I would’ve preferred to watch “Fargo,” a pitch-black comedy about bloodlusting knuckleheads, but instead I dutifully tuned in the Republicans, and I got the same kind of characters.
There was Ted Cruz, touting the awesomeness of carpet-bombing ISIS, apparently clueless about the fact that ISIS troops are embedded in the cities, amongst civilian adults and children.
There was Chris Christie, jonesing to shoot down Russian planes in a Syrian no-fly zone, a burst of bellicosity so egregious that two-percent candidate Rand Paul had to slap him silly: “We don’t need to confront Russia from a point of recklessness that would lead to war.”
There was Donald Trump, vowing to launch “very, very firm” assaults on terrorists’ families, because, in his mind, the families are all part of the conspiracy. In reality, official 9/11 investigators discovered that the hijackers had severed contact with their families long before the attack - and none of them had families in America.
Heck, even one of the moderators - conservative radio commentator Hugh Hewitt, tapped by CNN to make the candidates feel comfy - got into the spirit when he asked Ben Carson whether he was tough enough to kill lots of kids.
Yes, folks, it was another Republican fright night - we’re all gonna die unless we elect their toughness. If you listened only to them, you’d never know that San Bernardino’s hideous death toll was only a fraction of the 10,000 Americans killed each year by the Second Amendment arsenal. Or that, for every Farook and Malik, there are hundreds of white-guy domestic terrorists toting easily acquired weapons of war.
Early on, Carson called for a moment of silence for the San Bernardino victims. How fitting that he and his comrades offered no such silence for the people recently shot dead at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. Or for the 10 people shot dead this fall at Umpqua Community College in October. Or for the nine people shot dead last June at the historic black church in Charleston.
But worst of all was Christie. In his ongoing bid to mask his failed gubernatorial record with macho bluster, Christie implied that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are somehow responsible for a hoax that led to the evacuation of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Perhaps, if Christie cares so much about little kids being “safe and sound,” he could’ve mentioned that Monday was the third anniversary of Sandy Hook, where 20 little kids were gunned down by a white all-American loser from a gun-loving family. But that would’ve breached the total Republican fixation on ISIS.
On the broader issue of American strategy in the Middle East, these candidates are deeply divided. Woe to the viewer-voter who tuned in hoping for clarity. At least four of them - Trump, Cruz, Paul, Carson - appear to reject the neoconservative belief in American-led nation building and regime change.
Trump thinks we can thwart ISIS by closing down part of the Internet (whatever that means), Christie thinks we should keep Americans safe from five-year-old Syrian orphans, and boasted that he would partner successfully with King Hussein of Jordan, who died in 1999.
All the while, for two and a half hours, not a single candidate (and not a single terrorist-fixated CNN moderator) saw fit to mention the most consequential foreign policy event of the past week: the historic Paris climate change pact, championed by the American president, and endorsed by 188 countries from the developed and developing worlds.
But these “Fargo” characters don’t do good news. They prefer to traffic in fear. The only good news is that they’re done debating for the year.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org