In the Arena

18 Days Till Iowa: 4 Important Answers From Thursday’s Debate (Part 1)

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Last night’s Fox News debate in Iowa was a far more complicated thing than previous sessions. Most of the candidates had nice moments, Newt Gingrich had some tough ones. I have no idea how it will impact the race. But there were 4 moments, 4 answers to questions posed by the rigorous Fox News moderators, that deserve some further consideration:

1.  Romney’s answer about “creative destruction” capitalism he practiced at Bain Capital, especially this part:

In the real world, some things don’t make it, and I believe I’ve learned from my successes and my failures. The President, I’ll look at and say: ‘Mr. President, how did you do when you were running General Motors as the president, took it over? Gee, you closed down factories. You closed down dealerships. And he’ll say: ‘Well, I did that to save the business.’ Same thing with us, Mr. President. We did our very best to make those businesses succeed. I’m pleased that they did, and I’ve learned the lessons of how the economy works. This president doesn’t know how the economy works. I believe to create jobs, it helps to have created jobs.

This was a terrific response. It previews the path that Romney will take against the Obama attacks if he’s the nominee. But it doesn’t address the real problems with the private-equity games that Romney played at Bain–in fact, the whole “creative destruction” trope is something of a straw man. I’m sure that President Obama wouldn’t disagree that “some things don’t make it,” and that survival of the fittest is an essential part of capitalism, the most effective prosperity-producing economic system the world has ever known.

The problems with Bain-style capitalism are the distortions it has caused. It emphasized short-term profit over long-term growth. It placed a premium on executive compensation as the most efficient way to achieve short-term profits. It helped cause the non-productive bloating of the financial sector, the financialization of the economy. It has hollowed out the creative core of American capitalism. These are complicated issues, far more difficult to get at than the jobs stripped and factories closed. But I’d love to see someone ask Romney about them.

Update: Several commenters have, rightly, pointed out one inconsistency in Romney’s answer–clearly, if the President did the right thing at General Motors, then he must know a little bit about how jobs are preserved and created. I’d like to point out another: Romney is, at least, tacitly acknowledging that bailing out GM  was the right thing to do, which also must mean that Romney was wrong to oppose it. My believe that this was a terrific response was probably an overreaction–it was a clever response, placing Romney’s rather controversial private-equity dealings within the realm of acceptable free enterprise.

2. Ron Paul on Iran. I should have said more in the past about Paul’s absolute courage, and good sense, on foreign policy issues in these debates. But last night’s duel with the execrable Michele Bachmann on the subject of Iran was probably his finest moment. It came at a time of escalating insanity within the Republican party on this issue.

Both Gingrich, on Monday, and Bachmann last night have trotted out the idiotic proposition that because the Iranian government is run by religious fanatics, it will have no problems with using nuclear weapons (against Israel) as soon as it gets one. To illustrate this proposition, they usually refer to the vile nonsense that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad peddles about Israel, as if Ahmadinejad had any power over the Iranian nuclear program. He doesn’t. Nor does he have power over any aspect of the Iranian military. None. Zero, zilch. The Supreme Leader, and the Revolutionary Guard, control that part of the program.

There are several other things violently wrong with the Bachmann/Gingrich “analysis.” First of all, Iran these days is pretty much a military dictatorship which uses the patina of militant Islam as camouflage. It is a horrible government–among the very worst in the world–but it is not suicidal. Iran is still recovering from the one million casualties (100,000 victims of  poison gas) it sustained in the war with Iraq in the 1980s. I have no doubt it wants a nuclear bomb. I also have no doubt that it wants the bomb as a deterrent against Israel’s nuclear stash–and perhaps against the possibility that Pakistan’s nukes will fall into the hands of Sunni extremists. Israel is freaked about the possibility of an Iranian bomb not because it believes that Iran will launch, but because it doesn’t want to lose its strategic advantage, especially against groups like Hizballah.

Ron Paul made that point last night. He reminded people that one reason we were able to waltz into Libya was because Qaddafi suspended his nuclear program and didn’t have any way to deter us. He also made the larger point that the jihadis are not attacking us because “they hate our freedom.” If that were the case, he said, why aren’t they attacking Switzerland and Sweden? The jihadis are attacking us “because we’re bombing them.” (Or, more accurately, because we are meddling in their region.)

Paul’s answer may well have finished his chance of winning in Iowa, which made it all the more impressive. He is an honorable man.

The other 2 important answers came from Newt Gingrich and I’ll post separately about them after I’ve run some errands.

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