The Scariest Thing About the Sept. 12 GOP Debate Was the Audience

The Sept. 12 Republican debate in Florida was broadcast by CNN, moderated by Wolf Blitzer, sponsored by the Tea Party, and featured eight GOP presidential hopefuls.

The word "scary" was bandied about quite frequently. Texas Governor Rick Perry accused former Massachusettes Governor Mitt Romney of trying to scare seniors about Social Security when Romney attacked Perry for his remarks in the last debate. Romney countered by saying Perry's assertion that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" was what is scaring the elderly. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich chimed in by saying that the only scary thing was what Obama is doing everyday in office (he didn't specify).

Scare tactics and the claim of the opponent using scare tactics is very old in politics. It happens every election cycle on both sides of the political spectrum.

I watched this political discussion with much curiosity. I am interested in finding out as much about the candidates and their views as anyone. And I find it interesting to hear how each one tries to find an issue or principle to define himself or herself to the public, as well as how they are going to try to paint their opponents.

It got me thinking: what is scary about each debater, and how might other candidates use that against them? While the frontrunners Romney and Perry squabbled over scaring seniors, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann tried to paint Perry as an overreaching bureaucrat who can be bought out by the drug industry with her attack on him for mandating in Texas a vaccine for cervical cancer to 12-year-old girls. That is scary stuff.

In the Sept. 7 debate, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman warned the party not to nominate someone who is anti-science and against what 98 out of 100 climate scientists believe about climate change (leveling this charge against, you guessed it, Gov. Perry -- I guess the frontrunner takes all the heat). I personally find nothing scary about Huntsman, except for his conservative views on small government and low taxes on the rich, but they all feel that way. Huntsman's chances of winning the nomination are slim by virtue of him being Obama's former Ambassador to China. He is seen by the Tea Party as aiding and abetting the enemy.

What scares me about Michele Bachmann is her obsession about repealing Obamacare. If (and it's a big if) she is elected, she will easily spend the first six months trying to end the Affordable Health Care Act. What about jobs? What about the economy? I still believe these will be the pertinent issues in 2013. Why waste time and resources undoing legislation that might actually help the public if given a chance?

Businessman Herman Cain seems to have some common-sense ideas, but I seriously doubt he has a chance to win the GOP nomination. He is a total outsider, and is the country really ready to elect someone who has never held elected office?

It is encouraging to see a black man and a woman on stage for the GOP this year. Last time out, it was all white males.

Rick Santorum was my former Senator from Pennsylvania, so I know a lot about him. The things that scare me the most about him are his positions on social issues. In 2003, he stated that he believed consenting adults do not have a constitutional right to privacy with respect to sexual acts. Obviously, he was targeting gays and wanted to outlaw homosexuality. Talk about Big Brother. Now that is scary! He is still anti-gay to this day, being strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. He also would like to legislate a pro-life agenda. I am pro-life, but I don't think the issue should be legislated.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich seems to want to continually shoot the messenger and accuse the moderators of trying to turn the candidates against one another when they should be, according to him, attacking President Obama. Well, Newt, why is it called a "debate"? Besides, the term "gotcha question" is so out of fashion. It dropped from our conversation when Sarah Palin faded out of the picture.

This leaves Texas Representative Ron Paul. I find him an enigma. He says things that I totally agree with one minute (like we should bring our troops home from all over the world) and ideas that make me scratch my head the next (we should get government out of all aspects of our lives, and he calls Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional.) He is a pure Libertarian, and it's scary in politics to be pure anything. It leads to extremism and lack of compromise.

While there could be a scary issue found for every potential candidate on the stage last night, the scariest part of the evening for me was the audience. I felt like I was watching a Republican convention on steroids. The crowd of Tea Party members was so clearly partisan that it seemed more like a political rally than a debate. They did not hesitate to boo the debaters if they said anything they disagreed with. That is fine and their right. It's just that I found a mean-spiritedness connected to the issues they were booing about.

They jeered Ron Paul when he tried to explain the reasons al-Qaeda gave for attacking us on 9/11. Another case of shooting the messenger. Did it not occur to any of these Tea Partiers that we are not liked in certain parts of the world because of past foreign policy decisions and the presence of U.S. troops all around the globe? Paul was only trying to point out that we don't have to be the policeman of the world, an assertion that former President George W. Bush made during his 2000 Presidential debate with Al Gore.

They booed Governor Perry when he tried to defend his policy of allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend Texas state colleges. Bachmann compared it to the Dream Act (a federal bill that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien-students of good moral character who have graduated from U.S. high schools.) I don't find Bachmann's assertion an insult but a compliment, as I support the Dream Act. Apparently this crowd does not.

But the scariest shock came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Paul what he would do about a 30-year-old who chose not to have health insurance if he had an accident and ended up in a coma? He asked if he would let him die. Several in the audience yelled, "Yes." So much for compassionate conservatism.

The questions that were asked by Tea Party members of the audience and on Twitter and satellite did not include climate change, same-sex marriage, evolution, abortion or education. Did they purposely avoid the hot-button issues so as not to put the candidates on the spot?

My initial response after watching was one of feeling incomplete. I suppose that is how that goes in a primary GOP Tea-Party-backed debate -- not much diversity of views. We will have to wait for the general election for that. I was relieved to hear Florida Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz provide opposing points of view about Obamacare and Social Security on CNN after the debate and as she said, "Anyone watching the debate tonight watched the Republicans candidates worship at the altar with the Tea Party."

But I find it fascinating that the Republican debate that asked the most provocative questions and inspired the most interesting conversations was the one put on by Fox News on Aug. 11. A telling sign was that Rush Limbaugh was upset saying that the moderators were trying to get the debaters to turn on one another and accused Fox of being influenced by the mainstream media. Way to go, Fox News! We need to give credit where credit is due. What would really be scary is the end of intelligent debate in this country.