[I have another three hour legal ethics seminar (fifth seminar in six days, in four cities) to handle this morning, then I drive to Boston and fly to D.C. Getting up all the posts on the runway will be a challenge: wish me luck. I began the day at Ethics Alarms getting this nice message from a new commenter, a Mr. S M Tenneshaw, who wrote, “You’re not a joke, you’re a worthless piece of shit” in response to this controversial post from 2013. Ah, how exhilarating for that sentiment to be the day’s first contact with human life!]
Here are my comments on the marathon debate last night:
- Jake Tapper did an extraordinary job at being a fair, organized, efficient and firm moderator. I was in awe. I was less impressed with his late innings resort to questions reminiscent of Barbara Walters’ infamous question to Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ [ NOTE: In the original post,, I incorrectly attributed this to Barbara’s Jimmy Carter interview, which was also cloying. Always got those two mixed up…] Later, after the debate, Tapper complained that there were some important questions he didn’t get to ask. If that’s true, Jake, why ask such silly ones as “What woman would you place on the ten dollar bill?,” and “What would your code name be as POTUS?” Some of the answers were inexplicable (I had to have someone explain to me why Carly Fiorina said “Secretariat” as her code name. She was referencing her humble beginnings, not the Triple Crown winner…), some were alarming (Chris Christie wants to put the ADDAMS FAMILY on a bill? Oh, right, Abigail. ONE ‘D’. Good answer.) and some were pathetic pandering (Dr. Carson: “One Nation”? As the code name for the President? Uh, Ben, what are you doing?)
- The Joseph Welch moment that I predicted occurred, though it was a wan and, as I feared, an incompetent version. The Welch-wannabe was Rand Paul, and he directly referenced Trump’s “sophomoric” personal attacks:
“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”
Obviously nobody with any historical knowledge, theatrical sense and rhetorical skill coached Paul, who is apparently too arrogant to watch YouTube. First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that.
- Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!” got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.
- Donald Trump also lied, and I thought evidently so, in his back and forth with Jeb Bush over Trump’s efforts to get Florida to add casino gambling. Jeb explained that Trump gave a large donation to persuade him to support the expansion of gambling, and Trump denied it. I didn’t know the facts, but I thought Bush was convincing: sure enough, the facts backed him up. One of Trump’s claims is that he never lies. He lies frequently, and this was a blazing example. He should be confronted with it.
- Trump took another hit when Carly Fiorina’s almost certainly pre-scripted response about Trump’s insult to her appearance got the biggest applause of the night. Trump folded like an accordion, and his response that Fiorina has “got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman” was lame, weak, insincere, an obvious surrender, and fell flat with the crowd.
- To get all of the Trump points out of the way, he also revealed himself to be an anti-vaxxer, telling a Jenny McCarthy-esque tale of how a baby he knew about got vaccinations and turned autistic. So Trump is a birther* and an anti-vaccination nut. Stand proud, Trump supporters.
- Ben Carson is wasting everyone’s time. He has no feel for debate, he is uninformed, he refuses to engage, and seems to think he can earn the Presidency solely by being a black Republican who isn’t Barack Obama. Carson has even less experience than Obama when he ran, but without the President’s speaking skills. His explanation for why he wouldn’t have retaliated against Afghanistan following the terror attacks was deluded and Rand Paulish, disqualifying him as a serious candidate. Those who support him in the polls might as well be stumping for a hand puppet, a pocket comb or a bag of jellybeans. They should be ashamed of themselves.
- I’ve made my case about Sen. Paul’s dangerous ideology before, so I won’t belabor it. Like his father, he sees nothing wrong with doubling or tripling the number of Americans, an already unmanageable number, who wreck their lives, families and the businesses that depend on them with self-incapacitating recreational drugs. Also like his dad, he believes that the only nation on earth that has, can and must project its power to keep evil in the world at bay should eschew foreign conflicts.
- Mike Huckabee also reiterated his ignorant and dangerous view that citizens should be able to ignore any law their particular religious beliefs oppose. He seems to be under the impression that the only religion is Christianity, whereby the governor can say with the stunning certitude of the enlightened, that only “wrong” Supreme Court rulings don’t matter. Somebody please point out to him that his formula would allow new and creative religions to defy almost any law under the sun?
- Back to Rand Paul: he made the classic rationalization of drug legalization advocates by terming it “hypocrisy” for someone who used pot as a teen to oppose legalization now. Either Paul doesn’t understand the meaning of hypocrisy, which is not retroactive, or he’s using a dishonest rationalization. So, Senator, is it hypocritical for an elected official who drove intoxicated as a 20-year-old to support DUI laws in his fifties, or to tell his son its the wrong thing to do? Paul is the most dangerous kind of fool: one who thinks he’s wise.
- Jeb Bush had a nice ethical moment following Paul’s fatuous “I don’t know what hypocrisy is, but I’m accusing you of it” moment, quickly volunteering the information that he was the “person on this stage” Paul had referred to as a hypocritical youthful pot user. I doubt he was the only one: Bush might not have even been the one Paul was alluding to!
- I would love to see someone ask Trump about his position on abortion—strong and ethical declaration by Fiorina on the topic of the Planned Parenthood videos, by the way—and then ask how many abortions he has personally paid for. I bet it’s dozens.
- The online polls about who “won” the debate may be the best example of confirmation bias I’ve ever seen. A vast majority of those who answered the Drudge poll, for example, said Trump “won,” with Carson finishing second. There is no objective, rational reason either could be said to have won. Trump was mostly a non-factor, and Carson was an embarrassment. These people should just click a box that says they don’t want a real President any more. That’s essentially what such a reaction means.
*This is a correction from the original post, which read “truther.” All idiot conspiracy theories look the same to me. Ethics Alarms regrets the error.