Last night's debate put on display a Republican Party that still looks like a 1950s Oldsmobile as they prepare to run against one of the hip, new hybrids coming out the multi-national car companies that now run Detroit.
Despite his troubles, President Obama looks sleek, fast and so very hip as compared the Republicans on view in Iowa. The President remains the mixed-race, son-of-an immigrant, in touch with the under 30 crowd that makes up about half of 2011 America.
It was not just the absence of dynamic people of color and women at the GOP debate that rankle young Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, working women, and immigrants. The answers coming from the candidates felt like the voice of your grandfather's GOP.
It is hearing the only woman on the stage talking about being "submissive," and "obedient."
One of the most astounding parts of the debate for me was when the moderators polled the candidates and asked if they would oppose a deficit reduction package that included government spending cuts to tax increases by a ratio of 10:1. Every single candidate on the stage raised their hand in opposition. No tax increases under any circumstances.
This puts the candidates out of step with the realities of America today, and American public opinion. As a CBS/New York Times poll from last week showed, a majority of Americans - in both political parties – want to see tax increases on the wealthiest Americans in addition to spending cuts. By taking the no-new-taxes-pledge the candidates are even in disagreement majority of the Republicans – the very people who will choose the nominee.
A review of the GOP ideas debated last night for improving on President Obama's disappointing first term reveals a patchwork of proposals that led to economic problems, antagonism towards immigrants, especially Hispanics, and indifference to the poor and seniors.
On immigration reform the candidates offered only knee-jerk, talk radio sound bites about building even bigger walls, complete with electrified barb wire – oh, that was supposed to be a joke. Do these candidates think only the most hateful, anti-immigrant bullies are listening?
Where are serious proposals about how to deal with 12 million illegal immigrants who add economic vitality, youthful energy, and transformative culture to America? What about the oppressive laws passed in Arizona to allow harassment of people who look Hispanic? How about the talented people who can’t get into this country because the immigration system is broken? Not one serious answer from the Republicans on stage last night.
These "Back to the Future" Republicans also called for supporting privatization of Medicare and Social Security. They support banning abortion and - with the exception of Ron Paul – doing nothing to reduce spending on the military-industrial complex.
One of the few substantive contributions of the evening came from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who declared, to wild applause: "Congress should come back Monday. They should repeal the Dodd-Frank bill. They should repeal Sarbanes Oxley."
Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley were arguably the two most important pieces of legislation in recent years to regulate Wall Street and punish the kind of mass fraud that tanked the world economy in 2008.
A Harris Interactive Poll from earlier this summer showed an overwhelming majority of Americans – 83% to 14% - believe recent events have shown "Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulation." The same poll found 64% of adults do not believe that what is good for Wall Street is good for the country. 31% take the opposite view.
Hours before the debate, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney was heckled by left-wing protesters at a rally in Iowa. He was tripped up over the question about taxing corporations and he shot back at the questioner: "Corporations are people, my friend."
I cannot believe the GOP wants to be seen as the reactionary party whose devotion to the failed economic theories of the past benefit the wealthy, at the expense of everyone else.
In 2012, 2016 and beyond, the electorate will be younger, more racially diverse and increasingly supportive of higher taxes on the wealthy - and tougher regulation of Wall Street.
While it is still early and there are other potential entrants to the race, I do not see how any Republican candidate pushback against the Democrats and President Obama while solely dedicated to bringing back an America that is half a century in the past.
In recent history, GOP presidential candidates have always managed to win this messaging contest, and put their Democratic opponents in a bind they are unable to escape. Ronald Reagan beat both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale with his "Morning in America" optimism. George H.W. Bush trounced Michael Dukakis by promising to keep moving America forward and bringing a "thousand points of light" into the future. George W. Bush won by tying Al Gore and John Kerry to divisive episodes of the past – the Clinton scandals and the Vietnam War, respectively.
If last night's Republican debate is any indication, Obama will have little trouble drawing a contrast with the Republican nominee in 2012.
After two hours of petulant political theatre and a seeming aversion to serious policy issues, the GOP candidates did nothing as far as I could tell to help them win the contest for a positive, forward-looking vision.
There were many factors that contributed to Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election. True, he proved to be more adept than John McCain in all of the important elements of modern presidential politics – fundraising, organization, communication and media management. But on a deeper level, he beat McCain and the GOP at their own game by becoming the candidate of aspiration, optimism and the future. Obama spoke for an inclusive, unified America as a land of opportunity for all, and with a progressive approach to problem solving.
Did you see anyone putting a GOP stamp on a forward looking message last night?
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His next book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.