The Missing Men Debates

Monday was the eye of a weak hurricane.  Between Sunday night’s Democratic debate and tonight’s Republican session there was a small calm, the languid eye of a tropical storm.  Time enough, at least, to contemplate Paris Hilton’s surrender to the LA County hoosegow to serve her time for violating her drunk driving parole, but not enough for the media to cover this week’s sentencing of Scooter Libby for the crime of not remembering what he told a reporter.  Buckle up, troops.  It’s one of those weeks.

The cattle call debates are more interesting in their similarities than differences. The Democrats are in a contest to prove which is more charmingly different from George Bush than from each other.  Bill Richardson, the minor-league curveball pitcher who was (or was not) recruited for the majors proved what he said on Meet the Press on May 27: his arm is gone. (Universal kindergarten education, Bill?  Close Abu Ghraib, Bill, which we turned over to the Iraqis long ago?)

Baby Obama wants to be the New Generation Candidate, measuring himself favorably against Old Generation Hillary.  Aiding and abetting him, former Sen, Edwards showed the She was the principal loser Sunday, because — seated between Obama and Edwards — they managed to speak through her as if she weren’t there.  What was said Sunday night wasn’t important: the body language was.

A few minutes into the debate, Edwards attacked Hillary and Obama, accusing them — rightfully — of playing cute with their votes on the Iraq war supplemental bill by waiting until the last minute to vote.  (Hillary actually played chicken with Obama and won, waiting to see if he’d vote yes or no before she voted.  Obama answered, resulting in Obama and Edwards battling with Hillary in the middle.  It was hilarious. They were both talking through her, not to her.

As a result, Sen. Clinton’s facial expression quickly morphed into an imitation of Chucky, the homicidal doll in the “Child’s Play” horror movies.  If Hillary’s eyes were guns, Edwards would have looked like something found on the floor of a Chicago garage on St. Valentine’s Day 1929.  That Edwards won that skirmish will likely be proven by the attacks on him being ginned up by the Clinton Machine.

Dennis Kucinich — playing the Democrats’ version of Ron Paul — is entertainingly manic.  Hillary is still Hillary, which amounts to Bill without the warmth and panache.  She campaigns fearfully, afraid of making the mistake that will lose her the Barbara Streisand/Susan Sarandon vote.  She relies on liberal guilt.  James Carville played the sexism card in her favor. Carville declaimed that he wasn’t saying opposition to Hillary was only sexism, and he wasn’t saying it wasn’t.  Wits rely on double entendres.  Hillary’s supporters rely on double denials. 

For the Dems, Al Gore is the man who isn’t there.  The admirers of Oscar winner and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gore — such as Joe Klein — make the modest claim that he’s been right on everything for twenty years.  Will he run?  Will anyone notice if he does?
The Republicans, like the Dems, are trying to prove they aren’t George Bush but are handicapped by their reluctance to campaign against their party’s president. But like the Dems, the ten stand in the shadow of the men who aren’t there.  It’s not Algore who worries them but Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. 

With about two dozen others, I attended the American Spectator dinner with Thompson last week.  It’s becoming the most reported off-the-record session in years.  Suffice it to say that Thompson — an impressive guy — seems to get it on the war (and how badly our intelligence community is fouled up) but may not have the fire in the belly to run hard enough or long enough to win.  Expectations are so high, Thompson may find it impossible to meet them.  Which is why the others seem unconcerned about him.  Despite his best attempt to upstage tonight’s debate — the other candidates will (again) not factor Thompson into their strategy for tonight.  He’s not in ‘til he’s up there taking on the rest.
Gingrich, who has the courage to openly oppose President Bush, may yet gain traction.  Will any of the ten standing up tonight take a hard swing at the President?  If not, they may see Gingrich climb quickly in the polls at their expense.  The issue for tonight is illegal immigration.  The awful “compromise” bill — which compromises our nation’s security — is likely to pass the Senate this week.

Both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have come out against the Senate immigration bill, Romney more strongly.  Of the top three, only John McCain supports it.  If these two gang up on the bill, and McCain is goaded sufficiently to display a little of his infamous temper in its defense, McCain may fade out even before Thompson gets in.  McCain can’t escape this one and conservatives are disinclined to give him any slack.

That’s for one big reason:  they are mad at George Bush.  The President attacked conservatives the way Bill Clinton did: saying that they don’t want what’s best for America.  Whether the Senate immigration bill passes both houses of Congress or not, the wounds opened on both sides of the debate won’t soon heal. Conservatives are mounting a full-court press on Congress this week that the White House should not ignore. 

If members of Congress or their staffs aren’t sure how, they should read carefully what Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) is saying about it.  Sessions is both tough and thoughtful.  In a Friday interview (and again Monday morning on the Laura Ingraham Show) Sessions told me that the powers that be — obviously meaning Bush, McCain and the rest — haven’t gotten the message the voters are sending.  That message, he said, was that people are cynical about the government’s border “enforcement” talk.  More importantly, he said, they are right to be. 

Sessions, like most conservatives, is convinced that if you don’t want fences and other measures sufficient to really secure the borders, you don’t want enforcement.  Jeff Sessions gets it.  Do any of the ten candidates?  We’ll see tonight.  What they say — and don’t — may open the gates widely enough for Thompson to march in, smiling broadly. 
It’s long past time to thin this crowd. Let’s hope tonight begins the process.