Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Debating the Debates

"Meet me in Ohio and let's have a debate?"
Both candidates looked presidential. Is it chauvinistic for me to say that I thought Hillary particularly seemed to have better make-up and hair-do? What's the word? Coiffed? I'll go on to say I think Hill looked especially competent and professional. I'd call it a board-room demeanor. If I didn't have a better candidate in mind for president, I'd definitely flip over voting for her.

However, there is the little problem of Clinton's facial expression when she finds herself stuck listening to Obama. If Al Gore's impatient sneer(s) at Bush in the 2000 debates were self-destructive,
Clinton's smirk in these debates should not serve her well in 2008. I don't think she can do anything about it. It appears to be a naturally frozen smirky-smile. Whether she ascends to the White House or returns to the Senate in 2009, I would certainly hope for a thaw. Obama, OTOH, sports a totally intense, serious, attentive expression. I'd call it a courtroom poker face. Intensity is what it communicates.

On the whole, over the range of 20 or so debates, Clinton's personality seems to gyrate erratically between the good cop-bad cop, but the same unflappable Obama shows up every damned day.

Do candidates have to denounce, renounce, disavow, and/or reject the support of dissonant politically incorrect voices? (All those terms should have quotes around them because their meaning is clear only in the mind of the speaker.) I suppose so, to keep the level of discourse at a certain level of propriety. They're probably meaningless, anyway. Whether Obama 'denounces' or 'rejects' Farrakhan, for who are the latter's supporters more likely to vote? Will they be alienated enough to vote for Hillary? McCain? But I guess, it's right to denounce unwholesome supporters. McCain's rejection of Cunningham yesterday is a case in point. The best you can hope for McCain is for him to 'disavow' Cunningham.

The motives or the moderators are suspect. What does CNN call this season? The Election Bowl? I suppose any measure is justified to get Americans to pay more attention to their politics. If this means that political campaigns have to be presented as sports events, then it may be worth it. Indeed, it was said in the post-game discussion that no touchdowns had been scored: only field goals.

Spin-meisters are definitely into cheerleading and handicapping in order to get the losing side to stage a 'come-back'. Anything to keep the contest alive and ratings flowing. But debates make political campaigns less than the proverbial horse race and more like a prize fight. There's the jargon: punch, jab, guard up, etc. That's one thing but the moderators go a little further than merely refereeing the fight. They play into the role of fight managers, during the weigh in. Opening questions seem to be calculated to evoke, if not 'smack-talk', then definitely fighting words. Russert, especially, sees his role not as proposing candidates address the burning issues facing our nation. Rather, he'd rather see if he can produce headlines by exposing either candidate to some skin-breaking wounds. If his questions can draw blood, so much the better for future ratings. Even better, if there's still blood in the water following the debate.

What did the most attentive viewers learn from last night?
  • Clinton regrets (deeply), and is sorry (sort of) her Oct 2002 vote authorizing Bush's unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
  • Obama regrets not having made a stand in the Senate against the resolution that allowed that august body to insinuate itself in the Terri Schavo case.
  • Obama put his obligatory pro-Israel statement up on the score board, in case anyone was in doubt.
At this point in the year, I'm not sure further debates serve any purpose. We were supposed to have wasted the opening 17 minutes last night on hair-splitting clarifications on two hypothetical health care reform plans, sans Congressional varnishing. Likewise on NAFTA: who said what and when on that? These cannot be rendered meaningful through debate. Not to me anyway: everything seemed to come down to which state newspaper endorsed which candidate's version.

I don't know. I biggest concern is that these debates just produce a lot of sound-bites the Repugs can use against the Dems later. Trust Russert to see that that's the case. I think we should all take the pledge to boycott watching all further debates until the McCainster is dragged into them by his short hairs. Americans deserve to see what he's got.

11 Moderated Comments:

Anonymous Rose said...

Addressing "Hillary's board-room demeanor", Maureen Dowd:

Hillary was so busy trying to prove she could be one of the boys — getting on the Armed Services Committee, voting to let W. go to war in Iraq, strong-arming supporters and donors, and trying to out-macho Obama — that she only belatedly realized that many Democratic and independent voters, especially women, were eager to move from hard-power locker-room tactics to a soft-power sewing circle approach.

Less towel-snapping and more towel color coordinating, less steroids and more sensitivity.

Business schools have begun teaching the value of a less autocratic leadership style, with an emphasis on behavior women excel at: reading emotions and social interactions, making eye contact and expressing empathy.


Not in vogue with the board room, is she?

2/27/2008 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

I was reading how Crowd Size in Ohio and Texas Influences Press Coverage, and Votes in Obama's favor. And it reminded my reading of a Harry Truman biography which related his 1948 re-election campaign. The press was owned lock, stock, and barrel by the Republicans. His campaign was totally ignored. Unlike on the Dewey campaign, there was no national press corps on his train. Train stops in the little burgs were covered only by the local press- because crowds would turn out for them. Some one was quoted that it was hard to find the GOP crowds, because there was no one there. But the crowds grew at HST's train stops, dramatically, as the campaign continued. Finally the national press could ignore HST no longer. Truman upset Dewey.

Write this off as the wisdom of the crowds?

2/27/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Indicted Plagiarist said...

