Yesterday evening I spent two hours watching and listening to the C-SPAN “Voters First” Republican Forum, held at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, moderated by Jack Heath. This is two hours I will never get back. It was incredibly boring, for the most part. Eleven candidates were on state, with three more joining via satellite from Washington DC, making for total of fourteen. With the exception of Senator Rand Paul, the candidates mostly sounded the same, repeating the usual platitudes about running the government more cheaply with better management, implementing a flat tax, maybe reducing the size of government a little bit, making Americans “safe,” and showing the world that “America is back” (as one candidate put it).

Aggressive foreign policy was the order of the day for nearly all the candidates (again, Paul excepted). A few choice quotes: “This is my foreign policy: a clenched fist or an open hand; you choose!” (Senator Lindsey Graham) “Hit them before they come here!” (Senator Lindsey Graham) “When I’m President, I want to tell the world that America is back!” (Governor Bobby Jindal) Lindsey Graham made it pretty clear that he wants a trade war with Putin, and probably also with China. Governor Chris Christie suggested that “negotiating” with terrorists “encouraged” the attacks on 9-11 (a rather novel way of blaming America for the attacks, I must say). Obviously he seems unfamiliar with, or denies outright, the concept of blowback. Carly Fiorina made clear where her priorities are when, responding to the question of to whom she would make the first call as President, she said, “My good friend Bibi Netanyahu” to assure him that the U.S. stands with Israel, followed by the leader of Iran (who she suggested probably wouldn’t take the call) to assure him that the U.S. would make it as difficult as possible for Iran to move its money around the world. Governor Jindal wants the world to know that “America is back.” Senator Ted Cruz probably went as full-blown neocon as anyone, stating that the Iran deal is “the gravest threat we have ever faced.” He repeated all sorts of falsehoods about the deal, saying that it would “accelerate” Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon. In the old days it was “The Russians are coming!” Now, in Senator Cruz’s world, it’s “The Iranians are coming!” My notes record nothing specific that Governor Jeb Bush, other than to say “Jeb Bush = Full Neoconservative,” and later I noted that there is no discernible difference among Bush, Graham and Jindal on foreign policy. And on it went…

Turning to domestic policy, we learned that Governor Christie has had (sort of) a slight change of heart on the War on Drugs: he concedes it’s not working, and suggests that maybe it would be better to offer treatment to first-time non-violent drug offenders rather than throw them in jail. But of course he would do it with force, so it might as well be jail. And what of second-time non-violent drug offenders? Of course, Christie still supports the War on Drugs. It just comes down to “reforming” it a little bit. Senator Rubio made it abundantly clear that he opposes any attempt to legalize marijuana or “other intoxicating substances.” I am waiting for him to call for a return to alcohol prohibition, which would seem consistent with his logic. We heard noises about flat taxes and the like, but that sort of thing is very “old news” to this three-decades-long observer of politics.

As for Senator Rand Paul, compared to the other candidates he sounded quite reasonable. He spoke of going places where no other Republican dare go, such as Detroit, Chicago and Ferguson, and certainly there is something to be said for that. He made a fairly decent case for upholding the 4th Amendment, though he felt some need to back-pedal just a little bit to assure his listeners that “enemy combatants” cannot be afforded such protections. He did, in a follow-up answer, emphasize the need for obtaining warrants. But no one else came anywhere close to upholding the 4th Amendment. Senator Rubio is absolutely convinced that concerns for “safety” must trump any concern for protecting liberty and privacy. He naively suggested that if the government abuses the information collected through NSA surveillance, then the people responsible should be prosecuted and thrown in jail. But what of government having all those powers of surveillance in the first place? Does that not constitute abuse of power? Power it shouldn’t have in the first place? Obviously he seems naive and oblivious to such concerns. The abuse is already happening – has been for some time – and no one is being prosecuted!

Senator Paul did say some pretty good things about war being considered only as a last resort, but somehow those words don’t quite impress me as perhaps they should. After all, most any neoconservative politician, when pressed, might well say the same thing. There was little time to speak, with fourteen candidates in the forum, but I couldn’t help but feel that Paul missed a real opportunity to point to the way our past foreign policy interventions helped create the current state of affairs in the Middle East, especially the  rise of ISIS and its increasing strength. He might have posed the following question to the other candidates: “Why should we listen now to the same people who lied us into war?” He might have gone further to talk about how much safer we would all be if “we” would mind our own business, and stay out of the internal affairs of other nations. Perhaps he might step up to the plate in Thursday night’s debate. Unfortunately, I found myself wholly unexcited by Rand Paul’s performance tonight. Of course he is not his father, nor should anyone expect him to be, but it would be nice to see someone (other than Donald Trump – heaven help us!) shake things up a bit. Rand seems to be in “play it safe” mode, but that just will not do. In all honesty, I miss Ron Paul already!

We shall see how it goes with Thursday’s debate. With slightly fewer candidates, there might be a little more time to speak to certain issues. But so far, it tends to reinforce my overall dissatisfaction with Presidential electoral politics, and my abhorrence of the Cult of the Presidency.