Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quotes from the Iowa GOP Presidential Debate

On Thursday, August 11th, the GOP presidential candidate debate took place at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Sponsored by Fox News, the Washington Examiner, and the Iowa Republican Party, the debate was moderated by Bret Baier and Chris Wallace of Fox News, as well as Byron York and Susan Ferrechio of the Washington Examiner.

Debating candidates included Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, (R-Minnesota) former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich,  ambassador and former Utah Governor John Huntsman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and businessman Herman Cain.

Much of the debate was devoted to health care, immigration, and the economy, with electric moments throughout the night. Pawlenty and Bachmann exchanged heated remarks, as did Santorum and Paul. Several moderators threw hardball questions at candidates, grilling Romney about his business background and questioning Gingrich about mass defections from his presidential campaigns. When Gingrich criticized Chris Wallace over "gotcha" questions, Wallace retorted that Gingrich is responsible for his record, which delighted me. Oddly, when asked about presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), the candidates failed to focus on his controversial affiliations with fundamentalist groups or his recent Response rally in Houston.

Given my fascination with the Religious Right, it was the social issues segment of the debate that riveted me the most. For your reading pleasure, I've collected several quotes from the debate on LGBT rights, women, and religion.

The social issues segment of the debate starts at the 7:00 mark in the video below, with questions about same-sex marriage, wifely submission, and religion abounding. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

First, after Byron York noted a controversial comment Herman Cain made about Mitt Romney's Mormonism, he asked Cain whether his focus on other people's religion was hurting his campaign. Cain had this to say.

"It is not hurting my campaign, Byron, because my focus is not on other people's religion. Let me repeat myself and be real clear. I believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution. I believe that the government does not have a right to impose religion on people, but when you're talking about some of these sensitive issues, I think we owe it to ourselves to make sure people are committed to the Constitution of the United States of America first."
Next, York reminded Michele Bachmann about a comment she made during her 2006 campaign run, in which she admitted submitting to her husband Marcus when he told her to get a degree in tax law. (See Ephesians 5:22-33 for context.) When he asked Bachmann if she would submit to her husband if elected president, she replied with an unusual definition of "submission."

"What submission means to us ... it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and a great father, and he respects me as his wife. That's how we operate our marriage. We respect each other, we love each other."
This response left me confused. Bachmann seemed to be defining submission as mutual respect between partners, but in her 2006 campaign quote, she used the word to mean acquiescing to her husband's perceived authority. The very word "submission" is defined as yielding to a stronger force or a perceived authority, so if mutual respect is what she supposedly meant, why would she use the word "submission" instead of "respect" in the first place?

I suspect that Bachmann defined submission this way to avoid looking like her husband's lapdog and to avoid shocking potential voters. In reality, however, a wife's Biblical submission to her husband suggests a relationship of unequal power, no matter how much a believer sugar-coats the word. Despite the audience boos that the question received at the GOP debate, it needed to be asked.

The issue of abortion also came up at the debate. When asked if doctors who support abortion should face criminal charges, Tim Pawlenty answered in the affirmative at the 20:00 mark, referring to when abortion becomes illegal.

"I think there should be absolutely consequences for doctors who perform abortions if its illegal and when its illegal, and the possibility of criminal sanctions or severe civil sanctions. I don't think the woman involved should be criminally sanctioned."
Mitt Romney was asked for his opinion on states legalizing same-sex marriage. In response, he expressed his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, starting at the 12:00 mark.

"I'd far prefer having the representatives of people make that decision than justices, but I believe the issue of marriage should be decided at the federal level. You might wonder, why is that? Why wouldn't you just let each state make their own decision? And the reason is people move from state to state, of course, in a society like ours. They have children as they go to different states. If one state recognizes the marriage and the other does not, what's the right of that child? What kind of divorce proceeding potential would there be in a state that didn't recognize the marriage in the first place? Marriage is a status. It's not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state, and as a result, our marriage status relationship should be constant across the country. I believe we should have a federal amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, because I believe the ideal place to raise a child is in a home with a mom and a dad."
Next, John Huntsman was asked why he supports civil unions for same-sex couples, and his answer was a puzzling defense of "traditional marriage" combined with praise for equality (!?).

"I believe in traditional marriage, first and foremost ... but I also believe in civil unions, because I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality. And I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to reciprocal beneficiary rights. And I believe that this is something that ought to be discussed among the various states. I don't have any problem with states having this discussion, but as for me, I support civil unions."
When pressed as to why he felt that his position on civil unions was right and other positions were wrong, Huntsman gave another puzzling response, saying that people opposed to civil unions weren't wrong while also praising the idea of equality. Why Huntsman supported civil unions rather than same-sex marriage was not discussed.

