Day: January 27, 2012
Last night’s CNN-sponsored Republican candidates’ debate is still ringing in my ears. It is certainly not a surprise that the overwhelming focus was on domestic issues, except for a few international issues with domestic resonance. In Florida, this above all means Cuba and, for Rick Santorum, the threat of Muslim extremism installing itself in socialist countries in Latin America. It also means immigration and of course Israel (and Palestine).
So what did they say? Except for Ron Paul, they endorsed a strong embargo policy on Cuba. This is the policy we have kept in place until very recently. For more than 50 years, it has produced no results. Newt Gingrich went a step farther and endorsed bringing down the Castro regime (I guess we can still call it that). I’m for that too. But he gave no hint how he would do it. Arguably increasing person-to-person contacts, which is what the Administration is doing, will move things in that direction.
Santorum’s concern with Latin American jihadis is laughable, even if it is impossible to exclude that a suicide bomber may some day make his way from Mexico or Venezuela into the U.S. Santorum’s fix is even funnier: he advocates more trade with Latin America, which is pretty much what Obama has pushed by making free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.
On immigration, there was a strong consensus in favor of enforcing current laws, without the government deporting anyone. This is a significant weakening of current policy–Obama has deported a lot of people. But the candidates claim enforcing existing laws could provide an incentive for undocumented immigrants to go home because they would not be able to work. The trouble of course is that repeated efforts to enforce the ban on undocumented immigrants working have not been successful. So the bottom line is no deportations and no effective incentives for people to “self-deport.” The candidates have managed to offend many Hispanic (and non-Hispanic) voters without getting any credit at all for suggesting a major weakening of immigration policy.
A Palestinian questioner–on Twitter someone suggested he was the only Republican Palestinian in existence–got it between the eyes from Newt, who claimed “Palestinian” was an identity invented in the 1970s. This is worse than inaccurate: before the founding of the state of Israel, all residents of Palestine were known as Palestinians, including Jews. I know this in part from a visit to the Irgun museum in Tel Aviv, which is hardly the place to find perspectives sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative. Newt’s line about the non-existence of Palestinians is a common line among right-wing Jews both in Israel and the U.S. No self-respecting history professor would repeat it unless there were a few $5 million checks in the bargain.
Romney was hot last night, effectively wiping the floor with Gingrich, who at times seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for words. But Mitt was also disingenuous. His defense of Romneycare, the Massachusetts health care scheme he put in place, applies word for word to Obamacare, which he said he would repeal. But the only part he disapproved of was the Obama part, not the scheme itself. Romney also claimed that Obama had thrown Israel under the bus and that only the Palestinians are standing in the way of a two-state solution. I can’t buy either of those propositions.
Wolf Blitzer, who used to be a serious guy, was spotty at best. Asking candidates why their wives would make good First Ladies is unworthy of him. But in a funny kind of way that was consistent with the tone of the whole evening: unworthy would be a kind word.
Gingrich’s poor showing last night should enable Romney to exploit his advantages in money and organization to win the nomination. It would be ironic if the most polarized political atmosphere in many years leads to a contest between Romney and Obama, both of whom are regarded as excessively moderate in their own political camps. If that happens, it won’t be the worst result the American political system has generated.