As I watched Wednesday night's GOP presidential primary debate on CNN, I couldn't help but notice that the four surviving Republicans are old news. Three have been out of power for a political half-life. Mitt Romney hasn't been governor of Massachusetts for five years. Likewise, Rick Santorum hasn't been in the Senate since January 2007. Newt Gingrich hasn't been in Congress since 1999. If they weren't campaigning day and night, you'd think they were retired.
Ron Paul still serves in the House -- he was first elected in 1976 -- but he cannot point to a major initiative in which he played a leading role.
When Romney, Santorum and Gingrich talk about their records, they talk about -- or run from -- what they did last decade or two decades ago. As for Paul, he boasts about what he didn't do over the years.
Cynics say the American voter has no memory. In this primary, voters had better have a long memory if they want to understand what the candidates are debating.
Consider this Wednesday night quote from Gingrich on a border fence: "I helped Duncan Hunter pass the first fence bill in San Diego when I was speaker of the House." That would be in 1996. Hunter is retired from Congress. Hunter's combat-veteran son, Duncan D. Hunter, was elected to his father's seat in 2008.
Gingrich also talked up his ability to solve problems. He cited his "background of having actually worked with President Reagan." That covers the 1980s.
Gingrich also boasted that he could bring the price of gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon. Well, at least he didn't say 25 cents.
Paul hearkened back to the Cold War. He told the Mesa, Ariz., debate audience to forget about Iran and nuclear weapons. "If you want to worry about nuclear weapons, worry about the nuclear weapons that were left over from the Soviet Union. They're still floating around."
When he's not running from his record as the Bay State's governor, Romney boasts about his role in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. Romney chided Santorum for endorsing former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in the 2004 GOP primary. The year 2004 -- that's how far back a Republican has to go to find usable goods against a rival.
Romney tried to end the debate by talking about a "brighter future" for America. His problem is that he has been running for the White House for so long that he doesn't have a present.
It's not good when a candidate has to talk about himself in the past tense. "When I was speaker," Gingrich has been known to recall. You can practically smell the mothballs.