Yes, yes, Rick Perry….uh….what was I going to say……about…..Rick…..uh….oh, I remember! Those of us who have achieved a certain, ah, maturity can certainly sympathize with the Texas Governor’s aphasic moment, although the Republican electorate can’t afford to be so kind–there is, I suspect, zero chance that Republicans will allow Perry to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama in a presidential debate after last night’s embarrassment. His campaign is over.
But there was an absolutely fascinating aspect to Perry’s brainlock that hasn’t received much attention: in the midst of his despair, his Republican opponents tried to help him, proposing government agencies for elimination…”The EPA?” one suggested and Perry quickly agreed, although moderator John Harwood called him on it and Perry, to his credit, said that wasn’t the agency he had in mind. (It was the Department of Energy).
In any case, the exchange fortified a sub-theme in last night’s debate–a siege mentality has set in among the Republican candidates, a united front against their captors in the media, a reverse Stockholm Syndrome. The leader is, of course, Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich has been taunting moderators throughout the debate season–often rightly so, since the official questioners can ask wildly stupid questions, like Maria Bartiromo’s attempt to get each candidate to describe his or her health care plan in 30 seconds. Gingrich scoffed at the question, huffing up–a problem for him–and reciting his long history of health care wonkitude. He then proved the difficulty of answering by stumbling through a 30-second attempt to condense his own nuanced, and very interesting, views on health care into a sound bite. His rather brilliant polio analogy–the iron lung v. the Saulk vaccine*–was crushed in the process.
Earlier, Gingrich had set the combative tone with this exchange with Bartiromo:
GINGRICH:…Historically, this is the richest country in the history of the world because corporations succeed in creating both profits and jobs, and it’s sad that the news media doesn’t report accurately how the economy works.
BARTIROMO: Mr. Speaker — I’m sorry, but what is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
BARTIROMO: What is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?
GINGRICH: I love humor disguised as a question. That’s terrific.
I have yet to hear a single reporter ask a single Occupy Wall Street person a single rational question about the economy that would lead them to say, for example, “Who is going to pay for the park you are occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?”
It should be noted that the applause for Gingrich and the laughter at Bartiromo was thunderous. The siege mentality was also intensified by the Herman Cain situation, and the audience’s booing and hissing over poor Maria’s raising that question as well.
While I have a certain amount of sympathy with the candidates–the format for these debates is frustrating, and journalists tend to ask simplistic and sensational questions–Gingrich’s assault on Bartiromo slips easily into a standard Republican delusion: that the “liberal mainstream” media have it in for them. Those same liberal media were besieging Gary Hart and Bill Clinton long before Herman Cain groped an alleged grope. Those same liberal media have asked Democratic candidates a myriad of stupid and simplistic candidates…and Fox News, when it sponsors debates, doesn’t perform any better.
It would be nice, when the stage clears, to try one of those Lincoln-Douglas debates that Gingrich is proposing. I’d love the wonkery, though it would probably put most voters to sleep. In the meantime, the Republican candidates are finding solace in a common enemy–We the Media.
*(In essence, Gingrich was making a plea for government funding of basic research as opposed to federal funding of health bureaucracies–in the 1950’s the government was about to fund a system of iron lung centers, which were obviated by Saulk’s vaccine. Gingrich is making the point that finding a cure for brain diseases like Alzheimers’ will save a hell of a lot of money.)