This election cycle was supposed to be a no-brainer.  Polls have shown for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency that the American people care most about jobs and the economy, followed by government spending.  Democrats ignored these issues for the first two years of his term and ended up losing 63 seats in the House after wasting time shoving ObamaCare down our throats and making the job-creation environment even worse.  All we needed to do in 2012 was focus like a laser on those issues and Democrats would be vacating the White House as well as the speakership.

What kind of debate have we gotten in the primary fight in this no-brainer cycle?  Brainless.

The worst example of this is the Gardasil issue in Texas.  Rick Perry’s issuance of a EO to impose the vaccine mandate is troublesome, as was his connections to Gardasil’s manufacturer Merck through one of his key aides as well as contributions to his campaigns. However, Perry has already admitted — repeatedly — that he never should have acted through an EO, and Merck was only one of his minor contributors.  It’s still fair game, but instead of just focusing on the legitimate points, we’re now watching as one candidate has demagogued this into a crusade against Government Needle.

Michele Bachmann now calls government-mandated vaccines “PerryCare,” and is fundraising by sending out messages like these, emphases mine: “To have innocent little 12-year old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.”  But in Minnesota, we have had a government mandate to vaccinate children against Hepatitis B since 1993 — a disease that is primarily spread through sexual contact or intravenous drug use.  We don’t require innocent 12-year-old girls to get the vaccine; we require all 12-month-old babies to get it:

Subdivision 1. Except as provided in subdivisions 3, 4, and 10, no person over two months old may be allowed to enroll or remain enrolled in any elementary or secondary school or child care facility in this state until the person has submitted to the administrator or other person having general control and supervision of the school or child care facility, one of the following statements:

(1) a statement from a physician or a public clinic which provides immunizations stating that the person has received immunization, consistent with medically acceptable standards, against measles after having attained the age of 12 months, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, mumps, haemophilus influenza type b, and hepatitis B; or

(2) a statement from a physician or a public clinic which provides immunizations stating that the person has received immunizations, consistent with medically acceptable standards, against measles after having attained the age of 12 months, rubella, mumps, and haemophilus influenza type b and that the person has commenced a schedule of immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and hepatitis B and which indicates the month and year of each immunization received.

Michele Bachmann served in the Minnesota Senate from 2001 to 2006, as Ben Howe notes.  She had five children growing up in Minnesota who would have had to been inoculated for Hep-B in order to attend school after the passage of the 1993 act that mandated the vaccination.  There is absolutely no record of Bachmann raising any kind of objection to innocent Minnesota children, including her own, being required to be inoculated for a disease that primarily gets transmitted through sex, IV drug use, or tattoo parlors.  Suddenly, though, she’s so horrified about mandated vaccination for sexually-transmitted diseases that she not only can’t stop talking about it, she feels compelled to pass along every anecdote she hears without bothering to check whether it has any factual basis at all.

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure American voters don’t think Government Needle is the biggest issue in their lives at the moment.

Bachmann isn’t the only one guilty of derailing the debate.  Mitt Romney decided to attack Perry over his “Ponzi scheme” rhetoric on Social Security, not too long after saying that the operation of the Social Security fund was akin to a criminal enterprise.  Did this fight highlight some dramatic difference in approach to Social Security reform?  Not really; there’s more daylight in film noir than there is between the arguments for Social Security reform from the Republican field.  Like Bachmann, he’s continuing to frighten people by attacking the idea of entitlement reform, while promising to, er, reform entitlements.

Nor is Perry blameless either.  Instead of offering a rational assessment of Fed actions, Perry took a hypothetical question about whether the Fed might try to manipulate monetary policy to help Barack Obama win another election and turned it into a call to round up the posse.  Since then, he’s dialed back the excess, but still felt compelled to defend the comment by saying he only thought it would be “almost treasonous,” which plays about as well as saying that he’s offended that someone might think he could only be bought for $5,000, prompting the question of just how much it would take.

We need a Republican debate that addresses the actual concerns of the American voter — and not just Republicans, either.  Americans watched Democrats ignore them to pursue their hobby-horse issues for two years, and threw a record number of them out of office in the midterms.  That should have been a lesson to politicians on the national stage to demonstrate some focus on jobs, the economy, and government spending.  If Republicans spend their time debating everything else but those issues and go galloping off on their own hobby horses, why should voters trust them to focus on their top issues after the election?

If this debate sticks to jobs and the economy, then Republicans win in 2012.  If it sticks to Government Needle, we’re going to lose this election, and lose it badly.