Extremism, rejected

The latest CNN/ORC poll highlights American disillusionment with the Republican Party:

Fifty-three percent of people, including 22 percent of Republicans, said the GOP’s views and policies have pushed them beyond the mainstream. The number is up dramatically from previous years. In 2010, fewer than 40 percent thought the party was too extreme.

Democrats were considered to be a “generally mainstream” party by 57 percent in the new poll.

“That’s due in part to the fact that the Republican brand is not doing all that well,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director.

Live-blogging the Republican presidential debate (live now on CNN)

Hello, and welcome back. I am once again sitting on a living room couch in Paris. It is 1:56 AM, and yes, I am repeatedly questioning my life choices. (Am I questioning my life choices as much as Republicans are questioning their presidential choices, however? I think not. I hope not.)

So then, let us begin.

1:59 AM – The CNN.com online feed is showing crew members walking self-importantly back and forth across the stage.

2:01 AM – The CNN intro just dubbed Ron Paul “the delegate hunter.” Not a great start for him. But then, Mitt Romney got called “the long-distance runner,” so that’s not much of an improvement.

2:04 AM – I think Rick Santorum got the weakest cheers when he walked out. And I’m not sure Ron Paul actually shook Newt Gingrich’s hand when he got to the center of the stage. (Probably just missed it.) Also, given that this is a GOP event, yes, we are in fact being treated to a cheesy choral rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. It’s in their contract (for America?).

2:05 AM – How’d they find an Asian female willing to sing at the Republican debate? We’re all disappointed in you, ma’am.

2:07 AM – They’re sitting! Somehow that disappoints me slightly.

2:08 AM – Newt Gingrich is wearing a purple tie, and immediately mentioned energy in his 10-second intro. Weird choice. Or maybe not, given gas prices.

2:09 AM – Santorum has just promised to cut the budget by $5 trillion in 5 years. This seems reasonable enough. Also, he just assured us he won’t cut defense. But welfare’s on the chopping block. I am so glad to hear we’re not going to cut our military funding. We haven’t had a really fun war in quite awhile.

2:11 AM – Romney’s had his first “I’m a businessman!” moment. He loves to work that in. Also, these camera views are awesome. They’re sitting close enough together to play footsies under the table. I think that’s what Gingrich and Romney are doing now, in fact.

2:12 AM – Did Romney just say he’s going to cut unemployment by 10%? So we’ll have roughly -2% or -3% unemployment? Actually, I can almost understand the math: that horrible feeling when you have a job and can’t seem to get fired.

2:14 AM – Romney, in responding to Santorum, just made a point of assuring the audience that he would cut taxes for the top 1% as well. Way to pander? (Not so much.)

2:15 AM – Gingrich: “You’re never going to balance the budget on the backs of a highly-unemployed country…So I would focus on jobs-based growth.” So…you’re dropping out and endorsing Obama?

2:16 AM – Ron Paul! Jon King asks him why he called Ron Santorum fake. Paul: “Well…because he’s fake.” Best part? Santorum’s sitting two inches to his left. Paul’s still going at him for fake fiscal conservatism and got some loud cheers. Finally, he closes with a weird, off-tangent complaint about foreign aid spending. Come on, Ron. You’re better than that.

2:22 AM – Gingrich looks sad and lonely, but also oddly at peace with himself. Methinks he just downed a solid pre-debate burger.

2:23 AM – It’s strange to see Gingrich address Romney’s ideas with so much deference and friendliness. He looks like a man who’s well aware of his impending defeat and has been given strict orders to derail Santorum.

2:25 AM – No fireworks so far.

2:26 AM – I hate to say this, but I kinda, sorta agree with Santorum on this one. Earmarks aren’t the end of the world. OK, quick, must disagree with him on something quickly before I become unable to recognize myself.

2:29 AM – OK, and now it’s getting heated. Santorum’s getting pissed about the earmarks discussion, Mitt’s talking over him, then Newt tried to get involved because Mitt mentioned him (gently) as a leader of an earmarking Congress, followed by Paul trying to talk after Santorum called him a prolific ear-marker. This is all getting very confusing. And more and more irrelevant.

2:35 AM – This audience is weird. They’re booing and clapping at the strangest things. Literally, as soon as I typed that, they clapped when Mitt Romney said the word “bankruptcy.”

2:39 AM – I love watching ol’ Rick start to get heated. You just know his advisers keep telling him, “Keep your cool, keep your cool, keep your cool,” but he just can’t help himself sometimes. People can just be so wrong.

2:44 AM – First commercial break, and I’m out. Too tired, and nothing’s going on.

