My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Missed Opportunities, The Dangers of Disengagement, . . . 

and the argument that George W. Bush is a TERRIBLE Republican President.

How's that for an attention grabber?

I've been thinking a lot about the Republican CNN/YouTube debate last week. And not because it was a joke--that wasn't even a surprise.

The thing that's been sticking in my craw, but which I couldn't quite find the words for, was what a horrible wasted opportunity it was for ALL the candidates, but especially for Mitt Romney.

Perhaps the most talked-about question in the whole debate was the goofy guy with the Bible asking "do you believe every word of this book?"

Now, don't get me wrong--I thought the candidates all handled the question fairly well, especially (and not surprisingly) Mike Huckabee.

The problem is that they answered the question at all.

In my opinion, the right answer would have been to say "Thankfully, and wisely, the Constitution says that "There shall be no Religious Test for public office." My candidacy is not based on my belief in the the wisdom or veracity of the Bible, but on the wisdom and role of another great document--The Constitution."

And, furthermore, the candidates should have then proceeded to chide--and with as good a humor as possible--the geniuses in the "professional journalist" class at CNN for selecting that question at all. No journalist in their right mind would ask that question directly, but CNN managed to get that question asked by hiding behind the skirt of some guy in Texas.

This was especially important for Mitt Romney, who now is on the brink of delivering the great "Mormon speech." I suspect if he had slapped the question back at the network, and done it with intelligence and wit (both of which he's quite capable of), he could have put an end to many of the questions he's hoping to address tomorrow. Remember, most of the questions about his Mormonism are coming from Lefty journalists-NOT Republican voters.

Now, I'm sure there were consultants and focus groups and internal polls for the candidates all telling them to just answer the question, and just how to answer the question. The problem is that polls aren't able to measure the unexpected. And, for some reason, for a Republican to confront the media, to challenge the biases of the "professional journalist" class, IS unexpected.

And that, in a nutshell, is the danger of disengagement. In Washington, D.C., where opinion is like cement (it hardens in time), to NOT challenge the premises behind the questions allows those premises into the public discourse, where they become cement. Eventually, the 'Conventional Wisdom' comes to accept the premise of the question as fact or truth, when they are nothing of the sort.

And once the premise becomes truth, it becomes easier to move reality in the direction the "professional journalists" want it to.

Time and time again over the last few years we've seen this play out. Nobody challenged, publicly, whether or not Valerie Plame was even a covert operative at the time of the revelation of her name. In time, it became "a fact" that she was outed by the White House.

Nobody challenged publicly the idea that FEMA was primarily responsible for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Therefore, it became "a fact" that the Bush Administration was responsible for the horrors of New Orleans. Never mind that FEMA pre-staged in Houston two days before the storm and that the local governments refused to issue the correct warnings or evacuation orders until it was too late.

Nobody challenged publicly the idea that the economy was weak. Thus, despite record highs on the Dow Jones, near-full employment, and strong inflation/wages numbers, it became "a fact" that the President's economic stewardship was poor.

And nobody publicly challenged the idea that Saddam was not affiliated in any way with terrorism and that the only reason to depose him would have been because of that. So, it became "a fact" that we attacked a country unassociated with 9/11, despite now well-documented relationships between elements of Saddam's regime and terrorist groups, and the reality that even those don't matter--the reality is that 9/11 changed the mindset. The reason to attack never should have been revenge, it was that we learned that we MUST take threats seriously, and deal with them BEFORE they become a problem.

And, when the accumulated weight of all of these "facts" hit the electorate, Republicans get thrown out of power all over the country in 2006. Karl Rove can believe what he wants about the Mark Foley scandal stopping all the GOP momentum in September '06--we should have never NEEDED that sort of momentum to get in a good position with the electorate.

Unfortunately, that leads me to look to the leadership of the Republican Party for answers as to why our side is so inept at dealing with the media premises. Specifically, I look to the President--as the highest elected official and the most public face of the Party, it is his responsibility to set the tone with which the Party answers questions like this.

But the President got elected, at least partly, on the promise that he would "change the tone" in Washington, D.C. As near as I can tell, this meant, largely, staying out of arguments. In effect, conceding certain points that could have been disputed in order to keep things pleasant for the big stuff.

Unfortunately, two of those "concessions" led directly to the structural changes that flipped the electorate towards the Democrats. First, by failing to exercise any semblance of fiscal discipline on a Republican Congress, the President gave away any claim to the loyalties of the portion of the GOP coalition that votes primarily on the basis of fiscal issues. And second, by conceding to John McCain the ground of election reform, even though he was counting on the Supreme Court to pull him out of the fire, the President signed into law the legislation that created, among other things, the 527 Committee. And we, in Colorado, have seen the effect of the 527 Committee--two straight elections bought by very rich liberals through shadowy and deceptively-named groups.

So the President made peace with Congress at the expense of the structural/electoral advantage Republicans had in 2002 and 04 (remember when all the talk was about a Republican "realignment?" Not so much anymore). Then, on top of that, on important issue after important issue, the adminstration is slow or absent from the debate until reality hardens and "facts" get skewed. Now, we look at the political landscape and see what amounts to a wasteland in 2008.

So, while I admire the man and think that President Bush has been a great President (argue that point ONLY if you can honestly tell me that on September 12th, 2001, you sincerely believed that six years would pass without another attack on American soil and that the U.S. economy would completely absorb the blow of 9/11 and recover to 6 consecutive years of strong growth), I am beginning to believe that he has been a TERRIBLE Republican President.

Luckily, the man and the office are both vastly more important than the Party.

The only thing that may pull the Republicans' bacon out of the fire is the fact that George W. Bush will not be on the ticket. Whoever ends up being the GOP nominee will have to establish new norms for debate and set a new tone for how Republicans all over the country engage in the debate.

Which is why last week was a HUGE wasted opportunity. Congratulations for all the candidates for showing up--but nobody bothered to try to articulate why it was even worth contemplating staying out of the debate two months ago. Everybody knew the questions would be biased, everybody knew CNN would be relentlessly going for a "gotcha moment"; yet, when presented with an opportunity to press CNN on why that network would go out of its way to live up to those expectations . . .

Not a one of the candidates did so.

And so, the beat goes on. Romney has to address "the Mormon question", at some point Huckabee will have to address why Christians (Conservatives) are so uncharitable to pregnant teens, and Giuliani will have to address how he plans to conduct diplomacy when he is so "mean."

I'm getting to the point where I'm ready say the first candidate who gets in a journalist's face the way Bill Clinton (over-) reacted to Chris Wallace is going to be the guy I vote for.

It matters. You can't win every fight; but you have to know what ground will be fought over, and not simply give it away.

I think Republicans are dying to have a candidate show some moxie in this regard. The first one to do it effectively could vault into the general election with overwhelming support from the base.

Now, which one will do it . . .

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