Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Family Forum (IA)

I debated (yuk-yuk) whether or not to cover this "non-debate debate" called the Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum. On the one hand, there were only six candidates present; Romney and Huntsman declined their invitations. Is it really a debate without the current front-runner? On the other hand, there were only six candidates, giving each of the participants more time to give more detailed answers. At the same time, this was billed as a social issues forum. Since social issues have (understandably) been on the back burner for most of the other debates, this is an opportunity to hear their viewpoints on some issues that they don't typically get to talk about.

The full video is here, as well as on YouTube (with better sound quality). It was not broadcast on any television network, not even C-SPAN. The forum was held at an Iowa church, so the video starts with a Christian song, and the event is opened with prayer. Throw in an ad for the sponsor and a couple speeches (including one by an Occupier) and the candidates don't actually take the stage until 36-and-a-half minutes into the videos linked above.

Considering the "non-debate debate" nature of this forum, and the fact that many of the questions are very personal religious and philosophical questions, I'm not going to be scoring these answers the same as I usually do. I also won't add quite as much personal commentary as I usually do, in the interest of finishing this entry before the election.

Ron Paul
  • The first question goes to Paul, about the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office. He says that he understands the phrase to signify that the oath of office isn't just a promise to the nation, but a promise to God.
  • "The goal of government isn't to mold society," but to preserve liberty. He believes culture influences the law, but the law should not be used to influence culture.
  • Just because someone might make a bad choice, doesn't mean we should step in and make that choice for them. He says that's what the Left does on economic issues, and the Right should not do it on religious issues.
  • If someone makes bad choices, they should take responsibility for those choices, and they don't have the right to ask the government to take those responsibilities.
  • The US Constitution limits the federal government, not the states. Even when states are wrong, it's up to the states to correct their own wrongs, although he seems to draw an exception for slavery and "civil liberties."
  • He would support a federal abortion amendment, but doesn't think enforcement should be federal. He says crimes involving violence, including murder, are handled at the state level. (He's wrong about that. Murder is covered under federal law, under circumstances as diverse as drug-related drive-by shootings, rape, torture and occurring at an international airport.)
  • He supports using Congress' authority to define the courts' jurisdictions by removing their jurisdiction over matters of abortion.
  • He gives a mini-autobiography. He says he grew up a Lutheran and went through catechism, but was also influenced by Billy Graham. He talks about earning his medical degree and the different experiences of being a doctor, then learning economics and getting into politics.
  • When the topic turns to struggles and mistakes, he tells how as a teenager he was very athletic but suffered some kind of injury and was never able to physically get back to the same competitive level. I can't help but notice that answers in this part of the forum seem a lot more rushed than everyone else's. He really doesn't seem to be comfortable with this level of personal discussion.
  • He would not support a marriage amendment, although he does support the Defense of Marriage Act. In general, he would like marriage to be handled by the states, although he would prefer for it to be handled by the church, independently of government.
  • He believes in St. Augustine's theory of Just War, and that the Constitution is in place to guide us to follow that theory. He says all wars since WW2 have been "illegal, unconstitutional, immoral and all were unwinnable." He says the wars of the past ten years have cost 8,500 American lives (which is true only if you include 9/11) and added $4 trillion to the national debt (which may or may not be true if you count indirect costs projected out to 2020, but is nowhere near true if you're counting actual allocated funds).

