Robert Hurt did a better job in last night’s debate than he did last week in Roanoke, at least in the sense that at least last night he did not admit that he wanted to repeal health care legislation that he could not even be bothered to read, and obviously did not understand.
But saying Mr. Hurt was better is, obviously, a relative evaluation. The fact is that most of what Mr. Hurt told the voters of Virginia’s Fifth District last night bordered on, or in some cases cross over into, incoherence.
Hurt’s incoherence is not readily apparent in his television ads or stump speech, where he can control the message and where, in front of friendly audiences, his positions are not subject to critique and rebuttal, or he can otherwise simply refuse to acknowledge or answer questions.
In the context of a debate, however, Mr. Hurt’s incoherence becomes painfully obvious.
(more on the flip)
One reason, perhaps, is that Mr. Hurt’s goal, like that of many Republicans, is to get elected to serve the interests of a narrow coalition of corporate financial and socially conservative interests. Republicans, who rail against government, are not seeking to govern in a manner that would benefit all Americans. They do not believe in the use of government to solve problems, but argue over and over that the role of the government is to get out of the way except in certain, limited areas.
There is nothing wrong with this position, or with representing corporate or socially conservative interests, per se. Millions of people back them. But the fact is that if Republican candidates told the actual truth about their positions and the implications that actual enactment of their policies would have for most people, they would be relegated to permanent minority status, and a small minority at that.
To address this tactical problem, Republicans like Mr. Hurt are forced to fashion public policy positions that pay lip service to the needs and desires of the vast majority of Americans while still reflecting the ideological interests of their real supporters – a relatively small band of bankers, industrialists and extremist social conservatives.
Unsurprisingly, when measured against reality, these positions do not hold up well.
Of course, this is not really a problem for Mr. Hurt and his fellow cynical exploiters of our fellow citizens fears. He can argue anything he wishes because he knows he will never be held to account. Since he is not constrained by any actual intent to do any of what he says he will do if he is elected, he never has to worry about the actual effects his policy proposals will have. (All he will have to explain he why these policies were not enacted, but at that point Mr. Hurt and the GOP can point to all the usual suspects – liberal activists, mainstream media, activist judges, and so on).
Here are some examples:
Mr. Hurt advocates a balanced budget, because that is what people want (quite aside from the determination of whether it would be reasonable policy or not). OK, fine. But Hurt also refuses to consider tax increases, or any cuts to 75% of the budget that is comprised of entitlements and defense spending, in order to achieve this. The only spending cut he has come up with to close a $4 trillion hole in the deficit is to reduce, by some unspecified amount, $100 million of salaries for Congressmen and women and Senators.
Does this compute for anyone?
Or consider his comments last night about education. Asked about the proper role of the federal government in education, Mr. Hurt paid lip service that he was a strong believer in education, but also argued, at the same time, that the federal government has no role in education, which should be dealt with at the state and local levels. Again, OK, fine, this is standard Conservative fare. But then Hurt says he wants to go to Congress so he can continue his support of education there.
What on Earth does he want to do? He has just said there is no role for the Federal government in education.
Does he even listen to himself?
Nor does Mr. Hurt explain how, if the Federal government role is eliminated, he would replace the estimated $4.5 billion that the Department of Education allocates to Virginia annually.
I mean, Mr. Hurt understands that this money would have to be replaced at some level, right?
Yes, I’m betting Mr. Hurt does understand that. I’m betting Mr. Hurt knows that the policy he advocates would result either in the decimation of our educational system, or demand huge local tax increases to make up the difference. I’m betting Mr. Hurt knows that he is selling snake oil to the voters of the Fifth District.
I just think he knows that none of this will ever come to pass, regardless of who is elected, because at the end of the day it makes no sense.
He’s just saying it to get elected. But it’s okay. No harm, no foul.
Finally, to see how it works in practice, consider the exchange last night regarding immigration. Mr. Hurt repeated the familiar GOP talking point that the Arizona racial-profiling law was necessary because the Federal government had failed in its responsibility to secure our border with Mexico.
Well then why, Mr. Perriello asked, did Robert Hurt never introduce a similar law in his ten years in the Virginia General Assembly?
Mr. Hurt, of course, had no answer.