The debate that didn’t inspire

11 11 2011

I’ll admit that it’s easy to be cynical about politics when you’re in your early twenties and think you know everything. Still, Thursday’s debate did nothing to inspire any faith in the GOP lineup–and it certainly didn’t win Republicans many college-age converts.

I watched the debate with the UM College Libertarians, which undoubtedly explains some of the built-in skepticism towards socially conservative candidates such as Rick Santorum. But our crowd also included a handful of Republicans and an Obama supporter or two for good measure. The audience might not have been a demographically accurate slice of campus, but it was composed of the economically literate, politically concerned students that the GOP desperately needs to fire up entering the 2012 election season.

A winning lineup?

Few were impressed by Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which seems to be the cornerstone of his campaign. His frontrunner status will open 9-9-9 up to increased and well-deserved scrutiny. We’ll see if the plan- and his candidacy- can survive the criticism despite the present pro-Cain surge.

Perry’s gaffe, though cringe-inducing, was less troubling than his inconsistency on the issues. Should the EPA be shuttered, or regulated? Should federal student loans be eliminated, or controlled? Compare Perry to Ron Paul (a difficult candidate for many conservatives, to be sure), who gave a cogent explanation of both the tuition and housing bubbles while proposing bold cuts to federal spending–all while facing down perpetual buffoon Jim Cramer.

Most disheartening was Romney’s performance: it was great, so far as debate appearances go. He’s an experienced politician who knows how to handle his image, craft his platform, and steer clear of scandal. If elected, he’d likely be a better president than Obama.

And that’s the problem. There’s nothing inspiring about Romney. Being better than Obama is a great way to fire up dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and perhaps enough independents to put him in office should he win the nomination. But Romney confirms the suspicions of many young critics of the GOP, including an increasing number of libertarians: Republicans are unwilling or unable to advance bold, new ideas, inevitably rushing back to whatever candidate seems safest.

When an invigorated, anti-establishment conservative base seems quite prepared to support a flip-flopping career politician like Romney, it shouldn’t be any wonder that young and active voters will find their political salvation elsewhere or simply stay away from the polls entirely.

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