The December 15 Fox News debate in Iowa was refreshing and points to better things.

With many Republicans and conservatives feeling somewhat dispirited about the course of the debates throughout the Fall, and about the many stumbles of GOP candidates, this one seemed to open a new and more positive chapter in the nomination process.

After a string of debates marred by silly sideshows like Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet offer and Rick Perry’s ‘brain freeze’, this one went relatively smoothly.

And it shows that the old adage that “practice makes perfect” indeed is true. The candidates sounded and looked vigorous and sharp in their answers and appeared focused on making bold and assured statements.

They showed once again that any one of them would be an infinitely better president than Obama. And if this keeps up we conservatives can breathe easier and expect a Republican in the White House in January 2013.

While there were expected barbs and challenges among the candidates, the seven debaters were relatively genteel, controlled and positive and seemed to be generally hewing to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican”.

This is progress. After all, Obama is the target. And has contended repeatedly that these candidates should routinely include attacks on Obama in their debate answers and in all of their media appearances. This is to lay the groundwork to take on this president in the general election over his utter failure to lead.

In fact several of the candidates’ comments were direct assaults on Obama, which is what these debates have needed more of in place of gratuitous strikes on one another. “Timidity and weakness invite aggression,” Mitt Romney said about Obama’s approach to the downed drone aircraft in Iran, the incident in which Obama politely asked for the drone back.

“A foreign policy based on ‘pretty please’? You have got to be kidding me!” Romney added.

Good. This is kind of ongoing commentary that our side needs that not only stakes out “our” position but highlights Obama’s weakness. Reagan would be proud of Romney who also said, “We have a president, again, who doesn’t understand how the economy works.”

And Romney again stressed his private-sector credentials and highlighted Obama’s lack thereof. This will be key if Romney is the nominee. The economy is going to be the central issue in the 2012 election. Romney should repeat and repeat his message, as he seems to be doing. And he must calmly explain basic economics to the voters, something Obama is misleading Americans about every day.

Newt Gingrich looked and sounded strong in many of his comments. And this reminded conservatives once again that Gingrich is smart.

But the other side of the Gingrich candidacy came out too. The gloves came off when Michele Bachmann questioned whether there was a difference between “consulting” and “lobbying”, a reference to Gingrich’s firm taking a $1.6 million consulting fee from Freddie Mac. Gingrich then went on to both praise and criticize agencies like Fannie and Freddie, which smacks of political treachery.

Gingrich even praised such government-sponsored enterprises like electric cooperatives and credit unions which seemed strangely at odds with his stance of being reliably conservative. This little tidbit points up Gingrich’s problem with consistency, which has dogged him as his past statements have been dredged up.

These questions for Gingrich are fair game. He continues to be a controversial figure. And with his polls falling somewhat after his spectacular rise, you can rest assured that his future is far from inevitable.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman talked boldly about the adoption of a flat income tax in his state. This is the kind of “experiment” in the “laboratory” of state governments that can ‘trickle up’ to the federal level. This is completely positive and is the type of leadership and political creativity that Americans are looking for in these troubled times. Such ideas once would have been dismissed. But no longer.

Rick Perry is getting better with his debating skills and may rise again in the polls. This is good to see. He spoke eloquently about the 10th Amendment and states’ rights to pursue their own policies, dovetailing with Huntsman and the flat tax. He also spoke well about making a part-time US Congress that meets like the Texas legislature does, “140 days every other year”.

Wow. This is the kind of blunt talk that the country needs and that the Republicans now are offering in more refined debate performances. Perry was tough on illegals and Fast and Furious, while several of the candidates expressed unequivocal support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Michele Bachmann even said outright that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “need to be shut down”. She called Fannie and Freddie a “scam”. Excellent. She is right. And it is time to bring this issue out into the open.

And this type of language should buoy conservatives who see the dire need for major reforms. Never before in the last 100 years have we heard this kind of talk about our bloated government. Times are changing. This debate proves it.

Rick Santorum was, as usual, rational and conservative. He talked about his personal involvement with a successful Iowa movement to recall three judges who had voted in homosexual marriage in the state. This is the type of hands-on involvement in the political process that the Tea Parties represent.

This came in contrast to another proposal by Newt Gingrich that has made news, in which judges could be reviewed by legislative panels over their decisions. While Gingrich cited Thomas Jefferson’s dismissal of 18 of 35 federal judges, the point may seem distant and bizarre to people concerned about the economy, and perhaps another example of “zany” Newt, as he was recently characterized by Romney. Conservatives, however, may see Gingrich’s proposal as a timely idea to rein in activist judges.

At this point in 1979, it is important to remember that Ronald Reagan was being predicted to be a sure loser by a wide margin to incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter in the November 1980 election.

But considering that many polls today show a Republican candidate beating Obama already, and considering the high level of debate in Iowa, it seems that these Republicans finally are getting the memo, to stop bickering and start fighting the real enemy – Obama and the radical Democrats.

A final note: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are exceptional candidates. They are not polling well and are not likely to get the nomination. But they are two bright lights in the conservative movement. Bachmann’s performances are improving with each outing and she is obviously getting a lot of experience in this run. And her’s and Santorum’s personal lives are models for us all. We conservatives admire them both and know that we will see them many, many times down the road as our movement re-ascends.

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