Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Okay, so there was no theological smackdown at the GOP presidential debate this afternoon in Iowa. This face-off was probably the most stilted event of the campaign so far. The questions from Carolyn Washburn, the editor of the Des Moines Register were mostly predictable and rarely probing. (In thirty seconds, state how would you better American education.) Consequently, not much happened.
There were no fireworks. No candidate went after another. (In one humorous aside, Fred Thompson said to Mitt Romney that he was getting pretty good at Thompson's own trade: acting.) The sniping over religion that had erupted between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney was not continued. Washburn did not ask Huckabee about a widely noted remark he made asking if Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers. Rudy Giuliani may have only referred to 9/11 once. (A record?) Romney looked grand and smooth and spoke eloquently about education accomplishments in Massachusetts when he was governor of the state; John McCain touted his years of service and involvement in national security matters, and looked old. Huckabee explained that his faith caused him to believe that all citizens deserve access to good health care and decent education. No one won; no one lost.
That may be good news for Huckabee. Though he has jumped into the lead in Iowa, no one was gunning for him (except fringe candidate Alan Keyes, who inexplicably had been invited to participate in the debate). So Huckabee pranced through the encounter no worse for the wear. And Romney, the previous leader in the Hawkeye State, remains within striking distance of Huckabee.
There were only a few interesting moments in the 90-minute-long session. Two involved Thompson. When Washburn asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed human-induced global warming is a threat Thompson said he wasn't going to engage in any "hand-shows." The rest of the pack followed suit. Thompson declared he would only answer the question if given a minute to do so. Given that Thompson in a radio commentary last March mocked people concerned with global warming and made comments suggesting he was a global warming denier, his refusal to agree with this basic statement was suspicious.
Then when the subject of the debate turned to the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that reported Iran in 2003 discontinued a secret nuclear weapons program, Thompson indicated that he didn't accept the NIE and said that a U.S. president ought to rely more on British or Israeli intelligence then the U.S. intelligence community. A "president cannot let a piece of paper by a bureaucrat determine solely what his action is going to be," Thompson insisted. But that was a rather inaccurate description of an NIE. Such a document is not a report dashed off by one bureaucrat; it is the consensus document of the intelligence establishment, which is made up of sixteen different agencies. It can be wrong (as was the sloppy and hastily-compiled NIE on Iraq's WMDs). But Thompson's eagerness to belittle the intelligence system of the government he seeks to head might be considered troubling by voters looking for a president who will resist the I-know-best urge when deciding national security policy. But with Thompson's campaign sputtering, his skepticism toward the Iran NIE and global warming is not a pressing matter.
Minutes after the debate ended, a Thompson campaign email landed in reporters' inboxes that slammed Romney for helping to create a health care program in Massachusetts that covers abortions for a small copayment. The subject head: "Romney -- $50 Abortions in Massachusetts." The Thompson campaign is probably hoping for some viral action on this missive.
This email was a reminder. Though the candidates played nice on the stage during the debate, they still have plenty of time to throw muddy iceballs at each other before Iowa caucus goers gather on January 3.
Republican Mitt Romney retorted to questions about his faith by surging rival Mike Huckabee on Wednesday, declaring that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."
In an article to be published Sunday in The New York Times, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asks, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
Romney, vying to become the first Mormon elected president, declined to answer that question during an interview Wednesday, saying church leaders in Salt Lake City had already addressed the topic.
"But I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that," Romney told NBC's "Today" show.
This is some setup for this afternoon's GOP Republican presidential debate, the final candidate face-off before the Iowa caucuses. Will Romney this evening have to address that vital national issue: are Jesus and Satan half-brothers? Or might he be forced to say whether he believes the Book of Mormon is literally true? That Jesus really came to the Americas after his resurrection and established an enlightened society that lasted for several generations? That Joseph Smith in 1830 really found golden tablets that only he could read? Might Romney be asked to explain why he was a member of church that followed racist rules (by not allowing blacks to serve in its leadership) until 1978?
