The South Carolina Debate
by Andrew Sullivan
For me, the big news was that Fred Thompson is alive. He came out swinging against Huckabee in ways that frankly surprised me. Funny at times, acerbic at others, he seemed much more comfortable as a campaigner. I also have to say that on national security, McCain was simply far and away the most reassuring as a potential president. When he ran through his national security experience, you could almost see Giuliani shrinking visibly into his suit. His weak points were his somewhat desperate plea to "round up" illegal immigrants and his demagoguic resort to calling any critique of the Iraq occupation as somehow an attack on the troops. Please.
Romney had one good riff on change - reminding me of what he could have presented himself as in this election, i.e. an able executive rather than a pandering pseudo-Christianist theo-bot. Huckabee is, however, very good under fire - affable, not very flappable, and humane. His response to the Ephesians question was disingenuous, however. The Scripture does not tell husbands to submit to wives. It tells them to love their wives in return for their wives' obedience. And, of course, when he explains that marriage teaches human beings "how to love," any gay person listening can only hear exclusion. He doesn't care, but there it is. But I do feel obliged to tell Republicans: love is not exclusive to heterosexuals. And gay couples are not antithetical to family life.
And, yes, thank God for Ron Paul.
No one else, except McCain, copped to the GOP's rank betrayal of fiscal conservatism, limited government, prudent foreign policy and civil liberties. When he was asked to disown the 9/11 Truthers, he gave a revealing answer, and one that reflects on the newsletters issue. It just isn't in his nature to adopt other people's views, or to tell anyone else what to believe or what to say. He doesn't just believe in libertarianism; he lives it. This means that he doesn't have the instinct to police anyone else's views or actions within the law or the Constitution. I don't think it excuses his negligence in the past, but it does help me understand it better.
One other vital thing: none of the candidates seems to have the slightest nuance on the Iraq war. I don't find Paul's extreme non-interventionism to be palatable; but I don't think it's less inherently reasonable than McCain's belief in occupying half the planet for ever as long as we don't have US casualties. Giuliani is the nuttiest. Romney just vacuous and dumb. To listen to McCain, you would honestly think Iraq would soon become a peaceful, unified, independent nation. At best, that might happen in 50 years time. Until then, we have to occupy the place, constantly juggling various militias, appeasing various factions, arming those who will one day attack us and then the next day realign with us? Empire is a rough business. And when you're running en empire on borrowed money and your own currency is going down the tubes, it's not an indefinite prospect. And if McCain believes Arab culture will tolerate a permanent American occupation the way that Koreans or Germans have, he has learned nothing from these past five years and even less from history.
He is, however, clearly the Republicans' best viable candidate. That is the good news for the GOP. Given the imperial over-reach it implies, it is also the bad news.