GOP debate — show biz, not politics

The eight perma-tanned celebrities stepped onto the stage to whoops and cheers from the audience. Diana Nagy sang the national anthem. Mitt Romney sang along. Was I the only person in the country last night who wondered whether I had by chance switched on an episode of "Dancing With the Stars," rather than a debate involving candidates competing for the highest office in the land?

What has happened to American political culture? In this made-for-television world, as we saw last night in the GOP debate from Florida on CNN, a policy has to be reduced to one minute. One minute! No wonder Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann et al were speaking in well-rehearsed sound bites.

Apart from the moment when Perry was caught out on the Merck donations and the mandatory vaccinations of young girls for cervical cancer, it all went pretty much according to script. What was more interesting was the reaction from the live Tea Party audience. There were cheers, and there were boos. Did I really hear someone cry out, “Yeah” when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked whether a 30-year-old man without health insurance should be left to die?

Blitzer did his best to keep poking follow up questions at the candidates as he prowled around the stage. There were legitimate questions to be asked, but you weren’t going to get answers in that formula. What I watched last night was show business as usual, not politics.