As I vowed when The Root inaugurated this column, there ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough to keep me from delving into the foibles of the political right wing. Thus, at considerable risk to my mental health, I subjected myself to the entire two hours of CNN's Republican presidential debate on Monday night so that you wouldn't have to.
Count your blessings if you didn't tune in. Because we're now in the phase of the cycle during which Republican candidates pander to the far right to win the nomination before they tack to the center during the general-election campaign, the event turned out to be yet another example of the sort of conservative mumbo jumbo we've come to expect from the GOP. That party has moved so far to the right that it threatens to fall off the edge of the flat earth some of its members still seem to believe in.
Mercifully, space will not permit a complete listing of the dogmatic hooey that flowed from the lips of the candidates. The common thread is that ever increasing tax breaks for the rich, spending cuts and reductions in regulation are the cure for every problem the U.S. faces. As a corollary, anything that Barack Obama has accomplished — from "ObamaCare" to saving the auto industry — is a disaster. A few examples will give you the flavor.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, the Tea Party's new darling, proposed abolishing the "job-killing" Environmental Protection Agency.
Her fellow Minnesotan, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, reasserted his claim that the U.S. economy could grow at an annual rate of 5 percent and halve the deficit if only it would adopt his package of tax and spending cuts and regulatory repeals — a feat that neither Ronald Reagan nor Bill Clinton could accomplish.
Moderator John King almost had to pull the eyeteeth of Herman Cain, the former pizza honcho who is the only black person in the GOP field, before he would concede that the federal government should be protecting food safety. He later declared that he doesn't believe "in Shariah law in American courts," as if that were an actual threat instead of a chimera.
And then there was Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner, who managed to look as if he belongs on Mount Rushmore while simultaneously twisting himself into a pretzel. His problem is trying to explain why Obama's health care program is an abomination that should be repealed, while the Massachusetts state plan on which it is largely modeled — which was enacted while Romney was governor — is anything but.
If you get the sense that this field is lacking, you're not alone. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released two days after the debate showed that only 45 percent of Republicans are satisfied with the current crop of contenders, compared with 73 percent at a similar point in the previous election cycle.
At the New Yorker, commentator Hendrik Hertzberg has classified the Republican candidates into three groups:
*The Respectables: "grown-up" ex-governors Romney, Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, whose experience at the state level makes them plausible prospects for the job.
*The Eccentrics: ostensibly presentable hopefuls who are "a bit too passionately intense about some -ism" to be taken seriously. This group includes ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (abortion) and Texas ultralibertarian Rep. Ron Paul (everything).
*The Implausibles: an "alarming" but "entertaining" collection of fringe contenders with little or no chance at the nomination. They include Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hertzberg includes Bachmann in this group, but I'd rate her an Eccentric.
Uninspiring as this group may be, you can't write them off. One of these hopefuls — or one of the yet-to-announce candidates, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. or ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — will eventually win the nomination and the chance to square off against Obama. Because of the parlous state of the economy, the GOP candidate will have a serious chance of unseating him.
That, some cynics believe, is why Obama allowed in public last week that his family is "not invested" in his re-election. Some especially conspiracy-minded seers theorize that, tired and frustrated, he may be planning to withdraw, thereby laying the groundwork for a run by Hillary Clinton.
I think — and I hope — that the speculators are reading way too much into Obama's comments. He needs to run for a second term. Like many of those who voted for him in 2008, I've been sorely disappointed with many aspects of his performance. But elections always boil down to a choice between imperfect contenders. At this point, it's hard to imagine one of the ideologically hidebound politicians in the recent debate doing a better job.
Jack White is a frequent contributor to The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.