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Thursday, November 29, 2007


Republican debate and the (two) trillion-dollar question

I forced myself to watch the Republican "debate" last night ("debate" in quotes because apart from false, forced distinctions, there were and are few if any real differences between the candidates, and nothing that remotely qualified as a "debate"). The most obvious thing to say about it, which I haven't heard or read anyone (in the corporate media) say, is how phony the whole "YouTube" concept was. Sure, "real people" got to ask questions, but they were no more in control of the evening than were the people at Hillary Clinton events asking planted questions. It certainly wasn't YouTubers who decided that the first four questions (Transcript Part 1 and 2) would be on illegal immigration, or that we'd have multiple other questions on gun control and abortion and virtually nothing on Iraq (where the two questions were the somewhat bizarre - mostly for the answers - "how can the U.S. repair its image with Muslims" and "who will pledge to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq?" - are those really the questions most Americans are asking?)

But of all the things that struck me, and there were plenty (and I refer you to WIIIAI for the quick summary), the biggest was the two (plus) trillion-dollar question - the (conservatively) projected cost of the war in Iraq. There were multiple questions about the federal deficit, government spending, taxes, and such. In all the questions, and all the answers, only Ron Paul (with a claim that "our foreign policy is costing us a trillion dollars", which I'm not sure was his reasonably accurate citing of the entire defense [sic] budget for just one year, or an understatement of the total projected cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) noted the largest part of the problem. John McCain was on, as he often is, about spending "$3 million to study the DNA of bears" and later on about "$1 million for a Woodstock museum" but that fact that the so-called "war on terror" is costing not a thousand times (that would be 3 billion) but a million times more ($3 trillion by my estimate) didn't enter his brain. Asked (by random YouTuber Grover Norquist) if they would sign a pledge not to raise taxes, most would, but Duncan Hunter of all people said he wouldn't actually pledge to do so because "you could have an emergency, a time of war, and I think it would be wrong [to pledge not to raise taxes]." Um, Duncan, have you noticed that this is a time of war, a war costing trillions of dollars and running up the federal deficit like it's nobody's business? If not now, when exactly?

When asked where we're going to get the trillions of dollars needed to repair crumbling infrastructure in the U.S., the answers were bizarre. Giuliani talked about "long-term investment" but then immediately asserted that "Most of the time when we're spending money, as Senator Thompson said, we're spending the next generation's money and we shouldn't be doing that. Fiscal conservatism is about preventing that." Which may sound fine, but it's hardly going to get infrastructure rebuilt. Ron Paul, who did mention the war ("We as Americans are taxed to blow up the bridges overseas. We're taxed to go over and rebuild the bridges overseas while our bridges are falling down in this country.") then got just as bizarre as Giuliani - "We just need to take care of ourselves and get the government out of our lives and off our back and out of our wallets." So...what, exactly? Each of us should build our own bridges? Should the government be building bridges and other infrastructure or not, Congressman?

I've just scratched the surface on this one issue. But, with the exception of the otherwise deplorable Ron Paul, the complete and utter disconnect between deficit, taxes, failing infrastructure, and the spending on war, was simply astonishing. And, with the "YouTubers ask the questions, no reporter actually asks a follow-up or tries to pin down such logical inconsistencies" format (not that the real reporters do such a great job), no way to actually force someone to answer such a question. Of course, it's quite likely that someone did ask such a question ("How can you oppose raising taxes when we're spending trillions on the war and running up the deficit, and how can you claim that cutting a few million dollars here or there has anything to do with reducing the deficit in the face of the war spending"), but with CNN and not YouTubers in control, that question ended up on the cutting room floor, no doubt discarded (as I read they were) as a "Democratic 'gotcha' question."

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