Week In News: GOP Debate, Riot Kiss

Originally published on June 18, 2011 6:46 pm
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LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.

TIM PAWLENTY: Good evening. I'm Tim Pawlenty.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney.

Representative RON PAUL: I'm Congressman Ron Paul.

RICK SANTORUM: I'm Rick Santorum.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: My name is Michele Bachmann.

NEWT GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich.

HERMAN CAIN: Hello, I'm Herman Cain.

SULLIVAN: The Republican field of presidential hopefuls is filling out. We've just heard from all the participants in Monday's debate. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is expected to join their ranks Tuesday. Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin are still mulling it over.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Laura. Nice to talk to you.

SULLIVAN: You watched the debate. You monitored the fallout. What struck you?

FALLOWS: I think the important thing about these debates apart from the fact that this one is so early before next year's election is that they're never really about policies. The function that debates serve is to give voters a sense of what a candidate looks like, how he or she comports himself under questioning and how they match up against the other people who were contending.

And I think on that basis, probably the person who suffered most by this debate was Tim Pawlenty, who seemed to shy away from repeating to Mitt Romney's face the criticism he made before about his health care plan. By the same logic, probably Mitt Romney looked calmer certainly than he had done four years ago, and then Governor Pawlenty now. And probably also Michele Bachmann did herself the most good by seeming more centrist, more moderate, more composed than some of her critics might have suggested in the preceding weeks.

SULLIVAN: Utah Governor Jon Huntsman's announcement is coming, and you got to know him a little bit when you were in China researching your new book. He was the ambassador there under President Obama. What do you know about him?

FALLOWS: I think his strength and his weakness, in Republican terms, is that he has this direct foreign policy experience as ambassador for the world's most important partner of the United States but doing it for President Obama. So if he can sell that to the Republican constituency, then he might actually be a relatively strong candidate against the president next year.

SULLIVAN: What is going on with his campaign ads?

FALLOWS: I think the technical answer is God knows. Back when he was considering a run, there was something by a supporter group called Horizon PAC, which had almost a Zen, new age, Grateful Dead-type tone poem about how someday we'd have politicians better or maybe someday we'd be able to look up to them.

The most recent one has this unidentified motorcyclist zooming across the great American West. Of course, Governor Huntsman loves motorcycles. He's from Utah. He wants to have the sort of cool cat image. So...

SULLIVAN: But it's not even clear that it's him on the motorcycle.

FALLOWS: And I think it's been established that that's actually not him. But atmospherically, it could be him. So these at least are more interesting than the other ads we've seen. So I'm in favor of Governor Huntsman's campaign so far on ads alone.

SULLIVAN: That Huntsman ad is already buzzing throughout the blogosphere. Did you see the other big Web hit this week? That photo of a couple kissing while hockey fans rioted around them in Vancouver.

FALLOWS: Who could have missed that? And I think this may be actually the event of the past week, that a year from now, five years from now, people remember partly because the picture itself is so beautiful. You can't not look at it from the pose of the couple to the - these almost cinematic lighting to the riot cop in the foreground. And then the back story is even more interesting, where it becomes a test in varieties of perception.

Of course, at first, it looked like romance amid turmoil. And now we hear that the couple might have been knocked down by the riot police, and the young man was comforting the young woman. So it is something that, in a good way, I think will be with us for a long time.

SULLIVAN: Indeed. James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Laura. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.