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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Dr. Tom Barrett
Bio: Dr. Tom Barrett
Date:  May 9, 2007
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The Debate That Wasn't

All those red neckties. All that jockeying to see who could position himself as most like Ronald Reagan. All those "friends" of President Bush trashing his conduct of the War in Iraq. All that joking intended to show that they were "regular guys," not stiff politicians in $3,000 suits. But where, pray tell, was the debate in all of this?

Ten guys. Ninety minutes. Hmmm. Nine minutes per guy who wants to be president. Would that be enough time for each of them to tell us just a little about who they really are? Possibly, if it weren't for Chris Matthews. You know Chris. The "tough guy" (in his dreams) on one of the most liberal networks on television, who claims that he plays "hard ball" with his guests.

The only time Matthews throws out "hard" questions is when he has a guest who is even slightly conservative (which is seldom). Then he is rude, obnoxious, and unfair in his questioning. Normally he has only liberal apologists on his show, and he fawns over them. Strictly "softball" treatment for liberals, including every Democrat presidential hopeful he has interviewed. During the "debate" Chris and his henchmen took up most of the time with stupid questions that were designed to show all of the Republican candidates in the worst possible light. "How would you feel about Bill Clinton being back in the White House?" What a ridiculous time-waster! Everyone (even viewers from other countries) knew the answer to that question. Yet Chris (control freak that he is) insisted that each and every one of the candidates answer his asinine question.

He had about half a dozen questions (most of them equally stupid) where he went "down the line," as he called it, making each one answer the question, and cutting them off when he didn't like their answers. He announced the rules at the beginning, which included giving each man sixty seconds to answer each question. But when he went "down the line" he gave them only a few seconds to answer, in violation of his own rules.

Another stupid Chris Matthews question, which he insisted each candidate answer. "Should President Bush pardon Scooter Libby?" With all the important issues on which voters would like to know their views, why did Matthews waste time on Scooter Libby? I believe he wanted to get them all on the record in case one of them was faced with a decision to pardon Libby in the future. In other words, instead of hosting a debate, he was playing prosecutor.

Nine of the candidates meekly answered the question. But I was pleased that Tom Tancredo used this as an opportunity to get in a plug for justice. He said, "Yes, but only AFTER he pardons Compean and Ramos." These are the two Border Patrol agents who were unjustly imprisoned for apprehending an illegal alien who was running drugs. The extremely liberal Matthews was clearly unhappy with his answer.

This was the antithesis of a debate. This was the "I'm Chris Wallace - Look at me - I'm running a debate" show. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Republican candidates agreed to having the debate on a far-left network, and have the debate hosted by Howard Dean, Junior. I'm sure they all regret this decision. But the damage has already been done, to their images and their credibility.

Here are several accepted definitions of the word debate:

  • A debate is an argument about a topic or resolution. It is conducted according to a set of rules designed to give each side a fair chance.
  • A discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints.
  • A formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.
  • Deliberation; consideration.
I defy anyone to demonstrate using any of these definitions how Friday's show featuring the ten Republican presidential hopefuls in any way qualifies as a debate. There was no exchange of ideas. There was no demonstration of anyone's skill at articulating an idea or position and defending it. Instead, what we saw was Chris Matthews on the offense, and the ten "debaters" on the defense. Chris fired questions at them designed to make them look like far-right ideologues, and seldom gave them adequate time to respond.

There were also numerous questions from viewers via the Internet. Some of them rivaled Chris Matthews own questions in the stupidity department. One viewer wanted to know if the candidates would support amending the Constitution so that Arnold Shwartzeneger (who was not born in this country) could become president. What does that have to do with this election? Another asked a candidate if he had watched Al Gore's propaganda movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." Who cares?

Another viewer stated that women were the fastest growing segment of prison populations, and wanted to know what the candidate would do about the problem of "mothers in prison." What can a president do? If people (including mothers) break the law, they should go to prison. But the most ridiculous question was, "What is your greatest weakness as a candidate?" What politician is going to answer a question like that? What an enormous time-waster. If they are going to take questions from viewers, they should be screened for relevancy.

