Speed Dating Politics

The only debate thus far between the Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress from Virginia’s Fifth District was held Wednesday evening. It excluded a third candidate who is on the ballot and was finished in 27 minutes minus the time devoted to advertisements. Somehow, I’m not overwhelmed with the health of our democracy. Have we really got this democracy thing down well enough to be bombing other nations in the name of spreading it — something that both Robert Hurt (Republican challenger) and Tom Perriello (Democratic incumbent) support?

The wars went unquestioned and unmentioned in the debate. The moderator began with a truly useful and substantive line of questioning, using a graphic to display, with only slight inaccuracy, where our federal dollars go, including how much goes to the military. But when Hurt said he would balance the budget without cutting the military, and when he claimed to prioritize job creation (something that military spending is even worse at than tax cuts) he wasn’t pressed on it. And when Perriello claimed that he would consider cutting the military, he wasn’t asked how or when. He wasn’t challenged on his record of having backed every military and war bill yet placed in front of him. He wasn’t asked what steps he’d taken (he has taken none) to cut anything at all in the military.

Hurt said he would look at Medicare and Medicaid as places for cuts and would focus on reducing the cost of healthcare by using “market-based” solutions and by allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines, neither of which policies anyone seriously believes can reduce healthcare costs. Hurt wants the recent health insurance reform bill repealed but hasn’t read it and doesn’t seem to know the first thing about healthcare. Hurt claims he would protect Social Security, but with policies that will increase, not decrease, healthcare costs, and with a refusal to slash Social Security, and with a refusal to cut the military, and with no doubt a willingness to keep increasing the military just as Perriello has done, and with a refusal to raise any taxes on anyone or anything, why does Hurt even bother to talk about balancing the budget? Pressed on what he would cut, Hurt said “regulators,” and gave as an example EPA regulators. His father, by the way, is invested in uranium mining. I’m not sure cancer reduces healthcare costs.

Perriello supports the catfood commission which is designed to cut Social Security, but he was not pressed on that matter. He voted for a healthcare bill that did not seriously attempt to solve the problems with our healthcare system — which he actually understands. He supports keeping cuts to everything and the raising of taxes all “on the table.” He won’t even claim with Hurt that he’ll protect Social Security. He did not claim he would protect working people from tax increases or explain where he had done anything to raise taxes on those who should be paying more. He did not suggest raising the cap on payroll taxes so that those with large incomes pay at the same rate as those with small ones. And the moderator was only interested in “entitlement” cuts, not military cuts. Pressed on “entitlements” he would cut, Perriello suggested corn ethanol subsidies.

On earmarks, always a hot topic, Perriello was superior. The moderator pointed out Hurt’s hypocrisy on earmarks. Perriello pointed out his record of having proposed conflict-of-interest reforms.

The moderator did ask one question about the military: did the candidates support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell? Perriello disgracefully declined to answer, saying he would leave it up to the military. Hurt shamefully said he supports the policy. They were not asked about their support for heterosexual participation in illegal wars.

Watching this sort of speed-dating for politics, one is inclined of course to vote for Perriello because he doesn’t seem like an idiot and a fraud. He was right to force Hurt to admit he hadn’t even read the healthcare bill he attacks. But intelligence alone doesn’t get us anywhere. Hurt was perfectly right to insist that Perriello does what his party leaders want. On important votes that were close, Perriello has walked the line every time. Perriello claimed to have strayed from his party in order to oppose women’s right to abortion, to fuel the gun violence epidemic, and on “bailouts” and “taxes,” but he has never voted the unorthodox way when his vote had any possibility of making a difference; and when he flipped on the IMF bailout / war funding bill last year, he backed it purely because his party wanted him to (he likes wars but not IMF bailouts).

Hurt claimed to break with the Republicans by desiring a balanced budget, but the Republicans ALL campaign on that and almost always lack, as does Hurt, any detailed explanation of what they’re talking about.

The only thing I gained from this debate was a strengthened conviction that if anyone should be leveling foreign capitals in the name of liberty and democracy, it’s not us.

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