Posts Tagged ‘debates’

A good friend of mine, who knows her stuff upsidedown and backwards, criticized the tone of the incoming U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on issues of poverty and humanitarian relief.  Her argument, including a link to Rice’s article, can be found here.  It’s worth reading, but I strongly disagree with it.  I was going to post my counter-argument as a comment on her blog, but it was a bit long and I had no other content for today, so I’ve put it here instead.  So go check out her argument, and here’s my response: (more…)

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Palin’s debate strategy was dog-whistle white rural populism. Pure and simple Nixon playbook. Worked for him, worked for Reagan (Philadelphia and the welfare queens, set in the context of a long, racist record.) Race is significant but it isn’t everything: Bush Sr. could pull off the racism but couldn’t fake folksy next to Bubba Clinton. It’s a 2-part game essentially:

1) I am like you

2) They are not like us

The first part is the aw-shucks shit-kickin’ Where I’m from stuff. For the second part, they’ve added religion to the Obama equation to create a sort of compound Nation of Islam slash black liberation theology slash atheist character; (no one said it was internally coherent.)

Here’s a clarification: This approach is different from economic populism. Why? Economic populism can be translated directly into policy. Whether you agree or disagree with the arguments, saying CEO’s make too much money or that oil companies don’t need tax cuts is policy-translatable. If you talk about the middle class in your home town in terms of putting pay caps in the bailout or changing the tax structure, you can campaign on those details. And it’s a fair debate as to whether they’re good policies.

But this isn’t about that, this is I was born in a small town for everyday hard-workin’ ‘muricans from Main Street. It’s instinctively anti-intellectual, blames “eastern elites” for most everything, and features bow-tied pundits and New Yorkers unironically whining about “cosmopolitanism.” (PS this historically means “Jews.”) The leading lights of the party attack community organizers, and the party insists there’s no racial overtones even while the Pied Piper of Douchebaggery compares the profession to “thugs.”

Palin brought out I am like you in full force last night. (She didn’t bring They aren’t like us for two reasons: First, it works better in TV ads and speeches where it can’t be directly challenged; and second, obviously Biden is not the target.) So wrap yourself in a flag and a tractor for some highlights from the debate transcript:

…Joe Six-pack…

…hockey moms…

…let’s do what our parents told us…

…middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives…

…Main Streeters like me….

…great American hero General Petraeus…

… dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms…

…Oh, yeah, it’s so obvious I’m a Washington outsider….

…we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, DC….

… god bless her, her reward is in heaven, right?…

…And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people…

…my connection to the heartland of America…

…America is a nation of exceptionalism…

…I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media…

…East Coast politicians…

…average, everyday American family like mine….

I don’t know if anyone remembers this, but watching the debate I just pictured the McCain strategists sitting around a table chanting “ONE OF US! ONE OF US!” as debate preparation.

So in terms of “winners?” I think Palin held up quite well considering they’d lowered the standards to the point where, as a friend of mine said, “the only way she can ‘lose’ is to call for the extermination of the Jews.” That said, it wasn’t a game-changer. She still looked like a student who’d pulled an all-nighter prepping for comps.

As for Senator Biden, he was fine. No runs, no hits, no errors. It wasn’t his debate to win or lose. He’s a known quantity, and no one would’ve tuned in to watch him debate Tim Pawlenty or Field Marshal Turkmenromney. The only unscripted moment was when he got choked up about being a single dad:

“The notion that somehow, because I’m a man, I don’t know what it’s like to raise two kids alone,’’ he said, “[that] I don’t know what it’s like to have a child you’re not sure is going to — is going to make it — I understand.’’

(Thing is, Biden has has cried before.)  The Senator was notably disciplined.  As Klein points out: While it may have been frustrating at times, it does speak well about Biden’s commitment to the ticket.)

So, summary? Palin beat expectations, but nothing consequential happened.

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On this blog I try my best to talk in an adult-like indoor voice because I think this is usually the most prodictive way to foster thoughtful discussion. The reason I did not liveblog the VP debate was because it is virtually impossible for me to be thoughtful during this type of head on political combat. I watched the spectacle at the Johnson Center–It was very reassuring to feel that the crowd was with us when my U is known for being among the most right of center in the area. The following is a disordered summation of my reaction.

