In yesterday evening’s umpteenth debate between the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney followed all the rules that my public relations firm teaches executives for controlling contentious public situations: He insisted that everyone follow the rules, he was always courteous and respectful, and he wore a broad smile throughout the debate.
And I think it worked. He and Herman Cain came off as the only two presidential acting candidates. Santorum looked honest but strident. Bachmann diminished herself into a “mom candidate.” Paul came off as an angry dodderer, while Newt seemed to try a little too hard to assume an Olympian attitude.
Rick Perry? He seemed to be out-of-sorts, as if he were doing the cha-cha while everyone else was twisting the night away. He seethed with anger and frustration. He was like a guy who comes to a frat party looking for a fight because he’s just so pissed off and doesn’t even know why.
And Mittman certainly did act the part of the conciliatory frat president—AKA Chief Executive Officer—when he put his hand on Perry’s shoulder and essentially told him to “cool off.”
There wasn’t much to the debate. Whether it was Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, immigration or Romney’s stand on health care, all the candidates preferred to toss about words and phrases completely devoid of context or definition. Whether the pose was studious, earnest or concerned, all actively avoided analysis of specific proposals. They tended to bicker over minute facts, and in these cases, for example on how much unemployment there was in Texas or if Romney ever hired an illegal alien, both candidates involved tended to lie or misapply.
Although Cain did a great job of looking as if he can run a meeting and energize the people working for him, he made the biggest verbal blunder of the evening. It was his failure to define his apples-and-oranges analogy. He kept saying that his 9-9-9 plan and state taxes were akin to comparing apples to oranges, but he never told us why. The missing piece of information that he assumed we all knew was the fact that the 9-9-9 plan replaces federal taxes only. If he had said that, even just one time, then he would not have come off looking like a fruitcake with his friendly assurances that apples were not oranges.
Despite this enormous failure to communicate, Cain’s friendly and courteous bearing saved the day for him. He truly does look and act as if he can run a business. Of course, a country is not a business and a president can’t just order everyone to start saying “Have a nice day” at the end of all phone conversations, as a CEO can.
In the back of my mind, Cain kept making me think of the Andy Griffith candidate in the Elia Kazan’s old black-and-white movie, A Face in the Crowd. The Griffith character was folksy down-home southerner, whereas Cain plays the charismatic entrepreneur, but in both cases, their attractive demeanors conceal the fact that they are bought and paid for by an ultra-wealthy cabal that wants to subvert democracy and install policies that would take money from the poor and give it to the rich. In the case of Cain, whose campaign is bankrolled and run by the ultra rightwing Koch Brothers and their operatives, the policies will also both weaken and pollute our public resources and spaces. I think Bertram Gross called this approach “friendly fascism” about 30 years ago.
Some pundits are saying the race is down to three, but that’s being kind to the embarrassingly out-of-sync Perry. The two Republican candidates most likely to snare the nomination at this point are a child of the ruling elite and the current face of the Koch Brothers’ version of friendly fascism.
Meanwhile, the most ideologically chilling moment of the Las Vegas debate came from the moderator, Anderson Cooper, right in the preamble to the main event. Cooper, child of wealth and privilege himself, said that debate would determine “who should be the next President of the United States.” The unstated but obvious suggestion was that our current POTUS, Barack Obama, was going to lose (unless you think Cooper was looking ahead to 2016?).
The mainstream news media followed this strategy in the 2010 election cycle, giving all coverage to the Republican primaries and none to the Democratic ones. The assumption in 2010 was that the Democratic Party’s decisions on who should run were not newsworthy. This election cycle, the Dems pretty much know who’s going to be at the top of the ticket, so I can understand the focus on the Republican race. But to assume that it’s the race that counts is just another way to help the Republicans capture control of the country despite having policies favored by a minority of both voters and citizens. It makes sense that a Vanderbilt heir like Anderson Cooper might want to do that.