There was no real debate in this "debate." Matthews tried to generate some controversy, but that is not the same as debate. He attempted to get the candidates at one another's throats. He challenged Giuliani by saying that other candidates were criticizing his stand on abortion. And he told Romney that another candidate had challenged his faith. He quoted Sam Brownback as saying that Romney had stated his faith would not influence his decisions. Brownback clarified his statement by saying that if a man had a deeply-held faith, it would be impossible for his decisions not to be influenced by that faith. Romney, a Mormon, replied, "We are a nation of faith, but we don't choose our leader based on the church he attends." That was the closest thing to debate in the whole "debate."

The "debate" degenerated into a series of sound bites by the candidates. There were many references to Ronald Reagan and to God. But in spite of Chris Matthews and the way this "debate" was formatted, we got few tiny glimpses of who some of the candidates were.

Mitt Romney came off as slick and rehearsed. The candidates were not allowed notes, but it was clear that Romney had memorized the answers to hundreds of potential questions. People just do not speak as clearly and concisely (with all the adverbs and adjectives in exactly the right places) as he did when they speak extemporaneously.

Rudy Giuliani appeared not to be taking his candidacy very seriously. He fumbled the questions regarding abortion, hemming and hawing with his answers. As the only pro-death candidate on the stage, he and his staff had to have known he would be hit with abortion questions. But he was strangely unprepared for them. He basically said that was personally against abortion, but he supported a woman's "right" to kill her baby at any stage of pregnancy.

Rudy and John McCain also came out strongly in favor of embryonic stem cell research, a position that will not endear them to the Republican base. Senator Sam Brownback made the point that adult stem cells are producing the same results as those from embryos, and do not require killing a baby to obtain them.

McCain also bragged about his ability to "work with Democrats". He has certainly done a lot of that the past few years. In fact, it has often been difficult to distinguish him from a Democrat. He is particularly proud of his partnership with Senator Diane Feingold, which produced the McCain-Feingold Act. Feingold is a notorious Socialist. If I were McCain, I would be downplaying that association.

When asked about a "woman's right to choose," Tom Tancredo, who is well-known for his work in protecting unborn children, had a great reply: "The right to kill another person is NOT a right." Mitt Romney was extremely pro-death when he was the governor of ultra-liberal Massachusetts. But now that he is a national candidate, he has had a convenient change of heart, and now claims to be pro-life. He did not do a good job of explaining this sudden change of heart.

Ron Paul got in some licks for abolishing the IRS and establishing a national flat tax that would be fair to all.

Finally, Sam Brownback espoused a position that I articulated in my 2005 article, "Iraq - Three Nations" (http://www.conservativetruth.org/article.php?id=3020). What we call Iraq is actually three nations that were forced by the British to become one, with disastrous results. Brownback echoed my solution, with a twist. The thinks there should be separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'a states, but he wants Baghdad to be a federal city.

Nothing said by the other candidates caught my attention. It was the usual scramble to say something without really saying anything. They seemed to want to be seen as having opinions, but at the same time they were loath to be controversial. Overall, I was underwhelmed by this group of candidates. They did show some diversity of opinion, as opposed to the Democrats in their recent debate. The Dems marched in such lock-step that one suspected they were all from Stepford.

But I did not see a viable leader who could both take the nomination and win a general election. And I think most Republicans agree with me. Two men who are not declared candidates consistently place in the top four in the polls when their names are included. They are former Senator Fred Thompson and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In most polls they are in double-digits, below Giuliani and McCain, but above Romney and all the second tier candidates.

I think either of these men would make a great Republican candidate, and either could win against Hillary, Obama, or whatever left-winger the Democrats might nominate. They both have strong conservative credentials. Unfortunately, the front-runners, McCain and Giuliani, fail miserably in this department. Some of the second-tier candidates appear to be solid conservatives, but they only generate low single-digit poll numbers. They just don't have the name recognition that would allow them to be viable candidates.

I recently had the opportunity to have my picture taken with Newt. As the photographer was focusing in on us, I said to him, "I sure hope you run." He just smiled. But he didn't say no.

Fred Thompson is holding back. He says he will watch the field and see if he is needed. From my point of view, the answer is, "Yes, we need you."

With over a year to go, a lot can happen. But based on what we can see right now, the Republican field is very light. This election is far too important for any of us to sit back and "see what happens." All of us need to be involved. Please spend time in prayer that a godly candidate will emerge who will defend the Constitution and lead this nation on a righteous path.

Dr. Tom Barrett
Conservative Truth (Publisher, Editor)

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Biography - Dr. Tom Barrett

Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.

Tom is Publisher and Editor of ConservativeTruth.org.


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