  • My girl Gwen did a marvelous job. She allowed the discussion to flow organically and asked some legitimately intriguing questions, my favorite being ‘which issue have you rethought during your time in office?” I think Biden demonstrated a degree of intellectual honesty that is admirable in any person and absolutely remarkable in a politician. His answer was nuanced, detailed and a refreshing snippet in an overwhelmingly tiresome 90 minutes.
  • Palin came off as being a folksy caricature–the sort that a satirist would dream up to demonstrate the outlandishness of the country fried GOP persona (that is not a good thing). As Salon’s War Room put it: “she is very good at dropping words and phrases like ‘darn’ and ‘straight up’ and other very folksy terms that try to personalize her. Does it undermine her seriousness or does it make her more accessible? My gut says women cringe because it makes her look less serious, like she has to be cutesy and cheeky to be likeable. But I wonder if men find it attractive because of their own gender lens.”
  • Both were able to fit their talking points in rather consistently, but Biden was able to fit them in with surprising spontaneity. Palin on the other hand seemed excessively coached, repeating that loathsome tax meme ad nauseum.
  • NUMBERS. Joe Biden loves them. He used them early, often and unapologetically.
  • ISREAL. Allow me to express my ambivalence towards that whole thing. Pause. Thank you.
  • There are venues where winking is appropriate–public transportation, first dates, bank heist–A vice presidential debate is not one of them.
  • Nuclear. It is really not that difficult. Do politicians think they get Mainstreet cred if they mispronounce this?
  • American Exceptionalism, Reagan, City on the Hill. Argh.
  • Joe Biden’s show of paternal emotion was a sincere and remarkably effective counter to Palin’s hockey mom rhetoric. It reminds us that women do no have a monopoly on nurturing.
  • He did not come off as a bully or over bearing. His fruitcake dense freestyles were a great contrast to the unintelligible spongecake responses offered by his opponents.
  • Also, thank you Joe for understanding the constitution, knowing the limitations of the role of the vice presidency and being willing to talk about genocide.

This was not a “game changer”, vice presidential debates never are. However, I think it did effectively propel Biden back into the national media spot light which will make his campaigning more effective overall. Also, it reminded anyone who had forgotten that this man knows his shit. Palin was not the dunce cap wearing yeehaw that Tina Fey plays on SNL, but the fact that she showed up with her mental faculties in order was simply not enough to change the narrative of her competence or turn the tide of increasingly negative public opinion.

Oh, and I almost forgot…

That’s why we say Joe Biden will cut you just for livin’.

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Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post reports:

Although the fate of tonight’s presidential debate in Mississippi remains very much up in the air, John McCain has apparently already won it — if you believe an Internet ad an astute reader spotted next to this piece in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal this morning.

“McCain Wins Debate!” declares the ad which features a headshot of a smiling McCain with an American flag background. Another ad spotted by our eagle-eyed observer featured a quote from McCain campaign manager Rick Davis declaring: “McCain won the debate– hands down.”

Screen-grab here.

Senator McCain is running for Potemkin Village Council.

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Earlier today, Elizabeth Bumiller of the evil New York Times reported:

“Senator John McCain said Wednesday that he would temporarily suspend his presidential campaign on Thursday to return to Washington to deal with the financial crisis and the $700 billion bailout package now before Congress.”

Mavericky stuff there, lookin’ all post-partisan. But wait, there’s more!

“Mr. McCain said he told Senator Barack Obama that he was asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to postpone the debate scheduled for Friday night.”

These debates are long-planned, long-prepared events. The financial crisis is here today, it’ll be here tomorrow, and if we’re lucky for the rest of our lives. McCain called this a matter of “patriotism;” by now we should know not to trust any Republican wearing a flag. Postponing the debate over the weekend is a shallow ploy to appear statesmanlike while diverting attention away from a floundering campaign. A McCain campaign source noted:

– McCain called Obama before he made the statement and told him he was going to suspend his campaign and move back to DC until the economic crisis has been figured out.
– McCain wants to create “a political free zone” until a deal is reached between now and Monday.

Given the campaign’s inability to manage Palin properly, their decreasingly coherant blame-the-media strategy, and their recent Wall Street problem…

(Pew Poll, September 23)

(Pew Poll, September 23)

…it wasn’t surprising to hear them calling for an urgent political moratorium. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell quotes the McCainiacs’ hysteria:

“[McCain advisors] deny that there is a political calculation in this and say without action the country could slide into a Depression by Monday and added “we’ll see 12 percent unemployment” if action is not completed.”

Our economy has apparently sunk so low that a 90 minute Presidential debate on Friday night could double the unemployment rate. Ben Smith over at Politico questions the urgency, noting: “The only thing that’s changed in the past 48 hours is the public polling.”

