Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debate bias

I like Obama.  What can I say?  You can give me all kinds of reasons to think otherwise, but I’m betting I’ve heard them and they haven’t worked.  So when I watch a spectacle like last night’s second round of the Presidential Debate season, I’m not really coming to the event with an open mind.  I’m biased.  Here’s the thing, though.  I think Obama’s earned it.

Romney could have earned it.  He’s had six years and he was once the kind of moderate Republican I admired.  The mind-your-business kind.  Now he’s not.  Obama, on the other hand, has become the kind of moderate Republican I admired.  The practical, thoughtful, mind-your-business kind.  I think if more Republicans pulled out of the groupthink and were honest with themselves, if they could divorce themselves from the ‘us against them’ philosophy that drives much America’s political culture (or American culture, period) they would realize this guy is not an alien socialist sleeper-cell agent. 

All of which made last night’s debate interesting.  Romney says, given the ingredients of last four years, he would’ve made better sauce.  Perhaps.  We’ll never know, ‘cuz there’s no such thing as a do-over.  The next four years are going to bring new set of challenges.  Watching the candidates deal with surprise questions, unscripted responses and each other, I simply liked Obama better.  I was not born leaning his way.  He’s pulled me over.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Martha Speaks

That’s how you run a debate.  Last night’s Vice-Presidential spectacle shows the value of a strong, intelligent and demanding moderator.  A moderator is not a human stack of conversation starters.  A good moderator fosters actual debate, mitigating the 21st century style oral scrap booking.  “I’ve memorized this fact, I paste it here.  I’ve got make this point, I’ll paste it there.”  Martha Raddatz did all this because she spoke.  She asked questions and then – here’s the best part – she asked follow-ups.  Or, in some cases, asked the damn question again because it didn’t get answered.

A lot of time was spent on foreign affairs.  Not the heartbeat of this political season, but welcomed.  Foreign affairs are actually where the president has the most power and can make the biggest differences.  Americans tend to be preoccupied with budgets, deficits and taxes. Constitutionally speaking, those are the matters of Congress.  Not to belittle a call from the executive branch, or to ignore veto ability, but the fact is, anyone can suggest a fiscal plan.  Congress handles matters of finance.  The President handles matters of state and it deserves more attention that this election (most elections) provides.  Again, thanks Martha.

There are no winners or losers in these things.  There is no score keeping.  It is actually a shame the so much attention is given to tone, body posture, Twitter trends and quips.  A debate that’s healthy for country should illuminate the questions before the voters.  Cleverness and temperament  - they help illuminate character - are important.  They are also quite secondary.  Martha marshaled the debate that way, balancing the relative important of substance and style quite nicely. 

Part of me wondered during the debate if the gentlemen, being gentlemen, responded better to a woman cutting them off or prodding them in a new direction.  She wasn’t perceived as a third combatant.  Then I decided no.  Martha was just, plain great.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Non-debate

I debated in high school and college.  While I liked the format of 2012’s first presidential debate, this one didn’t really follow many (any?) of the protocols associated with a formal contest.

Because this wasn’t a contest. Anyone who uses “game on” or “game-changer”, anyone who talks about winners and losers or tries to score the event is doing the country a disservice and should be forced to recite the preamble to the constitution.  This is not a game.  The more politics is referred to as sport, the more combative, counterproductive and partisan it’s going to get.  And ‘more’ tough to imagine. 

What we did get last night was kind of depressing.  Neither the President nor Gov. Romney confronted fundamental truths of the office and it made for a circuitous and unsatisfying exchange.

Romney said he will cut taxes and lower the deficit and this will result in jobs.  We can all eat our cake and have it too.  All we have to do is cut loopholes.  But the loopholes aren’t big enough and it’s not something a president is empowered to do in the first place.  Congress makes these decisions and they ain’t good at closing gaps.  So it’s a lie.  The flip side of Obama’s lie.

Obama maffled because he couldn’t talk to the American public about what it’s really like to be president.  Mitch McConnell stated at the outset of Obama’s term that the number one job of the Republican party was to make sure Obama didn’t get re-elected.  They blocked everything.  Even things they never blocked before.  The President never stood and said, ‘hey it’s a miracle I got anything done.’  These guys wouldn’t even vote for a Republican health care plan or Republican deficit reduction.  He had to lie by omission so as not to look weak.  He knows, just like Mitt does, the executive branch can, in the end, only execute.  If congress does nothing, there’s not much for the other branches to do either.

What we saw last night was two men talking around the myth of the presidency.  That it is somehow filled with fiat.  That the most powerful person in the world has a great deal of power.  The office doesn’t and that’s the real fib both avoided last night leaving us with a debate that wasn’t much of one at all.

If this were highschool, both these guys would've been disqualified.