There simply is nothing to discuss or even listen to from the "field" of Republican presidential candidates. I actually watched most of the last debate and couldn't find anything substantive. The whole was based on how much each candidate didn't like Obama and thought his policies were failures. Not one scintilla of defense for any pro or anti positions was given. No one explained why the "personal mandate", for example, was bad -- they just competed with each other in their distaste for it. They couldn't explain why this policy came out of Republican/conservative think tanks and had been supported by Republicans for decades ("Individual mandate is individual responsibility"). Or why Nixon's healthcare plan was to the left of Obama's. Or why the "public option", so popular in public opinion polls here and successful in practice most everywhere else, is not under discussion anywhere in the ranks of our reps.
Of course, none of the candidates explained how they would eliminate the vastly unpopular denial of coverage for "previous conditions" that the insurance industry has saddled us with, and which Obama's healthcare plan would get rid of. Would they allow people to opt out of healthcare premiums until they were sick? Or, would they simply let those without healthcare die (as many in the audience at an early debate seemed to favor)?
Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts supported and signed the bill which is the model for Obama's healthcare bill, said that, basically, he did so because "what's good for Massachusetts is not necessarily good for the country." No one knows what he means by this except as a way of making excuses to the Tea Screamers and other yahoos who don't like the plan. Thus, there was no debate on the issue, just on whether Romney hated the plan at least as much as his rivals say they do.
None of the candidates or the simpering incompetent moderators seemed to understand that the temporary lowering of the FICA tax does not necessarily imperil Social Security -- since when do Republicans care about saving Social Security as we know it? -- because the change specifically says that the lost revenue would be made up from general funds. Do facts have any meaning in this circus? One can make the argument -- and I have a great deal of sympathy for it -- that lowering the FICA tax temporarily will make it impossible ever to raise it back again, making Social Security dependent on general funds from the federal budget. The could allow a breach in the wall of the whole SS structure which, in future years as the hump of "boomers" pass through the system, would require more and more general revenue funds. A far better plan -- and one I've always supported -- is to raise the cap on income subject to FICA. This would enable the wealthy to shoulder their fair tax burden, perhaps lower the rate for everyone (especially when the boomers die off) and would ensure the solvency of the SS system indefinitely.
In any case, the world of true debate about real ideas is not the cloud-cuckoo-land of the Republican "debates". The latter is all about $10,000 bets, conspicuous religiosity, and who has hewn most faithfully to unexamined conservative mythology. It seems to me that grownups should be allowed equal time to reply -- especially those from the fact and reality-based community.