Last night in South Carolina, eight middle-aged white men - including a couple of Jesus-loving Bible-thumpers - fell over each other trying to let Republicans know that they've got that true 24 mentality.
You know, they'd go pretty darned far like that handsome, gritty Jack Bauer character, if American citizens ever found themselves in a far-fetched comic book scenario obviously dreamed up between refills from Roger Ailes' Scotch decanter high above Sixth Avenue.
The sneering curl that is Brit Hume's upper lip was wet with some kind of spook-driven desire for action when he laid things out: simultaneous attacks on three U.S. shopping malls (oh, please spare Build-A-Bear, Mr.Terrorist) rock the nation as a coordinated caravan of munitions-laden Mercedes GL-450s infiltrates underground parking garages, piloted by terrorists disguised as JC Penney shoppers (I may be misremembering a detail or two). A terrorist with detailed knowledge of another imminent and deadlier attack had been captured and taken to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. OK, Republican old men - how far would you go?
Not one of them pointed out that this Foxy scenario was awfully close to the 2002 epic Collateral Damage, starring the nation's most prominent and popular Republican who cannot be President. But most of them responded with some version of the movie's hooky tagline: "The Act Itself Wasn't Personal...HIS VENGEANCE WILL BE."
Mitt Romney: Close Gitmo?! Hell, I'll double Gitmo!
Rudy Giuliani: "Every method" that can possibly be construed as not being the T-word.
The Other Guys Nobody Knows: "I as President will authorize extreme measures." [Roughly paraphrased].
With two notable exceptions, they all did the manly-man dance of faux toughness. Tom Tancredo, the immigrant-bashing fencing contractor, actually said he was "looking for a Jack Bauer."
The exceptions to the torture bandwagon were the actual torture victim and the actual conservative. Andrew Sullivan:
Some issues really are paramount moral ones. Two candidates opposed it clearly and honorably: McCain and Paul. All the others gleefully supported it - including Brownback. He's a born-again Christian for torture. Giuliani revealed himself as someone we already know. He would have no qualms in exercising executive power brutally, no scruples or restraints. Romney would double the size and scope of Gitmo, to ensure that none of the detainees have lawyers, regardless of their innocence or guilt. That is in itself a disqualification for the presidency of the United States. A man who has open contempt for the most basic rules of Western justice has no business being president.
Then there was Mike Huckabee's canned one-liner about John Edwards and his expenses at the "beauty parlor." How subtle. Edwards is not a manly Republican type because he spends money on his coif. Say effete elitist. Whisper "gay." This as his obviously beloved wife is dying. So much for Mike Huckabee's aw-shucks nice guy conservative pose.
The Republicans with their failed national leader, their deadly pointless war, their domestic incompetence, and their endless scandals don't have much to grapple on to. The insightful Digby:
It was quite interesting watching the Republicans debate down in South Carolina tonight. I think it's clear that this group has come to fully understand that winning the GOP nomination is all about the codpiece. These guys have just spent the last fifteen minutes of the debate trying to top each other on just how much torture they are willing to inflict. They sound like a bunch of psychotic 12 year olds, although considering the puerile nature of the "24" question it's not entirely their fault.
This debate is a window into what really drives the GOP id. The biggest applause lines were for faux tough guy Giuliani demanding Ron Paul take back his assertion that the terrorists don't hate us for our freedom, macho man Huckabee talking about Edwards in a beauty parlor and the manly hunk Romney saying that he wants to double the number of prisoners in Guantanamo "where they can't get lawyers." There's very little energy for that girly talk about Jesus or "the culture of life" or any of that BS that the pansy Bush ran ran on.
See, there's nothing there to run on - so it's all slogans about slogans about 9-11 about slogans. As Jim Wolcott said (while inching his thumb toward the channel marker on the remote):
"Some of these candidates are convinced that the US can stay indefinitely in Iraq (retreat equals defeat) and confront Iran and reduce the price of gas for the average American family on their Sunday drive to the church or synagogue of their choice."
Maybe next time, the moderators will invent a better scenario - one that requires more thought. I liked the what-if dreamed up by Britt Peterson over at The Plank:
I keep imagining an alternate scenario: Chris Wallace asking, "So, if your plane had crashed on a remote island that might or might not be purgatory and/or a big science experiment and/or a figment of your imagination, and on this island, along with a lot of improbably beautiful women, some polar bears, a smoke monster, and an army of natives who are constantly trying to kidnap your women and children, was a former member of the Iraqi Army who (let's just say) knew how to use 'enhanced techniques' to get information -- and if also on that island was a conman who had stashed all the medicine that was on your plane and was refusing to give it up to a girl having an asthma attack -- and if you were a world-class surgeon with daddy issues who really, really wanted to save the day -- would you sic the Iraqi torturer on the conman in order to get the girl's inhaler? Now would you, sir?"
That's almost better than a rerun of Gilligan's Island. Almost.