Ah, yes, there was a Republican debate last night in Ames. Good times. Maybe if I weren't on vacation I would have cared. (I was too busy watching The Makioka Sisters -- a stunningly beautiful film.)
Or maybe not.
No, no, let me be serious for a moment.
Did last night's debate mean anything? Well, not as much as Saturday's straw poll -- which won't really mean anything either, though it will clarify both public and insider GOP perceptions and possibly even help separate the wheat from the chaff, as they say.
Not that we don't already know what's wheat and what's chaff.
Romney is wheat. He's the national frontrunner -- though doubts remain on the right (if not venomous opposition from conservatives and other Tea Party types, and he may have a fairly low support ceiling.
Bachmann is also wheat, or at least what passes for wheat these days in the GOP (and on the far right generally). She's a serious contender, craziness notwithstanding.
Other than that?
It's amusing to see Santorum and Gingrich try to convince us we should take them seriously. Do they take themselves seriously? Of course. Do they know they've become joke candidates without a hope of winning anything other than the political equivalent of a Razzie? Maybe -- if they're being honest with themselves, but one doubts either one is capable of such self-effacing honesty.
It's also amusing to see more of the Bachmann-Pawlenty spat. T-Paw, lagging far behind in the polls (not even doing well in Iowa, so close to his Minnesota home), is still so desperate for attention that he's taking the gloves off, as they say, hopeful of emerging as the compromise candidate (particularly liked by the Beltway punditocracy) between the establishmentarian, business-oriented Romney and whoever ends up leading the charge from the radical right, either Bachmann or Perry (or both). Yes, I suppose he still has a shot. Yes, it's a long, long one. And he doesn't stand a chance against Bachmann in their little ongoing feud.
Pawlenty death watch: He'll "reassess" matters if he does poorly in Ames. Now there's a nice, lovely euphemism for "make up some self-aggrandizing excuses and get the hell out."
Perry life watch: It looks like he'll take the leap on Saturday. Not that he's trying to upstage the Ames straw poll or anything. No, of course not.
Cain? Yes, he took time out of his busy schedule scapegoating Muslims to grace us with his presence.
Paul? Hey, did you know he really hates government and much, much prefers the Hobbesian state of nature?
Huntsman? Oh, yes, Huntsman the Formidable, as I've dubbed him. He remains to me and impressive figure, an old-school, Reagan sort of conservative who in other, saner times would have been the clear GOP pick. Now? Not so much.
Wait, you want substance? Come on, you all know how it went. Obama is the satanic incarnation of anti-American evil. And taxes are bad, so very, very bad!
(But if you want some helpful fact-checking, check here. Needless to say, there was some fastness and looseness going on last night. What else is new?)
Besides, that spat is what seems to have gotten the most attention.
And, overall, it does now seem that civility in this Republican field is a thing of the past. As Slate's John Dickerson explained:
The debate had the makings of a serious discussion about leadership,
what form it should take, whether the candidates have demonstrated it,
and how it should be applied in Washington. However, this discussion
took place in a roller derby where that underlying theme was obscured by
people trying to bruise and batter each other. Criticisms and veiled
critiques broke out into the open among candidates desperate to avoid
being eliminated from consideration. In the end, there was a lot of arm
flailing. Everyone went round and round, and the lot of them wound up
where they had stood before the debate began.
Fight, fight, fight! Isn't that what we all crave -- what really gets us going? Who cares that the global economy is imploding or that our civilization is crumbling? Or that it's this right-wing ideology, so much on display last night, that is one of the main causes of our present (and future) crises?
Politics is a bloodsport.
And now, on that note, I'm going to go sit out on the deck and read (about something that has nothing to do with American politics circa 2011).