CNN displayed Ronald Reagan’s airplane but did not ask Ronald Reagan’s question. The Reagan Library would have been the perfect setting to ask the Republican candidates, is America better off than it was the last time we had a Republican president?
But this was not a night for memory; memory is impolite.
As a brief recap, the last time a Republican was president he left us two wars we were not winning and an economy teetering on the precipice of the next great depression. A debate would be a fine forum for Republicans to explain what the history of the George W. Bush administration taught them.
A few candidates, including Donald Trump and Rand Paul, hastened to proclaim that they had opposed the Iraq War. Trump blamed George W. Bush for the rise of President Obama, reasoning that the Iraq War was so disastrous that it virtually guaranteed a Democratic victory in 2008. Jeb Bush defended the family shield by proclaiming "As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe." And that is accurate if memory allows us to ignore the over 2700 Americans killed on 9/11 (Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S. 8/1/2001)) and the over 6800 Americans killed (and many more injured) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We should all remember though that party matters and the Neoconservatives are the GOP’s foreign policy establishment. So when Paul Wolfowitz (an Iraq war cheerleader) shows up on Jeb Bush’s’ list of foreign policy advisers, Jeb hastened to remind us that it is only natural he would look to people with experience in the last two Republican administrations, which happen to be those of his father and brother. With Jeb or with most any of the Republican candidates in the White House, we get the neocons back in charge of foreign policy. Bill Kristol, John Bolton, Dick Cheney – you remember them.
By appearing well and firing off a wonderful one-liner at Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina is again winning pundit plaudits for her debate performance. In a five ocean world, she would like a twelve ocean navy. She promised on her first day in office to call Iran’s supreme leader and make a series of wild demands. But she wouldn’t ever talk to Putin. John Kasich, his memory firing, reminded her that Ronald Reagan negotiated with the Soviets.
As for the economy, what economy? It was barely a topic of conversation. Here too memory could not well serve the hopes of Jeb Bush: not only did George W. Bush leave the economy a total wreck, but George H.W. Bush lost his re-election bid because of a poor economy.
Is our candidates learning? And the answer is, not much.