Jackie Gingrich Cushman

After reading about the Nov. 28 “CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate,” I decided to watch the video online last night. Normally, I might have contented myself with Colbert’s or Stewart’s take – but the ongoing writers’ strike meant I had to trudge through the 2-hour debate myself.

After the welcome by moderator Anderson Cooper, CNN played a video that included snowmen, little green men and animals, both stuffed and real. Supposedly, the intent of the video was to show what would NOT be allowed during the debate – but instead the video appeared to be juvenile, a waste of time. It also made me wonder if Paula Abdul and Simon were waiting in the wings with comments. I wished for the writers’ strike to be over.

After the candidate introductions, CNN played a video from Chris Nandor of Snohomish, Wash. Chris played the guitar and sang a ditty introducing the candidates. While Chris has a fine voice, can play the guitar, and sang entertaining lyrics, his act would have demeaned the debate had it not been for the prior video with snowmen, aliens and animals – remember it always matters whom you follow.

The good news is Chris has perfect material to entertain friends with during happy hour around the bar.

Ten minutes and 30 seconds into the debate, the first question was finally asked – yea, actual content, -- about immigration. This led to a round of answers and accusations from Giuliani and Romney and booing from the audience. It was hard to tell if the audience was booing Giuliani for continuing to attempt to make the same point, or from boredom with the answers.

The second questioner asked the candidates to pledge “to veto any immigration bill that involves amnesty for those that have come here illegally.” After Thompson and Giuliani answered, McCain offered his perspective on the format of the night’s debate, “You know, this whole debate saddens me a little bit, because we do have a serious situation in America."

I agree. While not bad for a country low on comedic entertainment due to the writers’ strike, the debate format did not provide viewers with a serious, grounded framework for determining who ought to lead our nation’s government. However, the debate went on, with questions and answers on gun control, imports and abortion.

Giuliani remained tough on crime, Romney remained good-looking and smiling, McCain remained tough on national security.

Thompson appeared to engage just enough to stay on course.

All in all, these candidates performed as expected.

Huckabee gave the best performance, appearing to be the most authentic, relaxed and at ease with himself. Whether his performance can translate into the nomination might be determined by his ability to improve his name recognition. (My spell-check program flags Huckabee as misspelled, but it recognizes Giuliani, Romney, McCain and Thompson.)

In response to Romney’s comment that illegal immigrant children, who came into the country with their parents, should not be able to earn merit-based scholarships, Huckabee said, “In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that.” Clearly, the former governor of Arkansas came with his game on.

Asked about the death penalty, he said, “You know, one of the toughest challenges that I ever faced as a governor was carrying out the death penalty. I did it more than any other governor ever had to do it in my state. As I look on this stage, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person on this stage that's ever had to actually do it.”

CNN’s Cooper pressed for more. “The question was, from the viewer was? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus support the death penalty?” Proving he was fast on his feet and could maintain a sense of humor, Huckabee answered, “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson. That's what Jesus would do.”

Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee responded to the question asked by Joseph from Dallas, Texas, which he delivered while holding up the King James version of the Bible. Joseph asked, “Do you believe every word of this book?

Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?”

My interpretation of the candidates answers:

Giuliani: yes and no

Romney: yes but maybe no

Huckabee: yes, but clearly it is allegorical.

McCain continued to project the image of a leader who would be tough of national security, but the former POW also held the line on torture.

Asked about waterboarding, McCain clearly stated he was against it; Romney equivocated, declaring he would not define what “was,” and what “was not” torture.

Romney’s vagueness left McCain looking tortured. “My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.”

Well stated.

According to Cooper, the questions CNN selected for the debate were gleaned from 5,000 submissions. One topic was glaringly missing: health care. Many polls consider it and national security to be the top two issues of the 2008 election among likely voters. Big miss for the content keepers, CNN and YouTube.

The debate ended with a question about baseball, Yankees and Giuliani rooting for the Red Sox. Neither the question nor the answers it evoked offered anything of value other than to serve as a fitting close for a debate that began with a video and a ditty.

Maybe once the writer’s strike is over, and comedy is once again reclaimed by Stewart and Colbert, we can begin a push for serious political debates in style of the Lincoln – Douglas debates: 90 minutes, two candidates, all issues and no moderator. Now that would be a great debate.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.