flat earth society holds successful meeting

Forgive me, but I have a nasty case of cognitive dissonance tonight.

Just watched the latest – and easily the best – Republican debate.

It was all about the economy, which gave it focus. Charlie Rose moderated well and Karen Tumulty from the Washington Post was damn near perfect.

The candidates sat around a table instead of standing uncomfortably at podiums. There was a pleasant looseness to the whole thing. You got the feeling real human beings were talking.

Which is pretty much what the problem was – they talked about the economy, about what’s happened in this country in the last four years, about how they’d fix it, in terms that, uhhhh, had nothing to do with any of those things.

It has never been plainer that the Republican Party at the national level exists in some sort of bubble into which reality does not intrude. I’m not talking about policy differences or critiques, or even about fundamentally different ways of viewing the world. I’m talking about making stuff up at random. I’m talking about things that don’t even qualify as talking points. I’m talking flat out weirdness.

Consider what didn’t get talked about Tuesday night: there was no talk about the plunge in demand that drives our great recession. No talk about where new jobs will come from, excepting Rick Perry promising to put 1.2 million people to work in energy.

There was a truly remarkable blaming of President Obama for, well, for everything. Obama is responsible for piling on regulations (even though he has cut them), for health care reform’s terrible effects (even though it’s not really in business yet), for doing things that failed to work while not leading, presumably at the same time.

But the candidates went far beyond Obama. Newt Gingrich railed against the government’s new, moderate advice on prostate screening. Ben Bernake appeared to be the secret villain for several candidates – and Herman Cain, god love him, said he’d look for a Federal Reserve chairman like Alan Greenspan. Everyone believed, vaguely, that the government caused the recession by over-spending and over-regulating and – in the worst howler of the night – caused the housing bubble. Everyone believed that business ‘uncertainty’ is behind the prolonging of the recession. It was like having a doctor in 2011 tell you you’re suffering from an imbalance of bodily humours right before he whips out the jar of leeches.

So who won? Romney, by being less insane. Huntsman, for being the smartest guy in the room. Santorum, who spoke directly and forcefully.

Losers? Bachmann looks thinner and thinner, in terms of having any ideas behind her. Cain may have peaked as well; some of the shallowness of his ideas started to  be obvious. As for Perry, forget about it. He was the man who wasn’t there.

(And please read Andrew Sullivan’s Vicodin assisted live blogging from the debate. He gets the absurdity down, and delivers an outstanding triple play : “Santorum just seems like a lost child from the 1950s, trying to have the campaign he dreamed about when he was ten. Cain is an egomaniac businessman with a talk show host patter and a mild wit. Gingrich is a giant, gaseous asshole.” Indeed.)

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