By Patrick Martin in the USA:
Theater of the absurd in Republican presidential debates
9 January 2012
Back-to-back debates over the weekend in New Hampshire demonstrated not merely the ultra-right views of the Republican presidential candidates, but the vast gulf between the preoccupations of the corporate-controlled media and political establishment and the concerns of tens of millions of working people.
The six remaining Republican presidential hopefuls participated in the two debates before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, where the presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, is ahead in the polls. Joining Romney on the stage were former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who tied Romney for the lead in the Iowa caucuses January 3; former House speaker Newt Gingrich; former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman; Texas governor Rick Perry; and Texas congressman Ron Paul.
The two debates took on the character of a theater of the absurd, with multimillionaire candidates—egged on by their multimillionaire media questioners, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer on Saturday night, NBC’s David Gregory on Sunday morning—vying with each other for who could enunciate the most vicious and extreme position.
To cite only a few instances, the candidates declared their support for reducing taxation on corporations to zero (Gingrich), abolishing the departments of Education, Energy and Commerce (Perry), establishing a nationwide right-to-work law (Gingrich, Perry and Romney), means-testing Social Security and Medicare (Huntsman), abolishing food stamps and Medicaid as entitlements and replacing them with block grants to the states (Santorum), slashing federal spending by $1 trillion immediately (Paul).
The candidates made no effort to explain, nor did their media questioners ask, what would happen to the tens of millions of working people, retired, unemployed, disabled and poor who depend on these programs for their economic and physical survival.
Their perspective was summed up by Santorum, who should have been awarded the prize for the most barefaced lie, as he denounced a passing reference to the “middle class” by another candidate. “There are no classes in America,” Santorum claimed. “We are a country that don’t allow for titles. We don’t put people in classes.” This amounted to acceding to a “class warfare argument,” he said, “something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon.”
The reality is that there is no major country in the world so deeply divided along class lines as the United States. The top one percent of the population—which includes all six Republicans and their Democratic opponent, Barack Obama—controls the bulk of the wealth and income, while living standards for the vast majority, including the working class and much of the middle class, have stagnated or declined.
Instead of addressing this well-known economic reality, the candidates advanced various forms of right-wing, religion-based prejudice as a means of diverting and diffusing social tensions. Gingrich claimed “there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today” than discrimination against blacks, gays or women. Perry denounced what he called “the administration’s war on religion.” Santorum presented himself as the most consistent warrior for the Christian fundamentalists against gay marriage and abortion.