And Obama? “No dice:”

“The debate is on,” a senior Obama campaign official told ABC News.

Assuming the debate remains on, (and I’d put my $1 on it,) McCain will at least suspend his ads. What this has to do with anything is beyond me. Senator McCain isn’t writing the ads himself, nor spending any personal time planning them instead of dealing with financial policy. This too-cute-by-half gambit reaffirms McCain’s motive: A temporary stop to the campaign bleeding, rather than an actual solution to the financial crisis.

Obama could pull his ads as well, if he wants to match McCain charade for facade. (*I’m aware it don’t rhyme.) Alternately, Obama could release a statement explaining that the campaigns themselves are absolutely central to America’s financial future, while hammering on a “failure of conservatism” narrative. Friday’s debate is on foreign policy, so let’s expand it beyond war-gaming. Let’s have a talk about free trade. Let’s have a talk about the interconnectivity of international markets. Let’s have a talk about blowing American taxpayer money to save foreign banks.

Bring. It. On.

Update: The reviews are in and they’re horrible:

First poll results are trickling out.  The very good Survey-USA asked:

“The first debate between John McCain and Barack Obama is scheduled to take place in two days. Should the debate be held as scheduled? Should the debate be held, but the format changed to focus on the economy? Or, should the debate be postponed?”

And the results:

Held as scheduled:  50%

Held with focus on economy:  36%

Postponed:  10%

Not sure:  4%

Nor are Americans buying the campaign suspension gimmick.  Question:

“Is the right response to the turmoil on Wall Street to suspend the campaigns for president? To continue the campaigns as though there is no crisis? Or, to re-focus the campaigns with a unique emphasis on the turmoil on Wall Street?”


Suspend campaigns:  14%

Continue campaign:  31%

Re-focus the campaign:  48%

Not sure:  7%

My unscientific guess is that the wording may have pushed some people both towards the “re-focus” answer and away from the “continue” response; the former because it sounds nice (“unique emphasis”) and the latter because it sounds dismissive and naive (“as though there is no crisis.”)  Consistant, though, is the fact that less than one in eight Americans are buying McCain’s used car.

(S-USA polled 1,000 people, margin of error 3.2%.  Crosstabs here.)

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The campaigns are currently wrapping up negotiations on format for the upcoming Presidential debates.  The New York Times reports:

“The Obama and McCain campaigns have agreed to an unusual free-flowing format for the three televised presidential debates which begin Friday, but the McCain camp fought for and won a much more structured approach for the questioning at the vice-presidential debate, advisers to both campaigns said Saturday.”

The McCain campaign hopes that a tighter format with shorter Q&A segments than in the Presidential debates will prevent Palin from being exposed as utterly unqualified.  McCain’s campaign had actually requested zero time for direct exchanges between the candidates, but were rebuffed.

The format was negotiated by Lindsey Graham for the GOP and Rahm Emannuel for the Democrats.  Apparantly the process was civil:

“The negotiations for the three 90-minute debates between the men at the top of the tickets were largely free of brinksmanship. Neither side threatened to pull out, and concerns about camera angles and stagecraft were minor.”

The campaigns have settled on a final format:

“Now the candidates will be asked a question, each will give an answer of two minutes or less, and then they will mix it up for five additional minutes before moving on to the next question in the same format.”

Good for them.  They’ve set the stage for an elaborate kabuki performance.  The recent history of Presidential debates is a testimony to cash-washed corporatism, institutional arrogance, and bipartisan efforts to stage-manage all spontaneity out of existence.  Let’s begin:

Through 1984, Presidential debates were run by the non-partisan League of Women Voters.  The League selected debate panelists and submitted them for approval to the campaigns.  For the first debate in 1984, Reagan and Mondale vetoed nearly 100 proposed panelists.  The League publicly criticized both campaigns for “totally abusing the process,” and for the second debate, neither campaign rejected any of the first proposed panelists.

The League pushed for lively and substantive debates, and was friendly towards the inclusion of third-party candidates.  In 1980, President Carter refused to participate in a debate with both Ronald Reagan and independent candidate John Anderson.  The League insisted on Anderson’s inclusion, and when Carter didn’t play along they held a televised debate with just Reagan and Anderson.

