Sometimes what seems the least consequential detail tells the most about a person’s character — or at least his or her intentions.
Such was the case at the end of Wednesday’s debate, the second for the GOP field of presidential candidates, with the “light” and irrelevant question of which woman’s face they’d like to see on the $10 bill.
In case you’re one of those people who couldn’t care less whose face is on paper money or any other legal tender (my hand is raised), the query probably was a cue to find the remote. Why not ask what kind of dog they’d like to be? Come to think of it, that would be informative. (Suggestions @kathleenparker.)
But light notes are nearly required as epilogues to insult matches, otherwise fantastically referred to as “debates.” Anyone amusing himself with the notion that CNN’s extraordinary ratings (an average of 23 million over three hours) reflect the nation’s fascination with substantive discourse on foreign policy ignores history. Hint: the Colosseum.
If all eyes were on Donald Trump during the first debate, they were riveted on Carly Fiorina this time, not least because of what many hoped might transpire between these two as they faced off in the wake of Trump’s despicable insult in a Rolling Stone interview about Fiorina’s looks.
“Look at that face!” he said. “Would anyone vote for that?”
Viewers were denied a bloodletting but were richly rewarded if they prefer a cutting comment to a knife fight. To the inevitable question about Trump’s affront, Fiorina replied: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
Economy of words is one of Fiorina’s strengths, and she was equally concise on the money question. Pandering to no one, she said she wouldn’t put any woman on the bill. “I don’t think it helps to change our history,” she said. “We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.”
Despite the relative insignificance of the changing faces on our currency — by the way, who knew $20 bill poster boy Andrew Jackson pioneered the hairstyle popularized by Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter? — the candidates’ answers were revealing. It would have been simpler if moderator Jake Tapper had just asked, “To whom would you wish to pander this evening?” but the $10 question seemed more fun.
Alas, some candidates weren’t playful and eliminated themselves from consideration for the title of “Worst Panderer.” These were Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump, all of whom named a family member.
Sweet but unsporting and lacking in imagination.
Trump did amend his choice by seconding Rosa Parks, whom Marco Rubio had picked as “an everyday American that changed the course of history.” Even though Parks is certainly a legitimate choice, it isn’t entirely cynical to infer that Rubio and Trump need some cred among African-American voters.
Libertarian Rand Paul, who has a hard time convincing people that he’s on board with social issues, picked suffragette Susan B. Anthony, who is a popular symbol for the pro-life movement. Check.
Jeb Bush chose Margaret Thatcher because Ronald Reagan is a man — and Thatcher is as close as you can get to Reagan. Acknowledging that putting her on the $10 bill was “probably illegal, but what the heck,” a Republican candidate can never overassociate himself with Reagan.
Chris Christie, perhaps burnishing his intellectual bona fides, suggested the tough and brilliant Abigail Adams, the nation’s second first lady. Also, Golda Meir was off-limits.
Ted Cruz, ever the maverick and edging out the rest of the pack, said he’d leave Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill and replace Andrew Jackson with Parks. Read: Black woman unseats the seventh president, who owned hundreds of slaves. Got it.
Saving the best, which is to say the worst, for last, we come to John Kasich, who probably figured you can’t ever lose by bringing up Mother Teresa. Except, sir, for this time. Who ever would think of putting the face of this woman, whose singular purpose was helping the poorest with the currency of God’s grace, on a $10 bill? Perhaps only a man who thinks he has been chosen by God, as Kasich has expressed in so many words, and who routinely bullies his opposition by suggesting that they’re not Christian enough.
If Kasich was angling for a photo op with the pope or a handle on the Catholic vote, he badly missed the mark.
See? Following the money really does get you where you need to go.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.