The Republican debate was interesting political theater. The format was surprisingly good, with a series of somewhat related questions asked in sequence to the candidates. The Fox reporters were able to induce some back-and-forth, some follow-up, and even some criticism of 'fellow Republicans.'
In the end, you got the sense that McCain felt that the night seemed to go badly. While his opponents were busy trying to spin unworkable fantasies about who would cut taxes the sharpest, and who could act more Reagan-like, McCain was left trying to justify his votes -- and bills -- that passed Congress and became the law of the land.
But the crux of the debate was in the last 15 minutes. Fox's Brit Hume spun a scenario where the US was already the victim of one terrorist incident, and yet had captured an operative who seemed to have information about a forthcoming attack. Virtually each of the candidates was falling all over themselves to prove that they would be tough enough -- "tell the CIA: whatever it takes"..."I will take the heat"..."I'd approve enhanced interrogation techniques." At one point Tom Tancredo stated the obvious subtext: he'd get Jack Bauer in the room, and let him work over the terrorist. After all, it works every Monday night on Fox.
Yet the man who has actually seen shots fired in anger -- and indeed has been the victim of torture himself -- stuck to his guns: no to torture, because it doesn't work, and because the consequences of such action on our captured troops is so grave.
"We could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people," he said. "It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know."
Yet when the debate was over, even McCain seemed to move away from his moral position. No to waterboarding (invented, he noted, by the Spanish Inquisition), he said on the spin session with Hannity and Colmes, but 'you have to do what is necessary.'
Giuliani, speaking on the same post-debate session, was even more interesting. During the debate, he staked out his bona fides on security, claiming that 'no one on the stage knew more about it' than he did. (Which begs the questions of, among others, why the City's disaster center was located where it was, in the shadow of the World Trade Center, or how he came to hire Bernie Kerik.) During the discussion on 'enhanced interrogation', no one was more enthusiastic about giving the CIA (or whomever, as Rudy seemed unsure) 'the tools' they need.
In the post-debate spin, Giuliani defended his position (along with his attack on Congressman Ron Paul's claim that the 9/11 attacks were caused by US bombing of Iraq, among other places). Giuliani said: "When you raise you right hand, and take the oath of office as President, you swear to preserve and defend, um, the United States of America."
Well, not exactly, Rudy.