I DVR'd the Republican YouTube debate last night and watched it this morning while crunching my toast. Watching the debate was an odd experience, but only in retrospect. Afterwards I thought, "Wow. One half of those guys are out of their minds, and the other half are trying to seem crazy to get that all-important Crazy vote." But while I was in the midst of watching it, the craziness of what they were saying seemed obvious but irrelevant -- I was watching for the sheer enjoyment of the back and forth of men vying for supremacy in the fight of their political lives; I was watching like an unattached campaign consultant, happy for the candidates when they had good moments, even a little sad for the candidates who fumbled or never hit their stride. Yeah, I know. It was kind of weird.
I was talking about the debate with my wife this evening, and she shook her head and said, "I don't know how you can watch that stuff. I'd be screaming at the TV." And I'm not even sure why listening to these goofs didn't piss me off. Maybe I'm thinking that the Republicans don't have a serious shot at the White House in '08, and therefore no matter what they say on-stage, all these things will ultimately decide is which candidate is going to go down in flames saying what? And I really hope I'm not deluding myself. Surely, after what will by then have been 8 years of Bush, (8 years!) surely the country won't look to yet another Republican to take up where W. left off and lead the country. Surely not. (Yeah, I do sound deluded, don't I?)
Anyway, the debate. It was a good one, I thought, as Republican debates go. Lots of interesting back and forth, and even some genuine emotion from Romney-bot 2000 when Giuliani tried to call him out on his alleged use of undocumented workers at the governor's mansion. (They both came off looking bad after that exchange.) But what I came away from the event with was a frightening snapshot of just how weird the average Republican is. In the YouTube debates, people from all over the country send in their questions via YouTube, CNN plays them, and the candidate specifically asked answers them. I won't pretend that a handful of YouTube questions from voters (of which some were Democrats, which I don't think CNN should have done -- weren't there enough questions sent in by Republicans?) gives a true or useful picture of Republican America, but the white Floridian response to some of the answers the candidates gave does, I think, serve as an accurate gauge as to where the nation's conservatives currently reside.
And that place is Weirdsville.
It's a place where just owning handguns aren't good enough, but fully automatic assault rifles will do in a pinch. It's a place where benefits to illegal immigrants soak up almost all of their tax dollars, where terrorists loiter in every mall, where surrendering one's privacy is a small price to pay for protection from those aforementioned terrorists. It's also a place where life begins at conception and where gay men and women decide sometime in their 20's that they're going to a.) live a life of sin and b.) devote the rest of their time on Earth to taunting Christians. In other words, it's an awful and paranoid place to live, and it bothers me that half of the people that vote (or are allowed to vote) prefer to live there rather then in the real world in which I live.
For instance, during the panel-wide exchange on illegal immigration, the audience booed anyone who dared to suggest that deporting 13 million Mexicans back across the border wasn't a good idea (McCain), and cheered vociferously anyone who hinted that the first days of their administration would see convoys of Army trucks filled with Mexicans headed to Juarez (Tancredo, everyone else). After the debate, pundits spoke euphemistically about moments like that, saying immigration is "the issue Republican voters are most passionate about", and it's the "number one issue in the Republican primary", but what was clear from the debate is that, on this issue, the GOP thinks less like a political party and more like a lynch mob. Passion is one thing, rage is another. And counterintuitively, it is precisely this far-right anti-immigration constituency of the GOP that not only stands in the way of anything being done on the issue, but makes sure no one in their own party can have a sane discussion about the issue. I think some otherwise smart GOP candidates are having to dumb themselves way way down for voters in this primary and will thus make themselves completely laughable as general election candidates.
Anyway. Enough about the creepy half of America. Here's some good news.
In the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, fantasy author George R.R. Martin says that he's sold the rights to his Song of Ice and Fire series of books to HBO. Their plan is to film each book as one season of a television series. Current hotshot screenwriter David Benioff (who scripted "Troy"among other things) turned in a script for the pilot just before the strike, so it sounds like post-strike, HBO's poised to get things going in a hurry with this project. Which is good news whether you've read the books or not, or even if you're into fantasy or not, because the first book in the series, "A Game of Thrones" is an inarguably fun, brilliantly-plotted novel with a searing shock ending that transcends the genre-heading its usually given. I think with this (and some other yet-to-be-produced half-hour comedies I've been hearing about) HBO may be sowing the seeds for a post-Sopranos comeback. Here's hoping.
And finally, the New York Times released their annual list of the Ten Best Books of the Year. I haven't read a one of them, but for me there was only one surprise: Jeffrey Toobin's book about the Supreme Court entitled "The Nine." I read his book about the Clinton impeachment, and while it was informative and well-researched, he managed to make a tawdry, page-turner of a story into something dull. I don't know if it's just that the Book Review editors like Toobin's point of view or perhaps Toobin's improved as a writer since then, but whatever the case, this book's inclusion on the list was a surprise.
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