CNN’s Tea Party Debate on Monday was less focused on the ideals of limiting government, protecting civil liberties and strengthening State’s rights, and more on giving headliner candidates a forum to highlight neoconservative values. Issues regarding the Federal Reserve, Social Security reform, the economy, immigration, taxes and the role of government came to the table, but the answers were not always clear.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a mainstream media-declared front-runner, took flak from the other 2012 GOP candidates throughout the debate. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, with whom Perry clashed at the debate on Sept. 7, continued to assert that although Texas’ economy remains comfortable under Perry, it can be attributed to good legislation and luck in the past.
“Well, look, I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player. And four aces — and the four aces that are terrific aces are the ones the nation should learn from, the ones I described, zero income tax, low regulation, right to work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific,” said Romney when asked how much credit the Texas Governor deserves for his State’s success.
The Federal Reserve was mentioned several times throughout the debate, and each of the candidates said that something must be done about the institution, but most offered no specifics. Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he believes the Federal Reserve should be audited and changed to a single charter, meaning it would no longer have the ability to meddle in issues such as job creation, shifting its focus to sound money. Herman Cain, who formerly worked for the Federal Reserve, agreed with Santorum, saying the central bank needed to be audited and “narrowed.” The story remained the same from Representative Michele Bachman of Minnesota. Perry and Romney echoed similar sentiments: Audit and shrink the Federal Reserve. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who has long been outspoken about his position on the Federal Reserve — he wrote the 2008 book End The Fed — was not asked for a response on the issue.
The debate also offered ample opportunity for the candidates to backtrack on things they supported in the past and to spin the issues to suit their Presidential ambition. A question about when a President should use executive orders brought to light Perry’s mandatory inoculation of a drug provided by a company with which he was affiliated, per executive order as top dog in Texas. He was quick to say that it was a mistake.
“What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for a drug company, because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?” said Bachmann, calling Perry out on the issue.
And Santorum asked the audience to consider why, in Texas, it was even necessary for young girls to receive a drug that guards against a sexually transmitted disease unless “Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum.”
Romney began his own backward sprint when the issue of Obamacare was brought up to debate. President Barack Obama famously modeled the plan after one that Romney himself created for his own State.
“[W]ith regards to Massachusetts care, I’m not running for governor. I’m running for president. And if I’m president, on day one I’ll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states. It’s a problem that’s bad law, it’s not constitutional. I’ll get rid of it,” Romney said.
When moderator Wolf Blitzer set his sights on Paul with regard to the candidate’s idea that government has no business in healthcare to begin with, the candidate noted that communities can pick up the slack more effectively than big government ever will.
“Let me ask you this hypothetical question,” Blitzer said. “A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.”
Paul responded that not having health insurance should be his right, though it was an unwise decision, but that the government certainly could not take care of him. Blitzer asked if the candidate was suggesting that “society should just let him die.”
Paul answered using his experience as a young physician in the 1960s when he worked for a hospital alongside church members and charity workers to care for those in need.
“[W]e’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it,” Paul said. “The cost [of healthcare] is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar, we have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. And we should actually legalize alternative health care, allow people to practice what they want.”
Bachmann also fielded the question, but steered the issue back to Obamacare; however, she never actually said what might happen to Blitzer’s hypothetical sickly man.
“[T]his is why I’m running for the presidency of the United States, because 2012 is it. This is the election that’s going to decide if we have socialized medicine in this country or not. This is it,” she said.
The debate next took a dive into the immigration debate, although the answers sounded familiar with terms like “strategic fences,” “boots on the ground,” “fewer incentives” and very little else that the public has not heard from so-called conservative candidates in the past. Perry offered a tough stance, saying that he has the most experience dealing with illegal aliens in his home State, although some candidates were less impressed than Perry with his policy.
“Well, I mean, what Governor Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for — for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote — I mean, the Latino voters,” said Santorum. “But you attract Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country. You talk about the importance of — as — as Newt has talked about for many years, having English as the — as the official language of this country… We’re a melting pot, not a salad bowl. And we need to continue that tradition.”
Perry said that he opposes Obama’s DREAM Act — a program that provides education and “paths to citizenship” for illegal aliens — although his plan is similar.
“In the state of Texas, if you’ve been in the state of Texas for three years, if you’re working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there,” he said in defense of his own immigrant-friendly legislation.
In discussing foreign policy, Paul was booed by the audience when he said that al-Qaida attacked the U.S. on 9/11 because of interventionism on the part of the government.
“As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true,” he said. “Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda (sic) have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing…”
Paul was also quick to note that while defense spending is necessary to protect the country, outright interventionist military spending is irresponsible.
“…I would say there’s a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don’t need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II — we’re always fighting the last war,” he said. “But we’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”
Perhaps the most revealing moment of the debate came at the end, when the candidates were allowed to offer anecdotally what they would bring into the White House if elected. Some candidates focused on the issues; some candidates’ focus was more personal. An abbreviated list of what each of the eight candidates would bring follows:
- Santorum: an extra bedroom for his seven children
- Gingrich: an end to White House czars
- Paul: a bushel of common sense and a course on Austrian economics
- Perry: his wife, Anita
- Romney: a bust of Winston Churchill
- Bachman: copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights
- Cain: a sense of humor
- Huntsman: his Harley and his motocross bike
A complete transcript of the debate can be found at allyourtv.com.