We won’t know for a few days—and maybe weeks—who won last night’s debate between 11 Republican candidates for president.
What we did learn is that they overwhelmingly agree with each other on most issues, including:
- Build a wall on the Mexican border, and then get tough with illegal immigrants, but not legal ones.
- Reverse Obamacare.
- Defund Planned Parenthood, but give its funds to women’s health organizations that do not do abortions. That not all of them thought it worth threatening a government shutdown to achieve this goal seems to me to be trivial in the vast scheme of things. Those interested in shutting down the government over three-tenths of one percent of the budget would find another reason to make the threat even if Planned Parenthood were not an issue.
- Build a stronger military, although none talk about how to fund the increase in military spending.
- Restore respect for the United States abroad by throwing our weight around unilaterally. They also all believe the absurd notion that the world does not respect the United States under President Obama and that Obama is to blame for our current slow-growth economy.
On all of these issue, at least eight and sometimes all of the candidates were in agreement. In many cases, candidates had to back down or rewrite their positions to get to this consensus Republican platform. For example, by the middle of the debate, Trump was agreeing with Bush that many of the illegals kicked out should be in the country and that he would let them back in. Bush ignored a reference to his recent questioning of the amount of money spent by the federal government on women’s health and talked about the great things for women he wants to do with the money.
The two major areas of disagreement among the candidates were what to do about the Iran nuclear deal and taxation policy. The adults in the room like Bush and Kasich essentially said that they would honor the agreement with Iran and five other nations that postpones Iranian efforts to build a nuclear bomb for 15 years, although they avoided doing so explicitly, instead preferring to say that they would keep a careful eye on Iran and slam it hard if it did anything against the agreement. The crazies in the room like Scott Walker and Ted Cruz said they would rip up the agreement on the first day in office.
On the surface, it seems as if the tax proposals were all across the board—flat taxes of varying rates, replacement of taxes on income with taxes on consumption, simplification of the current system, new taxes on hedge fund managers. But when you take a look at the net effect of each of the Republican’s tax proposals, they break into two groups:
- Those, like Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, who want to increase taxes on some of the wealthy and reduce taxes on the rest of the wealthy.
- Those who want to reduce taxes on all of the wealthy.
Along the way, the 11 candidates all told a number of lies. Either Trump or Bush were lying when Bush said as governor he kept Trump and Casino gambling out of Florida and Trump denied it; I’m inclined to agree with Jeb on this one. Carson lied when he said that a progressive tax is “socialism.” Christie, Fiorina and Trump all mischaracterized their repeated failures as successes, in Christie’s case a particularly enormous lie. They all lied about the status of America in the eyes of the world.
I could go on for pages analyzing the falsehoods uttered in the second debate, but I want to focus on the two worst lies, which were the same lie. Carly Fiorina said that only in American could a woman like her rise from secretary to CEO. Marco Rubio repackaged the lie when he said that only in America could the son of a bartender and a housekeeper become a Senator.
The lie in these statements is to aver that it could “only happen in America,” when at the current time it is harder to rise in socioeconomic class in the land of the free and the home of the brave than in virtually any other industrialized country of the world: Someone born of humble circumstances—as Fiorina and Rubio say they were—is less likely to become rich, or even to make it to the middle class, in the United States than in France, Germany, the Scandinavian nations, Japan, Spain, Pakistan, Canada and many other countries. Of industrialized countries, in only the United Kingdom and Italy is it harder than in the United States to make and have more than your parents did.
Behind the statement, “only in America” are two concepts that are equally pernicious: First is the idea that there is something exceptional about the United States that makes it inherently better than other nations in all areas. We constantly use American exceptionalism to excuse imperialist actions abroad or to take attention away from those areas in which we lag such as healthcare, mortality rates, education and social mobility.
The second hidden message when Republicans say “only in America” is the idea that government should focus always on creating opportunities as opposed to protecting the weak, old and poor. None of the Republicans believe in giving people a helping hand—lifting them up. They all want to make it easier for the wealthy—nouveau or established—to make and keep more money. All ignore the growing inequality of wealth and income in the United States.
Tomorrow I’m going to look at the style of the candidates in the second debate.