"Why are they wrong? They're not wrong. All I'm saying is this ought to be an issue that takes place at the local level of government. That's where these decisions ought to be made, and as for those who were polled, everybody can come to this with their own point of view. I believe in traditional marriage but I also believe that subordinate to that, we haven't done an adequate job when it comes to equality."
After Ron Paul defended the right of states to define marriage, Santorum accused Paul of being someone who would defend polygamous marriage on the state level. In true anti-gay form, he spoke of polygamous marriage and same-sex marriage in the same breath, lauding his own efforts against same-sex marriage in Iowa at the 15:37 mark.
"[Polygamous marriage] is not beyond reality, Ron. It is exactly what's being offered in other states right now, and it's being litigated in our courts right now, which is exactly how gay marriage came about, as we see here in the state of Iowa, where seven justices forced gay marriage on the people of Iowa. I was the only one on this panel who came to Iowa last year and made sure that those three justices were defeated. I campaigned and worked to make sure those justices were defeated because we can't have ... fifty marriage laws. This was the approach that the left took on abortion."
Shortly thereafter, at the 16:37 mark, Michele Bachmann stressed her opposition to same-sex marriage as well, emphasizing her support for a federal amendment banning it.

"I support the Federal Marriage Amendment because I believe that we will see this issue at the Supreme Court someday, and as president, I will not nominate activist judges who legislate from the bench."

The GOP debate was brimming with so many anti-LGBT comments that Think Progress knitted them into a short video segment. My only complaint about the video was that it did not show Ron Paul's comments in context, as he made other statements supporting the right of states to define marriage and frowning on the idea of forcing one's definition of marriage on others. (Click here if you're having trouble viewing the video.)

The Iowa GOP debate provided voters with a short introduction to Republican candidates' opinions and rhetoric. While nothing at the debate was a surprise, the candidates' responses were still useful reminders of their views on the issues. Issues such as the economy, abortion, and same-sex marriage will be important in the 2012 election, and we must remember where the candidates stand when we vote.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Los Angeles Times: The Ames Republican debate transcript: Everything they said that you missed

Huffington Post: Iowa GOP Debate: Chris Wallace and Newt Gingrich Have Hostile Exchange

The Atlantic: 5 Quick Thoughts on the Iowa GOP Debate in Ames

Think Progress: All The Anti-Gay Rhetoric From The GOP Presidential Debate…In Under 2 Minutes


  1. One of the things I like about your blog is your patience to watch/interpret all of this (thanks for that!). I wouldn't be able to stomach it if I had to watch it all on TV.

  2. Vertigo -- Thanks! I'm glad the blog is helpful.

  3. This is a fine compilation of what was a fascinating - if in some respects, disturbing - debate. I can't tell you how many times I shook my head and had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It's almost surreal to me that these people are considered serious (?) contenders for the presidential office.

    I also have to say I was mostly disappointed and underwhelmed by Huntsman's performance. I was proud to hear him stand firm on civil unions and "equality," which certainly separated him from the other candidates, lost him no few Republican votes, and took some courage. However, his responses generally seemed like a whole lotta "nothing" rhetoric.

    Nice piece, Ahab.

  4. I'm sure Bachmann's spin on submission was an attempt to ease voter's minds. Otherwise, you'd effectively be voting for Mr. Bachmann. :-)

    Regarding Pawlenty's comment about "when" abortions are illegal, I'm wondering if he was not referring to making all abortions illegal but rather the timing of the abortions, like late-term abortions.

    It's funny to see the weak arguments about why marriage should be decided at the federal level. Following that same logic, I'm guessing they think there should be a federal driver's license agency too.

    Thanks for compiling this post!

  5. Cognitive Dissenter -- Thanks. On the subject of LGBT rights, it's nice to see that Huntsman ISN'T a homophobe like most of the other GOP contenders. Still, I wish he's come on stronger at the debate.

    Wise Fool -- I agree with you on Bachmann's "submission" issue. Frankly, if her religion doesn't allow her to make her own decisions, what kind of president would she make? :P

    The candidates' logic on deciding marriage at the federal level could actually be used to support marriage equality. As I listened to Romney's words, I found myself thinking, "If divergent state laws will cause these problems, why not just allow same-sex marriage across the board?"

  6. Bachmann's spin on submission made me dizzy. Your criticism was right on the mark! She's just covering her tracks so she won't look like a complete fool when people look back and say... wait a minute... you're that hypocrite.

  7. Tristan -- But alas, people already are. I doubt that smart people bought that whole "submission means mutual respect" nonsense from her.

  8. really excellent job here Ahab. You captured all the important points. I thought it was an awful display of incompetence. And Bachmann will not get off so easy with her "submission is respect" crap. Wonder what dictionary she's not been using.

  9. Sherry -- Thanks. She's either using the Make-the-Bible-Say-Whatever-I-Want-It-To dictionary or the How-to-Not-Freak-Out-Potential-Female-Voters dictionary.

  10. It's downright scary how much these candidates are in agreement with the Religious Right and the Tea Party. And given Obama's apparently waning popularity, it seems like one of them might become our next president.

  11. Paul -- It's a chilling possibility. As disappointed as I am with some of the current president's policies, having a member of the Religious Right in the Oval Office would be worse.

  12. Excellent summary! I agree with Vertigo. Watching much of this stuff is more than I can bear. Glad to have a "go to" guy willing to wade into the depths.

    Perhaps we should all buy you a pair of hip waders for your birthday? LOL

  13. Noodleepoodlee -- Why, I'd love a pair of waders. Wading through Religious Right bull@#$% takes a toll on my shoes.


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