Lisa Gans (Huffington Post) is a human rights lawyer who has worked with non-governmental organizations in Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Swalizand and Iraq:

The claim that Barack Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy is a red herring. Having served for two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has more on-the-job foreign policy experience than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Ronald Regan did when they took office. And his experience came during the post 9/11 era. The experience Hillary Clinton touts from her White House years is from an outdated period in history, and her vote on the Iraq war demonstrates that her judgment in the current environment is not sound. She was wrong about what may prove to be one of the most key foreign policy decisions of our time, and for years, has been unable or unwilling to recognize her error and move forward. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Obama was right about the war, but has tried, as he said last night, to work with others to drive George Bush's bus out of the proverbial ditch and turn the focus back to Afghanistan. He had this clarity even when he was a state senator. By Hillary Clinton's own account, George Bush fooled her, but, given the same information, Obama came to a different conclusion and spoke out against the Iraq war at the time and has continued to focus on fighting those in Afghanistan who were responsible for the September 11th attacks.

If Obama is elected, I will be safer, more likely to be shown respect as an American and more likely to succeed in democracy-building in Afghanistan. In my mind, that makes Barack Obama the strongest candidate for president in the realm of international affairs.

2/28/2008 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Here's what I mean about Barack looking over Hillary's shoulders, not waiting for her concession speech, beginning to campaign against McCain:

“I've got some news for John McCain, that is there was no such thing Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade.

“I've got some news for John McCain. I've got some news for John McCain. He took us into a war, along with George Bush that should have never been authorized, never been waged. They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001. I've been paying attention John McCain!

"John McCain may like to say that he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But so far all he's done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that's cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars and that I intend to bring to an end so that we can actually start going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, like we should have been doing in the first place. That's the news John McCain!"


That's getting it on.

2/28/2008 06:40:00 AM  
Blogger Soros' Proxy said...

Digby says the moderators lost the debate:

How Do We Defeat Tim Russert?

The problem is Tim Russert and all his petty, shallow acolytes who spend all their time reading Drudge and breathlessly reporting every tabloid tidbit and sexy rumor and seeking out minor inconsistencies from years past in lieu of doing any real work.

Judging by their silly questions tonight, Russert and Williams obviously know nothing about health care policy, Iraq, Islamic terrorism, economics, global trade or any other subject that requires more than five minutes study to come up with some gotcha question or a stupid Jack Bauer fantasy. It's embarrassing.

These people guide the way citizens perceive politics even if the citizens don't know it. It's hard for me to see how anything can truly change until this is dealt with.

2/28/2008 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

Vigilante, minutes ago your president and mine was just asked at his news conference about Senator Obama's comments to McCain on Iraq.

"Interesting"

was his response.

2/28/2008 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger yogibrown said...

Well, being what some of you have labeled a "neocon", I wll say this. My issues with Obama go far beyond his inexperience in foreign policy or public leadership. He is a socialist, and I'm not. It all comes down to that, and I wish Democrats had the guts to simply admit that. He wants to take this nation into a direction I don't, higher taxes, universal healthcare and more governmental involvement in our lives. It's not an attack or an insult, it's the simple truth. I, as a conservative, want a free market and less government. Why can't we get past the personal attacks? I'm sure Obama's intentions are good and I don't think he's a n evil guy, I just have a fundemental difference of opinion on the direction of this nation. Why must the continued polarization of veiws continue to dominate the current politcal conversation?

2/28/2008 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger LittleBilly said...

Damn, I couldn't find the station and didn't remember what time it was to start, plus, my caregiver was champing at the bit to watch her game shows. So I said to hell with it and went to bed.

Really good comments here by others on an excellent blog by you, Vig.

The only thing. new I can add is that Herr Bush had a press conference this morning and one of the questioners mentioned that authorities were predicting $4 per gallon gasoline by the end of the year. Bush's presidential reply was "Is that so? I hadn't heard that," which tells you how up on things he really is. And earlier in his presentation, he was still reassuring us minions that things were having a few hard times right now, but that basically things were going well.

2/28/2008 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

Yogibrown you didn't have to tell us you were a "neocon". Us "socialists" could have figured that out all by ourselves. Clearly you are right. Look at the fine shape our country is in. We are at war, in a recession, hated by the rest of the world, unable to pay for our medical care, flooded with illegal immigrants, number forty-nine on the list of educational excellence, scientifically hamstrung by Jesus Jumpers, and on the verge of becoming a theocracy, just to name a few of our strengths. You are right Yogi! Who needs change???? Why not amend the constitution and put Dubya back in the WH for four more years. No Yogi. You didn't have to tell us you were a "neocon".

2/28/2008 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

I think we should all take the pledge to boycott watching all further debates until the McCainster is dragged into them by his short hairs. Americans deserve to see what he's got.

I wholeheartedly agree, the debates have nothing left to give. Except maybe Hillary supports looking for something to trip Obama up in and make him look bad.
But as far as McCain is concerned I'm honestly expecting Bush and his posse to engineer terrorist scares to bring national security to the forefront. That will allow McCain to come riding into any debate waving his finger that Obama would give in to terrorists.

And Yogi, you guys have had eight years to pull the conservative utopia out of your butts that Limbaugh kept saying would come when republicans had control of the government and failed. And don't give me crap about congress except for that short period after Jumping Jim y'all had control of both houses. If the last eight years is an example of good conservative government dammit I'm ready for some socialism.

2/28/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

I didn't get to see it, because I don't get MSNBC. But from everything I've heard, the Texas debate was better, because the moderation of the Ohio debate was so poor.

3/01/2008 03:06:00 PM  

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