Live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate

Hello! Are you ready? I’ll be live-blogging from Paris, where I’m sitting on a couch in the living room and generally wondering why I’m not asleep.

2:01 AM — Hello, and welcome to the nth GOP debate (n, in this case, stands for infinity). Anderson Cooper just showed up, and we’re now watching a truly entertaining (in a car-wreck sort of way) promo video about…the American West, Las Vegas, and (I think) the Republican debate.

2:03 AM — And the crowd goes wild! Can I just say, I love Anderson Cooper. Also, I have a full glass of wine waiting for me, and another half-bottle in the kitchen. I think I may have to turn this night into a 9-9-9 drinking game.

2:04 AM — Newt Gingrich is announced. I take a quick sip of merlot.

2:05 AM — They just announced Rick Santorum’s name. I suddenly have this uncontrollable impulse to Google something.

2:06 AM — While the national anthem is sung, a large video of the waving American flag is displayed at the front of the theater, just in case we didn’t get the point that this debate is taking place in the United States. Honestly, would any other country allow a pizza magnate to lead a presidential race? There has to be a law against this somewhere.

2:09 AM — Ron Paul opens with, “I am the champion of liberty.” And I am Captain America, but we can’t all be heroes, Ron.

2:11 AM — +1 to Bachmann for incorporating the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan. She also just got the first question from the audience, which means she has now matched her entire TV exposure from the last three debates combined. I give her three minutes until she mentions her 1500 or so foster kids/army.

2:13 AM — Herman Cain is speaking about the economy. I compulsively gulp down more wine.

2:14 AM — “Herman’s well-meaning,” says Santorum, “but what is a black guy doing on stage?” OK, so I may have made up that last part, but I know he was thinking it.

2:15 AM — Cain: “I invite every American to do their own math.” Now you’re just stealing George W. Bush’s intellectual property, Herman. Not cool.

2:16 AM — This debate has gotten off to a surprisingly wonky start. Wow, and then Rick Perry just called Herman Cain “brother” twice in thirty seconds. Not a good sign from a guy who may or may not have painted over a rock named “Niggerhead.”

2:18 AM — Cain is under fire. Big time. You can almost see the thought-bubble around Anderson Cooper’s head: “Fight. Fight. Fight!”

2:19 AM — Cain is holding up surprisingly well so far. He must’ve eaten a lot of pizza beforehand. Oops, spoke too soon. Romney just calmly, coolly, and calculatingly owned him. Just like the cruel, job-killing CEO he is. Where do I sign up?

2:22 AM — Gingrich with a good line. When asked why he thought Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would be a hard sell, he quickly replied, “You just watched it.” Well played, Mr. 1994. Well played.

2:24 AM — And there it is! Ronald Reagan gets mentioned by Bachmann. I’m going to go ahead and drink one for the Gipper right here.

2:26 AM — OK, I’ll say it: Rick Perry looks better this time around. Now time to take Mitt to task over health care.

2:27 AM — Rick Santorum’s plan: Kill all gay people and bomb every country starting with the letter I. (I really need to stop making things up. What is it with me and Santorum?)

2:29 AM — Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney Go. At. It. “Rick, Rick, let me speak.” But I have to say (gulping down my pride): Santorum was right. Romney’s lying.

2:32 AM — Now it’s Mitt’s turn to get hammered. And by Newt, of all people. And now Bachmann.

2:36 AM — Andddd we take a break. Which means I take a drink. It’s getting a little hot in here.

2:40 AM — Rick Perry looks sick every time he’s called on. I know that feeling from sitting in the front row at comedy clubs. I guess there is a minor difference, though, since I’m not running for president.

2:43 AM — Wow, Mitt actually reached out and touched Rick for several seconds. I was waiting for a fistfight. Didn’t happen. But the fight continues.

2:45 AM — Mitt Romney just inadvertently admitted he had to fire the undocumented immigrants that landscaped his lawn because he’s running for public office. Gotta admire the man’s honesty. Even if it wasn’t on purpose.

2:48 AM — I cannot believe Rick Perry just advocated using Predator drones in the service of guarding the border. Then, just as I was regaining my composure, Bachmann pinged Obama on his undocumented relatives previously living in the US. Wow. This is getting dirty. And disgusting. (Now she said English will be the official language of the United States government.)

2:54 AM — A Latino questioner reasonably asks what message the Republican candidates have for Latinos in the United States. Newt Gingrich ably evades the entire question. Ron Paul immediately begins discussing how to “attract Latino votes.” Sorry, Ronnie, but that wasn’t the question; it was just what you heard. And Herman Cain makes it a trifecta of avoidance. Make it quadrafecta (is that a word?), with the addition of Perry.

