Did we learn anything from last week's Republican presidential debate? I heard the usual platitudes like "bring people together," but there was also plenty of talk about the private sector. I liked that. So did the guests on my show.
One was Steve Forbes, himself a former candidate for the GOP nomination:
"We got first the principle: The government does not create prosperity; entrepreneurs create prosperity. The candidates emphasized that, and that was a very positive thing."
But he cautioned: "We didn't get a lot of specifics in terms of what kind of flat tax might you like, what departments you might close."
No, we didn't. I guess specific cuts don't win votes.
Nicole Neily, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, was impressed with Herman Cain and Ron Paul:
"I thought Herman Cain was great on growth. I thought Ron Paul was great on everything, and I love that he stood up for himself."
I also was impressed at how passionate Paul got in response to Rick Santorum's smug comments about sanctions on Iran. I don't pretend to know much about foreign policy, but Paul's answer made sense to me. He cautioned against what he sees as pressure for war with Iran. Paul says that even if Iran is building a nuclear weapon—he cited a U.S. intelligence estimate saying it is not—that need not mean war. After all, the Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nukes. When Santorum countered that trouble with Iran goes back to 1979, Paul corrected him, noting that in 1953 the CIA helped overthrow a secular democratic government and install a brutal monarch. The anti-American Islamic revolution of 1979 was "blowback," he said. "We just plain don't mind our own business. That's our problem."
Makes sense to me.
Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, noticed a big change from the 2007 Iowa debate.
"We live in a different universe," he said. "Mitt Romney back then was talking about how George W. Bush was insufficiently interventionist in Lebanon. ... Newt Gingrich is talking a lot more like Ron Paul these days. So it's a different GOP now."
One debate moment that got my guests' attention was Michele Bachmann's attempt to explain what she meant a few years ago when she said, "(T)he lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands." At the debate, Bachmann elaborated, "What submission means to us ... it means respect."
I thought she ducked the question. I hope she'll come on my show. I'll say to her: I thought "submission" meant submission. If it means respect, why not say "respect"?
Syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock called her answer "an incredible evasion ... that could have been a real disastrous moment for her. She bounced back from it very well."
Bachmann impressed me more when she appeared on Fox News Sunday a few days later. She's a serious candidate who understands that our big problem is reckless government spending. Chris Wallace's questions gave her every opportunity to be squishy about cuts. She didn't back down. Good for her.
Welch brought up other revelations from the 2007 debate.
"Romney was asked ... what do you think we should do about national health care, and he said exactly, 'I think that we should do what I did in Massachusetts and make it federal.' So that's another thing that he's flip-flopping on."
One thing we didn't hear during the debate was a plan to cut entitlements. It would have been refreshing if a candidate had just said, "I'm glad our debt was downgraded. Maybe that's what it will take to wake up Congress and the president to the fact that we are on an unsustainable course."
And I wish someone had said, "I'm sick of politicians talking about creating jobs. Government can't create real jobs. The best thing it can do is get out of your way. We should shut up about creating jobs."
Nobody really laid out the truth and offered the big cuts that are needed. I'll vote for the politician who says that and means it.
John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.
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