Frank Luntz looked flummoxed.
We were standing in the spin room after Wednesday night’s GOP presidential contretemps and I had just asked him who he thought had won the debate. I had no idea myself and figured he would have a better idea from the polling he conducts on his Fox show minutes after these events. This time he hadn’t and was as puzzled as I was about how the public was taking Rick Perry’s rhetoric — specifically the Texas governor’s use of the “P-word” (for Ponzi scheme) to describe Social Security.
It wasn’t important that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. It was important that Perry had used such a bold, even brazen, term for something so sacrosanct that Al Gore, as the world well recalls, once put it in a “lock box.” (Did it ever get out?)
Anyway, before coming to Luntz for help, I had just gotten through listening to a group of mainstream media yobs from Politico and such places grill Perry’s chief of staff/eminence grise Dave Carney about whether he thought his candidate had made a fatal mistake — or at least lost the debate — by employing the “P-word.”
Carney held firm — what is social security if not a Ponzi scheme — and I began to think: what suckers. He had all these fourth estaters jumping up and down, practically foaming at the mouth, trying to get an answer on something so tangential to the real question (what to do about Social Security) that you just had to laugh. It was obvious where the ink was going to be spilled tomorrow morning.
Yet, still I wondered what the public would think. I suppose I’ll find out when Luntz finally has his show on Thursday night.
Until then, I’ll just reflect on the spectacle. The debate itself was like a mildly amusing episode of an ongoing reality show with Ron Paul in the role of cranky uncle and Rick Santorum playing the unwelcome relative who’s still camped out in your living room six weeks after Christmas. Speaking of Paul, the least surprising moment was when I drove up to the Reagan Library at 2PM to find a half dozen of his supporters standing on the corner waving picket signs in the scorching 110 degree Simi Valley sun. (I guess it’s mad dogs, Englishmen, and Ron Paul supporters.)
It goes without saying too that Paul won the Internet polls immediately after the debate. What Internet poll has Paul not won? (Who will win the US Open? Ron Paul 88%, Novak Djokovic 12%.) Meanwhile, it turns out good old cranky uncle Ron is actually a pretty mean-spirited guy who goes for the political jugular. He was after Perry for some obscure letter the governor wrote in mild support of the idea of Hillarycare long before any specific program even existed. He is also first out of the gate with an attack ad and, while I was watching the debate, filled my inbox with a non-stop fusillade of unwanted emails attacking Perry. (Can’t this at least wait for the Iowa caucus?)
But enough about Dr. Ron. One bad word about him on here and I’ll be attacked as if I were accusing Mother Teresa of child molestation. Still, I wish Gary Johnson were the libertarian standard bearer. He may have his eccentricities, but the former New Mexico governor is at least a fun guy to have drinks with. When I met him, I almost wanted to start smoking joints again. Well, not quite.
On a more general point, just who does decide who gets to be included in these debates? Why Santorum and Huntsman but not Johnson? Yo no se, kemo sabe.
Some final observations now that I’m back from the spin room. Romney and Perry were fine. We should be so lucky if either of them replaced Obama tomorrow morning. I’d treat everyone to champagne from here to Ohio. Huntsman is another matter. For a while I sort of liked him, but then things started to roll down hill fast. His pretentious belief in man-made global warming as settled science is so silly you want to guffaw. And then there’s his isolationist foreign policy. Sorry. No sale.
As for the “P-word,” Dave Carney hopes Perry can use it to actually start a conversation on Social Security. We could use it, especially the coming generations.