2:58 AM — It is unclear whether Michele Bachman supports the repeal of the 14th Amendment. I have just downed the rest of my merlot. Now she just finished educating us all on “anchor babies.”

3:04 AM — Mark notes that Rick Perry just referred to France as a “who.” This personification is, however, a step up from the usual way Republicans address France-related issues. That said, he did have a bit of a hard time remembering what the 10th Amendment is. (Don’t we all.)

3:09 AM — No way! Bachman just said, “I’m a mom.” But then she did not mention the foster kids. What happened? Did someone trademark the phrase?

3:11 AM — Ron Paul dings the Fed. I guess we could all see that coming. When do we get our next commercial break so I can refill my glass?

3:18 AM — Another break in progress. Another glass of merlot for me.

3:27 AM — Bachmann: “That makes all of us much danger.” Or something along those lines.

3:28 AM — Bachmann: “First Obama brought us into Libya. And now he’s gone into Africa.” You can’t make this up.

3:30 AM — Uh oh. Here come the Israel questions. I always cringe a little when this happens in GOP debates. Cain on the Gilad Shalit deal: I would not negotiate with terrorists, but it’s possible I would make a Gilad Shalit-type deal. Coherent as always.

3:34 AM — Ron Paul: “I want someone willing to cut something.” So, so true. But when it comes to defense, no one will touch anything. Except the brave Rick Perry, who just announced he wants to defund the UN. Sure.

3:38 AM — Michele Bachmann actually just said she wants Iraq and Libya to “compensate” the United States for “liberating” its citizens. There really are no words. Her comments speak for themselves.

3:40 AM — Ron Paul just nails everyone else by asking if they would condemn Ronald Reagan for his hostage deal with the Iranians. Rick Santorum stumbles through a response. Why is Ron Paul so crazy on some issues? If it weren’t for, well, every single domestic policy he has, I’d vote for him immediately.

3:49 AM — Rick Perry keeps getting booed. This is especially shocking at a Republican primary debate, where Rick Perry should absolutely own.

3:51 AM — Michele Bachmann is just about crying that her time is almost over. Her desperation is really showing. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich continues his streak of being incredibly cranky.

3:53 AM — And that’s it. This may be the beginning of the end for Rick Perry. Even with his stronger responses, he may have crossed a line with some of them and got booed multiple times.

3:55 AM — And that’s good night from me.

Thoughts on the debt ceiling

It looks like we may avert a debt disaster after all. Of course, this will come at a heavy price, namely deep cuts which will stifle an already nearly-dead recovery. Furthermore, this proposed agreement would include approximately $2.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade with absolutely no increased revenue. Considering the GOP currently controls one-half of one-third of our national government, this is a Republican coup de grâce if there ever was one.

Below are my thoughts, adopted from an email I wrote yesterday to friends.

Most people in this country believe that the debt ceiling allows us to spend more money, take on bigger obligations, etc. This is not the case, and is a hugely important distinction, especially because almost everyone doesn’t realize this (unless they follow the debate closely, which most Americans don’t). It simply allows us to pay for our existing debt obligations. Obama loves to use the analogy of someone who buys a car, drives it off the lot, and then refuses to make his monthly car payments. In that case, the debt ceiling is hit when he fails to make a payment, not when he tries to buy a new car.

Interestingly, I think it was in the Economist that someone mentioned that the debt ceiling itself is an archaic and almost obsolete invention, and only the US and Denmark, I believe, use it (although, true to stereotype, the Danish are much more timely about getting it raised).

But the point is, the debt ceiling represents money we’ve already spent. Increased spending down the road is an entirely separate issue. (Ironically, if we do default on our debts, the nation’s debt is going to increase significantly due to interest rate hikes alone.) Furthermore, Republicans raised the debt limit 7 times under Bush, 11 times under Reagan, etc. and, while the potential of its raising has occasionally been used as a cudgel to enact small reforms, the threat of default has never yet been wielded to my knowledge. Many like to bring up the fact that Obama voted against raising the debt limit in 2006, for which he has since (conveniently) expressed regret, but it is important to note that he did so in protest against a then-assured debt ceiling increase (in a Congress in which both houses were controlled by the GOP). There is a huge difference between taking a symbolic no vote against certain passage and actually holding the nation hostage until one’s own rigid policy prescriptions are implemented, the threat of default be damned.

Finally, in that we do have a debt ceiling and in that it does represent existing — not future — spending, it might be helpful to take a look at who’s contributed the most to its ever-increasing levels and draw one’s own conclusions about fiscal hypocrisy.