This debate, sponsored by the Family Leader, took place at the First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul all took part, while Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman took a pass on the event. Pollster Frank Luntz was the moderator.
Since many people may not have had a chance to watch this debate, which focused on family values, here is a link to the video. Note that the debate proper does not begin until 36 minutes in.
This debate is impossible to really characterize insofar as winners or losers. However, if it could be said that anyone lost, it had to have been Mitt Romney simply because he did not show up. Since this debate was in Iowa, and Iowa caucus goers are family focused, this was a major misstep for him if he really intends to be a contender there. (And there have been signs that belatedly he has decided to vie for Iowa.) On the other hand, Santorum’s testimony about his daughter and her illness was the high point of the debate, and if he can stop polishing his laurels and stop attacking the other candidates, he may benefit from this debate the most. Bachmann also did quite well on the issues. Cain was less detailed than either Santorum or Bachmann, but solid. Though neither Gingrich nor Perry made a misstep, they did not help themselves either. Paul’s philosophy simply does not translate well to social conservatives, and both Gingrich and Santorum pretty much shredded it. Paul also damaged himself when he talked at length on the subject of faults, but could only identify one fault in his entire life–that he is a perfectionist.
The atmosphere and debate were very informal. The first question dealt with the meaning of the conclusion of the presidential oath, “So help me God.” This should give an insight into the tone and content of this debate. All of the candidates sought to show their Christian credentials in answering this question. Bachmann talked in-depth about her conversion to Christianity–effectively giving her testimony. Perry talked about–as governor–getting on his knees and praying about the issues he faced. Santorum talked about how he first really found God when he lost a Senate race.
Santorum noted that our civil laws must comport with God’s higher law, and said that our country would never have rest until outlawed abortion. Gingrich returned to his old issue–prayer in schools–and believes that America has lost its way since the 1963 Supreme Court decision which, in his words, “eliminated” God from public life. Cain believes that people of faith have been much too passive in fighting back against secularism–we should start showing no fear to the “political correctness police”. Bachmann thinks that preachers should be unmuzzled and allowed to directly address political issues from the pulpit. Actually, they can speak directly about political issues from the pulpit–they just lose their tax exempt status if they do–which Cain quickly pointed out.
Perry seemed genuinely confused about the need for separation of church and state. He talked about the way–as governor–he organized and led pastors in Texas, and then went on in this debate to try to school pastors on how they should preach and lead their flocks. This was frankly quite odd. The political problem in the US is not with pastors being ineffective in organizing, praying, or preaching about values. The political problem in America is primarily with a non-believing and a hypocritical political class. Instead of Perry trying to be a bishop in charge of pastors, as governor shouldn’t he be organizing and leading politicians, and schooling them on the need for values?
Paul essentially wants to get the government out of anything related to religion, culture, or morality. He said in part, “The law can’t reflect the morality of the people.” (A bizarre sentiment. If the law does not reflect morality, then what does it reflect?) He feels that the role of government should simply be to maximize the liberty of the people and let people find their own way.
Gingrich’s reply to Paul was that liberty was not the same as libertinism–there must be morality and character to make liberty work.
On the issue of freedom and responsibility, Bachmann wants to return to the Bible and biblical values, but did not explain what she meant by this. Cain pointed out that freedom without responsibility is immoral, and that we have a responsibility to protect to the unborn. Santorum holds that freedom is not the right to do what you want to do, but the right to do what you ought to do. In answer to Paul, he points out that the law is a teacher, reflecting what is right and wrong. Gingrich quoted the phrase “if you don’t work you don’t eat”, apparently without realizing that this is a biblical injunction (2 Thessalonians 3:10), and not something Captain John Smith came up with. He then started ripping into Occupy Wall Street. He said that we should say to them, “Go get a job right after you take a bath.” Paul did not address the political implications of the need for personal responsibility, and Perry tried to use this question as an opportunity to talk about unrelated issues, such as the 10th Amendment and aid to China.
