Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate in the Belly of the Beast (Washington, DC) began with a lengthy discussion on the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Newt Gingrich announced his whole-hearted support for the controversial law; Ron Paul, his total opposition. When it came to airport security, it was more of the same. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told host Wolf Blitzer he belived the TSA should profile Muslim passengers. Herman Cain suggested that racial profiling might be overly simplistic (this from the creator of 9-9-9), but called for "targeted identification" at airports. As he put it, "the terrorists have one objective that some people don't get, to kill all of us… we should use every means possible to kill them first or identify them first."
The problem is that it's not entirely clear what a terrorist looks like, and judging by Santorum and Cain's answers, it's not clear that they've thought too much about it.
To be sure, TSA screeners should be on the lookout for the guy in the security line with a banana clip yelling "Death to America!" But generally speaking, terrorists don't look like that. Say you wanted to screen for Muslims, as Santorum suggests—how would you know who is a Muslim and who isn't? It's not on your passport, at least not yet. TSA screeners could look at the names and take a guess—but terrorists span the ethnic spectrum and have lots of different-sounding names. The name "Richard Reid" wouldn't set off many alarm bells. Jose Pimentel, who was arrested in New York City on Sunday on terror charges, was Dominican, and had a Hispanic surname. Are Latinos suspect? Dominicans specifically? What about African-Americans? British nationals? The four Georgia men who plotted to spread ricin inside the Beltway were old white dudes upset about the plastic bag tax. Is Walter Matthau the new face of terror?
Israel has it easy when it comes to profiling. It has one major international airport and it profiles Arabs and doesn't think twice about it. But that's an impossible model to replicate.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reads an original composition to an unsuspecting Nevada retiree.
It has been said that Mitt Romney is awkward.
It is just a vicious rumor, of course; there is nothing to it. But the tag has stuck. Blame the Daily Show; blame the former Massachusetts governor's GOP rivals; blame deadpan press reports like this one. Viewed in that light, Romney's ordinary encounters take on an altogether different complexion. "Andrew is a great name; a lot of good Andrews out there," he told a supporter in New Hampshire on Sunday. "Ian—that's kind of a British name," he told a man named Ian in October. They're fairly ordinary statements (and both true), except Romney is considered awkward, and so those exchanges are, consequently, very awkward.
But there's another way of looking at the wit and mannerisms of the occasional GOP frontrunner: underappreciated poet.
In the 2012 GOP presidential race, the quickest way to the top of the polls is to just stop campaigning. Maybe go on a book tour, sail around the Aegean for a bit, or teleconference with your friends in Norway. Live a little! No one has passed that bit of advice on to Rick Perry, however. On Monday, desperate for the support of social conservatives in Iowa, the Texas Governor signed the Family Leader's Marriage Vow—a controversial pledge that Mitt Romney previously called "undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign." The pledge commits signatories to a range of positions—including support for a federal marriage amendment, the appointment of "constitutionalist" judges," and marital fidelity.
But it also extends beyond standard-issue talking points to some more fringey positions. In signing the Marriage Vow, Perry has also promised to reject Islamic Shariah law (first they came for the turkeys!), save women from the corrupting influence of pornography, and promote "robust childbearing and reproduction." Shariah is defined in the document as a form of "totalitarian control," which, while not approaching Herman Cain territory, is sort of an odd way to talk about the customs of one of the world's major religions.
The marriage pledge is best known, though, for the slavery provision. The document originally noted that "a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President." That language has since been stricken from the vow, but only after an outcry from prominent GOPers like Romney turned the pledge into something of a toxic asset.
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has a Muslim problem. Cain has already publicly suggested that Muslims are not guaranteed First Amendment rights and that he would not hire any observant Muslims in his hypothetical administration. His strategy, as with most of his other problems, has been to deny having said any of the things he has said, and then, when pressed, to insist that he's answered the question already, end of story, period. But Cain appears to have shot himself in the foot once again. Chris Moody attended Cain's event at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, a Biblical amusement park, and reports that Cain started his speech off with a curious anecdote:
He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon's name was "Dr. Abdallah."
"I said to his physician assistant, I said, 'That sounds foreign--not that I had anything against foreign doctors--but it sounded too foreign," Cain tells the audience. "She said, 'He's from Lebanon.' Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, 'Don't worry, Mr. Cain, he's a Christian from Lebanon.'"
"Hallelujah!" Cain says. "Thank God!"
This isn't the first time Cain has discussed his fears of Dr. Abdallah. It was a stripped-down version of this same anecdote, told during an interview with CBN's David Brody, that first sparked interest in Cain's anti-Muslim views in February. That Cain's still beating the drum seven months later tells you a good deal about the seriousness and discipline of his campaign; it also says a lot about Herman Cain. (My colleague Adam Serwer, meanwhile, can fill you in on why, if you're looking for villiains in the Lebanese Civil War, there's plenty of blame to go around.)
Fifty-seven pages into her new memoir, Core of Conviction, Michele Bachmann makes a confession. "When I say something wrong, I'm hard on myself, because I'm trying to communicate information accurately," she writes. "And so as someone who talks for a living, I've learned to check, double-check, and triple-check my sources. And yet I still make a mistake or two!"
So we've heard. Bachmann's book, her first, hits stores this week, just in time for the Black Friday rush, and given the Minnesota congresswoman's lagging poll position, it might be the best thing that's happened to her in months. In the totally nuts, absolutely wild, up-is-down, Newt-is-up 2012 GOP primary campaign, there's no better miracle elixir for a rough patch than a book tour. Herman Cain's rise in the polls corresponded with his decision to stop campaigning in early primary states, and instead hawk his book; Newt Gingrich, who has spent much of his campaign selling documentaries and children's books, is experiencing his own unexpected surge just as he's released his latest work of historical fiction. If Core of Conviction can't save Bachmann's campaign, nothing will.