Great Balls of Fire!

It’s been a busy week for the Republicans, culminating in tonight’s Arizona debate – another performance that no doubt had President Obama switching over to the Knicks game in time to catch the fourth quarter of Linsanity(!).

The day started with Rick Santorum referencing “what’s on fire down here” at one of his tent-revival-style campaign stops.  The media played it over and over again, but I still don’t know what he meant by “down here”.  He seems pretty fixated on the Prince of Darkness, so maybe he was referring to Hell, where it’s far too hot for comely sweater vests. Otherwise, I just don’t want to think about it…

Not surprisingly, attention in the debate quickly turned to contraception.  References were made to a recent New York Times story about the scourge of unwed motherhood in the United States.  I read that article, and the candidates grossly distorted the facts in it.  To hear them talk, this is a growing problem among poor urban teens – when in fact, the article highlights that the growth in single motherhood is a decidedly middle-class phenomenon.  Teen pregnancies in the U.S. are, in fact, declining.

While it’s true that educated upper-middle-class and upper-class women are not part of the single motherhood trend, the fear mongering claims of abject poverty and abuse in the homes of single mothers was a mischaracterization, intended to create the all-too-familiar sense of danger so critical (it would seem) to convincing Americans to vote for you.

The candidates flailed around for a while, trying to hammer home that even though they are avidly pro life, pro church and anti contraception, they aren’t anti women.   Each argued that he did more than the others to banish the morning-after pill for rape victims.  I think I started to drift off for a moment, then… BOOM.  Ron Paul blinded them all with science.

He explained that it’s all contraception; the active ingredient in birth control pills and the morning-after pill is the same — hormones.   The candidates stared at him blankly, then moved on to a new question.  Behold, the product of a non-scientific, creationist education!  Proceed with caution, America!

Ron Paul, as usual, seemed upbeat and just a tiny bit crazy.  I wouldn’t vote for him in a Presidential election, but you have to hand it to him – he is candid, witty and consistent.  He pointed out that abstinence is not mentioned in the Constitution, so while he is against government involvement in matters of contraception he doesn’t think we should be funding or legislating abstinence education either.  (Cue more blank stares from guys who think we all honestly believe that they are defending the Constitution and religious freedom, rather than evangelicalism.)

Mitt Romney looked nervous.  Rick Santorum emphasized that he’s a team player – a character flaw only in politics – and came across like a policy-wonk insider who rolls his eyes a lot when he’s defensive.

Newt Gingrich stayed out of the scrum, saving most of his criticism for President Obama.  He tried giving the audience a history lesson on the Founding Fathers, claiming they would have had strong views on balanced budgets and unemployment.  I don’t think the colonials suffered many layoffs down at the blacksmith’s shop, but I guess I should defer to the guy who made a fortune as an “historical consultant” to Freddie Mac.

Throughout, the crowd behaved like fans of the WWF — or Senators at the State of the Union Address — loudly cheering for their guy and jeering his opponents.

Late in the debate, the candidates were inanely asked to describe themselves in one word – a question no doubt put forth by a retired college recruiter.  Lucky Ron Paul got to go first, and snagged “consistent”.   Tough break for Romney – I’ll bet he really, really wanted to be consistent!   He went with “Resolute”.  Not terribly convincing but at least his voice didn’t go up at the end, like he was posing a question.  (i.e. resolute???)

In (merciful) conclusion, the candidates were asked to clarify the biggest misconception about them.  Ron Paul answered the question.  Newt meandered a bit, but eventually answered it too.  Then Mitt Romney tried to just go with his talking points, à la Sarah Palin.  When reminded that the question was about a misconception, he curtly replied “You ask the questions you want to, and I’ll answer the questions I want to.”

We all watched the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, so we know what comes next – even if Romney’s debate coach doesn’t.

LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!

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