What is it about Republicans. Seems like I’ve been reading accounts of numerous GOP incumbents who are unwilling to debate their opponents in the upcoming midterms. Here in Missouri neither Rep. Billy Long (R-7) or Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2) will agree to meet their challengers in front of an audience that would, presumably, include media reporting on how well they managed to defend their performance in Congress as well as their lock-step support of GOP policies. Both seem to be conveniently unavailable to attend any of the traditional debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters (in Long’s case, co-sponsored with the Missouri State University’s Center for Community Engagement).
Wagner’s more pressing commitment, which conflicts with the debate scheduled on October 22, consists of campaigning for the Republican candidate in Northern Virginia. Evidently, Wagner’s status as an up-and-coming member of the GOP House leadership doesn’t leave her enough time to stand up before her constituents and deal with their bread-and-butter issues in a forum where there might be some push-back. One is hard put to view her potential absence at the candidates’ debate as anything more than strategic, however, since, according to a spokesperson for the League, Wagner can’t seem to find any other time on her calendar to meet with her challengers, Democrat Arthur Lieber and Libertarian Bill Slantz. She wants us to believe that she’s just too busy being important elsehwere to stand up and take responsibility for her part in the past two years.
Billy Long, though, has gone Wagner one better. He’s not only refused to debate his Democratic challenger, Jim Evans, and the Libertarian Kevin Craig, but, as of last Wednesday at least, his campaign staff were unwilling or unable to let anyone in on Long’s whereabouts or the timing and locations of any potential campaign events. But not to worry. According to a Long staffer, he will be “out and about meeting with people in the district.”
Wagner seems to be offering a similar “walking” defense (like walking pneumonia perhaps, manifesting silently?). Her staff person noted that “Ann has been walking neighborhoods and meeting with voters across the district, […] the people of the Second District know they can talk to Ann when she is out in [sic] about in their neighborhoods, visiting local businesses, at church or other community events.” I’m Wagner’s constituent, and she has yet to appear at my door, or in my supermarket, or at any community events I’ve attended. And I wouldn’t want to make book on such encounters, were they to take place, resulting in a substantial exchange. In my experience, candidate walkabouts rarely waste much time on anyone who doesn’t seem to be a sure thing.
Which is why I would love to hear from any undecided voters or Democrats out there. How many have managed to meet and greet either of these perambulating candidates? Did they entertain your questions seriously? Or did you get the glad-hand along with a vague and dismissive response to anything even slightly confrontational? Wouldn’t it be good for folks who think they know what these individuals stand for to hear them defend their positions in a real give-and-take with the other side? What are Wagner and Long really afraid of?
The answer is, of course, that there are many reasons for these candidates to skip the debates. Would you want to justify your support for last fall’s government shutdown which cost the taxpayers billions for no reason except to indulge a fit of Tea Party pique – an event for which Wagner served as one of the chief GOP cheerleaders. Both she and Long might have to explain why they went along with the endless votes to repeal Obamacare while 7.3 million individuals now have insurance thanks to its provisions. Or they could try to explain why they were so willing to support the Ryan budget and its efforts to privatize Medicare and cut Social Security benefits. Questions about all those “achievements” and many, many more might be raised in a debate with informed and articulate challengers.
And then there are those issues specific to each candidate. Billy Long, for instance might be asked about how he managed to spend about $100,000 from his campaign kitty over the last year mostly to finance meals in pricey restaurants. Or he might perhaps be called to task for trying to demagogue the topic of Ebola while doing nothing to take responsibility for voting for Republican cuts to the U.S. public health health and health research agencies that bear the brunt of protecting us from epidemics like ebola.
As for Wagner, she might not want to have to deal with questions about how she justifies pushing long discredited information about how abortion can cause breast cancer. This is especially relevant, since it seems likely that Wagner’s rising star in the GOP hinges on wishful thinking about her ability to make the mostly older, white, male party more palatable to women.
So, all in all, there’s probably no mystery about why Republicans don’t want to face the music in an open venue. Many commentators have noted the GOP tendency to lie outright when confronted with past positions they now wish to disavow (see Colorado’s Cory Gardner and his “personhood” disavowals), or the consequences of past positions that it isn’t politic to disavow (see Bownback’s defense of his Kansas tax cuts). But damm! It’s hard to lie in a situation where your opponent, God forbid, might lay the facts out right in front of you.
Edited slightly for clarity.