I’m a glutton for punishment. There were not debates Wednesday night, but two of the news channels held “town hall meeting” interviews with Republican presidential candidates. MSNBC had Donald Trump all to themselves, from Greenville, South Carolina. Moderators Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of the “Morning Joe” program asked a few decent questions but did a horrible job of insisting on actual answers.
Trump is great at non-answer word salads in which he not only interrupts the questioner but constantly interrupts himself, puts out little self-congratulatory asides and says whatever he wants, usually things he has said a million times before but which often qualify as non-answers.
Trump has made a yuuuge deal about how he warned in advance, long and loud, that the Iraq War would be a disaster. Joe asked him about why no one can find any transcript of him saying anything remotely along these lines until after the war started. His explanation, Thursday night and I guess every time he is asked this, is to say that because he wasn’t in public office or anything, his prescient warnings didn’t make it into any transcripts or video archives. Then he goes right back to claiming to have said it long and loud and in advance and doesn’t explain why so many of his later statements about the war (which are far more mixed than he describes them) manage to show up in the public record, since he was still not in public office or anything.
Over on CNN, Anderson Cooper and an audience of South Carolinians questioned, in succession, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz.
Carson was strange, sweet, likeable and irrelevant, which has become standard. Cruz was smart, logical and dislikeable, but he definitely does answer the questions he is asked. I didn’t find myself writing down much that either of them said.
Rubio, I thought, was on his game. He is a gifted presenter, fluid, has a knack for self-deprecating humor, and excellent at projecting sincerity. One of his mini-speeches, about racial inequities, was so good I’ve transcribed it below, and I’ll just make a couple of observations at the end.
Here’s what Rubio said:
Now, you talk about race relations. It’s a difficult issue in this country. I can tell you, and I know a lot of it is centered around law enforcement and police departments. So let me begin by saying very clearly, I know for a fact that the overwhelming majority of the men and women who serve us in law enforcement are incredible people, who, every single day, put their lives potentially on the line for our safety and for our security.
But I also know that there are communities in this country where minority communities and the police department have a terrible relationship. I personally know someone — who happens to be a police officer and a young African-American male — who told me that he has been pulled over seven, eight times in the last four years and never gets a ticket.
What is he supposed to think?
He gets pulled over for no reason, never gets a ticket, no one has any explanation for why he’s being pulled over. What is he supposed to think?
I know that in this country, there is a significant number, particularly of young African-American males, who feel as if they’re treated differently than the rest of society. And here’s the bottom line, whether you agree with them or not… if a significant percentage of the American family believes that they are being treated differently than everyone else, we have a problem. And we have to address it as a society and as a country, because I do not believe we can fulfill our potential as a nation unless we address that.
I’m not sure there’s a political solution to that problem but there are things we can do. For example, one of the reasons why you see both educational and academic underperformance — not just in the African-American community but also in the Hispanic community — is because of how a disproportionate number of our children are growing up in broken homes in dangerous neighborhoods in substandard housing and forced by the government to attend a failing school. A child that’s born with four strikes against them is going to struggle to succeed unless something breaks that cycle.
We’ve seen things that work. In New York City, Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children Zone has shown us what works. You get involved in the lives of children and you begin to address those strikes against them. And you can see the same results you would get anywhere else in the country.
So I do believe as a society, we have to confront this issue in a responsible way because ultimately, if a significant percentage of the American family feels that they are locked out [of] the promise of America, we will never be able to fulfill our destiny as a great nation.
A few thoughts.
Rubio is in South Carolina, before an overwhelmingly white audience, running in a Republican primary where there are very few African-Americans in the Republican primary electorate. (The Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, by the way, has more blacks than whites.)
And despite a few little asides, he is asking the audience to at least consider the possibility that the belief among blacks that they are still victims of discrimination has some validity. (And by the way, as far as I could tell, the audience seemed quite receptive.) And the anecdote about his black policeman friend pushed the envelope a bit. And the repetition of “What is he supposed to think?” is haunting and challenging.
But he also emphasizes that “whether you agree with them or not” about the fact that they are not granted equal treatment, it’s a problem if they feel that way.
Rubio insisted that this audience consider what it might be like “growing up in broken homes in dangerous neighborhoods in substandard housing and forced by the government to attend a failing school. A child that’s born with four strikes against them is going to struggle to succeed unless something breaks that cycle.” That struck me as eloquent and brave, although it would be braver to lay out a plan to “break that cycle.”
And I feel a little jerkish pointing this out (he didn’t have Chris Christie helping the audience notice it), but degree to which Rubio relies on canned — if eloquent — phrases, like the kind that got him in so much trouble in the New Hampshire debate, is still much in evidence. Note by the phrases I put in bold face in the transcript.