Seriously, where are the serious candidates?

Courtland Milloy
Columnist February 28, 2012

I’ve been hearing that this upcoming presidential election is “the most important since 1860,” as Newt Gingrich puts it, the “most important in American history,” as Rick Santorum calls it, the election that will “save the vision of America,” as Mitt Romney sees it.

Even President Obama says this is the one where “American values are at stake.”

But I get a feeling that all of them are pulling my leg — and that the mainstream media are in on the joke. Granted, I’m not a “Beltway insider.” Just an everyday Washington area resident trying to figure out what’s going on. But they can’t be serious, can they?

For instance, I tuned in to CNN last week thinking there would be a broadcast of the Republican presidential debate in Arizona. Turned out to be some kind of game show where the contestant who said the dumbest things got the loudest applause.

Gingrich: “This is an administration which, as long as you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe.”

(Applause)

Moderator John King to Ron Paul: “You have a new television ad that labels [Santorum] a fake. Why?”

Paul: “Because he’s a fake.”

(Applause)

(Booing)

Santorum: “I’m real, John. I’m real.”

(Laughter)

Romney: “I want to restore America’s promise, and I’m going to do that. . .”

(Applause)

Romney: “That’s good enough. As George Costanza would say, when they’re applauding, stop.”

(Applause)

The next morning, political analysts were actually calling this a “debate.”

“Nobody was terrible in this debate,” Alan Schroeder wrote for Huffington Post. “It is obvious why these candidates advanced to the final four.”

No fooling?

High school students hold more authentic debates. They do their homework and are ready to argue their points using persuasion. Their rebuttals are equally informed and eloquently stated.

Is it too much to ask a presidential candidate to be at least as qualified to debate as a high-schooler?

And what about the likes of Donald Trump? Did the media have to take his birther platform candidacy seriously just because he’s wealthy? And then ignore someone like, say, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer just because his “poll numbers” don’t reach some artificially concocted mark?

With no less than 20 Republican presidential primary debates scheduled, I was hoping to hear at least one of the candidates articulate a conservative vision for America’s future. Elections help to inform us, or so I thought, regardless of our party affiliation. Just to be inundated with whatever inflammatory rhetoric that a candidate thinks his or her “base” wants to hear sullies the democratic process.

From where I sit, with half the houses in many neighborhoods underwater and the ability of Maryland and Virginia to pay for further transportation improvements pretty much tapped out, I want to know how Republicans and Democrats alike expect to meet the challenges facing the country. And we shouldn’t have to wait until the fall for them to get serious.

The Republicans want to cut the deficit and make government smaller and less intrusive. No more Federal Emergency Management Agency, no more Environmental Protection Agency, just to name two agencies that they want to abolish. Fine. So what happens when disaster strikes? Who comes to the rescue — the local church, the Rotary Club? Who ensures that our food is safe, the air and water clean?

That’s what I care about — not whether Mitt Romney’s wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” unless she drives them both at the same time, in which case I could probably catch that on YouTube.

I like what Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast recently: “Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. . . . Today, with as many challenges as we face, these are the values I believe we’re going to have to return to in the hopes that God will buttress our efforts.”

But all of that caring is not free. Where does the money come from? Surely the president doesn’t intend for that debt ceiling to come crumbling down on the heads of our children.

“For many voters, it has been the debates — especially those that have preceded a primary or caucus — that have become the deciding factor when they choose who they want as the GOP nominee,” Steve Krakauer of CNN wrote on the network’s Web site.

He’s kidding right?

To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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