Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators, meansthese columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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When out covering combat, I would always keep in mind that the producers back home in TV land would positively drool anytime there was what we all called “Bang-Bang” — in other words, the sights and sounds of combat were a sure-fire (pun intentional) way to get on television.

The folks at CNN had to be in ecstasy the other night. The GOP confrontation they co-sponsored from the Las Vegas strip “war zone” certainly provided a bang-bang-up ending to the current debate series.

If only they had recruited Hank Williams Jr. to sing the opening theme. He’s available, since ESPN dumped him. He would have been perfect in this setting, belting “All my rowdy friends are comin’ over tonight.”

The candidates certainly were rowdy. Maybe it’s a Vegas thing, a group decision that the party’s nomination is still a crapshoot.

First of all, who put that “Kick Me” sign on Herman Cain’s backside? There’s no shortage of suspects, considering all those he’s left in the dust while zooming to the top tier

But maybe he pinned it on himself, in the form of that “9-9-9” plan. The Tax Policy Center has compiled a study concluding that the proposal would mean higher taxes for 84 percent of Americans. Cain insisted that the criticisms were “erroneous” without citing specifics. Rick Perry announced that he’s about to unveil a flat-out flat-tax scheme, so he challenged Cain with “I’ll bump plans with you, brother.” He repeatedly referred to Cain as “brother.” What’s with that?

Actually, this is the first debate where Perry showed a little feistiness, or even demonstrated that he was aware of his surroundings. It was a bit unnerving to the others.

As a result, this encounter was not without its touching moment. I mean REAL touching, as when Mitt Romney put his hand on Perry, and sputtered “I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking,” and “Are you going to keep talking or are you going to let me finish what I have to say?” Perry was intruding on Romney’s response time after he’d accused him of “hypocrisy” over immigration, referring to the old stories that some of the landscaping at his home had been done by illegals. “The idea,” taunted Perry, “that you can sit here and talk about any of us having an immigration issue is beyond me.”

Remember that Romney had landed some heavy blows in an earlier face-off over Gov. Perry’s support for in-state college tuition for the children of the undocumented and also for opposing a border fence. This was payback. It got so snitty that Newt Gingrich had to remind everyone that “maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House.”

Don’t sweat the bickering, Newt, because Romney and Perry are now shelling each other’s roadways. Each has released attack ads that are down and dirty, and downright personal. It brings to mind the long-obliterated times of the Republican “Big Tent” that Ronald Reagan used to describe. It’s hard to see how there’s room under this big top for both of them. It shouldn’t be a surprise, because these two guys come from entirely different worlds. About all they have in common is big hair and big egos.

The real winner in the debate might have been Jon Huntsman, who decided not to participate, but thanks to the others, we got our bang-bang, and now it’s boom-boom. Maybe Cain will weigh in on the shoving match between Romney and Perry. He could call it “Asinine-9-9.”

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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