Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Fox News Presidential Debate

On Thursday May 5th, Fox News hosted the first republican presidential debate of the 2012 campaign, six months after the 2010 election. In America, it is always campaign season.

While I have been and will continue to be critical of Fox News, they did an outstanding job hosting the debate. All of the questions dealt with serious policy issues. The main topics were national security, the economy, health care, and the national debt. The candidates were questioned from a variety of ideological positions by Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Shannon Bream, and Juan Williams.

Five candidates participated in the debate: Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum. None of the candidates were given preferential treatment, contrary to the concerns raised by many liberals that having future presidential candidates on the Fox payroll would give them a leg up during the Fox debates.

I found it gratifying that Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are both for an end to the Afghan war.  Even though they are black horse candidates with little chance of winning the nomination, I am glad that someone is challenging the white house position on the issue.

However, both Paul and Johnson are libertarians who hold positions that I strongly disagree with. Ron Paul is against foreign aid and the Federal Reserve. Gary Johnson is against unemployment benefits and the minimum wage. These policies would gravely harm our economy and hurt the most vulnerable in our country and abroad.

For the past year or so, liberal outlets like MSNBC and The Daily Show have treated Tim Pawlenty as a moderate, likely because he is one of the few republican candidates who will come on their shows. This debate has shown that, on social issues, he is anything but moderate. He opposes embryonic stem cell research except for embryos that have already been destroyed. Even though I am largely pro-choice, I have sympathy for the pro-life argument because it is rather difficult to determine when life begins and fetuses gain many of the aspects of their humanity (consciousness, pain, viability) during pregnancy. But Embryos have none of these qualities. Judging by the potential of stem cell research to cure or treat various debilitating diseases, only those who believe that life begins at conception take this position.

Pawlenty also stated that he believes that the issue of whether to teach intelligent design in public schools should be left to local school boards. That would leave open the possibility for schools to give equal weight in science classes to intelligent design, a religious and philosophical position, as they would to evolution, a scientific theory backed by over a hundred years of fossil and experimental evidence.

The most interesting aspect of the debate was the audience reactions. The largest applause came from statements against the war in Afghanistan and statements in favor of torture, two positions you would think would be in conflict.

All in all, the debate was professional, well run, and illuminated much about these little known candidates. It will be absolutely fascinating to see how this election season unfolds.

UPDATE: The Daily Show did a segment on the debate and shared many of my reactions to it. Stewart also highlighted how Pawlenty's policy positions took a turn to the hard right by abandoning various previous positions.

Originally Posted Sunday May 8, 2011

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