I visited another planet the other night, and it was downright scary at times. Don’t worry, I’m talking about political planets here, especially ones in weird orbits. Those that veer to the far, far right.
The occasion was a debate I moderated between the five Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in the newly drawn 23rd Congressional District, western and central Broward County, where Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (boo, hiss) is the incumbent. The debate was sponsored by the Broward Republican Executive Committee (BREC).
The putative favorite, Karen Harrington, found an excuse to be absent. No problem, the other four filled the time with ease. But not always rationally. Sometimes their statements bordered on the ludicrous, boorish and unhinged. You know the ad for the cruise line that says “Get out there”? Some of these candidates are. Way out there.
Joe Kaufman, for example, basically advocated an immediate military attack on Iran by the United States and Israel. “The time for talk is over,” Kaufman said several times referring to efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, “The time for action is now.” When candidate Gineen Bresso asked if Kaufman was saying let’s carpet bomb Iran and its nuclear facilities, Kaufman didn’t say yes, but implied it.
He also said that if voters in the 23rd C.D. want to elect a Jew who’s a better friend to Israel than Rep. Wasserman Schultz, then he’s the man. Along those same lines, candidate Ozzie De Faria observed that no one should vote for DWS simply because she’s Jewish and that he would be a stronger supporter of Israel than she is.
Lordy, how these folks detest Wasserman Schultz. The Weston congresswoman, a fierce Democratic partisan and hyperloyal Obama supporter, does have a knack for inflaming conservatives and irritating even some Democrats. But to listen to the GOP candidates running against her, DWS is the devil’s spawn. “Evil” was one frequent epithet heard at the debate. Absentee congresswoman was another, a charge that has more than a kernel of truth since DWS travels the country as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Still, Wasserman Schultz is extremely popular in the redrawn 23rd district, which is deeply blue and heavily Jewish. Winning the right to run against her is a bit like running into a buzz saw. A skilled politician and debater, she chews up her opponents and spits them out. Two years ago when House GOP candidates staged a big comeback across the country, DWS beat her Republican opponent, Karen Harrington, by 22 percent. Harrington looks like the odds-on favorite to be the GOP nominee again this November.
Not according to candidate Juan Eliel Garcia, a businessman born in Puerto Rico, who says he’ll win the nomination because there are 105,000 Hispanic voters in the 23rd C.D. and they’ll automatically vote for him ’cause he’s Hispanic. Right.
Ozzie De Faria, who’s of Portuguese descent and hails from Massachusetts, says he’s the best candidate because of his extensive business experience. He also calls Dodd-Frank unnecessary legislation because financial markets are self-correcting. Right again.
Joe Kaufman’s recent experience includes running a group called “Americans Against Hate,” which ferrets out Islamist terrorists. Nothing wrong with that, but it has left him with a speaking style full of hyperbole and vitriol. He alleges that “stealth jihadists have the president’s ear.” He also accuses the Obama administration of waging a “war against free enterprise.” When I asked for an example he cited the Environmental Protection Agency, which he says is run by “environmental radicals” and described his own energy policy as “drill, dig and frack wherever we can.”
In this company, candidate Gineen Bresso came off as a moderate since she’d give sanctions more time to work against Iran, is concerned about beach renewal along the South Florida coast and says she’d create 25,000 jobs at Port Everglades by deepening the channel for the huge cargo ships that will start sailing through the widened Panama Canal in 2014. In other words, Bresso, a lawyer, seems to operate within the political mainstream. And on planet Earth.
Primaries play an essential role in the political process, but they often force candidates to veer to the far left or right to capture the party base. And to appeal to voters’ base instincts. The debate I moderated — held in Hollywood before a crowd of GOP faithful — left me feeling like I had visited an outlier neighborhood in a town I thought I knew. When I suggested to candidate Kaufman, after one particularly virulent anti-Obama and anti-DWS tirade, that moderate voters would see such comments as “far out,” he laughed at me. And candidate De Faria said he knew where I was coming from since he’d visited my Facebook page and found that I “liked” Debbie Wasserman Schultz. What a surprise since I’ve never “liked” any political candidates and am registered NPA.
“Nothing personal,” Ozzie told me as he left. Of course not. It never is.