If someone were to ask me what the top four issues facing our nation are right now, my list would go something like this:
Getting our federal budget deficit under control and establishing a credible long-term spending plan instead of passing endless “continuing resolutions” that fail to address this critical issue.
Coming up with a definitive plan on what kind of military force we need to have going forward and providing the services with well-defined, multi-year budgets so they can plan and carry out their missions effectively.
Formulating some kind of coherent foreign policy with regards to Islamic State, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the general instability roiling the Middle East.
Improving security along our southern border and coming up with a reasonable plan to deal with the 12 million illegal immigrants (many of whom have children who are U.S. citizens) who are already living here.
Contrast that list with what the men and women running for the Republican presidential nomination seem to think are our most critical issues judging by the attention paid to them in their speeches and debate performances:
Defunding Planned Parenthood.
Enacting legal protections for businesses and public officials who have moral objections to homosexual marriage and don’t wish to recognize such unions as legally valid.
Rounding up and deporting all illegal aliens (and possibly their children, some of whom are U.S. citizens) and building a giant wall all along our border with Mexico.
Unilaterally withdrawing us from the multi-nation nuclear disarmament treaty with Iran and defeating Islamic State with some as-yet indeterminate but surely brilliant military solution.
I’m biased of course, but I think the items on my list are the more crucial issues and are also more grounded in reality than what is passing for serious debate between the GOP presidential candidates. But the men and women running for that nomination know something that I sometimes forget — people are generally easier to manipulate if you play on their emotions than if you appeal to their intellect.
Abortion and gay marriage (which directly conflict with some people’s deeply held religious beliefs) and illegal immigration (which appeals to the inherent fear we have of outsiders) are things that evoke very strong emotional reactions in a significant number of likely GOP primary voters.
The candidates who play on these emotional issues tend to capture attention and win voters’ favor. That’s especially true in the primaries, when the party’s base tends to represent an outsized portion of voters and they tend to feel strongest about such emotionally charged issues.
Maybe that’s why Carly Fiorina was considered the winner of the last GOP primary debate. The highlight for her was her comment about the infamous Planned Parenthood video that has gone viral which purports to show evidence that the organization sells fetal tissue to biological research companies for profit.
She dared President Obama and Hillary Clinton (possibly the two people conservative Republicans hate most in the world — no coincidence) to “watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’”
It was a powerful line and the partisan audience roared its approval. The only problem is that the scene she described never actually takes place in the video she was referencing. The video does quote a former employee for a company that procures fetal tissue for medical research who says her boss once said something similar to her, and stock footage of a fetus on an operating table (no one knows where the video was taken or what the circumstances were) was appended to the video to provide a visual.
So Fiorina creatively reinterpreted what is actually in the video to ramp up the emotional impact of her statement, and has since refused to acknowledge that she stretched the truth a bit in doing so. It’s a fine distinction that her supporters aren’t concerned with. She made them feel good about what they already believe and therefore feel good about themselves, and that’s always the best way to win a popularity contest.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.