Michele Bachmann
  • In her first answer, she relates the President's oath of office to her testimony as a Christian. She says she was 16 when she prayed the sinner's prayer and sought to give her life to God.
  • She doesn't like that pastors can't talk about politics from the pulpit, but she doesn't explicitly mention why (the tax exemption for churches).
  • She says she has "a Biblical worldview," especially in regards to "marriage, family and children."
  • The problem with Obamacare is that it "trumps the states," and that's why she wants to repeal it. She later says that Obamacare means taxpayer-funded abortions, and that this coming election will be our only opportunity to repeal it.
  • Congress needs to limit "subject matter jurisdiction," meaning they need to create certain topics that the judicial system is not allowed to hear cases about. She implies she would remove their jurisdiction over gay marriage, and says explicitly she would remove their jurisdiction over offshore oil drilling leases, which she says are always sued by environmental groups. She also repeats her promise to get the price of gas back below $2 per gallon.
  • She tells the story of her parents' divorce; her father left and she didn't see him again for six years, leaving her mother with four children. She says that experience led her to take in 23 foster children as an adult, which in turn led her to get involved in education reform, which in turn led to politics.
  • She asks, "Why is it that the big decisions always get made by the Supreme Court?" She wants to pass a federal marriage amendment to make sure that the final decision on gay marriage is made by the people, not by judges.
  • She wants to expand the educational choices that parents have, but like Santorum stops short of using the phrase "school choice." She says teaching right and wrong has to come from the parents.
  • War is justified if America is attacked or threatened with attack and there is a "clearly defined American vital interest" in going to war.

Rick Santorum
  • We have lost the sense that our rights come from God. He says we should not be like Islam, where civil law and religious law are the same, but that civil law should still "comport with the higher law." He cites abortion as an area where current civil law does not comport with God's law.
  • He says when he won his first Senate race, he "had a constituency of one," that one being God. He also says he came to the Senate and found God because of the support that he found there. Now that's not a characterization of the US Senate you often hear!
  • Faith and family are the most important things, even above policy, and he says if you have faith and family "in line," everything else will probably fall in line too.
  • He says the Left has co-opted our educational system and through that our culture, and that this is why so many people are hostile to the kinds of things they're talking about in this forum.
  • He talks about "no-fault freedom," or freedom without responsibility, which is what he says the Left advocates. Freedom isn't about what you want to do, but "what you ought to do," and he'll tell you what you ought to do.
  • "Gay marriage is wrong," then quotes Lincoln to say the states do not have the right to do wrong. He's for a marriage amendment, and says he's the only one on the stage who came to Iowa to help get out the vote against the judges who had passed gay marriage in Iowa. Later, he says gay marriage "radically changes the entire moral fiber of our country," and as President he would actively speak out against it.
  • If Gingrich would eliminate a single court he disagrees with, Santorum would eliminate the entire Ninth District. He says that Congress, as an equal branch of government under the Constitution, has the same authority to determine constitutionality of a law as the Supreme Court does.
  • He tells the story of his youngest daughter, who was born with a congenital disorder that kills 99% of children with it within their first year. It's a very moving story, and he obviously tells it straight from the heart. It's deeply personal; he relates how for several months he restrained himself from loving her because losing her was almost certain, before he realized that he was treating her as less than a person because of the disorder. For him, this strengthened his resolve to fight against abortion.
  • "The family is the bedrock of our society." He wants to fight gay marriage in the states because he sees the pro-life movement's failure to fight abortion in the states in the 70s as one of the contributing factors to Roe v. Wade.
  • He says the educational system is broken, and that we need a system that focuses on the customer. That customer is not the child, but the parents. He wants more customization of educational options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to education. That includes measuring more than just academic achievement, although he doesn't specifically say what else he would measure. He also doesn't use the phrase "school choice" or other buzzwords associated with vouchers, charter schools, etc., so it's not clear that he's for or against those options, or how he wants to achieve the customization of education.
  • He wants to put the last ten years of war into the broader context of the 1000+ year struggle between Islam and the West, and he believes it all comes down to Iran. He really steps up the rhetoric with a list of reasons why Iran is our enemy, and finishes by saying he wants to make clear to Iran that if they do not shut down their nuclear research facilities, we will work with Israel to eliminate those facilities.

