So I got around to watching the Arizona Republican senatorial debate on youtube. Whoa. Here is my snarky summary,
Moderator: Have at it gentlemen.
Hayworth: I'm a consistent conservative
McCain: I'm a Reagan conservative
Deakin: Neither of you are conservatives. Get back to the Constitution. And repeal the Sixteenth Amendment.
Hayworth: You were for amnesty and are making mean personal attacks.
McCain. I was never for amnesty and you appeared on an infomercial for free government tax money.
Deakin: Hi. I'm Jim Deakin.
Hayworth: You sponsored earmarks.
McCain: No you sponsored earmarks.
Moderator: Senator McCain, didn't you sponsor an amnesty bill in 2007?
McCain: These are not the droids you're looking for.
Hayworth: McCain's amnesty will cost 2.6 trillion dollars in health benefits for illegal aliens.
Moderator: So health care. Whats up with that?
Deakin: Get government out of Medicare and make it state-by state [so help me God thats what he said].
Hayworth: I love Medicare. Vague, one sentence mention of market based reform that is totally incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't have a very clear memory of the bill establishing Medicare Part D. John McCain's amnesty is bad for Medicare.
McCain: Obamacare will destroy Medicare. No cuts in Medicare.
Moderator: And specific policy proposals for improving health care policy?
Crickets: Chirp, chirp.
Moderator: So what about working across the aisle?
Hayworth: You won't see me at any Georgetown cocktail parties hanging out with network news anchors.
McCain: I'm really against earmarks. I'm the anti-Ms. Congeniality sheriff of being against earmarks. That will get us the trust of the American people.
Deakin: Both of you guys voted with the other party to impose capital gains taxes on songwriters and bring light rail to Arizona.
Moderator: So what about taxes and the deficit?
McCain: I was against the Bush tax cuts because I wanted spending to be under control first. Spending isn't under control and I'm against repealing the Bush tax cuts. Also cut corporate taxes and hold off [presumably cut] payroll taxes.
Hayworth: McCain is a Bush tax cut flip flopper.
Deakin: They both love the PATRIOT Act better than the Bush tax cuts and that is why the tax cuts aren't permanent. Cut taxes more and get rid of free trade agreements.
Moderator: So what about defense cuts or other cuts to reduce the deficit? What would you cut?
Hayworth: Here is what I won't cut. Fight terror, especially on the southern border. Stop Obamacare, and use unspent TARP and stimulus funds for the deficit. And no amnesty.
McCain: Stop overruns on defense programs. And there will be lots of jobs for defense industry firms in Arizona. Just say no to pork.
Deakin: Don't have military bases in countries just because it feels good to have them there [I'm not kidding. He said that.].
Moderator: So what about unemployment and job creation?
McCain: Extend unemployment benefits based on a clean bill. Cut corporate taxes. I'll make sure Arizona military bases and defense industry firms get plenty of federal money.
Deakin: Don't extend unemployment benefits. Cut regulations [no specifics] and end free trade agreements.
Hayworth: Did I mention that I voted for the Bush tax cuts?
This debate was really sad. McCain's positioning on domestic policy is utterly cynical. He barely even bothers to come up with plausible explanations for changing his positions in whatever directions his consultants tell him to go. He is ripe for a populist, principled conservative challenger. The problem is that you can listen to Deakin and Hayworth and have no clue how, in any specific way, their policies (drawn from their principles) will improve people's lives in any meaningful way. How much (if any) would their tax plans save you? What policies will slow the growth of health insurance premiums? How much does McCain plan to cut corporate taxes and how will that change corporate behavior? It is all cliches, buzz words, and signaling to people who are already broadly familiar with the conservative narrative. The problem is that it is just patter (Reagan, tax cuts, earmarks, Obamacare etc.) and McCain can deploy it too. About the only place the debate got down to the human level, was when McCain was talking about bringing home government bucks to Arizona bases and defense companies.
Ross Douthat wrote last week that one of the great vices of the contemporary right is the "blithe conviction that "true conservative" good intentions trump policy substance and deep expertise." I'm not totally on board with that. I would say that a great vice is too many politicians who market themselves as conservatives tend to try to win over voters far more by posturing and trying to show cultural affinity (I'm a Reagan conservative, I'm a consistent conservative) than by articulating relevant policies that are based on shared principles in a way that the consequences of those policies are understandable to the average somewhat-but not-very-involved voter who isn't just looking to cheer on a team.