The media struggled to find a worthwhile storyline from this week’s debate. As POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush tweeted, “Try writing about this debate, just try. It’s like eating ten lbs. of dry toast with a sawdust chaseer.” And honestly, if gotcha moments, personal attacks or embarrassing gaffes are the standard by which you judge a debate, then yes, it was probably pretty boring. But that’s not the standard we should use, at least not when judging the process by which we select a president.
As Stephen L. Miller writes for National Review:
Journalists’ complaining about the pace of the debates says infinitely more about the state of our web and network news media than it does about the candidates on the stage; it’s a sign of the former’s Daily Show–ification.
So if the news media were bored, that’s a good thing. It’s not their job to be entertained. It’s their job to report on what was said. This country has suffered through seven years of “polititainment” as policy. Barack Obama’s sitting down with someone who bathes in cereal or being in a Funny or Die video might make for a lot of YouTube hits, but it doesn’t exactly solve a foreign policy in complete shambles or reassure a restless domestic electorate worried about America’s future.
In place of quips there was substance. Rather than attacks there was debate. And rather than moderators we got to hear candidates. In many ways, this is what a debate should be because it resulted, finally, in clear demarcations between the candidates and their ideas.
For instance, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul went back and forth on whether tax incentives for families with children can be a conservative idea. Rubio sees the breakdown of the family as a serious social and economic problem and believes that it does not make sense to give tax breaks for investing in a business, but not investing “in your children, in the future of America and strengthening your family.” Paul on the other hand wonders whether it is “fiscally conservative to have a trillion dollar expenditure” that is aimed at a class of people.
On immigration, the candidates sparred over the rationality and the desirability of a stringent immigration strategy. Some felt that illegal immigration was an economic, even personal issue that was threatening the future of those who came here legally while others felt that America’s history and values should push us toward a compassionate approach.
“We are a country of laws, we need borders, we will have a wall, the wall will be built, the wall will be successful,” proclaimed Donald Trump.
That drew a quick retort from John Kasich.
“For the 11 million people, come on, folks, we all know we can’t pick them up and ship them across the border,” Kasich said. “It’s a silly argument. It’s not an adult argument.”
Cruz sought a rhetorical middle ground, adding: “We’re tired of being told it’s ‘anti-immigrant.’ It’s offensive. I am the son of an immigrant who came legally from Cuba to seek the American Dream, and we can embrace legal immigration while believing in the rule of law.”
On defense, there was a clear line between Paul, who believes that all government, including the military, should be a target for cutting and other candidates who felt that investing in the military would lead to long-term savings.
“Can you be a conservative, and be liberal on military spending?” Paul asked. “Can you be for unlimited military spending, and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to make the country safe?’ No.”
But other candidates responded forcefully on the point.
“You think defending this nation is expensive, try not defending it,” Cruz quipped.
“I know that the world is a safer and better place when America is the strongest military power in the world,” Rubio added.
And on the economy, there were a wide range of views about how to improve the fortunes of down-on-their-luck Americans and while improving the U.S.’s ability to be competitive in a global economy.
“How do we allow people to ascend the ladder of opportunity, rather than how do we give them everything and keep them dependent?” asked Dr. Ben Carson.
Rubio agreed, arguing that today’s policies are holding businesses and people back, not helping them.
“The problem is that today people are not successful working as hard as ever because the economy is not providing jobs that pay enough,” Rubio said. But, the best way to raise wages is not to institute a minimum wage, he argued, but instead to “make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business. . .”
Fiorina related the poor-performing economy to the ever-growing government and argued that one of the best ways to promote growth is to eliminate crony capitalism.
“[T]he truth is, this government has been growing bigger and bigger, more corrupt, less effective, crushing the engine of economic growth for a very long time,” she argued before offering ideas like zero-based budgeting, tax reform and regulatory reform as ways to get the economy back on track.
While some may look at the different approaches and different policies of the candidates on stage and see a divided party, what I saw was a menu of very strong options for voters to choose from. These candidates are challenging each other to innovate and think, a dynamic that’s simply not present on the Democrat side, which is little more than a race to the left. These disagreements are what make for a great debate. More importantly, they allow voters the opportunity to choose the future they want.