Rick Perry
  • He says the President's responsibilities are beyond "human intellect" and he could not do it without the help of God. He also says he has been driven to prayer many times as Governor of Texas.
  • Our laws and policies are built on values, and it's up to us to make sure that those values are "our values." He doesn't think pastors should necessarily talk about politics, but that they shouldn't be afraid to call out political leaders who aren't following their church's values.
  • The Founding Fathers had a much narrower view of the role of the federal government than we currently have, both domestically and internationally. He wants states to have more power in education and health care, and he wants to curtail our spending on foreign aid.
  • The states cannot say no to the federal Constitution, which he says in apparent disagreement with Ron Paul. He doesn't say this explicitly, but it sounds like he would favor both an abortion amendment and a marriage amendment. 
  • He says in Texas, homosexual couples cannot adopt children and he implies that he'd like to see a similar nationwide law.
  • About halfway through the video, there's a short break where everyone gets up and walks around. At the end of the break, the moderator asks the candidates to take their seats, and most of them do (Newt wandered further than the rest and was the last to reach the table). But Perry reaches his seat, then stands next to it and waits for Representative Bachmann to sit down first-- an interesting insight into his personality.
  • He shares the story of growing up in a very small town, saying he graduated in the top ten-- out of a class of thirteen. He says he first became a Christian at the age of 14, but only "truly gave [his] life to Christ" at age 27 after coming home from the Air Force.
  • He says he always wanted to be a veterinarian, that was his goal in going to Texas A&M, "and then he introduced me to organic chemistry, and I became a pilot in the United States Air Force."
  • The role of the government in support of the common good is narrowly defined to issues like public safety, but he includes immigration law under public safety. He repeats his statement from a previous debate that we need to "shut that border down," then shifts to talking about his flat tax proposal.
  • He says he understands the job of Commander-in-Chief because he's led the Texas National Guard while governor. Of the candidates who answered the question about the moral justification for war, Perry's was the broadest justification-- "when America's interests are in jeopardy." He also says we shouldn't let Congress set the rules of engagement, but those should be determined by the commanders on the ground.

Herman Cain
  • About the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office, he says he is "ultimately responsible to God Almighty."
  • He sees a great divide between "people of faith" and "people of non-faith," and says that people of faith need to not just push back but to fight back against people of non-faith by not being afraid to express their faith in the public sphere.
  • He says the tax code is a form of "intimidation" to pastors, because they're required to not talk about certain topics from the pulpit or they'll lose their tax exempt status.
  • "Freedom without responsibility is immoral." Your right to liberty does not include taking someone else's life, including if that someone else is unborn. He later says the Occupiers are the perfect example of "freedom without responsibility is immoral."
  • The federal government has the power to tell the states what to do when the states are wrong, and the measure of whether or not they are wrong is the principles established in our founding documents, especially "all men are created equal." He holds up the individual mandate as an example of where the states can say no to the federal government.
  • He would support either an amendment or a federal law banning abortion, assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned.
  • He says he joined the church at age 10, but that when he was diagnosed with cancer it was a real blow to his faith. He struggles to tell the story of his wife's support after he was diagnosed with cancer, nearly coming to tears.
  • He says he feels like he wasn't home enough with his kids when they were growing up because he was focusing on his career.
  • If the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, he "would lead the charge to overturn the Supreme Court." He's not clear exactly what that means, but apparently he thinks it can be done legislatively.
  • The common good is enforcing laws, and establishing a level playing field, so that people are treated with fairness & respect.
  • He would not go to war without clearly defining why we're going to war and what the definition of success would be. He believes the moral justification for war rests on defense; he makes no mention of "American interests," only actual defense of life, liberty and property.

