South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, Iowa congressman Steve King, and Princeton’s Robert P. George questioned Republican presidential candidates Labor Day afternoon in a Saddleback-type Palmetto Freedom Forum, sponsored by the American Principles Project. Submitting to questions were Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney — Rick Perry bowing out on account of wildfires in Texas. Some of those who watched comment.
Timothy Dalrymple Call it a tale of three cities.
In Detroit, warming up the Labor Day crowd for Pres. Barack Obama, Teamsters chieftain Jimmy Hoffa offered the president his “army” of union members for battle against the Tea Party in its “war on workers.” After Hoffa said, “Let’s take these son-of-a-bitches out,” the president took the podium and bravely told the crowd how “proud” he was of Hoffa and other union leaders.
In Cincinnati, Vice President Joe Biden referred to the Tea Party movement as “barbarians” — only because he can’t call them “terrorists” when the cameras are running — who have “declared war on labor’s house.” The crowd roared in delight.
At roughly the same time, in Columbia, S.C., five of the candidates for the GOP nomination for president appeared at a forum hosted by the King of the Tea Party, Jim DeMint. It was the most thoughtful conversation amongst the candidates we’ve yet seen in this election season. Freed from the rigidity, verbal skirmishes, and 30-second time limits they faced in other debates, the candidates expounded their views with coherence and depth. Bachmann held forth passionately on the connection between American greatness and the United States Constitution, Cain and Gingrich spoke eloquently of tax and government reform, and Romney showed his mastery of economic matters when he was assessing the damage of the Community Reinvestment Act and Sarbanes-Oxley. While each of the candidates addressed the extraordinary costs of favor-trading between government and public-sector unions (as evidenced now in the near-collapse of the U.S. Postal Service), there was nothing like a “war on workers” in evidence.
Remind me again who the crazies are? And tell me again who’s promoting a “climate of hate”?
Thanks to CNN’s inexcusable interruptions, I missed a little of Representative Bachmann’s appearance at the Palmetto Freedom Forum until I found the TownHall.com feed online. I would rate the candidates’ performances as follows, from most to least impressive:
1. Newt Gingrich reminded us that he is one of the smartest, most historically informed politicians of our times. His answers revealed a man who has thought deeply about both principles and policy. But 20 minutes of brilliance does not a campaign make. Will this performance give new life to a so-far-moribund candidacy?
2. Mitt Romney clearly understands the economy, and the intersection where the economy meets public policy. He’s informed and sophisticated. But he also doesn’t like confrontations, as revealed by his answer to Robert George’s question about enacting federal legislation protecting the right to life.
3. Michele Bachmann hit all the notes that are familiar to her many admirers. She’s clear and principled, and understands the limited constitutional powers of the federal government. She did not, however, give viewers reason to prefer her to the absent Rick Perry.
4. Herman Cain usefully reminded us that virtually any Republican candidate would be preferable to the incumbent in the White House. Barack Obama has set the bar very low, of course.
5. Ron Paul confirmed his status as the blowhard in the bar that you try to find the stool farthest from. His obsession with the Federal Reserve, his isolationism, and his loathsome insinuations about American responsibility for 9/11 vitiate any reasonable voter’s attraction to his purity on limited-government principles. And his answer to Robert George was particularly confused about the Constitution.
Bottom line: Four out of five candidates — all but Paul — helped themselves. And Senator DeMint, Representative King, and Professor George distinguished themselves and took journalists to school.
— Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.