CNN actually did the American people a favor this past week. It doesn't happen very often, so make note of it.
CNN co-sponsored, nearly back-to-back, two-hour so-called debates at Saint Anselm's College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Oh, how I wish that it weren't this early before the start of voting for the Presidency next January and Americans paid attention to issues. Granted CNN set all-time records in viewership. But that leaves most of America watching the "American Idol."
I only wish that every man and woman who intends to cast a ballot next year could have spent four hours watching and listening. The reason? The voting public had cast before it almost perfect representations of the positions of each political party.
Oh, sure Fred D. Thompson and Newt Gingrich were not up on that stage for the Republicans. And Al Gore wasn't up there for the Democrats.
Gingrich, no doubt, would have added his unique perspectives. That having been said, I doubt that the absence of these three men would have made a real difference in the outcome.
The outcome was so stark. Perhaps some gazillionaire will make a DVD of both debates and will send them to every household. The problem is that will increase the viewership of these debates by one percent. Why bother! Maybe we could send gangs to the neighborhoods to tie up residents until they watched both debates. They would need whips to keep the viewers awake.
That is the problem with the American electorate. Voters pay no attention to candidates' positions on issues until it is too late. Many end up voting the familiar name. That is why Hillary has a good chance. If it should be Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. Fred D. Thompson, most voters would recognize Thompson's face, not his name. Maybe he could get the courts to mandate that his picture be on every ballot. Otherwise Hillary is the familiar name.
Permit me to paint a word picture of what folks saw last week.
First, there is the matter of whether we are safer than we were after 9/11. On the Democratic side, Hillary said we were safer but not safe enough, a reasonable answer. All the rest said we were less safe. Would anyone give any credit to George W. Bush? John Edwards was the most extreme in suggesting that we were the most unsafe.
On the Republican side, all of the candidates except Representative Ron Paul believe we are more safe, with Ron Paul suggesting we have stirred up things in the Middle East and it will come back to bite us.
On English as the official USA language, only former Senator Mike Gravel said English should be our language. "We speak English," he proclaimed incredulously. Hillary said, if English were the official language of this country, it would mean that ballots would need to be printed in English. Right now in New York City they are printed in 23 languages. Good point, Hillary. Maybe if some of those folks had to learn English you wouldn't get all their votes. (I have a better chance than Mike Gravel of getting the Democratic Party nomination for President.)
On the Republican side, everyone but Senator John McCain thought official English was a good idea. McCain allowed as how treaties with Indians in his state were written in their language. There goes McCain again, giving away his plurality.
Some Democrats supported the pending Immigration Bill. Others, especially those close to the union bosses, opposed it.
On the Republican side only Senators McCain and Sam Brownback supported it - Brownback with conditions, McCain unconditionally. The more Senator McCain defended that bill the more he lost support. We have the Frank Luntz focus group to prove it. Sean Hannity said it first on his radio show. McCain did himself perhaps irreparable damage by embracing the immigration measure.
On the health care system, the Democrats, to a candidate, have bought the idea that our system is broken. Some want a modification of our system. Others want a single payer one-size-fits-all system. Hillary said she was so glad that the Democrats had come around to wanting to change our health-care system. She reminded us that she had tried to get this done in 1994 and "I've got the scars to prove it." All of the Democrats were for one type of socialized medicine or the other. Republicans, on the other hand, all believed that we have the best health-care system in the world. That includes former Governor Tommy Thompson, who spent four years as Health and Human Services Secretary in the George W. Bush first term. Ron Paul is a physician. The contrast could not be clearer.
Hillary and Obama and Edwards said they were going to raise our taxes to pay for health care. Most of their proposals would apply to household incomes more than $200,000 per year. Raise taxes to be sure that every man, woman and child in America is covered. That is what they say now. It would be a lower triggering figure were one of them elected.
Republicans all want to keep taxes low. That includes McCain. He claims he opposed Bush's tax cuts because Bush refused to curb Federal spending. He would be for tax cuts if elected as he would veto spending.
Every Democratic candidate for President supports Roe v Wade. They want to keep abortion legal. Every Republican except Rudy Giuliani is for reviewing Roe v Wade. Even Rudy, who supports the right to abortion, endorses all sorts of exceptions. It is fair to say that the Democrats are the pro-abortion party, Republicans the pro-life party.
I could continue with the contrasts but you get the picture. About the only area of agreement was that candidates from both parties ran away from President Bush and the war, with the exception of Senator McCain. He has embraced the war all the way. The difference is that the Democrats believe the war is lost and out troops should come home as soon as possible. The Republicans believe that the war could still be won and in any case you do not give your enemy the timetable for withdrawal.
Here and there one candidate will take a maverick position. (Governor Richardson said he covered residents of New Mexico with health care and did not raise taxes. He said if you liked your current plan you could keep it. He really got attacked by his colleagues for that view.) By and large if you have one point of view it will be represented by one party. If you hold the opposite view it will be represented by the other party. God help you if you want six of one and half dozen of the other.
If you haven't seen both debates and you aren't sure where you stand, I am sure CNN would supply you with copies of each debate so you could make up your own mind. The cost would be nominal and the contrast striking. It may be a long time before CNN performs such a public service. Be sure to take advantage of it.