awkward, 10-minute lead-in as the moderators awkwardly commented on the stage, the audience, the logistics. Megyn Kelly’s green-lighting of a Facebook question about whether any of the candidates had a “word from God.” Chris Wallace taking us back to 1960s “Dragnet” by saying the crowd was “hepped up.”
But there were a few serious moments as well, and working on the theory that most of the Internet will chew on the candy, let’s focus on the meat and potatoes, shall we? Herewith, the five actually substantive moments from the GOP debate:
1. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the new front in the personhood debate. Ever since Roe v. Wade, pro-life forces have sought to overturn the decision by urging the appointment of like-minded judges to the Supreme Court. But in recent years, a new movement has urged the passage of so-called “personhood” amendments, to specify in the state and federal constitutions that fetuses are people and thus entitled to rights.
But Huckabee, saying he wants to go bigger and bolder than before, said pro-lifers should forget the amendments and simply declare that (presumably viable-outside-the-womb) fetuses are people right now, and enjoy protections under the Fifth (due process) and 14th (equal protection) Amendments. It’s highly questionable legally, given the court’s precedent, but don’t tell that to Huckabee.
2. Ohio Gov. John Kasich missed a chance to give a real answer to a legitimate question about religion in politics long before Kelly allowed a silly, Facebook-generated query at the end. She quoted Kasich saying St. Peter would greet people in heaven by asking what they’d done for the poor, not what they’d done to shrink government.
Instead of embracing the comment, Kasich explained how his state had used an expanded Medicaid program to treat mentally ill people and drug addicts in prison.
Too bad. Because now we’re wondering why mentally ill people and drug addicts are being warehoused in prison in Ohio (and not, say, treatment centers). And we skip out on the fact that — based entirely on the historical record — Jesus is more interested in what his followers have done to help the poor than anything having to do with government service. It would have been quite refreshing for Kasich to say, “Well, these other guys always quote the Bible, and so I read it, and damn if we’re not supposed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, take care of widows and orphans and love everybody the way we love ourselves!” Teachable moment, lost.
3. The NSA standoff between U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It was a classic libertarian versus conservative clash. Paul argued against the warrantless bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency, while Christie touted his experience as the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, fighting terror after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I want to collect more records from terrorists and fewer records from innocent people,” Paul said.
“That’s a completely ridiculous answer,” Christie shot back. “How are you supposed to know?”
Now, that’s a ridiculous answer! If the government must violate your privacy rights and read your email metadata to ensure you’re innocent, privacy rights mean nothing at all. And while the crowd seemed to cheer Christie’s reply, it was actually Paul who had the moral and constitutional high ground.
How are you supposed to know? Try getting a warrant, from a judge (which requires probable cause!) the eye doctor Paul explained to the former U.S. attorney Christie.
A warrant. How novel.
4. Donald Trump and single payer. Apparently, nobody told Trump that you’re not supposed to say that single-payer health care works. Because Trump said exactly that, citing Canada and Scotland as examples. (He could have continued to include most industrialized nations in the world, in fact.)
But that raises another uncomfortable question: If single-payer health care works, why doesn’t America try it? Trump seemed unwilling to go there, mentioning instead the notion of removing regulations that prevent insurance companies from selling across state lines.
Instead, Paul spoke up to remind Trump that the Republican Party had spent most of the last decade fighting against single-payer, as if that proves anything. Trump dismissed him with a parry line and everybody laughed.
But single-payer does work, just as Trump said. Sadly, President Barack Obama didn’t even consider the concept when he authored his health care plan. (Also, could somebody please explain to Paul the difference between single-payer and the Affordable Care Act?) Currently, only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is talking about it. More candidates should be made to answer that question. Looking at you, Hillary Clinton.
5. Trump and bankruptcy. To hear Donald Trump talk about the virtues of declaring bankruptcy (i.e. legally screwing those who have loaned money to you) was priceless! He schooled moderator Chris Wallace on the specifics, telling him that he didn’t default on babies, but “killers.” (How come nobody touts Trump’s business acumen when he accurately describes some of capitalism’s leading men?) Why, Trump seemed to imply, taking advantage of bankruptcy laws was akin to availing himself of free speech rights to defend the poor and dispossessed!
Only, if Trump was president and tried this on the “killers” in China who have loaned America so much, we’re not talking bankruptcy. We’re talking international debt repudiation, and the economic consequences that would entail. And that’s a pretty radical suggestion for any capitalist, let alone a presidential candidate, to make.