The first Republican presidential debate of the season has now sputtered to an end at the Reagan Library here on the outskirts of L.A. and the scorecard is in.
The undisputed loser: George W. Bush.
The winner: All of the eight rival Democratic candidates.
In Spanish, it's called "continuismo." In English we just call it the same-old-same-old.
One final note: The format tonight played out even worse than it did in last week's Democratic debate. The barrage of disjointed questions and the 30 and 60 second limit on the answers erased all hint of narrative and comparative debate and sent the discourse into a kaleidoscopic, scattershot jumble. In the end, not a word was said about health care, education, access to college, social security or what to do about rising economic insecurity. But then again – it was probably better for these guys that this topics were left untouched.
The Carpetbagger Report
Look, I know Reagan is the only president of the 20th century that Republicans really like. And I know that the debate was being held at the Reagan Library in California. But over the course of 90 minutes, the candidates specifically referenced the 40th president 20 times. If you count more oblique references (Gilmore thanked "the president in whose name this library is named"), the number climbs to 25. If you include references to Reagan by debate moderator Chris Matthews, well, we get pretty close to triple digits.
This just isn't healthy. If this was a drinking game, players would have been three sheets to the wind within the first half hour. Even Peggy Noonan, who is second to no one among Reagan worshipers, explained in her column today that enough is enough.
[T]he media's fixation with which Republican is the most like Reagan, and who is the next Reagan, and who parts his hair like Reagan, is absurd, and subtly undermining of Republicans, which is why they do it. Reagan was Reagan, a particular man at a particular point in history. What is to be desired now is a new greatness. Another way of saying this is that in 1960, John F. Kennedy wasn't trying to be the next FDR, and didn't feel forced to be. FDR was the great, looming president of Democratic Party history, and there hadn't been anyone as big or successful since 1945, but JFK thought it was good enough to be the best JFK. And the press wasn't always sitting around saying he was no FDR. Oddly enough, they didn't consider that an interesting theme.
They should stop it already, and Republicans should stop playing along.
They should stop, but it's not the media that's fixated on Reagan; it's the party. No one forced the candidates last night to repeat his name two dozen times.
Reagan wasn't much of a governor, and he wasn't much of a president. That the Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight on his watch is what makes him look good. He doesn't deserve the credit for it, but he gets it anyway.
I think the big reason for Reagan's popularity is that he was optimistic and smiled a lot. You'll never convince me it wasn't due to his Alzheimer's showing up just before his second term.
It doesn't hurt a B movie actor playing president to survive a gunshot wound either. It would be a different world today if Hinckley had used a .45 instead of a .22.
Criminal that Reagan was, however, he pales in comparison to Bush, which may be why he is invoked like a saint by the Repugs. It helps that he's dead.
These guys were so well behaved, Chris Matthews eventually had to put a piñata in front of them and hand them each a club: "Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?" It was easily the most moronic question of the night - what, exactly, was the point of this inquiry other than to get some Democrat-bashing into the debate? - and it finally garnered some of the responses the base craves about those evil Dems.
Also from Noonan re Reagan:
They should stop it already, and Republicans should stop playing along. They should try instead a pleasant, "You know I don't think I'm Reagan, but I do think John Edwards may be Jimmy Carter, and I'm fairly certain Hillary is Walter Mondale."
Odd, no reference to Dan Quayle...
More later, maybe. It's quit snowing enough to take my dogs for a walk.