Questions to differentiate GOP field

November 7, 2011


— The Republican presidential candidates, their sinews stiffened and their blood summoned up, may rightly dread Wednesday’s version of what are inexplicably called debates. The candidates have some explaining to do, particularly regarding two subjects that deserve more searching examination than is possible in 60-second bursts on a stage cluttered with eight contestants. But perhaps certain candidates can be compelled to expand upon, and improve upon, what they have been saying about foreign policy, and about the role of the judiciary in American democracy.

Most of the candidates have disparaged Barack Obama’s decision that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq this year. (Ron Paul considers the withdrawal of U.S. assets insufficiently thorough; but, then, he might favor U.S. withdrawal from territories of the constitutionally dubious Louisiana Purchase.) What is the candidates’ objection to Obama implementing the status-of-forces agreement that his predecessor signed in 2008?

The candidates should answer three questions: How many troops would they leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are they prepared to invest there? And spare us the conventional dodge about “listening to” the “commanders in the field.” Each candidate is aspiring to be commander in chief in a nation in which civilians set policy for officers to execute.

Since most of the candidates seem eager to continue the U.S. presence in Iraq, what other presences do they consider sacrosanct? Twenty-two years after the Berlin War crumbled, the United States has 80,000 troops stationed in Europe, 54,000 of them in Germany, a prosperous and remarkably stable country with equally pacific neighbors. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., of the Armed Services Committee notes that only four (Albania, France, Greece, the United Kingdom) of NATO’s 28 members besides the United States are “fulfilling their requirement under the NATO charter to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.” Are not most NATO members free riders on America’s military might?

For what? Who is NATO deterring? How, exactly, does it promote European stability? European turbulence consists of Greeks and other welfare-state clients rioting about affronts to their entitlement mentality.  

Regarding domestic affairs, most of the candidates — Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney have admirably refrained — have been barking about courts, and especially about the Supreme Court, aka “nine oligarchs in robes” (Rick Perry). Rick Santorum wants to “eliminate” the often liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, although it is not clear why that is necessary, given that the Supreme Court has made the 9th Circuit the most frequently reversed appellate court.

Newt Gingrich, never one to miss an opportunity for rhetorical flamboyance, says “one of the major reasons” for his candidacy is the 9th Circuit’s opinion, nine years ago, that said the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment proscription of the “establishment” of religion: “That decision to me had the same effect that the Dred Scott decision extending slavery to the whole country had on Abraham Lincoln.”

Really? It took four years of war and 625,000 dead to settle the slavery question; it took a unanimous Supreme Court a few minutes to swat aside the 9th Circuit’s silliness. But a fulminating Gingrich speaks of cutting funding for the 9th Circuit’s electricity, law clerks and library. Michele Bachmann and Paul think Congress should restrict the jurisdiction of federal courts. The common theme of the candidates complaining about the courts is that, in Perry’s words, “activist” judges “deny us the right to live as we see fit.”

Indeed, courts sometimes do that. And conservatives sometimes applaud, vigorously and rightly. Perry did when the Supreme Court, properly enforcing the Second Amendment, said that the elected representatives of the residents of Washington, D.C., and Chicago could not do as they saw fit, and as a majority of their constituents probably favored, regarding gun control. Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann, Santorum and Paul ardently hope that five Supreme Court justices will be active enough to declare unconstitutional the individual health insurance mandate enacted by majorities in both houses of Congress.

Because the very idea of an eight-sided debate is absurd, and because such a televised event is survival of the briefest, the format discourages the drawing of sensible distinctions. But presidential duties demand this, and it would be helpful if the mad proliferation of debates at least tested this aptitude regarding issues as large as war and the judiciary.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is georgewill@washpost.com.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

Mr. Will: Good points, but don't hold your breath. I seriously doubt this election will have much to do with facts or reality.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 4 months ago

It has been a long time since George Will wrote a decent column. I had almost forgotten that he was once a great writer.

5 Stars.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

Even Florida Believes The GOP Is Intentionally Sabotaging The Economy To Defeat Obama

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post picks up on a new poll out of Florida that does not bode well for the GOP.

The poll was conducted by Suffolk University and among other things asked voters "Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not reelected?"

The results: 49% said yes, 39% said no.

Yikes? Maybe.

Those results certainly dovetail nicely with Obama's reelection plan to run against a do-nothing Congress — particularly as Florida will be a key battleground in 2012 — and moreover reflect the record low approval rating Congress has been getting of late.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 4 months ago

In two states, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, GOP legislators have introduced bills that would change how electoral votes—a candidate needs 270 of the 538 to win the presidency—are awarded in a presidential election. Under the current system, the winner of the statewide popular vote receives all of the electoral votes from that state.

In Pennsylvania, a secretive nonprofit group called All Votes Matter has been pushing the electoral vote scheme since May. All Votes Matter has close ties to the Pennsylvania GOP—it hired a number of former top state Senate staffers-turned-lobbyists. "It was pretty much the Senate GOP All Star Lobbying Team and [former state House Democratic Counsel Bill] Sloane," Peter DeCoursey, the bureau chief for Capitolwire, a newswire that's read religiously by Harrisburg insiders*, explained in September.

All Votes Matter doesn't disclose its donors "as a matter of policy, per the request of many of them," Gerow told Mother Jones. "It's their legal right not to have it disclosed, and they don't want it disclosed so they're not subject to media calls and other potential harassment," he added. All Votes Matter has "fully and completely complied with the law and will continue to do so," Gerow said, and "if those who don't agree with the law want to change it, it certainly is their right to do that."

There's no law that says All Votes Matter has to disclose where its money comes from. But opponents of the electoral college changes are outraged that voters are being kept in the dark about who's behind such a potentially consequential reform. "This is an effort to fundamentally change the way Pennsylvania conducts its presidential elections, in my view to rig the election," says Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach. "They raised an awful lot of money very quickly—$300,000 in just a few days. We're all curious where that level of funding comes from."

Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which assists Democrats in state-level races around the country, says: "Given the potential impact of this measure this group is lobbying for, not just for Pennsylvanians but for presidential politics and Americans in general, the public has a right to know who's behind it."

Transparency advocates say it's not enough to just know who is doing the lobbying—voters should also know who is paying the bills. "The old adage is that actions speak louder than words, and deeper pockets allow for more action," says Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "Without disclosure, the public is unable to fully hold accountable the companies and organizations that have hired these lobbyists in the first place."


Commenting has been disabled for this item.