By Mark Anderson
The mainstream media’s advance coverage of the September 7 Republican presidential debate fed the American people the line that Texas Governor Rick Perry was an automatic frontrunner—even though many voters outside of Texas hadn’t had much time to learn about Perry’s views before his first-ever debate as a presidential candidate.
Yet at the point when there was more than 205,000 post-debate responses to a poll at MSNBC’s website, as to who was seen as the debate’s winner, the other Texan, Representative Ron Paul, won it. He had received more than half the votes on the following day. His margin grew from there.
Yet in the immediate wake of this MSNBC/Politico debate among eight contenders for the GOP nomination, held at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, many, and perhaps most top corporate media organs continued spotlighting Perry, while implying that Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are the only ones worth rooting for—as if it’s a given that they’re on the so-called “top tier” and must remain there, when the purpose of having debates and elections, lest we forget, is for the people to decide who they want as president.
The media’s increasingly brazen attempts to pre-decide our political future by narrowing the candidate field on its own terms—which include blatantly downplaying Paul during pre-debate and post-debate reports—is as much of the story as the debate itself. While the media continually look for clever debate “zingers” from the GOP contenders, as if witty remarks are what constitute a good president, the United States is arguably in the most tenuous position it has ever been in: It’s being bankrupted by permanent war; and the economy and monetary system need to be dramatically overhauled, lest the nation implode due to worse-than-reported joblessness, foreclosures and other ongoing traumas.
The people, amid increased surveillance technology hardwired into society, see their retirement hopes on the ropes and live daily with decreased privacy; the business sector, especially small business, needs fewer regulations. And maybe, just maybe, the ongoing wars are losing their sizzle in this 10th year since 9-11.
Paul, who is by no means perfect, and has some explaining to do regarding his views on free trade and monetary policy, speaks to these concerns and it resonates with voters, especially younger ones who look to the future and do not see anything promising at this propitious point in our history. Therefore, the American people have less of an appetite for business-as-usual from a media that’s always trumpeting mediocrity.
Yet many online reports right after the debate (and a Politico story, among others, just before the debate) still gave inordinate verbiage to Perry and Romney. Many online links, after the debate, highlighted photos of Perry standing next to Romney, though, on stage, Paul stood to Perry’s immediate left, so the two Texans were together.
James Oliphant of the Los Angeles Times managed to write an entire post-debate piece online that did not even mention Paul, focusing almost exclusively on Perry and Romney, who (as Oliphant did not mention) is the son of the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, a man who had neoconservative leanings, was pro-big business and pro-war, and opposed Barry Goldwater’s early-1960s presidential candidacy.
Oliphant tried to say that Perry, the so-called straight-shooter, can and perhaps will capture the conservative base, if he recognizes that as big as Texas is, the whole nation must be convinced that Perry is the man and Perry himself must work hard to make that happen. It was really a thinly-veiled strategy/advice column for Perry.
But the website, TheStateColumn.com, actually faced reality, noting, “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), an official candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, joined his fellow GOP candidates at the Reagan Centennial debate in California on Wednesday night. Paul was joined by Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. A few GOP candidates were absent from the debate, because they had obtained less than 4 percent in any number of recent national-level GOP polls.”
Santorum and Gingrich are former U.S. legislators, while Bachmann is a congresswoman from Minnesota. Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, formerly worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and is the only black GOP contender. Huntsman is governor of Utah.
But TheStateColumn.com went a step further, reporting Paul’s first-place showing in the MSNBC debate poll: “At approximately 11 a.m. ET [on Sept.8] nearly 134,000 people [had] participated in the debate poll. Paul is in first place with 50.3 percent, Romney is in second place with 17.2 percent and Perry is in third place with 14.3 percent. More than 67,000 people have voted for Paul.”
AFP checked out the same poll, and by 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 9, Paul had received 57 percent of the vote. Romney was next with just 15 percent; Perry had 12 percent.
And this result came despite the fact that Paul has arguably given better performances in past debates and in various news interviews. While he appeared to be rather nervous and labored to share lots of information within the confines of the debate’s ground rules, he did make some salient points at the Sept. 7 debate, suggesting, for example, that 9-11 could have been prevented had pilots or flight crews been armed (assuming the official 9-11 story has any credence at all). And he made it clear that whatever one’s viewpoint may be on the nature of Social Security and whether to “fix it” (as Cain said) or recognize “it’s a Ponzi scheme” that won’t be there when young people retire (as Perry said), bringing the troops home and using the resulting savings in a constructive way is long overdue.
Huntsman indicated some tentative agreement on bringing the troops home, while Perry said “more boots on the ground” are needed—to make sure enough Border Patrol and National Guard troops are available to protect the sometimes-violent Texas border with Mexico until immigration reform, a big issue at the California debate, could be settled.
Yet Perry did not equate more border protection with bringing troops home from overseas quagmires. This gave Paul a chance to distinguish himself as the sensible conservative-peace candidate, even while Santorum moaned about most of his opponents becoming “isolationists,” a worn-out pejorative for the non-interventionism that George Washington, our first president, called for.
Going into the debate, Paul’s campaign—besides noting that Gov. Perry had signed a state executive order to force 12-year-old girls in Texas to get the risky HPV vaccine, to supposedly protect them against sexually transmitted diseases—also called Perry a former Democrat (evidently he once supported Al Gore’s presidential bid). But Paul’s campaign added that, deep down, Perry is a Democrat at heart, masquerading as a conservative Republican.
“It’s not good social policy and therefore I think this is very bad to do this,” Paul said during the debate, about the HPV matter. “He did it with an executive order, passed it, the state was furious . . .”
“I kind of feel like a piñata here,” Perry replied, before defending himself, though he admitted that the vaccine was enforced with an executive order and that Paul is probably correct in saying the state legislature should have been involved so the people could have had some say. Yet Perry noted that he was given a tough choice and felt the EO for the vaccine was a worthwhile means to control disease.
So while Paul held his own and highlighted some key issues, the debate’s outcome may be more of a matter of just how little the other contenders had to offer in comparison to Paul. That is quite a commentary on the state of the nation, in which a sizable cross section of voters seem to sense that while unseating President Obama—as all the GOP contenders agreed—is desirable and even imperative, it’s hardly a time to settle for mediocrity when it comes to choosing Obama’s GOP opponent, to say nothing of the media’s traditional refusal to expose the American people to presidential candidates from other political parties and a broader range of ideas outside the two-party duopoly, such as closing the Federal Reserve.
Ironically, the candidate that had the most to say about the Fed was Gingrich, who has no history of seriously opposing the Fed, yet he did say at the debate that he would fire Fed chairman Ben Bernanke upon being elected president. Other GOP contenders rapped Bernanke a little, but the Fed’s abolition was not a debate issue, though Paul has long championed that option and has pursued Fed audits as an apparent stepping stone toward that goal.
The third-party exclusion factor became so intense when Paul ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 that, upon bowing out of the running, he ended up supporting Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin.