ELEVATING THE DISCUSSION. The AP's David Yepsen did indeed get in a quick acerbic dig at yesterday's GOP presidential debate after Rudy Giuliani said his plan to rebuild America's infrastructure would be to cut taxes. It didn't seem like it registered among any of the contenders, though. Giuliani's answer typified the rock-hard commitment to vacuous conservative nostrums and inane dogma that the candidates have ably maintained in debate after debate. I keep waiting to see that commitment break somewhere, sometime, from one of these guys (Ron Paul excepted), but it hasn't happened. Two more wearying examples: John McCain Mitt Romney's [ed] non-sequitur "have you forgotten 9/11?" retort to Paul's riff on the Iraq war supporters' track record, and all the candidates ramblings about "market-based" solutions to health care ("Let’s get back to freedom," suggested Duncan Hunter). I certainly couldn't share Isaac Chotiner's relatively upbeat take on the debate.

What's most frustrating are, still, the evasions and myopia on Iraq, particularly on the part of the frontrunners. (See the debate transcript here.) Aside from a couple predictable references to the O'Hanlon-Pollack op-ed, what continues to be most striking in the candidates' comments on the war and related foreign policy issues is the swift resort to abstraction and highfalutin Big-Think -- lots of discussion of the world-historical 21st century struggle against global jihadism and the need to pull people into modernity and to stand up for Western civilization, etc. Because people who are committed to opposing a real change in direction in Iraq -- this includes Romney, Giuliani, and McCain, though not Sam Brownback or (of course) Paul -- can't really discuss the specifics of the war or the state of the country, they instead must elevate the discussion to an absurdly high level of moronic strategic "theory." They end up sounding like Samuel Huntington after a bout of head trauma.

Kudos to Tommy Thompson, though, for pointing out that Tom Tancredo's proposal to fight the War on Terror by bombing Mecca might be a bad idea.

--Sam Rosenfeld