A Moral and Political Critique of Republican Primary Debate 2015 Arguments, Part 2

This is the third installment of my examination of the arguments presented by presidential primary candidates of both major parties. So far, this series includes critique and commentary on selections from the second Republican debate and the first Democratic one.
As with the first two, the debate transcript selections are in red, and my own remarks in black. I leave out introductions, banter, moderator comments, lines which indicate audience response, some purely empirical claims, and other parts that don’t directly pertain to the political and moral ideas considered here. The parts I leave out are indicated, as usual, by ellipses.
CNBC Republican presidential primary debate, October 28th 2015
The source of the debate transcript which follows is the New York Times, which is in turn as transcribed by the Federal News Service.


Participants
: Governor John Kasich, Governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Marco Rubio, Mr. Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Mrs. Carly Fiorina, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Chris Christie, and Senator Rand Paul.
Moderators: Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick, John Harwood, Sharon Epperson, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer.

….HUCKABEE: …I’ll tell you what a weakness is of this country: there are a lot of people who are sick and tired because Washington does not play by the same rules that the American people have to play by.

Hear, hear. Let’s see if the candidates propose concrete reforms that will ensure everyone has to play by the same rules. And as long as we’re using the analogy of a game, let’s hope that if one of these candidates are successful, they’ll also try to make sure that everyone gets to start out with at least roughly equivalent equipment: access to the same information as to how the game is played, a ball that can hold air, a tennis racket with all its strings in place, a pair of athletic shoes with intact soles, so that they have a chance to successfully compete with those who grow up receiving the best equipment money can buy.

RUBIO: …I would begin by saying that I’m not sure it’s a weakness, but I do believe that I share a sense of optimism for America’s future that, today, is eroding from too many of our people. I think there’s a sense in this country today that somehow our best days are behind us. And that doesn’t have to be true. Our greatest days lie ahead if we are willing to do what it takes now…

Many on Rubio’s side of the aisle are convinced that such things as high taxes, possible (they say inevitable) future insolvency of the Medicare system, illegal immigration, and over-regulation are what’s mainly holding America back and making us feel pessimistic about the future. While some of this might be true and especially for some people, I suspect that the seeming hopelessness of reforming our political system, bought and paid for through crony capitalism, corruptive campaign finance laws, and the revolving door between Washington and Big Finance / Big Business, informs American pessimism more than anything else. In short, we no longer feel like the government is of, by, and for the people. There are a few leading Republicans once again paying lip service to the idea that government could actually be a noble and worthy institution if we reform it. Yet the idea that now pervades the Republican party, that government is little else than a necessary evil and an inherently oppressive busybody, does not help in the least to inspire confidence or a feeling of civic unity and national (not nationalistic!) pride.

CARSON: ….we’re talking about America for the people versus America for the government.

…aaand there goes Carson, chiming in with that anti-government rhetoric. Maybe if those seeking to lead that government would identify it with the people, and in a hopeful and confident manner, portray it as capable of reform and of doing good instead of wishing it were so small and weak that it could be ‘drowned in a bathtub’ (a charming little Grover Norquist-ism) Americans would be better served, and the promise of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights could be more fully realized.

FIORINA: But I also think that these are very serious times; 75 percent of the American people think the federal government is corrupt. I agree with them. And this big powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected…. Ours was intended to be a citizen government

Now that’s a good start. Now let’s see if you want to keep government big enough to actually be useful. Remember, we started out with a small, weak government under the Articles of Confederation, and that didn’t work out so well, to say the least.

CHRISTIE: I don’t see a lot of weakness on this stage, quite frankly. Where I see the weakness is in those three people that are left on the Democratic stage. You know, I see a socialist, an isolationist and a pessimist. And for the sake of me, I can’t figure out which one is which.

I’m halfway with him on the isolationist part, but not militarily: I’m referring to the economic isolationism of protectionism, which removes vital opportunities for the improvement of human lives and for the exchange of ideas. That’s my primary complaint about Bernie Sanders, who appears an extreme and unapologetic protectionist, which is a deal-breaker for me. But more on that when I return to the Democratic debates.

HARWOOD: … You [Kasich] said yesterday that you were hearing proposals that were just crazy from your colleagues. Who were you talking about?

KASICH: Well, I mean …to talk about we’re just gonna have a 10 percent tithe and that’s how we’re gonna fund the government? And we’re going to just fix everything with waste, fraud, and abuse? Or that we’re just going to be great? Or we’re going to ship 10 million Americans — or 10 million people out of this country, leaving their children here in this country and dividing families?

Here, as in the previous debate, Kasich’s taking on the role of the realistic, practical, get-it-done politician, criticizing some of the extremist, crowd-pleasing, but impossible solutions offered by his rivals. Here, he’s challenging his fellow debaters to be responsible and accountable in their rhetoric, and to offer workable solutions, that hold up under scrutiny, for real problems, and not to pander to the reactionaries in the party.

FIORINA: Let me just say on taxes, how long have we been talking about tax reform in Washington, D.C.? …We now have a 73,000-page tax code. …There are loads of great ideas, great conservative ideas from wonderful think tanks about how to reform the tax code. The problem is we never get it done…

QUINTANILLA: You want to bring 70,000 pages to three?

FIORINA: That’s right, three pages …You know why three? Because only if it’s about three pages are you leveling the playing field between the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected who can hire the armies of lawyers and accountants and, yes, lobbyists to help them navigate their way through 73,000 pages.

Fiorina picks up on the analogy of the game here, and makes a very good point: if the tax code that everyone has to adhere to is too long and complex, it gives the wealthy an unfair advantage over average citizens who can’t afford to hire specialists to help navigate its requirements and discover obscure loopholes and tax breaks to take advantage of. Three pages sounds unrealistically short to me, and her claim that it’s now 73,000 pages sounds exaggerated, but her basic objection to the length and complexity of the current tax code is fair and reasonable. Our tax code should not automatically give any special advantages to the wealthy if we are truly dedicated to the principle of equal rights for all.

HARWOOD: ….[Governor Bush,] Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know- nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?

BUSH: (inaudible), the great majority of Republicans and Americans believe in a hopeful future. They don’t believe in building walls and a pessimistic view of the future.

The Know-Nothings, later called the American Party, was a political party in the mid-1800’s centered around anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, pro-Protestant, nativist sentiments. While most mainstream Republicans might object to the comparison, it seems a fair one when leveled at many leaders of the Republican party prominently featured in the media today. For example, in response to the attacks in Paris, many leading Republicans predictably reacted with calls for an immediate halt in accepting Syrian refugees. They portray this as a common-sense, defensive policy to protect the American people from terrorists trying to sneak in among the refugees, but it appears to me that they’re jumping on this as they would any other excuse to keep Muslims and other non-white, non-wealthy, non-advanced-degree-holding people out. While it’s true that most terrorists around the world today are Muslim, it’s also true that the actual percentage of Muslims who actually are terrorists or who support terrorism is very small, that the Paris attacks were not carried out by Syrian nationals but by citizens of the E.U., and that the refugees they want to turn away are fleeing from the terrorists and other violent Islamist extremist groups. I compare keeping these refugees out, as I have compared deporting Mexican people who entered this country illegally to escape the drug war, to our old policy of keeping Jews out who were fleeing the Holocaust, forcing them to return at peril of their lives. If we really want to show the world a shining example of the nobility of our values and the strength of our commitment to them, I think we need to accept the risks that come with doing the right thing, and to do it anyway.

…. To be continued….

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