The CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate serves as a perfect example of why conservatives refer to CNN as "Clinton News Network." Republicans should have declined CNN's invitation, just like Democrats declined Fox News, though it's doubtful Fox would have orchestrated or permitted a similar ambush of Democratic candidates.
The "debate" involved many questions designed not so much to highlight the candidates' differences (other than Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney on immigration) but to place the entire conservative agenda in a negative light.
Many were "When did you stop beating your wife?" questions because they included premises calculated to make Republicans look bad irrespective of the candidates' responses. Even if CNN didn't conspire with the questioners, the effect was the same. You'd never catch Democrats in such a situation. Let me give you a few examples and, with some, offer alternative responses.
One questioner asked what criminal penalties should be imposed against an aborting mother -- not whether there should be criminal penalties but what they should be. The purpose was to divert attention from the horror of abortion to the seeming harshness of criminalizing pregnant women who choose to end their babies' lives. Conservatives are uncaring, uncompassionate and evil. Are Democrats ever asked whether the denial of a woman's "choice" to abort is outweighed by the denial of the baby's very right to live?
Another asked "Christian conservative" candidates whether Jesus approved of the death penalty. On the heels of the abortion question, this question seemed intended to 1) suggest an inconsistency in the conservative position opposing abortion but supporting capital punishment and 2) paint Christian conservatives as false followers of Christ because Christ presumably wouldn't favor capital punishment.
Gov. Mike Huckabee masterfully answered the first implication, explaining that the death penalty is imposed on those adjudicated guilty by law whereas abortion is performed on the most innocent -- something I've always said, having never understood this illogical liberal attempt at playing "gotcha."Huckabee ducked the Jesus question with a cute quip that Jesus was too smart ever to run for public office. I probably wouldn't have won any points, but I would have answered it directly, saying I believe God mandates capital punishment in the Old Testament not as a denigration of life but as an affirmation of it. Precisely because God made us in His image, we do not have the right to murder, and the murderer must be punished with his own life. Though Christians believe God revealed Himself progressively and more fully in the New Testament, the immutable God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. Since God's capital-punishment mandate wasn't retracted in the New Testament, I believe it's fair to assume Jesus would approve of the practice.
Another question included the assumption that our invasion of Iraq had hurt America's image in the world, especially the Muslim world, and asked what the candidates would do to repair it.
The question implied the invasion was wrong. I wish the candidates had rejected the premise, defended the invasion and added that if our image has suffered, it is largely due to disgraceful Democratic slander against President Bush and the invasion. Incidentally, are Democrats ever asked what would happen in Iraq if we were to follow their blind demands to precipitously withdraw our troops?
Another question suggested that since candidate John McCain was the only torture victim on the stage, the other candidates had no right to disagree with his opinion opposing waterboarding. I wish the other candidates had challenged this "typically liberal" assumption that firsthand experience imputes inerrancy on a subject and the lack of it disqualifies. As a bonus, I wish they had also corrected McCain's self-described "straight talk" on this subject in implying that Romney's prudent failure to publicly define torture constituted an endorsement of it.
Finally, the questions about the confederate flag and gays in the military were crafted not to elicit information or distinguish the candidates' positions but to make Republicans look bigoted -- period. And what could be more unprofessional than CNN encouraging the disgruntled retired gay general to lecture the candidates for failing to give the answer he preferred to his loaded, self-serving and mostly irrelevant question?
The candidates answered the questions far more directly than Democrats ever have in their debates, but, overall, we witnessed a barely disguised CNN propaganda spectacle.