A story is sweeping the blogosphere and even breaking into the mainstream media. It’s all about Wedenesday night’s Republican debate which aired on CNN and featured questions from what were presented as likely Republican primary voters who submitted questions through YouTube.
Right after the debate complaints began to be heard that the selection of questions was peculiar and seemed to be picked on criteria which weren’t particularly relevant to the issues of the Republican primary. As the discussion expanded people began speculating that CNN had deliberately picked questions to sabotage the debate. Then questions began to be raised suggesting that a few of the questions may have come not from the Republican voters from whom they had been solicited, but from Democrats or left-leaning independents.
Attention first focused on a question asked by gay Retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. I actually rather liked the question, but it did seem sort of pointless since all of the candidates are on record with the same basic position supporting the policy. Before the debate was even over, controversy began to arise over Kerr’s participation when it became known that not only is Kerr a registered Democrat, but he’s actually working for the Hillary Clinton campaign as Co-Chairman of the Veterans and Military Retirees for Hillary committee.
It was very clear that Kerr was essentially a Democrat plant who CNN made little or no effort to vet – since he’s a known public figure and could easily have been identified. This raised questions about other questions and very quickly questioners began to be identified as Democrats, independents, socialists and just about anything but actual Republicans. First four were identified and quickly the numbers grew, until at last count the indications are that the majority of the 40 questions actually let through from YouTube and approved by CNN came from non-Republicans, many of them known activists for specific Democrat groups or candidates.
By today it has become clear that CNN either deliberately colluded with the Democrats in a planned sandbagging of the GOP candidates or made virtually no effort to identify the legitimacy of the people asking the questions. CNN has tried to brush the questions off as “funny and poignant”, but their stated role in the debate as formulated by Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman was to “let Republican voters pick from among their eight candidates” while “trying to focus mostly on questions where there are differences among these candidates.” Yet somehow the questions focused primarily on issues of interest to the left and more appropriate for the general election than in a debate between Republicans during their party primary. In a supposedly “laborious process” CNN editors went through 3500 submissions to pick 40 questions. With so many questions to pick from it seems inherently suspicious that they could only find questions mostly from Democrats or from outright professional shills for special interest groups.
Michelle Malkin and other bloggers have managed to easily identify the political connections of the many suspect questioners. The mom who asked about preserving jobs works for the steel union. The self-described log cabin Republican is a leftist who supports Obama. The person with a question about Islam used to work for CAIR. The college student with the abortion question is a John Edwards supporter. The person with the social security reform question works for democratic Senator Dick Durbin. The guy with questions about farm subsidies was a former intern for a Democratic senator. Perhaps worst of all the guy urging Ron Paul to make a run as an independent is a Richardson supporter and even appeared with a question as a Democrat in a previous CNN debate. It goes on and on.
CNN’s basic excuse for all of this seems to be pure, hapless incompetence. But given the ease with which the backgrounds of these question submitters was researched by bloggers it seems inconceivable that CNN could have done such a shoddy job, and that has a lot of people on the right crying ‘foul’ and ‘fraud’. If they couldn’t find a real PaulBot with a question out of thousands of entries from YouTube then incompetence is way too generous a description and someone had to have an ulterior motive, even if it was just spicing things up a bit.
So yes, CNN is staffed by moronic, partisan buffoons who are arrogant enough to think they could get away with petty stuff like this. Anderson Cooper has given up what little journalistic credibility he ever had by presiding over what amounts in many ways to a the political equivalent of a back-alley mugging. And I haven’t even gotten started on the opening segment where in an attempt at humor they demeaned the candidates, YouTube participants and the entire political process, though I did think the song was kind of good.
It was certainly wrong to offer the candidates a Republican primary debate and then turn it into something a lot more like a debate from the general election. It was a classic bait-and-switch and candidates like McCain have a right to be pissed about it. Yet at the same time, it did produce a somewhat more revealing debate than we might have had otherwise and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to see the candidates squirming and caught off guard.
Despite all the outrage, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to have the candidates answering some tougher questions in a debate, even if they come from questionable sources. It’s actually quite valuable, because it lets us see how the candidates would handle themselves in a more open forum, giving us some idea how effective they might be when debating an actual democrat if they were to get the nomination. Plus some of the questions were ones I’d like to see the candidates answer and which wouldn’t normally get asked in a more controlled debate. It was informative to hear Tancredo once and for all display his total lack of understanding of the immigration issue. The question about America’s image overseas was interesting and I was surprised to see Duncan Hunter come up with exactly the right answer when no one else could. It was also reassuring to hear Giuliani take a firm stand in support of gun rights. Ron Paul got to say yet again, fairly clearly, that he was not going to run as an independent, but that he was at least somewhat in accord with the conspiracy fanatics in his constituency. On taxes Huckabee made a clear statement that he was totally for the Fair Tax, while McCain managed to haltingly admit that he kind of sort of would raise taxes. Only Giuliani managed to come up with the right answer on guest workers and immigration. And apparently a number of them want to throw abortion doctors in jail.
All of the candidates disappointed me on key questions, of course. They seem to have caught on to Ron Paul’s strategy of avoiding topics like abortion by passing them off as states rights issues, ignoring the responsibility of the federal government under the Constitution to protect the fundamental rights of individuals from abuse by the state governments. They tried to apply the argument not only to abortion, but to gun control as well. I also wasn’t at all pleased with the answer on the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” question. You’d think that out of all the candidates one of them – hello, Rudy – would have had the guts to admit the policy is just stupid, especially when faced with a gay brigadier general.
Yes, the questions were off the wall and some of them specifically designed to try to torpedo certain candidates, but the resulting heated arguments were more informative and more entertaining than any debate I’ve watched so far, and for the most part the candidates performed well. Certainly CNN’s handling of the questions was despicable, but I think the outrage is misplaced. This is politics, not patty-cake, and if these candidates can’t handle some loaded questions from opposition party plants they aren’t ready for the general election and they certainly aren’t ready to be president.