A Real Old-Fashioned Debate

Several years ago I watched a Canadian PM debate on TV. It bore no resemblance to an American Presidential “debate.” Two guys, a few feet from each other, actually debating — no moderator, no buzzers, just two guys arguing, vigorously. I remember a movie featuring the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Although I don’t know if it was historically accurate, a similar sight, two guys arguing about real issues with no real rules. I have seen similar clips in other countries, but rarely in the US.

The American version of Presidential debates resembles a game show or beauty pageant, where each contestant is called on to answer for a set two-minute response. Rarely any follow-up, and rarely any effort to actually confront real issues.

But last night’s Republican debate was different. Following Ron Paul’s response calling for complete US withdrawal from the Middle East, moderator Chris Wallace took off his journalist mask and revealed himself in full Bill O’Reilly costume:

So, Congressman Paul, and I’d like you to take 30 seconds to answer this, you’re basically saying that we should take our marching orders from al Qaeda? If they want us off the Arabian Peninsula, we should leave?

Ron hit back:

I’m saying we should take our marching orders from our Constitution. We should not go to war — (cheers, applause) — we should not go to war without a declaration. We should not go to war when it’s an aggressive war. This is an aggressive invasion. We’ve committed the invasion of this war, and it’s illegal under international law. That’s where I take my marching orders, not from any enemy. (Cheers, boos.)

Huckabee explained that we couldn’t leave Iraq because “we broke it and now we own it,” and turned to Ron Paul:

And on this issue, when he [McCain] says we can’t leave until we’ve left with honor, I 100 percent agree with him because, Congressman, whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is a discussion that historians can have, but we’re there. We bought it because we broke it. We’ve got a responsibility to the honor of this country and to the honor of every man and woman who has served in Iraq and ever served in our military to not leave them with anything less than the honor that they deserve.

Wallace then offered Ron Paul (who was standing to Huckabee’s immediate right) a chance to respond. This began a brief but awesome exchange between Paul and Mike Huckabee.

REP. PAUL: The American people didn’t go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservative hijacked our foreign policy. They’re responsible, not the American people. They’re not responsible. We shouldn’t punish them. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. HUCKABEE: Congressman, we are one nation. We can’t be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America. (Cheers.)

REP. PAUL: No. When we make a mistake — (interrupted by applause) — when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people through their representatives to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake! (Cheers, applause.)

MR. HUCKABEE: And that’s what we do on the floor of the —

REP. PAUL: No! We’ve dug a hole for ourselves and we dug a hole for our party! We’re losing elections and we’re going down next year if we don’t change it, and it has all to do with foreign policy, and we have to wake up to this fact.

MR. HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor, and that is more important to the Republican Party.

REP. PAUL: We’re losing — we’ve lost over — (cheers, applause) — we have lost — we have lost 5,000 Americans killed in — we’ve lost over 5,000 Americans over there in Afghanistan and Iraq and plus the civilians killed. How many more do you want to lose? How long are we going to be there? How long — what do we have to pay to save face? That’s all we’re doing is saving face. It’s time we came home!

The Baltimore Sun‘s Frank James has a great write-up of the exchange. You can watch all the Ron Paul clips of the debate on YouTube.