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.