The Nation: A Cruel, Unusually Punishing GOP Debate

Originally published on May 7, 2011 7:41 pm

John Nichols writes for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is also the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin.

Waterboarding is torture.

But it is not the only cruel and unusual punishment.

Consider Thursday night's "presidential" debate between Republican also-rans Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul — a former governor, a former senator, a former CEO, another former governor and a former Libertarian Party nominee for the nation's top job.

The first face-off between the Grand Old Party's third-stringers was so bereft of consequence that House Speaker John Boehner, spotted at a Washington steakhouse at the same time the Fox News-hosted debate was going on, allowed as how he would be satisfied to "read about it tomorrow."

On a night when everyone who might actually end up as the party's challenger to President Obama was otherwise engaged, the Republican remainders distinguished themselves with lines like Godfather's Pizza king Cain's response to a question about Afghanistan policy: "At this point, I don't know all the facts."

But the lowlight of the Fox News debate came when the issue of waterboarding arose.

Asked if they would authorize use of the torture technique, candidates Pawlenty, Cain and Santorum raised their hands to signal that they were cool with violating the 8th amendment to the Constitution.

Santorum chirped, "Sure!"

The crowd applauded the supporters of waterboarding.

But Johnson and Paul refused to shred the Constitution, with Paul arguing that so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques. The Texas congressman said waterboarding hasn't accomplished anything — and won't. Santorum disagreed, claiming that torture helped "get" Osama bin Laden.

Paul was right. Santorum was wrong.

The same went for the debate's debate about how the United States should respond to the Osama's end.

Santorum and Pawlenty were essentially for staying the course in Afghanistan.

Cain admitted he was still trying to get the facts.

Paul and Johnson have the facts. And they have the right answers.

Asked about next steps in the aftermath of the killing of Osama, Paul said, "Boy, it is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it and get the troops out of Afghanistan, and end that war that hasn't helped us and hasn't helped anyone in the Middle East."

Johnson was, if anything, even more pointed in his bring-the-troops-home call.

"We're building roads, schools, bridges and highways in Iraq and Afghanistan and we're borrowing 43 cents on every dollar to do that," the former governor of New Mexico said. "In my opinion, this is crazy."


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