Debating the Void

Tonight, I attended the “debate” in Willingboro among the candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District.  I put the word “debate” in quotes because the sanctioned candidates from each party (Jon Runyan for the GOP and John Adler for the Democrats) were conspicuously absent1.

The challengers to the establishment candidates were Barry Bendar for the Democrats and Justin Murphy for the Republicans.  There were about 100 people in attendance, and the program was moderated by Ersula Cosby, an attorney from Bucks County who did an excellent job of running the debate.  The atmosphere was collegial with a cooperative audience and no fireworks.  Questions had to be submitted in advance, and no follow-up questions from the audience were permitted.

Both candidates presented themselves as the anti-establishment choice, decrying the political bosses of their respective parties.  Murphy proudly proclaimed himself a “right-wing Republican” and Bendar explained his disappointment with Adler, for whom he campaigned in 2008.

I won’t repeat their stance on many of the issues – the reader can learn about these at the candidates’ web site, or from the “mainstream media” (Burlington County Times, Courier Post, and Asbury Park Press were there) or they can pretty much figure out where a “Progressive Democrat” and a “Right Wing Republican” stand on the major concerns of the day.  Rather, I’ll give my take on where the two agree (sometimes surprisingly), provide some highlights, and mention where they may differ from their party’s dogma.

On Health Care, both candidates agreed that everyone should have health insurance and that preventative care should be a priority.  Bendar asserts that health care is a right, and supports “single payer.”  Murphy contends that health care is not a right, and was not clear on how everyone could be insured without a government-run single payer system.  Both agreed that “bureaucrats” should not get between a doctor and a patient, but Bendar’s assumption was that the bureaucrats were insurance company personnel and Murphy’s was that the bureaucrats were government workers.  Bendar said, “You shouldn’t have to make a [medical] decision based on money.”  Interestingly, Murphy asserted that (despite being an attorney and successful small businessman) he has spent most of his adult life without health insurance.  He pledged to forfeit any Federal health insurance benefit if elected.

On the lightning rod issue of abortion, Murphy is fiercely anti-choice, stating that he firmly believes that life begins at conception.  Bendar follows the Progressive line of contending that the Federal government should not intervene in what is a personal decision, although to me he seemed uncomfortable discussing this issue.

On Energy, both candidates agreed that nuclear energy needs to be part of the solution.  Murphy wants to double the number of nuclear reactors in the next 10 years.  I was disappointed in Bendar’s response that nuclear energy in the short term is acceptable, especially given the proximity of the Oyster Creek facility in his home town.  Neither candidate addressed the problem of disposal of nuclear waste.  Unsurprisingly, both agreed that we need more wind and solar power, but Murphy downplayed the effectiveness of renewable energy in reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  He also favors offshore drilling, stating “we have to be tougher than one oil spill.”  He would like to drill off New Jersey and have the royalties go directly to fund education.  (Like most Tea Partiers, he favors abolishing the Department of Education.)  Disappointingly, neither candidate mentioned conservation or CAFE standards as a part of the energy solution.

When asked what their top priority would be if elected, unsurprisingly both mentioned jobs.  Bendar wants to penalize companies for sending jobs overseas, and Murphy believes that corporate regulation and taxes are impeding the economy and job creation.  He wants the IRS abolished and capital gains taxes eliminated.

On gun control, Murphy would not support the bill currently before the House that would require background checks before a private gun sale could be consummated.  He argues that criminals will have guns, anyway.  Bendar supports the Second Amendment but finds no reason for private citizens to own assault weapons.

Oddly, there was a question about the Separatist movement.  I was relieved to hear that both candidates agreed that this issue was settled in 1865.

On immigration, Murphy contends that the Federal government has failed miserably, and that profiling in some cases is acceptable because “we are a nation at war with radical Islamic terrorists.”  Again, Bendar seemed uncomfortable or unprepared on this topic with a response that was wishy-washy at best.

On “too big to fail“, both agreed that companies should be allowed to fail, if necessary, but Bendar supports a plan for a “soft landing” for the affected workforce.

Besides Adler and Runyan, something else was conspicuous by its absence.  There was absolutely no mention of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and their toll on the lives of our soldiers and our national budget.  Apparently, these wars have faded into the background and neither party is willing to bring them to a close.

1After the debate was over, the organizers said that although Adler and Runyan were invited, Adler had to be in Washington for a vote and that Runyan never responded to their invitation.  I asked the moderator whether or not the candidates were permitted to send a proxy, but she was unable to answer that question.  

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