Bruce Thornton: THOUGHTS ON DEBATE NIGHT

Last week’s Republican primary debates have quickly become a cultural and political phenomenon. Even progressive pundits have been forced to acknowledge the high quality of the Fox News moderators, the toughness of their questions, and the sheer entertaining excitement of the shows. Contrary to the usual soporific political debates, with robotic recitations of prefabricated talking points, this one had fireworks and substance. Let’s hope this new paradigm for presidential debates carries through all the way to next year’s presidential debates.

But there’s another value to the debates. A lot of progressive received wisdom was exploded last Thursday night. First is the notion that Democrats are smarter and better informed than Republicans, who are typically dismissed as badly educated, anti-science, stuck in the racist and sexist past, and tools of capitalist hegemons. The great variety of candidates, the intelligence of their answers (with, in my view, the exception of Donald Trump), the freshness of their ideas, and the range of personal experience and achievements, exploded that cliché, and all contrasted starkly with the other side’s anointed candidate.

Hillary Clinton, an old pol well beyond her sell-by date, cannot stand comparison to the fresh, young best of the Republican field. She is the quintessential Washington insider and operative, without a fraction of the achievements of Carly Fiorina or Dr. Ben Carson or any of the governors on the stage, or a particle of the charisma of Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. She is a grotesquely hypocritical class warrior, a denizen of the 1%, as shrewd a financial manipulator and piratical capitalist as the Wall Street fatcats she routinely demonizes––and who contribute to her campaign. She talks only in vague ignorant bumper-sticker slogans like “income inequality” and “war on women.” And when she does offer something specific, like her wacky plan to raise taxes on capital gains, even liberal economists slap it down as kindergarten economics. So far she has said nothing that bespeaks intelligence or wisdom, instead recycling progressive dogmas, on everything from “climate change” to foreign policy, which reality has discredited for decades. As for Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist from a state with fewer people than Fresno County, he makes Hillary sound like Solon and Donald Trump sound like Milton Freidman.

The second bead on the progressive rosary is the reflexive attacks on Fox News. Even the president conjures up “Fox News” as a combination straw man and bogey, an epithet useful for deflecting attention away from his epic incompetence and punkish personality. “Fox News” is a progressive talisman, a simple device for warding off facts and arguments that expose the bankruptcy of progressivism––its creepy totalitarian instincts, its blatant hypocrisy and elitist sensibilities, its slavish obeisance to dubious authority (“The science is settled!”), and its lack of sound argument and evidence on virtually every topic.

Unlike the network news programs and anchors who indulge all the same un-journalistic dysfunctions, Fox News, with some exceptions, goes after the facts and stories––the Planned Parenthood fetal organ industry, for example, or the Benghazi scandal––that the networks try to ignore. This high quality and journalistic integrity that has long helped Fox News eclipse its rivals was on display last Thursday. The debate moderators––Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace––were tough, prepared with smart questions, and even-handed, despite Donald “tough-guy” Trump’s post-debate whining. Contrast their performance with the despicable Candy Crowley, who during the 2012 presidential debate intervened to rescue Barack Obama with a blatantly false “correction” of Mitt Romney. Indeed, one of the highlights of last Thursday was the confrontation between one of the smartest of the Republican candidates, Carly Fiorina, and a long-time court scribe of the Obama administration, Chris “tingles” Matthews. If you haven’t already, watch Fiorina beat Matthews like a rented mule during her post-debate interview on MSNBC.



If the Republicans have any sense, they will not allow debate moderators to be dominated by such Democrat Party minions and flaks from the networks or CNN, but insist that Baier, Kelly, and/or Wallace be on stage to give the proceedings some fairness and journalistic professionalism.

Debate night, however, was the occasion for another event that calls to mind the bankruptcy of progressive ideology. Jon Stewart broadcast his last show, and anyone who enjoys truly incisive political satire will be glad to see him go. For too long Stewart has been lauded as some sort of comic genius and political oracle, even by a few conservatives who should know better. From what I’ve seen over the years, he is the king of juvenile snark, oozing smug, unearned arrogance, and toadying to the powerful who share his ideology.

Just watch his interviews with Barack Obama, whom, it now appears, Stewart secretly visited to get his political marching orders. Or Hillary Clinton’s cameo on the last show, saying of Stewart’s retirement, “And just when I was running for president. What a bummer.” Hillary obviously knows whose side Stewart was on. Sure, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain made cameos too, but those were just self-promoting gags. And yes, occasionally Stewart would nip, like a lap-dog, the progressive hand that feeds him, but that’s nothing compared to mocking probes of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or any number of conservative denizens of the progressive demonology.

Nor is he (or his stable of writers, who I wager actually write most of the material) that smart. Just watch his two-part, embarrassing schooling at the hands of John Woo (here and here). Throughout his career most of his jokes revolved around progressive clichés and Democrat Party talking points. More important, to me he was rarely that funny, depending on F-bombs and bug-eyed gesticulation, screeching, and smirking to raise a laugh from his callow studio audience. Indeed, Stewart’s success depended on a demographic, millenials, who happen to be the worst-educated cohort in American history, a group that thinks a parody of a news show is actually a reliable source of information or analysis. Getting a laugh from them is like getting a laugh from a drunk. Compared to Dennis Miller, James Lileks, or Andrew Klavan, Stewart was a piker.

Are these two events, transpiring on the same night, a sign that America’s six-year-long jag on the progressive Kool-Aid might be coming to an end? That we’re ready to put the grown-ups back in charge? That finally we realize the old, fossilized ideology of progressivism not only doesn’t work, but makes things worse? That it lessens our freedom, compromises our security, destroys our economy, and endangers our security? Stay tuned for next week’s show.