Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Debate Recap

Debate Recap

          Last night was held what may have been the last in a seemingly endless stream of Republican debates during the 2012 primary season.  It came less than a week before the Arizona and Michigan primaries and less than two weeks before “Super Tuesday.”  Though the debate was sponsored by CNN, not exactly a Republican-friendly organization, the host, John King, did a much better and more balanced job than George Stephanopoulos did in a recent ABC debate.

          Unfortunately, the debate itself was not all that good.  It was characterized mostly by personal attacks and accusations.  Ron Paul and Mitt Romney went heavily on the offensive against the surging Rick Santorum and Romney himself was, as usual, the target of many attacks.  Newt Gingrich once again won the debate, which is key to his strategy for regaining momentum, but not for the usual reasons.  He made intelligent points and did have one of his trademark clever applause lines about an educational system that spends all its energy helping students build self-esteem, while leaving them unable to spell self-esteem.

          But Gingrich won primarily because he stayed above the fray last night.  While the other three traded barbs, he kept his message positive or targeted on President Obama.

          There was one period when camaraderie prevailed, and that was when the candidates agreed on the importance of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Of course, Congressman Paul was left out of the brotherly love fest, since he disagreed with the other three and put forth the notion that we should basically butt out of Iran’s affairs.

          The most energy was stirred up around the issue of President Obama’s indefensible contraception mandate.  The issue came up after a ridiculous question from a viewer asking each candidate their personal opinions on contraception and to explain any opposition to it.  The question was presumably targeted at Senator Santorum who, as a practicing Catholic, does not practice artificial contraception.  Of course he has said he would not seek to stop others from doing so, so the question was totally irrelevant.

          Although Santorum could likely give a reasoned explanation (and I’m not certain a completely laissez faire approach is necessarily the right one) the conversation turned to the real pertinent issue of Obama’s forcing Catholics to violate their consciences by providing contraception and other services to employees through their health plans.

          Gingrich responded to the original question by proclaiming Obama the real extremist.  As he tends to do, he called out the mainstream media, saying, “You did not once, in the 2008 election, ask why Barack Obama supported infanticide.”  This, of course, refers to Obama’s refusal to defend the lives of children who survive a failed attempt at abortion, and his protection of “doctors” who subsequently kill them.  On health care Gingrich followed up, “When you have government as the central provider of services you inevitably move toward tyranny because the government has the power of force.”  This is an important point we would all do well to understand.

          Romney stated, “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the attack on religious conscience that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.”

          Paul attacked the government’s heavy involvement in health care altogether: “The problem is the government is getting involved in things it shouldn’t be involved in, especially at the federal level.”

          By the time the question got to Santorum the moderator had adjusted it a bit, and the senator made the point that, “We have a problem in this country – the family is fracturing.”  He went on to lament the great burden this places on children and the social evils that follow, including the fact that broken homes are five times as likely to be in poverty.   

          The debate featured one novel moment when each candidate was asked to describe himself in one word with no explanation, and they all stuck to it.  Paul – consistent; Santorum – courage; Romney – resolute; Gingrich went a bit lighter with “cheerful.”

          There was one issue that was brought up late in the debate that I haven’t heard before regarding an Obama initiative that, in the name of equality, would put more women in combat roles in the military.  I hadn’t heard of this before, but most of the men last night got it wrong, with the exception of Santorum.  I know it is difficult not to be too politically correct when you’re trying to win an election, but we need to be able to have the courage to say that any nation that sends its women off to combat has lost its way, perhaps beyond return.

          Gingrich and Romney both said they would seek the opinions and advice of military leaders on the issue.  Paul said he does not like to think of people in terms of groups and that he would like all our soldiers to come home, but that if there were a just war we would have both men and women in combat.

          Only Santorum had the courage to call the idea into question, not as forcefully as I may have liked, but he said nonetheless that while he would consider the opinions of military leaders, he has concerns about certain roles for women in the military, particularly in the infantry.

          There is no doubt that women make great contributions to our military, and they increasingly have important roles to play, but combat is not one of them.  I actually think it is rather important to have a Commander in Chief who understands that and is not afraid or too politically correct to acknowledge it.

          All in all, I’m not sure the debate will do much to sway many voters.  I’d expect Gingrich will benefit somewhat, and for voters truly undecided, it’s hard to tell what comment or accusation will be the one to influence them.  I have endorsed Santorum but each American needs to make an informed and prayerful decision.  Regardless of who we are supporting, we should all, as Catholics, Christians, and people of good will, pray for our nation as we undergo this important process.