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The Fox News/Google GOP Presidential Debate took place on September 22nd in Orlando's Orange County Convention Center. The debate included the usual Republican candidates, including Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, John Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. However, this was also the first official GOP presidential debate to include former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Debate topics included immigration, education, foreign policy, the economy, and social issues, prompting several controversial comments from candidates. For your reading pleasure, I've highlighted several quotes from the debate, specifically on federal departments, education, and gays and lesbians in the military.
Amidst swipes at President Obama and jabs between Romney and Perry, the candidates shared their views on key issues. Several right-wing memes reoccurred during the debate, including "magnets" to illegal immigrants, pushing the federal government out of education, and eliminating major federal departments. Candidates reserved particular ire for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. For example, at the 33:41 mark, Herman Cain said that he would eliminate the EPA if forced to get rid of a federal department.
"If I were forced to eliminate a department, I would start with the EPA and start all over. [Applause] It's out of control. Now I know that makes some people nervous, but the EPA has gone wild. The fact that they have a regulation that goes into effect January 1st, 2012 to regulate dust says that they've gone too far. So rather than try to fix it, eliminate all of the things they have right now, and then start rebuilding a responsible EPA."Has Cain researched what the EPA actually does? Conveniently, he did not discuss which EPA policies are allegedly "out of control," but he did fail to mention the EPA's many important functions: conducting environmental research, educating the public about the environment, leading emergency response programs, implementing Superfund clean-ups of hazardous sites, setting clean air standards, documenting climate change indicators, and providing CARE anti-pollution grants, just to name a few. Personally, I would rather live in a country with an Environmental Protection Agency than without one.
Cain was not alone in his desire to eliminate federal departments. Gary Johnson, whom I had high hopes for as a moderate voice, also plans to eliminate a major federal department if elected president. To my disappointment, he promised to push for the elimination of the Department of Education as president at the 37:36 mark.
"I am going to promise to advocate the abolishment of the federal Department of Education. [Applause] The federal Department of Education gives each state eleven cents out of every dollar that every state spends, but it comes with sixteen cents worth of strings attached, so what America does not understand is that it's a negative to take federal money. Give it to fifty laboratories of innovation, the states, to improve on, and that's what we'll see. Dramatic improvement."To get behind this plan, I would need to hear evidence that diverting Department of Education funds to the states would be fiscally and educationally sound. While many Americans want a stronger educational system, scapegoating the Department of Education is rash, in my opinion. Before we eliminate the department, we should remember that it oversees research on education, bestows student financial aid, and provides grants for hundreds of vital educational programs on literacy, crime prevention, early childhood education, corrections education, and many other areas. Would education improve of money be saved if state departments of education dispensed these funds instead of a federal office? I don't know. Without more information, I cannot embrace Johnson's stance on the department.
Several other candidates disparaged federal involvement in education and the U.S. Department of Education. In language that reminded me of Christian homeschooler rhetoric, Rick Santorum criticized the public education system for allegedly forcing parents to "turn their children over." After describing parents as the "customer" of the education system, Santorum had this to say at the 38:28 mark.
"It's the parent's responsibility to educate the children. It's been that responsibility from the moment they were born, they began the education of their children. At some point, the government had convinced parents that at some point, it's no longer their responsibility. In fact, they force them, in many respects, to turn their children over to the public education system and wrest control of them and block them out of participation of that. That has to change or education will not improve in this country."Ron Paul, too, spoke against federal involvement in education at the 39:30 mark.
"If you care about your children, you'll get the federal government out of the business of educating our kids. In 1980, when the Republican party ran, that part of the platform was to get rid of the Department of Education. By the year 2000, it was eliminate it, and we fed onto it. Then we as Republicans added added No Child Left Behind, so the first thing a president should do is, the goal should be set to get the government out completely ... We ought to have the right to opt out of the public system if you want."I was unsure what Paul meant by opting out of public education. Was he referring to opting out of certain policies? Was he referring to parents opting out of sending children to public schools? Parents already have other options for educating their children, such as homeschooling or private schools. If he meant opting out of paying public school taxes, I see a problem. By supporting a public school system with our tax dollars, we ensure that all citizens receive a basic education, which benefits society as a whole. Opting out of school taxes would undermine this. I regret that Paul was not clearer on what he meant by opting out.
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One of the most controversial segments of the debate involved a question by Stephen Hill, a gay soldier deployed to Iraq in 2010. When Hill asked candidates if they would circumvent progress made by gay and lesbian servicemembers, boos erupted from the audience. Santorum replied to Hill's question with this statement at the 1:16:22 mark.
"I would say any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military, and the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to--in removing Don't Ask Don't Tell, I think tries to inject social policy into the military and the military's job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country. We need to give the military, which is all volunteer, the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient in protecting our men and women in uniform, and I believe this undermines that ability." [Applause and cheers]When asked what he would do with soldiers such as Hill, Santorum claimed that he would not throw gay soldiers out of the military, but that he would reinstitute Don't Ask, Don't Tell. At 1:17:14, Santorum had this to say.
"What we're doing is playing social experimentation with our military right now. That's tragic. I would just say that going forward, we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president. Period. That policy would be reinstituted, and as far as people who are in it, I would not throw them out, because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration, but we would move forward in conformity with what was happening in the past, which was sex is not an issue. It should not be an issue. Leave it alone. Keep it to yourself, whether you're heterosexual or homosexual." [Applause and cheers]Santorum's comments reflect a condescending and anemic understanding of gays and lesbians. First, he assumes that gay and lesbian equality revolves around sexual activity, which it does not. Rather, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was about ending one form of discrimination, not about license for sexual activity. By assuming that gay and lesbian issues revolve around sex, he ignores the role of sexual orientation in relationships, marriage, family life, medical benefits, and a host of other matters. Second, why should gay and lesbian servicemembers be forced to hide their sexual orientation for fear of job loss? Heterosexual servicemembers regularly reveal their sexual orientation (when referring to spouses, for example) without fear of reprisal. Despite Santorum's insistence that servicemembers keep their sexuality to themselves, sexual orientation comes to light in a variety of normal ways. Finally, Santorum never explains how discrimination against gay and lesbian servicemembers supposedly strengthens military readiness. His 1:16:22 comment associates Don't Ask, Don't Tell with "protecting" men and women in in the armed forces, but how was a discriminatory policy protecting anyone? What was it protecting servicemembers from? Gay cooties?
While these quotes are only a small sampling of the Fox News/Google debate, they say volumes about the GOP presidential candidates. Several candidates' comments reflected their suspicion of the federal government, as well as worrisome views about education and the environment. Additionally, Santorum's comments about gays and lesbians in the military reflected his long-standing homophobic assumptions. In making these statements, the candidates sought the approval of right-wing voters, and judging by the audience's reactions, they likely succeeded. Voters must be mindful of these issues in 2012.
To watch the debate in its entirety, visit this YouTube link. For additional news and commentary, visit the following links.
CBS News: Republican Gay Rights Group Demands Apology from Santorum
The Atlantic: The Worst Fox News-Google Debate Moment: Audience Boos a Gay Soldier
Box Turtle Bulletin: Johnson “Embarrased” By Booing of American Soldier, Other Candidates Refuse To Comment
Mother Jones: Herman Cain Repeats EPA Dust Myth
Religion Dispatches: It's Unanimous: No "Moderates" in GOP Field