Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tampa debate

I didn’t see the last GOP debate. But I did see the Tampa debate last night. A few impressions:

Because Perry is (or was) the current titular frontrunner, he was the target for Romney, Bachmann, and Santorum. However, there’s a sense in which this is a win-win situation for Perry. For even when he falters in a debate, the opponents are still making him the center of attention. The post-debate coverage will focus on Perry’s performance. As a result, the other candidates still play second-fiddle to Perry.

Romney ran to the left of Perry on social security last night. That’s a losing strategy in GOP primaries. Romney acts as if it’s outrageous to even question the status quo ante of social security. But why not? Why not give future retirees the option of keeping and investing their own earnings?

Perry could also borrow a page from Newt, who make an excellent point last night: “Why do we make young people be afraid their whole lives of the government taking away their social security?”

Perry is potentially vulnerable on illegal immigration. In theory, he could have done a better job of defending his policy in TX. He could have said the following:

“Since the Federal gov’t refuses to secure the border, refuses to enforce the law, refuses to deport illegal aliens, TX has to pick up the tab; TX has to take up the slack. Given the hand we were dealt, it makes more sense to educate illegals, to mainstream illegals, to integrate them into society, than to foot the bill for incarceration or social services.”

And, indeed, his answer contained elements of that response. That would give a pragmatic rationale. A lean, easily understood argument. And that would logically segue to his then saying that if he’s elected president, he will stop the problem at the source.

But instead of confining himself to a consistently pragmatic justification, he combined that with an appeal to principle. He made it a states rights issue. But that’s in tension with his complaint about the negligence of the Federal gov’t. Either he thinks the Federal gov’t has a duty to enforce a uniform nation-wide policy on immigration, or else he thinks each state should have the right to formulate its own immigration policy.

He also stressed the historical ties between TX and Mexico, which makes it a special case. But that, too, is a principled argument. 

In addition, he repeatedly threw in the line about how we’re not apportioning benefits based on the sound of the recipient’s last name–which carries the insinuation that opponents of illegal immigration are motivated by racism. And that’s a typically leftwing charge. That doesn’t endear him to Republican primary voters.

However, his position cuts both ways. It carries the potential of losing him some votes in the primaries, but picking up some votes in the general election (if he’s the nominee).

Bachmann and Santorum also attack him on the HPV vaccine. I’m not sure how this will play. At one level, his action does evoke the specter of the long arm of gov’t reaching into the sanctity of the home. To that extent it triggers an instinctively hostile reaction from many conservatives.

On the other hand, the argument mounted by Bachmann and Sanctorum was fundamentally incoherent. The TX law has an opt-out clause. Yet they retreated into the privacy/autonomy argument. But that’s precisely the argument abortionists use to oppose parental consent or even parental notification.

Moreover, Bachmann is waxing hysterical about vaccination, as if receiving a mandatory vaccination somehow traumatizes a child for life. Haven’t we all received mandatory vaccinations as kids?

Bachmann and Santorum end up sounding like crackpots on this issue. They are so desperate for a leg-up that they are using a cynical, contradictory argument.

Offhand, the only principled argument I can see for opposing the mandatory vaccination of public school children is if you oppose public education.  If you think we should privatize public education. But, of course, Bachmann and Santorum aren’t that radical.

Perry needs more debate preparation. There’s a customary way of doing this. The campaign hires a consultant who plays the role of hostile questioner in mock debates. When the candidate gives bad answers, the consultant coaches the candidate on how to formulate a better answer. He then keeps peppering the candidate with variations on the same set of questions until the candidate has the answers down pat.

Finally, you had Ron Paul, playing the crazy uncle. This is the first time I’ve seen him blink. Seen him balk.

He was caught off guard by the hypothetical question about the uninsured patient who will die without treatment. One response he gave was the connection between individual liberty and risk. People should be free to gamble. They may lose the bet, but that’s the cost of freedom.

That would be a consistently libertarian answer. But he didn’t seem to be comfortable with that answer. So he went on to talk about how, when he was in medical practice, indigent patients were never turned away.

However, I assume the reason for that is because it was already against the law–even back then–to refuse treatment. But isn’t that the sort of law libertarians ought to oppose? Isn’t that antithetical to his earlier appeal to individual liberty?

Ron Paul also has a fundamentally medieval notion of national defense. Until modern times, the primary line of defense was the fortified city. When the enemy comes over the hill, withdraw behind high, thick walls. To some extent that was undermined by the invention of the siege cannon, although that cut both ways–since city-states could also mount cannons on the defensive perimeter to return fire.

But in the age of airplanes, fortified cities are obsolete. A fortified city is no defense against aerial bombardment.

Yet Ron Paul still acts as though, if we just withdraw behind our political borders, the jihadis will stop at a line on the map.


  1. BTW, this isn't a concern raised in the debate about the HPV vaccine, but in case some people might be wondering, there are medically sound reasons to vaccinate with the HPV vaccine. (Other vaccinations could perhaps be more debatable.) The biggest one is that the HPV vaccine protects against roughly 70% of HPVs which are correlated with cervical cancer.

    Also, HPV is correlated with CIN. CIN can be a precursor to cervical cancer in a small percentage of cases, although it's far from definite and most CIN cases resolve on their own thanks to our immune system. Nevertheless CIN itself is arguably worth vaccinating against.

    Plus, the HPV vaccine helps protect against other diseases (e.g. genital warts).

  2. if we just withdraw behind our political borders, the jihadis will stop at a line on the map.

    It'd sure be a start! We certainly make their job easier by letting them infiltrate the borders with little resistance...