The League of Women Voters, a respected, non-partisan organization, ensured both procedural fairness and substantive debate.  Not surprisingly, the campaigns decided to make an end-run around them.  In 1988, the Bush and Dukakis campaigns agreed on a secretly-negotiated Memorandum of Understanding settling all terms including the panel selection process, the makeup of the audience, and (best of all!) banning follow-up questions.  When the campaigns released their agreement to the public, the League accused them of “fraud on the American voter” and withdrew their support.  What followed?

The freshly-created Commission on Presidential Debates.  The CPD is a non-profit corporation led by former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees.  Fahrenkopf and Kirk are also, respectively, a casino lobbyist and trustee of the Free Enterprise Foundation and a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.  As Sourcewatch notes, CPD’s 9 board members collectively serve on the boards of over 30 corporations; and 5 are partners in corporate law firms.

The CPD mediates the discussions between the campaigns and enforces the terms of the settlement, as well as providing a veneer of independence.  There should, however, be no doubt about who’s in charge.  In 1992, the Bush Sr. and Clinton campaigns were both OK with wanted Perot and so he was invited.  In 1996, neither Dole nor Clinton wanted him; Dole feared losing votes to Perot, and Clinton, who had a massive lead, wanted the debates to be as much of a “non-event” as possible.  The campaigns agreed, and their secretly-negotiated memorandum excluded Perot despite his having won a surprising 19% in the previous election.  (If there’s any doubt about the importance of being in debates, consider that Perot was at only 7% in 1992 before he got on stage with Bush and Clinton.)

Other candidates have also been excluded despite meeting a variety of impressive benchmarks.  In 2000, Pat Buchanan had qualified for $12 million in public funding and was left off the stage.  Ralph Nader was also denied despite being on the ballot in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  The process is simple:  The two major parties agree to keep the debates to themselves, and CPD legitimizes this by setting arbitrarily high “objective” standards for inclusion.  After 1992, CPD decided that candidates would require a 15% average in public polling in order to be invited.  This is prohibitive — as noted, Ross Perot spent millions of dollars of his own money and was only at 7% before being brought into the debates and shooting to almost 20%.  The 15% requirement is a self-fulfilling prophecy by which third-party candidates are denied public exposure, subsequently fail to improve their poll numbers, and then are excluded again on the logic of their poor poll numbers. As the Open Debates organization notes:

“A 15 percent criterion applied to all the presidential debates of the twentieth century would have excluded every third party candidate except for Congressman John Anderson, who participated in televised Republican primary debates. A five percent criterion applied to all previous presidential debates would have excluded every third-party candidate, except for John Anderson and Ross Perot. In fact, so formidable are the barriers to third party voices, a two percent criterion applied to all previous presidential debates would have included only three third-party candidates: John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and Ralph Nader in 2000.”

Who cares?  Third parties have no Congressional representation and little to no party organization.  Who would want a few more cranks up on stage with the big boys?

“UTICA, New York – More than half of likely voters nationwide – 55% – want Republican-turned-Libertarian Bob Barr to participate in presidential debates this fall, while nearly half – 46% – said they think Ralph Nader should be allowed into the on-stage fray, the latest Zogby Interactive polling shows.”

Oh. And we’ve been through this before:

“Seventy-six percent of registered voter supported Ross Perot’s inclusion in the 1996 debates, and 64 percent wanted Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan included in the 2000 presidential debates.”

Obviously the American public wants to see these guys.  Wouldn’t this be a better metric than asking third-party candidates to magically poll 15 percent before they’ve had the money or airtime required to introduce themselves to the public?  It’s not like the masses are begging to see a half-dozen nobodies; Bob Barr is a well-known former Congressman, and he’s barely over 50%; Nader is a consumer hero who’s done this before, including filling Madison Square Garden, and he’s still missing the threshhold.

Defenders of the status quo argue that since there are over 200 candidates, allowing more into the debates would lead to anarchy in the UK and dogs and cats living together.  As noted though, very few of them will actually be able to garner a majority demand for inclusion.  Other criteria also exist that are both fair enough to expand the debate and restrictive enough to keep things reasonable:

“How many [candidates] were on enough state ballots to mathematically have a chance to capture the White House? In 1988, only two third-party candidates, in 1992 only three third-party candidates, in 1996 only four third-party candidates, in 2000 only five third-party candidates, and in 2004 only four third-party candidates were on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority.”

While 6 or 7 could be too many people on stage at once, some combination of ballot presence and public demand requirements would keep the numbers down to a couple of third-party candidates in addition to the usual suspects.

