The media has it wrong. When it comes to reporting on the GOP presidential debates, the media treats them like a network promo plug for The Amazing Race. Right now, all the networks are breathless over Rick Perry's deer-in-the-headlights moment at last night's debate; as if everyone didn't know Perry's an empty suit who's probably unfit even for the relatively low-demand job he currently holds. A formal debate is, by definition, the presentation of logical arguments with the purpose of discovering truth. Currently, political debates are the media's self-generated content; stories created by the media for the media to report on. For candidates, they aren't opportunities to make valid points and logical arguments. They're a platform for talking points, spin, soundbites, and just plain lies.
And meanness. While everyone else is pretending to be amazed by what an idiot the known idiot Rick Perry was, Jonathan Bernstein points to the real low point of the evening:
No, that would be Herman Cain. Look, he wasn’t going to be the nominee at any point during the cycle, and he certainly wasn’t going to be the nominee after it turned out he was an alleged serial sexual harasser. But after dragging American political rhetoric to a new low, referring to the House Minority Leader and a former speaker as “Princess Nancy,” it’s about time that Cain was called to account for insulting the American people and the political process for the farce that he’s engaging in. Whether it’s not knowing that China has nuclear weapons, or repeatedly botching his own position on abortion, or any of a number of other gaffes, Cain has made Perry look like a well-briefed genius throughout the campaign. And Wednesday night, he was even worse.
Yes, he’s that bad.
It's an insult to people like Aristotle to call what happened last night a "debate." It was a contest to see who could get the best applause line while being the least inept. And if a debate is a method of determining truth, the game show contestants at last night's event didn't even try to make it a debate.
FactCheck.org ran a check on the "debate" and found it to be largely fact-free. "The latest debate among Republican candidates for president was a tame affair that produced few factual claims needing correction," they report. "Candidates stuck mostly to promises and expressions of their conservative faith in free markets, and their disdain for government" -- in other words, it was a campaign slogan contest.
When candidates did bother to cite facts and figures, they turned out to be spun or just plain inaccurate. FactCheck.org found Cain and Bachmann were wide of the truth on taxation and Romney got it wrong of the salaries of federal workers, while Gingrich's contribution was in getting the history of Social Security and the federal budget wrong, as well as repeating the zombie lie that Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and government regulations were responsible for the mortgage meltdown.
And Gingrich wasn't the only one to tell that last lie. "There is a basic problem with the argument, made by several candidates, that the government forced mortgage lenders to make bad loans: most subprime loans were made by companies that were not subject to any kind of federal regulation," writes factchecker Binyamin Appelbaum for the New York Times. "Furthermore, there was no need for force. Financial companies jumped into the market. The major investment banks lined up to purchase subprime lenders, the major retail banks created subprime-lending divisions and a generation of upstart subprime lenders like Ameriquest and Countrywide were briefly celebrated as rising stars of American business... No executive of a major mortgage company said at the time that the government was forcing him to make subprime loans. The executives said they did it because they thought they’d make money..."
So what are the only logical conclusions left to us here? The Republican candidates -- each and every one of them -- are either lying or completely ignorant on the subjects of banking, regulations, the economy, and housing. Those really are the only two possible choices. What caused the meltdown isn't a matter of opinion, you can't have an alternate take on it -- history is unchanging and facts are a bitch. People who say the government put a gun to lenders' heads, forcing them to make bad loans and securitize that bad debt into what would become toxic assets, are either lying or ignorant. There are no other explanations.
And those should be the big headlines today, not Perry's still-uninterrupted moronitude or the national practical joke that is Herman Cain. Americans should be waking up to headlines reading, "GOP Candidates: Lying or Just Stupid?" Pundits should be talking over each other about that, with one suit vehemently insisting they're all liars, while another passionately defends her belief that they're all just stupid. And pollsters should be hitting the phonebanks, trying to determine whether the public believes the GOP debate was all lies or all stupidity. The media should hold candidates to account for the things they say, not for the way they say (or in Perry's case, fail to say) them. A stumbling, fumbling, stuttered statement of truth should be considered a win -- an obvious win -- over a flawlessly articulated recitation of fiction.
But it's not. And that's the problem. At least my little contribution to the conversation has the right headline.