Highlights from the GOP Thanksgiving Family Forum

November 20, 2011
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Six of the Republican presidential candidates met at the First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa, last night for a dinnertime “family discussion” at the Thanksgiving Family Forum. Gathered around a wooden table garnished with a centerpiece of artificial pumpkins, moderator Frank Luntz asked Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum about their views on social issues, morality, personal responsibility, and God. Neither of the two Mormon candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, were in attendance. Here are some of the most memorable moments:

1. Gingrich tells OWS: “Go get a job — right after you take a bath.”

Asked about the role of personal responsibility in society, Gingrich quoted John Smith (of Pocahontas fame): “In 1607 in the first English speaking permanent colony, [Smith said] to the aristocrats who had paid their way and didn’t want to work: ‘If you don’t work, you won’t eat.’”

The same principle, he said, should apply to Occupy Wall Street protesters, all of whom “start with a premise that we all owe them everything.”

They take over a public park they didn’t pay for, to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn’t pay for, to beg for food from places they they don’t want to pay for, to obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms and to sustain the park so that they can self-righteously explain that they are the paragons of virtue to which we owe everything” (1:10:05).

“Go get a job,” he said. “Right after you take a bath.”

2. Perry says we’re sending billions of dollars to China, where they abort 35,000 children per day

Perry wrapped up a point about foreign aid — he repeated his pledge to reevaluate aid for every country, including Israel, although he said he was confident Israel would still “get its foreign aid” — with a statement of indignation: ”The idea that we are sending billions of dollars to China, who are aborting 35,000 children a day,” he said, “is immoral and wrong and has to stop” (1:07:41).

The claim, which was received with cheers from the audience, appeared to source a 2009 story in the China Daily reporting that 13 million abortions are performed in China annually.

U.S. foreign aid to China has become a point of contention in Washington, although the amount of aid is relatively small. This year, the White House has requested $12 million — about four cents per person — most of which would go toward HIV/AIDS prevention in Tibet.

3. Candidates talk about their moments of failure

In a confessional portion of the discussion that saw both Cain and Santorum tear up, Luntz asked the candidates to describe something in their lives that had not worked out and what they had learned from it.

Ron Paul told the audience that he struggles with being his “own worst critic”(2:14:46); Perry said he had always wanted to be a veterinarian, until he got discouraged by organic chemistry (2:19:50); Gingrich recalled treating a bout of feeling “hollow” with reading Alcoholics Anonymous books (2:11:54); and Cain regretted not being home more with his kids when they were young (2:17:48).

4. Reverence for “mama bears”

Moms were repeatedly singled out for special recognition by Luntz and the candidates: “This is a family forum, so we wanted to make sure a mom was heard,” said Luntz before introducing a question from a mother in the audience (2:29:12). “Nothing frightens a mother more than watching her son or daughter go off [to combat],” he said later, framing a question about the justification for war (2:38:40).

Bachmann underscored several of her arguments by reminding everyone that she is a mom: “As a mother myself, there is nothing more important to me than those little lives that we raised,” she said in response to a question about education (2:36:35). Explaining her justification for war, she said, “I am a mother and I’ve made the most difficult calls of my life” to families of fallen soldiers (2:41:30).

And Santorum received some of the biggest laughs and applause of the night when he described his wife as a “mama bear,” who stood up to doctors in defense of her sick child (2:01:51).

5. Citing quotes from historical figures as support for their arguments

The candidates made abundant references to the founding fathers and other historical figures to corroborate their various claims. Paul and Gingrich both cited St. Augustine and his concept of a just war (2:39:25 and 2:48:53, respectively) in their explanations of the moral justification for warfare, and Bachmann noted the eighteenth century English jurist William Blackstone in her argument that pastors at tax-exempt churches should be permitted to preach about politics from the pulpit:

“American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the ten commandments,” Bachmann said. “The ten commandments were the foundation for our law, that’s what Blackstone said, the English jurist, and our founders looked to Blackstone for the foundation of our law” (1:01:14).

Bachmann twice referred to George Washington, once to his Farewell Address, which she said advised Americans to “be very fearful of unnecessary foreign entanglements” (although there is some controversy around whether this is an accurate interpretation of his words). Bachmann also mentioned that “it was George Washington that added those last four words, ‘So help me god,’” to his inaugural oath (40:25), although historians say there is scant evidence this is claim is anything more than a popular myth.

In a discussion about the Tenth Amendment, Perry cited James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in his argument in favor of stronger states’ rights:

“Our Founding Fathers when you go back and read some of the documentation, whether it was Madison or whether it was Jefferson, and they had a very narrow view about the Constitution and its impact upon the people of this country….And to take that step about freedom and morality and responsibility into the Tenth Amendment. That’s one of the reasons I’m such a big proponent of getting Washington, D.C. out of the states’ business” (1:06:30).

Santorum, on the other hand, said he believes the United States is a “moral enterprise,” and that Lincoln got it right when he said, “the states do not have the right to do wrong” (1:19:45).

It wasn’t the first time Santorum attributed this quote to Lincoln, although he modified it somewhat from the original, according to Andrew Sullivan, who points to a similar but nonidentical comment from the Lincoln Douglas debates in which Lincoln is recorded as saying, “No one has the right to choose to do what is wrong.”

Gingrich also acknowledged Lincoln, saying a paper he published about judicial reform on his website “was probably the boldest statement since Lincoln’s first inaugural took on the Supreme Court over the Dred Scott decision” (1:36:03).


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God spoke to me, and told me not to vote for any of them.

Posted by LarryLinn | Report as abusive

To correct Newt, ” Get a job in China or Mexico, unless you are a lobbyist or spin doctor. In that case come to Iowa.”

Posted by gobucks | Report as abusive

“Ron Paul told the audience that he struggles with being his “own worst critic”” — Huh. I know plenty of people who did it much better.

Posted by DwDunphy | Report as abusive

This family forum would actually be meaningful if the candidates weren’t so disingenuous.

Posted by HAL.9000 | Report as abusive

In a forum with Cris Matthews (s.i.c) he noted that in his time he has not seen such a bunch of clowns all gathered in one place. Amen

Posted by alybdar | Report as abusive

“Gingrich tells OWS” — if this is how Gingrich treats free speech, once again I’m nauseated.

Posted by madisonmartha | Report as abusive

What a joke….

Posted by fromthecenter | Report as abusive

Newt would do well to recall a bit of history … how about the Bundschuh during the Deutscher Bauernkrieg?

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

I am so happy to see how much regard and compassion Newt Gingrich has for those who don’t have the millions he made for lobbying Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae (sp?)

Posted by Exceptional | Report as abusive

You know if Dr. Paul were less honest, less intelligent, less geniune, and less consistent in his positions, he might make more friends… especially in the media

Posted by jclimacus081 | Report as abusive