Abraham Lincoln’s critique of the 10th Amendment was that the states do not have the right to do wrong. Cain’s answer to this point was confusing, but eventually he agreed with Lincoln (how could he do otherwise?). Paul disagreed vehemently with Lincoln and thought that the federal government was severely limited in its right to tell states what to do. However, he nevertheless seemed to think that civil rights and slavery were indeed rightfully federal issues. Based upon his other statements, Paul is being inconsistent. To be perfectly consistent with everything he said in the debate, Paul must believe that civil rights and slavery became federal issues after the 13th and 14th Amendments–but were not federal issues before then–which means that he would have left slavery and civil rights with the states. Perry’s answer was confusing, but essentially he seemed to agree with Paul. Santorum noted that he also supported the 10th Amendment and agreed with Perry and Paul on the need to get the federal government out of issues such as eduction, but also thinks Lincoln’s view has application to matters such as gay marriage.
On the issue of a federal law or constitutional amendment banning abortion, Cain was all for it. Gingrich wonders if the 14th Amendment could be used as an end run around the courts to stop abortion (this view has merits, but probably would not work). Paul thinks that abortion should be purely a state issue. He believes that this matter could have been removed from court consideration by a simple bill ten years ago, and states could have outlawed abortion and many lives could have been saved. Bachmann notes that Obamacare covers abortion.
Perry and Bachmann came out in favor of a federal marriage amendment. Santorum feels that this is an issue that must be fought at the state level as well as the federal level. Paul came out against a federal marriage amendment, though he is for the Defense of Marriage Act.
On changes to the court system and judiciary, Bachmann noted that Congress has the right to limit what cases courts take up, but has not used this right. Gingrich went back to the issue of school prayer, and wants to personally retaliate against a judge who recently ruled on this issue. Santorum wants to abolish the entire 9th Circuit Court.
Luntz asked about a challenge that affected their private or spiritual lives. Cain talked about being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and the support he received from his wife. Perry talked about how he had discovered that he had a “hole in his life” after he left the Air Force, and how it led him giving his life to Christ. Paul talked about going through catechism, going to medical school, and studying economics. Bachmann talked about her parents’ divorce and how it devastated the finances of the family. She went on to say how this led her to become a foster parent, and how being a foster parent led to her political career by getting her involved in the issue of public education. Santorum talked about the birth of his daughter Isabella Maria, who has a nearly always fatal genetic condition called Trisomy 18. His testimony about her struggle to survive was the most moving part of the debate. He related this to his concern for the issues of abortion and special needs kids. (This section is at about the 2 hour mark in the video). Gingrich talked about a friend’s son’s heart condition, and related this to his opposition to Obamacare.
Regarding the issue of personal failures, Gingrich talked about reading a book related to alcoholism, and finding some spiritual help from it, despite not being an alcoholic. He mentioned that he has caused a great deal of pain to others, but did not go into detail. Paul talked about being a perfectionist, but he cannot think of any one thing about himself that he might change, though he rues the fact that he never really recovered from some physical injuries when he was a teenager, and this kept him out of athletics. Cain got all weepy about how he was not home enough while his kids were growing up. Perry talked about his childhood dream to be a veterinarian, and how this did not work out.
On the issue of whether moral education is a responsibility of public schools, Santorum notes that the parents are responsible for educating their children–and not the schools. Therefore, public education needs to be reformed to answer parents’ needs in educating their children. Bachmann wants to keep public education as close to the family as possible, and keep it out of federal control.
On the issue of the moral justification for war, Paul thinks that there are just wars, but that all of the wars the US has fought since WW II were illegal, unconstitutional, unjust, and immoral (the people of South Korea and Kuwait, for example, were not worth saving?). Bachmann would go to war if the US is attacked or threatened with attack. She wants to know that there is a vital national interest at stake, along with an exit strategy, before going to war. Cain would be willing to go to war in defense of freedom and liberty, but would not send anyone else’s child to war unless he would also be willing to send his own son or daughter. Perry essentially agrees with Bachmann. He is also against micromanaging wars, and wants to give soldiers the tools and authority to fight to victory. Santorum makes the case for war with Iran, if war is indeed necessary to keep them from getting a nuclear weapon. Gingrich also talks about the historic idea of a just war–and here the video ends.
- Open thread: The Thanksgiving Family Forum non-debate (hotair.com)
- Can It Be Santorum’s Turn Next? (americanthinker.com)
- Michele Bachmann Questions Newt Gingrich’s Prolife Bona Fides After The FAMiLY Leader Forum (caffeinatedthoughts.com)