Surrealism in Tampa

I admit, when Newt Gingrich last night took credit for creating a couple of million American jobs when he was Speaker of the House and looked down to see if his nose had grown six inches, I was in the minority of observers of the Republican debate in Orlando who remember that Newt spent most of his time as the top dog in Congress tearing down every economic initiative of President Bill Clinton’s first term. The man does have a way with words, verbally keel-hauling President Obama for “class warfare and bureaucratic socialism”.

It is entertaining to watch the Republican primary debates, if that is what they can be called, compared to the general election. After the primaries, the Republican candidate will put on his or her “reasonable hat” to reach out to swing voters and independents and maybe even Democrats. But the true test of the candidates are these primary “debates”. They are like short track stock car races. The best opportunity for aliens and I mean extra-terrestrials, not the illegals who would have been hog-tied and burned at the stake last night if any in the audience had raised their hand to self-identify, to tease out of sound bites: who exactly does the Republican Party represent and what kind of bait are the candidates putting out.

Florida Governor Rick Scott had his moment in front of a nation-wide audience at intermission, thanking corporate sponsors Fox and Google along the lines of, “corporations create jobs and we are glad you are here. When my ratings improve, I’m going to Disneyworld!”

Fox commentators continuously referred back to the debate as the “most interactive” in human history. No doubt. It had to be seen to be believed. Little pull-out moments like showing the results of single phrase google searches. The wow factor was huge. Questions posed to the candidates by YouTube clips from hither and yon; Ohio bikers, Virginia young Republicans. Word clouds. Online polls. (Loved that the candidates, when asked or needed to slip in a comment about which federal agency they would eliminate, all piled on the US EPA but how the Fox/Google online poll showed only 12 percent of viewers agreed. Somehow that point got lost in the shuffle, as it will in Washington as Obama abandons the EPA the way Clinton did under pressure from right wing corporations.)

The point is that all the bells and whistles in the world can’t add up to a reasonable debate format when there are eight or twelve men or women up on the stage, playing “badminton” (Gov. Rick Perry’s said so, to Mitt Romney) with each other. Swatting the imaginary birdie overhead the length of the stage is not improved with Google or Fox News (unfair and unbalanced) darts and daggers.

I propose the answer: Charlie Rose. Well, not Charlie Rose. Maybe Charlie Sheen. Let them go two by two up the ramp to the Ark of Television and spend an hour with each other and one interlocutor. Make Fox News and the other networks pay for all those hours and hours. Let’s see what candidates can stand on their own, outside of the sound bites meant to enrage, enthuse, and otherwise stir up the passion of the crowd.

The overall impression? Republican candidates for president of the United States uniformly detest the federal government they will lead if elected in 2012. One after another, they bashed federal authority and seemed, universally, to ignore the fact that two terms of one of their own, Republican conservative George W. Bush, tore the US economy into pieces. How are any of them going to do better than Dubya?

If this doesn’t feel like 1931 all over again, go back to your history books, dear readers. Among the enthusiastic, cheerful and cheering Orlando crowd, how many channeled what happened in the United States after the stock market crash of 1929? Pick up a book, you want to say. Turn off your TV.

I still think John Huntsman makes the best case for a Republican candidate, but the thin applause from Orlando Republicans in the audience doesn’t bode well for the only candidate who has experienced how America is regarded on the other side of the imaginary fence Rick Santorum wants to erect on 1200 miles of the Texas border. How did Rick Santorum ever get elected to the US Senate? John Huntsman wants to bring the troops home. Me, too! Oh well.

Michelle Bachmann could not restrain herself from jumping in, on the issue of air flights to Cuba. No! she challenged the former Governor of New Mexico who wants to cut the federal government in half and he will do it. How pleased she looked.

But I still confess a soft spot for the wacky dad in the litter, Ron Paul, who reliably lets honesty get the better of him. At one point he forgot he had more time to answer a question that had been posed and lost the train of his thought. So do I! Then he was talking about “that fence” that could as easily be turned to keeping Americans in, as keeping aliens out. The data to identify people is there; meaning citizens as well as aliens. And in economic hard times, money wants to leave the country. I would lean for Paul; an absentee voter living in exile in Paris.

The odd piece is that holders of the Euro are all rushing back to the dollar. Greece would be a cheap place to live. Switzerland, safer. The longer the debate in Orlando last night, the more I fancied thoughts of flight.

Alan Farago is conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades. He can be reached at:

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at