There’s currently no better way to grind one’s brain into hamburger meat than to watch a Republican debate. Accordingly, we shall now dispense the first-ever Vapidity Awards, to be given here periodically for remarks that are notably intelligence-challenged.
Let’s count down to our grand prizewinner – although you probably know who that is, since there can be no other. If you’re really in the dark, no fair peeking.Fourth runner-up winner: Mitt RomneyRemark: President Obama has “the most political presidency we’ve seen in modern history.”Oh, please. That was just pap for the credulous conservative base. And a misreading of modern history. Aside from the obvious fact that all presidents (with the possible exception of George Washington) have always melded politics with policy, let’s remember (to cite a few random examples) that in 1981 Ronald Reagan brought one of his key political strategists, Michael Deaver, into the White House and made him deputy chief of staff – where Deaver’s main job was to craft Reagan’s political image by shaping the media coverage, all with an eye toward re-election in ’84. Reagan couldn’t even visit the Korean DMZ without Deaver crafting the imagery for future TV ads.I also seem to recall that George W. Bush installed his political guru, Karl Rove, as senior White House adviser. Rove’s job was to tweak policies for political ends (in 2002, he persuaded Bush to impose heavy tariffs on imported steel in order to curry favor with blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, two states Bush needed to win in ’04), and to sell policies that would help Bush politically (witness his ’02 remark to the Republican National Committee that Bush’s post-9/11 toughness would help the GOP win in 2002). No matter. Romney’s remark prompted a predictable “Yayyyyy!” from the ahistorical debate audience.Third runner-up: The debate audience.Remark: “Booooooo!”Why can’t these debates be conducted in a studio somewhere, without the usual rah-rahs and raspberries from the fan base? Last night, the CNBC hosts tried to bring up the sexual harassment issue, but quickly retreated as boos rained down on their heads. Excuse the moderators for asking, but it just so happens that Herman Cain’s behavior as a CEO, and his treatment of women, is relevant to the vetting of his candidacy. Do these people in the peanut gallery (most of them invitees from the Michigan GOP) have any interest in nominating someone who can actually attract the swing-voting suburban women that can spell the difference between victory and defeat? Which brings us to…Second runner-up: Herman CainRemark: “For every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably – there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”Hey, why didn’t Ted Bundy try something like that? “Officers, I know that I have confessed to 30 homicides, but remember, there are roughly 120 million females in this country that never experienced that sort of activity from Ted Bundy.”Actually, Cain might be able to work that argument into his next TV ad: CAMERA SWEEP of a plaza filled with several thousand women. CUT to a smiling woman in the crowd, who says, “I was never harassed by Herman Cain!” CUT to another: “Me, either!” Another: “Not even once!” CAMERA SWEEP, CUE UPLIFTING MUSIC as the crowd chants: “But we all pine for 9-9-9!”And by the way, Herman, that crack you made about Nancy Pelosi? Calling her “Princess Nancy?” That was not a good move. The peanut gallery laughed at that one (naturally), but, as a general rule, a guy who is under a cloud for disrespecting women should not make a remark that disrespects women.First runner-up: Newt GingrichRemark: “I have never done any lobbying.”Newt harrumphed for most of the night (no surprise there), bloviating to the crowd with his usual scattershot attacks on “the news media,” but there was one delicious moment. It came when he was asked to explain why he had pocketed $300,000 from Freddie Mac back in 2006, at a time when the mortgage giant was rightfully under siege. Freddie Mac wanted to game the housing market as it pleased, with minimal government oversight, so it hired a slew of Washington insiders to ensure its freedom from regulation. Newt was one of the hirees. This was one year before the housing bubble burst.So the question to Newt last night was, “Were you not trying to help Freddie Mac fend off the effort by the Bush administration to curb Freddie Mac?”Whereupon Newt insisted that he has “never done any lobbying.” But I think it really depends on what the meaning of the word “lobbying” is. According to Newt, lobbying is what other people do for their $300,000. Whereas in his case, he had offered something quite different: “my advice as a historian.”Wow, that was a nice pay day for an untenured history professor from North Georgia College circa 1978. No wonder the ethanol lobby paid him $312,000 two years ago, having also presumably felt the need to hire an “historian.” I’ve been looking online for a Newt-authored History of Ethanol treatise, but, dang it, somehow I just can’t seem to come up with a PDF.Grand prizewinner: Rick PerryRemark: “Oops.”Hey, who else could it possibly be? Clearly, the meds in New Hampshire (where his fey-giddy podium behavior brought to mind Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares) have long since worn off. What we saw instead last night was a stoner moment worthy of The Dude in The Big Lebowski: “And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the, uh – what’s the third one there? Let’s see…”Rivals and moderators tried to prompt him.”Okay,” he said. “Okay. Commerce, Education, and the — ” “EPA?” a moderator wondered.”EPA,” Perry replied. “There you go.” Then he changed his mind. “No, sir, no sir,” he didn’t mean to say EPA. It dawned him on that he wants to keep the EPA.So what was that third agency? Amid the crosstalk, he tried one last time.”I would do away with Education, uh, the, uh, Commerce, and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”Couldn’t he have at least written the three agency names on his palm?I haven’t seen a debate moment like that since 1992, when Ross Perot running mate James Stockdale famously exclaimed, “Who am I? Why am I here?”Perry, at this point, should be asking himself the same questions.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1