Newt Gingrich
  • He ascribes our current woes as a nation to the attempt to create a secular country. He quotes the Declaration of Independence to say that if we recognize that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, then we'll also be able to solve the rest of our problems.
  • He contrasts the French and American Revolutions, and says the French Revolution was a secular, anti-clerical revolution which through history has influenced academia; since academia influences the media and courts, this is why many people are hostile towards religion.
  • He says the Occupiers have no sense of responsibility, and tells them to "go get a job after you take a bath."
  • He believes that under the 14th Amendment, Congress has the authority to legislatively define personhood, and can thus do an end-run around Roe v. Wade. A cursory reading of the 14th Amendment shows it takes a fair amount of "interpretation" to reach that conclusion.
  • He would reinstate Bush's conscience clause, and extend it to adoption agencies on the matter of homosexual adoptions. He would also cut funding to any state or local jurisdiction that did not allow faith-based adoption agencies to choose not to adopt to homosexual couples.
  • He cites a specific justice in San Antonio who recently ruled against school prayer and explicitly said Congress needs to retaliate by eliminating that court.
  • He shares a story about a friend's child who was born with a rare heart defect and brain tumors and went through six years of in-and-out surgery as a child. He says next year's election will be about whether we want bureaucrats to make health care decisions for children like that or if we want a system "that cares about every life at that depth."
  • He reiterates his position from a previous debate that he would not be comfortable with an atheist President. In fact, he says, such a person "terrifies" him because they misunderstand human limitations. He briefly alludes to his marriage problems, but mostly glosses over them. He says although he wasn't drinking, two AA books helped him realize where he had gone wrong and helped him get himself back together.
  • If the Supreme Court overturns DOMA, he says Congress can just re-pass DOMA with a clause saying it can't be reviewed by the courts. This strategy sounds very dangerous to me. As soon as Republicans start adding clauses like that to their legislation, Democrats are going to do it too. There's probably a few Democrats who wish they'd done it to Obamacare. Do we really want to invite the end of judicial review in this country?
  • Asked if he believes in a "common good," he says the role of the government is to create a framework where individuals can seek that common good on their own.
  • "We should not go to war if we can avoid it," but if we can't avoid it, we need to use "overwhelming power." Like Ron Paul, he agrees with St. Augustine's theory of Just War. He says he would be harsher against Iran than Santorum.

Overall, most of the candidates seemed to let their guards down in this forum. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich were the notable exceptions. Paul kinda seemed uncomfortable with all the touchy-feely emotional stuff going on and really rushed through his answers during those rounds. Newt seemed very aloof, and not Romney-style above-the-fray aloof since there really wasn't a fray this time. Just aloof. Given the opportunity to talk about his marriages, he basically just glossed over them. In a normal debate, it would've been a perfectly fine answer, but compared to Santorum, Cain and Bachmann's soul-bearing, it just seemed lacking.

I hesitate to judge the candidates on their personal answers, but I do have to make a comment about Rick Perry. Where Santorum, Cain and Bachmann seemed very sincere in their answers, especially Santorum, Perry simply didn't. Now maybe it's a cultural thing or a generational thing, maybe things are just different in Texas, maybe it's just how he expresses himself, so what follows is just my observation.

I'm an Evangelical Christian. I grew up in an Evangelical church and went to a Protestant high school. I am intimately familiar with the codewords and buzz phrases Protestants use to communicate their Protestant-ness to each other. Again, maybe it's just me, but in my experience, the more sincere someone is in living the way they claim to believe, the less they actually use those codewords. Perry's answers sounded like he was reading them out of the dictionary. It's like two students, one of whom can only repeat what the teacher said word-for-word, while the other can explain the teacher's point using their own words. Which one do you think really understands the material?

In case it's not clear, Santorum was the second student. As much as I disagreed with a number of the policies he advocated in this forum, I think this was precisely what he needed, and it's a real detriment to his campaign that it wasn't on any television network. He may have gotten more screentime in this debate than in the all others combined, and he really shone in this format. When he's gone on the attack in past debates, he often came across as just petty and angry. This time there wasn't a hint of pettiness or anger, just sincerity and belief. I still don't think he's the right candidate for the Presidency, but my opinion of him as a man is a lot higher than it was before this forum.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I also agree that Santorum seems like a sincere Christian but not someone I would pick for the Presidency and definitely not someone who could attract independents. Still it's surprising that he hasn't even had a Huccabee hump this season as he's the only solid evangelical candidate this time around. I guess economic issues and backlash against big government are really the big issues this time; Santorum doesn't really seem big on those things. Bachmann is the second-closest to being the evangelical candidate, I think, but she's extreme Tea Party fiscal conservatism and she at least had her Bachmann bump. Surprised she's still pandering that $2/gallon line, though...

    Also scared of potential blowback from the anti-judicial rhetoric. Clauses that say courts can't touch stuff or full-out eliminating courts? I've never heard of this stuff, is this even mainstream conservative?

    Final comment... Amused that Newt says he agrees with Ron Paul's war theories but would also be more hawkish against Iran than Santorum?