Matt Lewis

The overlooked, substantive GOP debate

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Today, the media will replay for us a few select clips from Tuesday night’s debate. These clips will typically include the candidates fighting over things such as whether or not Mitt Romney employed illegal aliens to mow his law — or Herman Cain talking about … apples and oranges.

They will hype these moments, and we will assume these moments define what happened.

We are all lemmings in this regard.

But what about the substance? What about big ideas or fundamental internecine debates that aren’t necessarily today’s hot-button issues?

Despite the vast majority of post-debate coverage, there was plenty of real substance to discuss — much of it advanced by candidates who aren’t thought of as being top-tier candidates.

Here are just a few of the substantive points that caught my eye, along with my commentary (note: these are selected excerpts. Read the full transcript here):

Early on in the debate, Rep. Ron Paul made a profound point, which I think deserves attention:

… I do want to make a point that spending is a tax. As soon as the governments spend money, eventually it’s a tax. Sometimes we put a direct tax on the people. Sometimes we borrow the money. And sometimes we print the money.

And then when prices go up, like today, the wholesale price index went up 7 percent rate, and if you look at the free market, prices are going up 9 and 10 percent. So that is the tax.

So, spending is the tax. That is the reason I offered the program, to cut $1 trillion out of the first year budget that I offer.

Paul’s supporters often argue that he isn’t given a fair shake — that the media ignores him because they simply don’t like his libertarian/paleoconservative message. That may be true in some instances, but I also think Paul’s speaking delivery doesn’t do his ideas justice. In my estimation, his words read better than they sound.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum also made some good points Tuesday night.

Here’s one:

… I’ve put forward the plan that’s going to allow for income mobility. That’s a new term, but I’ve been using it for a long time, which is people at the bottom part of the income scale being able to rise in society.

Believe it or not, studies have been done that show that in Western Europe, people at the lower parts of the income scale actually have a better mobility going up the ladder now than in America. And I believe that’s because we’ve lost our manufacturing base. No more stamp “Made in America” is really hurting people in the middle.

Santorum is exactly right in stressing the importance of income mobility. This is a foundational element of the American Dream, and it speaks to the notion of equality of opportunity, versus equality of outcome. People, I think, are okay with income inequality if there is income mobility — but if there is no mobility — watch out.

Later, Santorum and Paul entered into an interesting debate over the subject of individualism. Santorum did a very good job of injecting the importance of values into the debate:

I’d like to address the issue that the gentleman brought up, which is, what are we going to say to the Latino community? And not one person mentioned the issue of family, faith, marriage.

This is a community that is a faith-filled community, that family is at the center of that community. I disagree in some respects with Congressman Paul, who says the country is founded on the individual.

The basic building block of a society is not an individual. It’s the family. That’s the basic unit of society.

Santorum is really the only Republican stressing these traditional conservative points.

Paul had a good response, too, saying:

Well, I would like to explain that rights don’t come in bunches. Rights come as individuals, they come from a God, and they come as each individual has a right to life and liberty.

The debate over the tension between liberty and virtue is a fascinating one — and it occurs to me it would not be taking place were it not for Santorum and Paul being in the debates (this is an argument for them to stay!).

I thought Herman Cain was also spot-on regarding the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they’re directing their anger at the wrong place. Wall Street didn’t put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t do any good. Wall Street isn’t going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration.

But former Speaker Newt Gingrich might have had the best idea of the night when he concluded by saying:

As the nominee, I will challenge Obama to meet the Lincoln-Douglas standard of seven three-hour debate, no time — no moderator, only a timekeeper. I believe we can defeat him decisively to a point where we re-establish a conservative America on our values. And I think that is a key part of thinking about next year.

Now that would be a fun debate…