A few quick thoughts from last night's Republican presidential debate in Orlando:
1) Once again, the GOP debate seemed to take place in a sealed vacuum, isolated from the news of the day. No comments from the major candidates about the credit crunch, housing market, falling dollar, or plunging stock market. (The anniversary of Black Monday was just two days earlier.) All of these current events provide golden opportunities to tie in the candidates' economic policies and views to people's real lives and experiences. And once again, Romney seemed to be the only guy to recognize that we're engaged in a rising global economic competition with Asia. Still, yet another debate with zero references to "productivity" or "innovation"—you know, the things that will determine our future standard of living.
2) McCain won the "Strange Quote of the Evening" award with this one-liner: "I didn't manage for profit; I led for patriotism." I can only assume that was a jab at Romney's private-sector career, a weird populist comment for a guy who declared "wealth creates wealth" at the previous GOP debate in Dearborn, Mich.
3) Romney offered up a nice wonky reference—though one that completely lost about 99 percent of the audience—to the "Pozen plan" for Social Security. (It was like he was giving a PowerPoint presentation without a laptop.) Romney was referring to a proposal advanced by Robert Pozen, a former executive at Fidelity Investments. Pozen advocates a plan in which low earners would continue to receive Social Security benefits based on wage growth while middle-class and wealthier workers would have their benefits determined by a combination of wage indexing and inflation indexing. Pozen also recommends that half of any new Social Security taxes be diverted into private retirement accounts. Again, this makes me believe that the "Grand Compromise" on Social Security will involve projected benefit cuts, higher taxes, and retirement accounts funded by new taxes. Anyway, all this stuff needs to be carefully explained, or it will be totally lost on voters.
4) The advantage of having executive experience could really be seen when comparing Fred Thompson's answer about education with that of Rudy Giuliani. Both were for expanded school choice, but Giuliani was able to embellish his answer with anecdotes and numbers from his time as mayor of New York City.