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GOP YouTube Debate: CNN Hillary Plant

Most everyone is going to focus on the early fireworks between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani concerning immigration, so I can’t ignore it completely. If you missed it, Rudy tried to hang Romney with the You Hired Illegal Help Rope, also known as the Kimba Woods Gambit. Considering the boos that Giuliani got tonight, I’d say the gambit failed.

Now let’s get on with what really happened-or didn’t happen-tonight.

What didn’t happen was a real debate, although what we saw was certainly, if only occasionally, entertaining. What we saw tonight was the usual for a presidential “debate.” In other words, it was a joint press conference, the only real difference being that, this time, it was punctuated by cute videos made by “real Americans” “just like you.” That’s the hype, anyway.

What we really saw tonight was CNN playing out its own agenda in front of a couple million viewers and seven or eight candidates, without anyone calling them on it. To see what I mean, let’s take a look at some of the 30-odd questions CNN’s editors culled from the more than 5,000 submitted to YouTube by all those average Americans.

On of the best questions of the night came towards the end, and concerned the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The questioner, was a retired Army general who served, in the closet, for 42 years before he could reveal himself as a gay man. Did CNN owe its viewers the courtesy of letting them know that that the general now serves on Hillary Clinton’s “Gay Steering Committee?”

Another question came from a very self-important sounding YouTuber, who wanted to know which of the candidates believed “every word” of “this book,” with his camcorder floating ominously above a copy of the Bible. Now, I’m no Christian, but even I was offended. The question wasn’t an honest inquiry-it was a set-up to see which candidate would step up and make himself look the most like a fundamentalist Christian bigot.

Two different YouTubers asked questions about gun control. Both were, like most of the candidates and probably the entire live audience, against it. But the questioners were not the most wholesome-seeming guys. One demonstrated how his pump action shotgun worked while explaining that, “In small towns we like our big guns.” The second guy was just plain creepy. Both men-obviously well-armed-pretty much dared the candidates to say something positive about gun control.

Mostly what I noticed wasn’t the bulge of their holsters, but the obviousness of CNN’s agenda.

Other questions were just plain silly. Asking a roomful of Republicans to come out against tax increases, for example. Or asking a roomful of Republicans exactly how against abortion they are. Or asking a roomful of Republicans if there are three Federal programs where they’d like to cut spending. Or… well, you get the point. Some questions aren’t supposed to provoke debate, but instead to give each candidate the chance to act as his own cheerleader. Again, there’s no debate going on at these things, just fancy press conferencing.

The final type of question is the kind designed to do nothing more than set the candidates against one another. One question, which I drunkenly paraphrased as “Nothing says delicious like cheap corn subsidized by the American taxpayer-so which of you hypocrites looking for votes in Iowa would stop this nonsense?” Who benefits from a question like that? I’d say: Nobody other than anybody looking for some ratings. Like, oh, the good folks at CNN. But is it a debate question? No-it’s nothing more than what George W Bush used to call “Gotcha journalism,” committed tonight by civilians instead of our Professional Guardians of the Public Trust.

For the future, I’d like to propose what I call the Algonquin Round Table Debate. No moderator, no stopwatches, no buzzers or red lights, no YouTube, and, please, no Anderson Cooper or Chris Matthews. Instead, put all the candidates around a big table, ply them with first-rate food and liquor, and just let them talk and argue with one another until-or beyond-last call. Now that, for Democrats or Republicans, would be an event worth watching.