The Deep Dish Debate

CBS's almost Anchorman, Roger Mudd, years ago let the cat out of the bag.  He told us: We in the media cannot tell you what to think, but we can tell you what to think about.

This side of the Berlin Wall, we could hardly find a better example of thought control.

Until, of course, you get to the presidential "debates."  They were invented by the late Don Hewitt, producer of CBS' Sixty Minutes.  Hewitt wanted to resuscitate the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, just in time for Jack Kennedy to clean Richard Nixon's clock in 1960.

Invented by liberals to showcase liberals, they have been droning on ever since.  This week's CNN elephant parade -- featuring Republican presidential candidates in joint appearances at St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire -- was lorded over by national correspondent, John King.  King had gone out to conservative audiences in advance asking us to watch and give CNN another chance.

OK.  Every question offered by King was framed in liberal terms.  King assured skeptical listeners of Bill Bennett's talk show that he was more than willing to entertain questions on "abortion rights."  Note that formulation.  You are either for or against somebody's right to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.

King might have found, doing just a little homework, that the Republicans have rejected the idea of abortion rights since, say, 1976.  Their Platform that year said:

The Republican Party favors a continuance of the public dialogue on abortion and supports the efforts of those who seek enactment of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.

That slightly equivocal statement clearly said no to Roe v. Wade.  While welcoming a continuing dialogue, the party firmly embraces the right to life of unborn children.  Any hedging was due to the fact that the party had just narrowly nominated Jerry Ford, who was the Hedger-in-Chief.

Four years later, the Republicans unequivocally stated: "The unborn child has a right to life that cannot be infringed."  And so it has been said, in one form or another, every four years since 1980 and Reagan's landslide victory.

Even as he chairs a Republican Presidential Debate, John King cannot think in other than liberal terms.

He gives to each one five seconds to introduce him or herself.  Oh, let's be generous.  They're Republicans, after all.  They think slower and talk slower.  OK.  You future Commanders-in-Chief can have six or seven seconds to introduce yourselves.

We can't waste time here.  Hold down the cheering and the applause, audience, I'll have to take it out of the candidates' time.  We need lots of time so I can ask about Elvis or Johnny Cash.  Leno or Conan?  Coke or Pepsi?

You wouldn't want to tax the voters' attention span.  Keep those answers short and snappy.  Let's keep it moving.  We need to take a break.  Sell some laxatives and Viagra.

Now back to "our candidates."  Our candidates?  John King: Could you tell us when since the founding of the Republican Party in 1856 one of their candidates was one of yours?

Let's ask Newt about a Boston Globe poll of New Hampshire Republicans.  They want taxes on the wealthy.  Wouldn't you agree?  Well, now, if the Boston Globe runs a poll, it must be one that would be fair to Republicans, right?

Quickly, candidates, step it up.  I need to know if you are concerned about the influence of the TEA Party.  Is it somehow pushing good Republicans out?

And, I'm being polite so far, but let's not dawdle.  Remember the time.

Again, how about that fear and anger in the Tea Party?  Don't they go too far?

(And don't forget, folks, CNN will be hosting a Tea Party debate.  It will be every bit as fair and balanced as this one has been.)

Now, candidates, hop up on your stools and answer up.  Don't you agree that we need a federal program to help community colleges prepare young people for jobs, those shovel-ready jobs?

You don't agree?  That's odd.  I thought President Obama's weekly radio address might be a good agenda-setter for us tonight.

I'll get to you in a second, Santorum.  And by the way, we need to Choose Civility here.  There's been too much demonizing of public employee union leaders by your GOP governors.

Now, let's get serious: One of you might have access to the United States' nuclear arsenal.  One of you may have to decide whether to use a conventional strike or tactical nuclear weapons against Iran's mullahs.

So what I really want to know is this: American Idol or Dancing with the Stars?  Bomb Tehran or Tel Aviv?

Now, Bachmann, do you really want to overturn New Hampshire's law that overturned marriage?  Or will you just wait for the Supreme Court to do it?

Deep dish or thin crust?  We're playing This or That here.  It's a kind of psychiatrist's couch game.  John King or Rodney King?  Goon Show or Gong Show?  NN or Al Jazeera?

Robert Morrison is a Washington writer, a veteran of the Reagan administration.