The End of the Beginning: Let's Move On To Substance?

It appears that the GOP race is now down to a <a href=”http://www.redstate.com/neil_stevens/2011/10/04/confirmed-we-have-a-three-way-race-for-now/”>3-way race between Romney, Perry, and Cain</a>. The end of the beginning draws near. It would be a fine time for the second tier candidates to think about which of the three main guys they’d support.

(I don’t think Bachmann is entirely finished… but her window is small and closing fast.)

Feels like this beginning stage of the 2012 elections was fraught with all sorts of minor details and small distractions, all of it aimed at trying to distinguish one candidate from the other in the early days of the scrum. Small little things got magnified all out of proportion by the media, by the commentariat, and by the activists who were trying to figure out who their guy was.

Issues like Gardasil, like the Racist Rock, like versions of books, like knowing or not knowing Right of Return, and debate performances where the ‘moderators’ were throwing out one gotcha question after another, etc. all dominated the headlines and dominated our thinking. I suppose it makes sense that with such a large field, it takes too much time and effort to get into the substance of the Big Questions confronting us the GOP activist base, and the country as a whole. I figure, this is just how democracy works: all sorts of messy, rough and tumble, and people making snap judgments based on not much more than a soundbite.

But supposing that we have moved past the opening drive, it’s time for the candidates and the party activists — the most engaged, most educated, most energized within the GOP — to start shifting the conversation away from distractions and towards the real substantive issues.

And boy, there are no lack of real substantive issues in this election. Quite a few wise men on the Right agree that we have the Most Important Election Ever before us. It’s time that we all treat it as such.

What I’d Like From the Candidates

So despite the fact that I am a Cain guy, at this early stage, my loyalty is not exactly graven in stone. Or written on it, to be painted over. Or not. What happens from here on out is essential, critical event.

What I’d like to see from the candidates going forward are real substantive policy statement on the Big Issues confronting us. I don’t much care what you did in the past; that’s relevant, sure, but in the mid-game, I want to know what you’re <i>actually going to do</i> if you win.

It’s time to be assembling your advisors, putting out position papers, and articulating clearly what it is that you will do once in office, and how you will govern. It’s time for major speeches, not for bickering over rocks and slips of the tongue. For me personally, the following are the areas I’d really like to hear from each candidate in greater detail:

  • Size and Scope of Government: Rick Perry has done the best here with his book, Fed Up! but it’s one thing to point out the problems. It’s another thing to make clear what you would do as President as solutions to these problems. Would you cut departments? If so, which ones, and how? Would you actually cut actual spending, or more of the baseline bulltwaddle we’re used to from DC? If so, how?
  • Entitlements: I need to know exactly how you plan to deal with the Entitlements Crisis. Romney’s attacks on Perry are silly; it’s time to step up and tell us what you plan to do on SS, Medicare, and Medicaid.
  • Taxes: Cain has the 999 plan, but I’d like to see details — is it really revenue neutral? How will he prevent it from becoming the 29-29-29 plan? Perry needs to step up here — yes, Texas has a great record. But how will he cut taxes, and which ones? Romney has released a detailed plan, so I’ll give him credit on that.
  • Foreign Policy: Romney so far has done the best job on this as well; Perry and Cain both need to go a bit beyond just rhetoric about strong America.
  • Homeland Defense & Anti-Terrorism: I’d like to know more from each candidate about their views on the TSA, on enhanced interrogations, on targeted killings (whether by drone or by SEAL Team Six), and intelligence (e.g., Patriot Act).
  • Border control & illegal immigration: Pretty obvious. Perry caught a ton of heat for his “heartless” comment; I think that was a bit of a distraction. All three have said they’re all about securing the border — great, can we see some plans in writing please, with numbers if possible?
  • Economy and Jobs: All three are running on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. I’d like to get more detail. In particular, when Cain and Perry talk about reducing regulation… which ones and how?
  • Federalism & Judges: Perry is the strongest here, having written a book about Federalism. But I’d like to know more detail, especially from Cain and Romney. Closely related is the issue of judges — of course all of them will say they will appoint strong Constitutionalists, so give me some names. Who are the judges you really admire who are not currently on the Supreme Court that you’d consider appointing?
  • ADVISORS: This is of particular importance to me. One of the biggest failings of the Obama Administration is that Obama has surrounded himself with advisors who are (a) blind ideologues, (b) flat out incompetent, or (c) both. People like Van Jones and Samantha Powers. Plus, Obama thinks of himself as smarter, better, and wiser than anyone else, despite the fact that the job is bigger than any one individual. So I’d like to see who these guys have assembled around them for policy advice.

I’m sure others have their substantive issues.

Change The Format of Discussion?

I know the standard modus operandi of political campaigning is stump speeches, meet and greets, and televised “debates” which are anything but debates.

In the Internet era, I really hope the campaigns would consider going beyond these silly conventions. Why not hold a virtual “town hall” directly with the public, a la a radio call-in talk show? Call screeners and web watchers can easily pick out questions and tweets from the audience, while streaming the whole thing live on the Web. Have a four hour conversation with potential primary voters about issues, answer their questions, deal with their criticisms, etc.

Why not have a two hour sit down around a table, with the candidates asking each other questions, a la a real debate/conversation, and stream that live over the Web. There is no reason to be so beholden to broadcast channels, involving talking heads from CNN or Fox News. Go direct to the public; the media can’t help but follow.

This way, I sincerely hope the GOP primary this season can be a far richer, far more involved discussion and debate on the big issues, instead of sniping on fringe bits here and there, and personalized attacks about some gotcha thing from the past. We deserve grownups having grownup conversations, first with us, and then once we select the nominee, with the American people.