Debating at the Cat’s Table

Michael Ondaatje’s eponymous 2011 novel grants romance and intrigue to the lowliest dining area on a ship—The Cat’s Table. There was absolutely no romance and not much intrigue in the junior league debate Thursday night. And the Friday newspapers were filled with the other debate, which had a bit more drama at least.

For contrast, I’ll commentate on the seven lower-tier candidates. I so wanted to get snarky with any the 17 Republicans running for president, but they didn’t earn it. Oh, they said plenty that was evil. And of course my liberal leaning colors my viewing of all politics. I was intent on typing notes for this column, or I would have yelled at the TV. A lot. My wife and I (and maybe my doctor) thank Darwyn for providing me this outlet!

The Cat’s Table moderators were themselves Fox News second fiddles: Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum revealed more about themselves and their employer with the questioning: they would play a video of a citizen asking a question, and then pose their own version, tailoring the question to each candidate and toward a specific, conservative answer.

For example: “How will you get all those people on welfare to take the jobs that are out there?”

On-stage behavior? There were few surprises as the candidates stuck close to their stump positions. There were some nasty images put out there regarding Planned Parenthood and abortion: Lindsey Graham’s “harvesting organs from little babies” tops the list for me. It’s as fake and inflammatory as Sarah Palin’s “death panels” misstatements and that heavily edited video.

To no one’s surprise, everyone piled on Planned Parenthood with equal ignorance of the fact that the organization spends no federal dollars on abortion (that’s zero, none, zilch, nada, you fools).

So, while there was plenty of bullshit slung, no one did a face plant in it or even bothered to attack each other. These folks are all in the same sinking boat. I present them for you in the order of the first question that each was asked…

Rick Perry, Mr. “Oops” from the 2012 race, put on smart glasses and they worked—although his bragging about the Texas economy made those shades seem overly rosy. He was mostly about physical protection of the Mexican border, unleashing a mild zinger: Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program didn’t work; the border is still porous.

Carly Fiorina, the HP executive who was fired with a $42 million payoff after laying off 60,000 of the company’s workers, continues to claim that she understands how the world works. A CEO’s world, perhaps. Moderator MacCallum questioned Fiorina’s self-comparison to Margaret Thatcher. Good start! But Fiorina’s response was to compare herself to Hillary Clinton, and claim statesmanship based on meeting foreign leaders.

I’ll give her another paragraph here because Megyn Kelly and FOX praised her performance repeatedly following that show. I watched with them, and wonder what they saw. I saw a hard march into militarism toward the end of the debate, something that overcame other candidates as well, perhaps goaded by Lindsey Graham’s Patton-like invective, pounded out like that bird outside your bedroom window at 6 a.m., who knows only one note.

Rick Santorum sounded populist and sensible until he got down to specifics. He called for better-paying jobs at home and then promised them by bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. The idea was to employ folks who only graduated high school. But you don’t compete with China via higher wages. He said nothing outrageous, at least for him: just a 20% flat tax proposal and comparing the Supreme Court’s recent support of gay marriage to the court’s 1857 support of slavery in the infamous Dred Scott Decision. Yikes, bad enough.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, when asked to explain why he lost a Louisiana popularity poll to Hillary Clinton, explain “I’m not in it for popularity.” But just like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he got reelected. So go figure. He did have an original answer to why he turned down Medicare expansion: Washington spending shows weakness to our creditor, China. (Rand Paul did it better in the big boys’ debate: “Don’t borrow money from China to send somewhere else.” Jindal’s real message actually does reflect his own life: “Immigrants must assimilate.” It’s clear that he has done that totally.

Lindsey Graham was asked the first of many “loyalty test” questions (and I’m paraphrasing): “You worked with the Democrats and Obama on climate change. How can voters trust you?” So the litmus test is total non-cooperation with 50% or more of the country. For his part, Graham proposed new invasions and boots on the ground in the Middle East in response to every question. He rejected “oil from people who hate our guts” twice in a single 60-second speech, talked about being commander in chief once every speech, and pledged to get ’em there before they come here.

George Pataki and Jim Gilmore are both former governors, and they pitched themselves like sensible shoes: competent, if boring. The U.S. is in decline, and I want to reverse that. Each did offer one interesting moment. Pataki presented the pro-life argument that science has determined personhood at 20 weeks, so abortions after that are murder. And Gilmore had a clueless answer to “What do you tell people whose welfare you cut, who depend on it?” … “I tell them we’re growing.” Huh?

The end featured a game that went like this: In 2008, Obama said that Hillary Clinton was “likable enough.” What are your two words to describe her? Most answers, although way more than two words, were at least “two concepts.” Most.

Pataki: Divisive and with no vision at all. (and that is the short version)
Fiorina: Not trustworthy, no accomplishments.
Perry: Secretive and untrustworthy.
Santorum: Let’s try three: good at email.
Jindal: Socialism and government dependent.
Graham: Not the change we need at the time we need it.
Gilmore: Professional politician that can’t be trusted.

For my next post, I’ll see if there are any aspects of the main debate that the professional press missed.

Political Survivor #14

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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