My wife, Hillary, gave me a book that says, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."
Speaking at a rally for Barack Obama on Saturday, Oprah Winfrey declared,
If we continued to do the same things over and over and over again, I know that you get the same results.
In 1992, Bill Clinton was selling himself as the candidate of change. This time around, Obama is trying to corner that market, with Hillary Clinton promising the best of both worlds: change and experience. In an auditorium filled with signs proclaiming, "Chage You Can Believe In" (get the dig at Hillary?), Winfrey pronounced Obama the genuine agent of change and not-too-indirectly slammed Hillary Clinton:
I challenge you to see through those people who try and convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.
In other words, don't buy Clinton's most powerful argument. While pitching Obama, Winfrey is unselling Clinton. And the Clinton people certainly are not going to do what politicos usually do in such a circumstance: attack the messenger. After all, who wants to get into a tussle with Oprah? The question, of course, is, will Winfrey, who is campaigning with Obama in several early states, really help Obama? No one will know until January 3. But certainly none of this is likely to hurt the candidate of more change.
Is Mike Huckabee the presidential candidate shunning Mike Huckabee the preacher? Before entering politics, he was a pastor at two Baptist churches. Now his campaign tells Mother Jones it won't make his sermons available to the media and the public.
Now that he has his moment in the political spotlight, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee does not want his days at the pulpit to be scrutinized.
As Huckabee has surged to the front of the Republican pack in Iowa, his religious views have drawn media and voter attention. After all, Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, has been campaigning as a "Christian leader." But he has vacillated on how far to interject faith into politics. At an early debate, he indicated he does not believe in evolution, but at a more recent debate, when he was asked by Wolf Blitzer if the creation of the Earth occurred six thousand years ago and only took six days, as stated in the Old Testament, Huckabee said, "I don't know. I wasn't there." During a question-and-answer session with students at fundamentalist Liberty University last month, he asserted that his rise in the polls has an explanation that is "beyond human" and is due to the power of his supporters' prayers. Afterward, he backtracked slightly, adding, "I'm saying that when people pray, things happen.... I'm not saying that God wants me to be elected." (At a victory rally held after Huckabee won a 1993 special election for lieutenant governor, Huckabee told his supporters that he had only won because God had intervened, according to the Texarkana Gazette.)
That's the question I've tried to get the Mike Huckabee campaign to answer.
The surging social conservative who once was a Baptist preacher, as AP reports, is refusing to discuss theology and the "intricate, nit-picky things of church doctrine"--even though he recently attributed his success in the polls to divine intervention. For instance, he has declined in recent days to talk about his view of creationism (at an early debate he indicated he supports it) or to say whether he believes women should be permitted to serve in pastoral leadership roles (a controversial matter within some fundamentalist circles).
But what about angels? As I've noted previously and elsewhere, Huckabee gave a rather intriguing speech at the NRA in September, during which he deftly merged his heartfelt evangelical beliefs with his deep passion for gun rights and hunting. He recalled the time he was in an antelope hunting contest in Wyoming. After several hours of stalking prey on a miserably cold, windy and snowy day, Huckabee had his chance. An antelope was 250 yards away, but right at the edge of his range as a shooter. Then a miracle happened:
I decided that one way or the other, this hunt is about to be over, because I can't stand any more of this cold. And somehow, by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag, which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle -- for my sake in hunting, I've never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something -- did its work, and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.
Thanks to those angels, that elk was dead.
After hearing that speech, I sent an email to the press office of the Huckabee campaign asking if the former Arkansas governor does "believe that angels literally intervene in the affairs of human beings and that such intervention includes hunting events." I received no reply. I tried again. Still silence.
Huckabee is delighted to let people know he's a firm believer in God. He's well aware that helps him with Republican primary voters, especially in Iowa. But he doesn't want to answer questions about his beliefs. That's trying to have it both ways--the glory without explaining. With less than month to the Iowa caucus, can Huckabee continue to duck questions about spiritual affairs? Maybe with the help of angels.