Tony Phillips: What I Learned From the Republican Debate

Like a whole passel of Americans, I watched the Republican Presidential Debate on CNN Monday night and like all the rest of them, I did so because Jeopardy was preempted by hockey. I’ll take “Low Moments in Primetime” for $2,000 please, Alex.

Here’s what I learned.

Michelle Bachmann loves Elvis, hates environmental protection, has more kids than Michelle Duggar and does an even better Sarah Palin than Tina Fey.

Ron Paul is unwaveringly consistent with his chosen philosophy, which happens to be the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Tim Pawlenty is not invited to my house, ever.

Herman Cain, for whatever reason, can’t shoot straight about his opinion of Muslims.

Rick Santorum uses the word “fecklessness” in routine banter and wonders why people find him stuffy.

Newt Gingrich is wicked smart and not a real presidential candidate.

Mitt Romney is so handsome he warps space.

And the other thing I learned is that doing the right thing evidently is not always in the United States’ self-interest. I probably should have learned that long ago. Thinking back, every time I’ve heard any official, Democrat or Republican, talk about what needs doing or not doing, it’s always because whatever it is either is or is not “in our vital national interest.”

If you’re as old as I am you can remember President Reagan explaining why it was in our national interest to go quell a panty raid in Grenada, but contrary to our interest to take a firm stand against apartheid. President Bush the Elder would later explain that it was in our interest to defend Kuwaiti soil, but against our interest to get involved in a notably gruesome civil war in Liberia. In 1994 President Clinton found it not in our interest to put up a fuss while 800,000 Rwandans died at the hands of their countrymen, though he found it very much in our interest to bomb Serbia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999.

Even if you’re not as old as I am you can likely remember the G-Wizzle doing his darndest to explain why it was in our vital national interest to whoop up on Sadaam Hussein and his boys, while, since it wasn’t in our vital interest, all we could really do is wag a disapproving finger at that Darfur shindig. And of course recently President Obama has explained to us, well kind of, why it’s in our interest to defend insurgent Libyans keen to throw off the yoke of tyranny, but not so for us to get truly tough on the monsters who mutilate children in Damascus.

Now come the Republicans. I heard them last night disagree with the president’s decision to join our closest allies in an effort to protect the rag-tag components of the Benghazi-based Libyan Republic, maintaining that our involvement in Libya is not vital to our interests. Well that’s awfully selfish now isn’t it?

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that I’m Dirk Nowitzki and I’m at the Loehmann’s off I-10 going through the clearance racks with my main squeeze and let’s say I hear a scuffle over by the fitting room and when I turn to check it out I see Mike Bibby trying to snatch an old lady’s purse. Well I’m seven feet tall and outweigh Bibby by a Winnebago. So do I a) beat Mike Bibby like a rented mule and give a defenseless shopper her purse back or b) stay out of it since it’s not really in my interest to intervene?

God I’d love to be seven feet tall just for a day! I’d get involved in all sorts of things that aren’t in my interest. Tragically, I’m not seven feet tall, but my country is. If America were Dirk Nowitzki, Muammar Gadaffi wouldn’t even be Mike Bibby, he’d be Earl Boykins. So why must it be in our best interest to smack down a bug like that? Why not do it just because it’s right?

Moreover, why can’t John King pose such hypotheticals so I don’t have to? I watched him stand by while three different candidates, Bachmann, Gingrich and Cain, said, more or less, that dealing with Muammar Gadaffi is not in our vital national interest. Why couldn’t he ask, “So what?” Because really, so what?

Americans are a fortunate people, gifted by time, place and history with a unique stature among nations. The good fortune we enjoy is defended by the best trained, best equipped fighting force on earth, a force made up of men and women who await their turn to answer a call answered by generations before them, a call to defend the defenseless, to halt the advance of tyrants and to promote those truths we hold to be self-evident. With great power comes great responsibility and while it might not always be in the United States’ immediate interest to spare thousands of innocents from the wrath of a dictator, that’s no reason not to do so. There might be other reasons, but that one’s lame.

I understand there’s no conceivable way for any nation, not even one with a power unmatched in history, to respond to every emergent crisis in the world as rapidly and decisively as we’d like and deciding when and where we can and should will always involve the artful consideration of a president privy to knowledge and burdened with decisions from which the rest of us are spared. Thus I accept that there will always be ills and rumors of ills to which this country just cannot, for practical reasons, respond with swift force. That much I get.

But it would be nice if someday, when we do the best we can wherever we can, rather than arguing over whether or not it’s good for us, we can just stick to whether or not it’s good, period.

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