The Bachmann vs. T-Paw UFC Smackdown was definitely the highlight of tonight’s GOP debate, both for its entertainment value and its possible impact on the result of Saturday’s straw poll. In a series of heated exchanges, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty proved definitely that “Minnesota Nice” isn’t always very nice at all. He belittled her record; she belittled his courage. Both hit their targets, but the one she aimed at was a more sensitive spot, so I thought she won.

But what really struck me was that I couldn’t recognize the United States that any of the eight candidates was describing. “The country is bankrupt,” thundered Ron Paul. “We are inches away from no longer having a free economy,” claimed Mitt Romney. Gentlemen, the economy is going through a really tough patch. But come on.

In GOP Debate Land, taxes never, ever need to be raised. No one would admit to being able to imagine a circumstance in which a tax hike might even theoretically be necessary -- even the former governors among the bunch, who raised taxes while calling them “fees” of various kinds. None of the candidates would accept a debt reduction deal that offered $10 in budget cuts for every one dollar in new revenue.

Herman Cain lives in a country where Islamic sharia law is a clear and present danger to our way of life, and he wants us to know that “sharia law does not belong in the courts” of the United States. He also believes that “America’s got to learn how to take a joke,” so maybe his whole Sharia Menace thing is his way of pulling our leg.

Newt Gingrich lives in a reality where “Six Sigma” business theory can and should be applied to government. As someone who has spent his career in academia and public service, not the business world, maybe he’s just a tad confused.

Rick Santorum lives in a nation where the specter of polygamy threatens to pollute our precious bodily fluids. Actually, compared with this bunch, Santorum -- who used to sound radical and scary when he was in the Senate -- actually sounded kind of reasonable. He even tried to explain the principle and practice of legislative compromise.

No one listened.

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