When told that the format for last night’s GOP debate would feature candidates seated around a “kitchen” table, I had a strong reaction: Gimme a break.
Well, as Andrew Malcolm (one of my favorite commentators—he has set up shop at Investor’s Business Daily) makes abundantly clear, I was wrong:
Back in the angry days of 1968, American and North Vietnamese diplomats argued for weeks in Paris over the shape of the table they would design peace around.
Turns out, such things can matter.
For the latest Republican primary debate, in New Hampshire last night, Bloomberg and the Washington Post had all eight candidates and three questioners sit around a table, the trademark interview setting for host Charlie Rose.
He likens it to the kitchen table where iconic American families eat and review the day — and make phony dessert-denying threats to children about eating their beans.
Good for Bloomberg's stage designers. That simple setting improved the entire debate dynamic from the setting of previous set-tos, the candidates arrayed in a line at space age podiums like ducks in a shooting gallery.
Malcolm gives the panel of liberal questioners, including Charlie Rose, who mostly managed to control his annoying habit of interrupting others, higher marks than I did (my post in National Review’s round table is here). But, all in all it was a good evening, unless your name is Rick Perry (here). I thought the news was the GOP candidates are no longer intimidated by liberal questioners. This is good preparation for the day one of them will debate Barack Obama.
Not alone, I felt that Romney won the evening. Although Herman Cain and the clarity of his 9-9-9 proposal to overhaul the tax code (9 percent income tax, 9 percent corporate tax, and 9 percent sales tax) are growing on me, I thought he made one huge blooper that showed his inexperience.
Asked to name the best Fed Chairman in the last 40 years, Cain named one: Alan Greenspan, who is generally considered a disaster. I had the sinking feeling that Greenspan, whom Cain knew when he served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, might have been the only one Cain could think of on the spur of the moment. Which is why he should have ducked the question—after all, does anybody besides Ron Paul know all the past chairmen?
The Weekly Standard has some good takes on the debate. Michael Barone captured one of the great moments, Romney responding to a (loaded) questionabout what he would do in the event of the End of the World (I am exaggerating):
The award for smoothest performance, once again, goes to Mitt Romney. Close observers may be growing tired of his “only 8% were affected” dodge on his Massachusetts health care program and by the way he segues into attacking Barack Obama as ill-prepared and clueless. But I thought he had a truly extraordinary response around the 30-minute mark when Julianna Goldman asked him what he would do if there were financial collapse triggered in Europe comparable to the financial collapse triggered by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Romney appeared astonished that Goldman kept insisting this hypothetical question wasn’t hypothetical, but quickly recovered and embarked on a monologue that, briefly interrupted by another question, seemed to go on considerably longer than the one-minute time limit. In my view he showed a deft ability to make intellectually and politically defensible statements and arguments, and to convey the assurance that he would be a surefooted leader in such a crisis.
And you had to love “drunk blogger” Stephen Greene:
To Newt: Obamanomics sucks, huh?
Or maybe it was “Wall Street sucks, huh?” Honestly, this Karen person goes on like me after the third after-dinner brandy.
Newt: I love America. Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama don’t, and they’re also much more political than I am. Also, I love these candidates and their good ideas. Charlie Rose, you and China suck.
There seemed to be too many interruptions featuring ads with smug children lecturing us about economics and their futures. The kids were so annoying that I am quite enjoying the prospect of their working themselves to the bone to support my old age. Just kidding!