A Difference In Debate

At the onset of this primary season, I joined many voices in remarking upon how lucky we are as Democrats to have such a strong field of gifted candidates, while in contrast much of the Republican field seems incredibly lacking.  Indeed, as Democrats consistantly out fundraise Republicans by a wide margin, something rather unprecedented in contemporary politics, and Republicans continue to look for a new savior in Fred Thompson even as the tide is slowly turning against him, this preliminary image of the primaries contest seems to have solidified.

Let’s not pull any punches, there’s been no shortage of fireworks in either contest, but I think it’s important to understand the difference in the debate going on from one side to the next.  On our side, look at what has dominated news cycles for weeks; true a battle primarily between Democratic frontrunners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but even these are substantive debates on how to execute our foreign policy in an effective manner.

It began with how to engage in diplomacy with foreign leaders not overtly friendly with us, and while Hillary and Barack were at odds, they both were on essentially the same side, making a point that we do need a change in course, understanding that the status quo is not providing net beneficial gains and taking a stance that, with varying degrees of preparation and understanding, we need to bring new ideas to the table in dealing with foreign powers such as Cuba and North Korea.

Even this Pakistan debate is a question over prudence and actualization.  Our presidential candidates are having an honest to God open debate over how to proceed in mitigating the al Qaeda network, something Republicans have only been doing insofar as to continue to justify the Iraq War. Years after we abandoned our pursuit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, someone is finally debating on how to penetrate REAL al Qaeda strongholds where they actually exist (um… Like in Pakistan).  There’s even merit in the dissenting opinion that highlights the prudence these candidates feel is necessary when addressing a country with a tenuous government in control of nuclear weapons.

And what do we have on the other side of the aisle?

“If you look at lists compiled on Web sites of sanctuary cities, New York is at the top of the list when Mayor Giuliani was mayor,” Romney said at the Abbey Hotel here. “He instructed city workers not to provide information to the federal government that would allow them to enforce the law. New York City was the poster child for sanctuary cities in the country.”

The Giuliani campaign issued a statement rejecting the charge. Campaign communications director Katie Levinson said, “I am not even sure we should weigh in on this, given Mitt Romney may change his mind later today about it. Mitt Romney is as wrong about Mayor Giuliani’s position on illegal immigration as he was when he last mischaracterized the mayor’s record and later had to apologize. New York is the safest large city in America since Mayor Giuliani turned it around — it is not a haven for illegality of any kind. The mayor’s record speaks for itself.”

New York became a sanctuary city, where illegal immigrants enjoy some measure of protection, through an executive order signed by Mayor Ed Koch in 1989, five years before Giuliani became mayor in January 1994.

But if Giuliani inherited the policy, he reissued it and seemed to embrace it.

At a June 1994 press conference, Giuliani decried anti-illegal immigration policies as unfair and hostile.

To be sure, this is rather funny.  There’s nothing quite like reading a news article that quotes a prominent politician and then debunks that quote directly in the following graph, but while this is entertaining and worth a chuckle, it’s a sad state of affairs for the substantive quality of the over arching GOP debate.

This is because there really isn’t a debate.  That’s the point.  Both these guys are on the same side (well, okay with the exception of Rudy’s ID cards, there’s no anti-immigration program without them) of the debate and not arguing about the finer points of each other’s approach but instead merely sniping their opponent’s bona fides.

On our side, you have Obama and Hillary wrestling over prudence vs. progress, Biden interjects pragmatism while Richardson comes from the other side and portrays the ideal.  With Republicans, you get extended pissing matches over who’s more conservative.

And I’m serious, I’ve watched most of the Republican debates, and in every single one, you can go back and watch the tapes, it seems almost mandatory that they have a five to ten minute break of merely saying, “I’m more conservative than the rest.”

Which, let’s be clear, the tone of the primaries will spill over to the general election.  On one side you will have a candidate who is versed in the issues and policy matters of the day and ready to discuss the best way forward, and you will have one candidate that will spend most of his time pandering to the base and attempting to fit into a specific ideological narrative.  Which do you think will do a better job of running the country?

(note: Thanks to memeorandum for showing this as a featured post!)

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