by Joe Shea
September 22, 2011
REPUBLICANS PLAY IT FOR LAUGHS
ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 22, 2011 -- On a day when the stock market teetered at the very precipice of a second Depression, and the decades-old Palestinian fight for an independent state finally neared an ultimate resolution, and U.S. unemployment barely budged from its dismal state, the Republicans - or some of them, certainly - played it all for laughs.
That was the impression among many watching the debate at the convention center Thursday night, where Google, YouTube and Fox News served up a two-hour splash of color, food, pageantry and fun that often underplayed the gravity of the issues nine candidates - now joined by former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who got the best laugh line of the night - have to address to win the presidency.
During the debate, in fact, Herman Cain said "It's a game. ... It's a game," when the candidates were asked to choose one of the others on the stage as a vice-presidential choice. Gov. Rick Perry suggested "mating" Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain.
But Derek Hankerson, 47, a tall, African-American producer for conservative Christian radio station WFOI in St. Augustine, Fla., a Republican delegate, was fuming in the aftermath of the banter. For him, it was no game.
"What is this?" he demanded angrily. "The freaking Amos 'n Andy Show?" With all the issues the candidates face, Hansacker said, there was little room for the levity that marked much of Presidential V. He said Democrats were probably using clips from the debate to film new commercials "right now, eben as we speak."
The clear winner of the biggest laugh was a newcomer to the debates, Gary Johnson. Asked about jobs, he aimed a zinger at the supposed absence of them when he cracked, "My neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this President."
The audience, and most of the other candidates, laughed for a good minute or more, and many attendees were still laughing afterwards, even if they couldn't remember Johnson's name. No one mentioned that the Obama stimulus had saved or created between 3 million and 3.3. million jobs, according to research by CNN.
Hansacker's rant notwithstanding, a powerful Florida state legislator felt the humor belonged.
"I think humor is essential to not taking yourself too seriously," Dean Cannon, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, told The American Reporter. "I believe that humor is sort of the WD-40 of politics and of life. If you can't laugh at yourself and laugh at others, then you're too uptight." .
Yet the laughs may have come at the expense of a more serious discussion that could explore issues like Friday's application for membership in the United Nations by the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas. When Fox News Sunday talk show host Chris Wallace raised the question, only former U.S. Sen. from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum seemed ready to try to at least grasp at its handles.
One Fox News star indicated before the show that entertainment was part of the evening's expectations.
"I don't think there's going to be any big surprises in the debate," said Sean Hannity in a brief interview with The American Reporter an hour before the debate started. "I liken it to American Idol, in that in each debate, there's going to be candidates who step up to the opportunity, and take a moment to really stand out and garner more support."
Whether illegal immigration, jobs, gay soldiers or foreign policy, the eight men and one woman found plenty to disagree and joke about, but they generally failed to disagree in a way that made them "stand out," as Hannity put it, against the rest of the field. That only happened when a good joke took wing.
Much of the talk afterwards was of winners and losers. While Cannon said he thought Gov. Rick Perry came off as a job creator and "authentic" person who contrasted with Romney and Johnson, others thought the former Massachusetts governor had the edge.
As she searched for her car afterwards in the vast parking lot of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, one elderly delegate to the Presidential V Conference sai, speaking of front-running presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry of Texas: "He just wasn't there," she said. "He was not on his game."
Gov. Mitt Romney, she said, "was more presidential."
"I think we've got great candidates up there," Hannity said, "and I don't buy into the narrative that they're weak candidates, I think that's White House spin. And I think whoever wins this nomination is going to be the next President."
Fair and balanced, as always.