Rules for the Republican Debate Drinking Game:
Whenever someone says "terror", "terrorism", or invokes 9/11, Emily drinks.
Whenever someone mentions God, "the creator", or "the almighty", Bradley drinks.
When Rudy Giuliani does that creepy thing with his eyes-- you know, makes them wider to emphasize the point he's making?-- it's a social.
So obviously, Emily and I watched the debates last night. There were no clear winners from what we could see. Only two losers-- Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton. This was supposed to be their opportunity to remind voters of their electability and vision for this country, a pre-New Hampshire Primary chance to reclaim the top positions in their respective fields. Didn't happen, though.
In Romney's defense, he only seemed to get agitated when, like, practically everyone started piling on him. On the other hand, he must have expected to get piled on-- he had the best showing of any of the viable candidates in Iowa, after all. Yet he still seemed oddly surprised-- pissed off and surly, too. At one point, I could swear he was about to tell John McCain to fuck off, and were it not for the Mormon thing, maybe he would have. This should have been the debate where everyone picked on Romney, and Romney calmly and pleasantly explained why they were wrong. Instead, Romney opted to act like a sullen teenager. Probably not the best strategery, to employ a fake Bushism.
Hillary Clinton started out well, and for a moment I was a little worried for Obama. "Oh shit," I thought, "she's clearly prepared and is demonstrating an enviable intellect while remaining gracious and charming. If she keeps this up, she's not only going to win, she's going to deserve to win." As I've mentioned before, I don't like the idea of anyone who voted for the attack and occupation of Iraq sitting in the White House, so you can understand my concern. Luckily, she couldn't keep it up-- although she might have if things had gone according to the script she'd obviously written in her head. I think she believed that, like the Republican debate, the Democratic debate was going to be about attacking one guy. But John Edwards-- bless his goofy populist heart-- wasn't going to let that happen:
"We [Edwards and Obama] have a fundamental difference about the way you bring about change. But both of us are powerful voices for change. And if I might add, we finished first and second in the Iowa caucus, I think in part as a result of that. Now, what I would say is this: Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack. That's exactly what happens... I didn't hear these kinds of attacks when she was ahead."
Oh, snap. Remember that scene in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, where Large Marge's face just sort of explodes in spectacular Claymation awesomeness? That was pretty much what happened to Senator Clinton, except a little more dramatic.
Edwards came to Obama's support. Rather than just promote his own political interests, Edwards promoted Obama's record and attacked Clinton for her own negativity and role as an agent of "the status quo." It was the highlight of the evening, no question, and it probably turned a whole lot of us who were on the fence about him into big Edwards fans. I'm stll not going to vote for Edwards-- because I honestly prefer most of Obama's positions and plans to his-- but I could certainly get behind him as a vice president. Or Attorney General. Or Supreme Court Justice. Whatever.
Obama, for his part, did what he needed to do and kept his head above water, succeeding where Romney failed. But still-- Edwards was the hero last night, no question.
Getting back to the Republicans for a second, Emily observed last night that, unlike most of his opponents, Huckabee really seems to believe everything he says. "He's kind of an idealist," she pointed out, and I agree-- that's what's both kinda admirable and deeply terrifying about him. His arguments aren't about self-interest (like Giuliani, Thompson, or Romney's); he genuinely believes that he can make the world a better place. In a smarter or more compassionate man, such conviction would be admirable. For someone who wants to quarantine gay people and thinks women should be their husband's servants... well, not so much.
Similarly, I've lately been struck by the fact that Ron Paul is a man of convictions. Crazy, fucked-up, hateful convictions that would destroy our country given the opportunity, but convictions nonetheless.
My big revelation last night, though, was that if a Republican absolutely had to win (and please dear God, let this never be the case), I think I would want that Republican to be either Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee. Don't get me wrong--they're both God-awful. But their primary agenda is to destroy America; their opponents want to destroy the world. Paul and Huckabee would strip rights and opportunities from American citizens; American citizens would then, presumably, fight to have those rights and opportunities restored (of course, people are often lazy, short-sighted, hateful, apathetic, but as a nation I don't think we're going to allow anyone to force sick people into concentraton camps or strip away a woman's right to control her own body-- not for long, anyway); Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson are all the next generation of neocon. They are to the PNAC crowd what the PNAC crowd was to the Reagan Revolution-- a diluted, dumber version of an idea that wasn't that smart to begin with. Put another way-- I think conservatives like Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson would be perfectly happy to use nuclear weapons in order to enforce free trade across the globe. They're that dumb, and that lacking in imagination and empathy. And the American people, I fear, might allow them to get away with it-- by now, we should have risen up and forced Bush and Cheney out for the slaughter they've committed in Iraq, but we haven't. The closest we've come to demanding accountability from this crowd was after Hurricane Katrina. Why? Because it happened to us. Americans. We can't imagine what's happening on the other side of the world, so most of us don't even try. And the neocons and their ideological progeny count on that while pursuing their own loathesome agenda.
Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee aren't neocons, though. Their positions in some ways are more sensible than those of the neocons', but in most they're just terrifying in entirely different ways. But I'm pretty confident that they won't blow up the world given the opportunity, which makes them more palatable to me than the other Republican candidates.
Except maybe McCain. To be honest, I don't think anyone has any idea what John McCain stands for anymore. If anyone figures it out, please drop me a line.