The current system stifles the style of the debates.  All audience members are screened to allow only “soft” supporters or undecideds.  (Ah, the ridiculous cult of the undecided voter…)  All these softies, who agree to sit totally silent for 90 minutes, pre-submit their questions on index cards.  In 2004, the “extended debate” portion of questions was limited to 30 seconds.  Chew on that a moment.  In selecting the leader of the free world, we limit the extended debate time to the length of a soap commercial.  This isn’t a debate; it’s a bi-partisan press conference.

And who pays for this crap?  In 2004,

“three airlines, a cable television network, a company that helps businesses and governments outsource information technology, and the self-crowned king of the beer-making business, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., which also sponsored several other debates in previous years.”

Bill Moyers elaborates:

“1992: AT&T, Atlantic Richfield, Dun & Bradstreet, Ford Motor Company, Hallmark, IBM, J.P. Morgan, Philip Morris, Prudential. 1996: Anheuser Busch, Dun & Bradstreet, Lucent Technologies, Philip Morris, Sara Lee, Sprint. In 2000, Anheuser Busch, US Airways, 3Com.”

No wonder you literally didn’t hear the word “corporation” in any of 3 debates in 2000, nor anything whatsoever about NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, the drug war, homelessness, or organized labor.  While the public at home doesn’t see this, there’s a reason Moyers describes these as “corporate carnivals.”  George Farah, author of No Debate, explains:

FARAH: Yes. If you attend a debate site what you see are huge Anheuser Busch tents. Anheuser Busch girls in skimpy outfits and they’re passing out beer and they’re passing out pamphlets that denounce beer taxes. You have giant posters of the various corporate sponsors also passing out other materials that are promoting their goods, their products and their political issues.

MOYERS: The public at home never sees this.

FARAH: Oh, they never see this. These are the corporations who are primarily paying for the debates that tens of millions of Americans are watching. And they get to bring their clients to debate sites, entertain them. They bring them to a nice suite. And they take them to the debates and sit in the front rows of these presidential debate forums. They get tax deductions for their major contributions to the Commission on Presidential Debates.

And when I asked Frank Farenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, whether he thought it was okay for beer and tobacco companies to be hosting and sponsoring these presidential debates, he said, “Boy, you are talking to the wrong guy. I’m a lobbyist for the gambling industry.”

Frank Farenkopf, two points for honesty.

Fortunately, there are some good guys in the story.  The recently-created Citizens’ Debate Commission features such ideological rivals as Mark Weisbrot, Tony Perkins, Randall Robinson, and Paul Weyrich.  The Debate Commission has a great set of demands:

  1. Follow-up questions must be permitted in every debate.
  2. At least one debate must include candidate-to-candidate questioning.
  3. At least two debates must include rebuttals and surrebuttals.
  4. Response times must not be overly restrictive.
  5. Candidates may only exercise a limited number of vetoes concerning the selection of moderators and panelists.


  1. Two single moderator debates: The single moderator format focuses attention on the candidates, rather than on the questioners. A least one of the single moderator debates would include direct candidate-to-candidate questioning, loose time restrictions and minimal interference from the moderator.
  2. Authentic town-hall debate: An authentic town-hall debate would be organized that prohibits the screening of questions and includes a representative sampling of Americans in the audience.
  3. Youth debate: The first-ever youth-run and youth-oriented presidential debate would be established. Young people are increasingly dismayed by and detached from electoral politics. A youth debate could inspire millions of young adults to tune into the presidential debates, raise atypical subject matters for national discourse, and prevent the candidates from anticipating many debate questions.
  4. Panel debate: Historically, panel debates have allowed educated reporters to question the candidates’ policy plans and backgrounds. But rather than the panel consisting exclusively of reporters, the Citizens’ Debate Commission would assemble a diverse panel of academic, civic, artistic, religious, media, labor and business leaders to ask questions.

The Open Debate people are good.  Help them.  We don’t need any more of this Potemkin garbage.

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Dylan Rebuttal

To start, the quote “I can’t forgive him for his treatment of women. Everyone forgives him, but I can’t.” was actually meant for Woody Allen. I acknowledge that on the scale of things Allen’s sexism trumps Dylan’s with ease. I do believe that the first is hilarious and the second is a talented writer, but I simply can not help having apprehension about their work due to the sexist elements. Mischa did a good job refuting my here argument and during our 4 hours loitering at Kramer’s. He might have won anyone else over–But my dislike of Bob Dylan stems from an irrational place. So really all I have to say for myself is Fuck Bob Dylan.

Ahem. Have a lovely day.

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