The first thing to be said about Wednesday night's debate is that it was way too long. It went on for more than three hours. The transcript published by Time magazine runs to 34,857 words, including stage directions. That's longer than Hamlet or the Book of Genesis.
Comparisons with literary productions in fact bring to mind Dr Johnson's remark about Paradise Lost, quote: "None ever wished it longer than it is."
Does America really want that much politics? It's over a year to the Presidential election, for crying out loud. Three hours?
I guess I should make allowance here for the fact of my being a geezer, from a different time; and indeed from a different place, under a parliamentary government whose leader could call an election at a time that seemed opportune to him, and then run an election campaign lasting two weeks.
Harding won the election [of 1920] on his fifty-fifth birthday, which, characteristically, he celebrated by playing a round of golf. He did not believe that politics were very important or that people should get excited about them or allow them to penetrate too far into their everyday lives. In short, he was the exact opposite of Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler, and the professional Social Democratic politicians of Europe.End quote. Ah, Harding, thou shouldst be living at this hour!
Well, here were eleven candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination on stage Wednesday night at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. What did we learn?
In my case, to be perfectly honest with you, not very much, as I didn't watch the thing. One of my dinner clubs was meeting. Given the choice between a nice dinner in agreeable company, with a talk from an invited guest followed by spirited discussion, versus three hours slumped in the Barcalounger watching politicians pretending to like me, I went for the more civilized option.
I did read the transcript, though; or at any rate, I looked over it. I read some of the commentary, too.
From what I can gather thence, Donald Trump's attitude to the event was closely in line with my own. By the two-hour mark he was, people say, as bored with the whole show as I would have been if I'd watched it. Good for him. We could have another Warren Harding here. America should be so blessed!
For a positive, the immigration issue got good coverage, as these events go. I add that qualifier because, if you've been reading and writing about immigration for twenty years, as I have, and actually been through the U.S. immigration process all the way from tourist to citizen, as I have, most of the public commentary sounds wearyingly jejune. The actual level of understanding of the issue among these characters seeking to be Chief Executive is dismally low.
That's improving, though. While most of those on stage Wednesday spoke in the threadbare platitudes that drive us immigration wonks to the liquor bottle, we did hear some sense on the Fourteenth Amendment from Donald Trump and Rand Paul, both of whom have taken the trouble to inform themselves on the topic.
Legal immigration didn't get much coverage. What little it did get, surprising to me, came from Marco Rubio, who called for an end to chain migration. Quote from him:
Step two would be to modernize our legal immigration system so you come to America on the basis of what you can contribute economically, not whether or not simply you have a relative living here.That's good sense. There are signs of some light dawning here among GOP candidates. Even Carly Fiorina, although clueless on birthright citizenship, made a sensible remark, quote:
Immigration did not come up in 2016 because Mr. Trump brought it up. We talked about it in 2012, we talked about it in 2008. We talked about it in 2004 … We have been talking about it for 25 years. This is why people are tired of politicians.End quote. Well, it sure is one big reason. That's why Donald Trump is riding high.
Whether a straight-ticket "invade the world, invite the world" neocon like Carly Fiorina would do anything more than continue to talk about immigration, is of course an open question.
I can't think of much else to say about the damn debate. The Donald, down in the high-boredom zone at the end of the show, let slip his fondness for minor-level nuttiness, in this case on the subject of whether promiscuous vaccination of children raises levels of autism. Ben Carson and Rand Paul dealt with this, I thought, in a very gentlemanly and informative way, for which I offer them my thanks. I doubt there are more than 25 Presidential votes nationwide in this issue, but I'm glad to see some adult collegiality in a political event. Water in the desert.
What else? There were some silly exchanges about Trump's prior remarks about Carly Fiorina's looks. Well, none of us can help our looks. God knows, no model agency ever called me up offering a contract. Net-net, though, I think this kind of thing plays into the Golden Bough factor, to Trump's advantage as the badboy alpha male. I doubt any harm was done.
Now I'm really out of opinions about Wednesday night's event. Although, if I may set aside a commentator's proper modesty for a moment, I think this segment was pretty good opinionating for a guy who didn't even watch the wretched debate.