Saturday, September 27, 2008
With McCain having decided that it might be a good idea after all for the president to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, the first debate of the election season is now in the record books. Everybody's offering post-debate analysis, so here's mine.
First, as with so many debates in recent years, the first thing we seem to obsess over is, "who won?" I've never understood that. It's political punditry for people with MTV attention spans, focusing on some imaginary number of points scored while forgetting all about the details of everything that was said.
Last night's debate was a good one for both candidates, though I doubt anything said changed anyone's mind. Obama and McCain were both solid, and the points, counter-points and fact-twisting seemed evenly divided. Both candidates pointed out they were wearing bracelets in honor of a fallen soldier, proving the line between compassion and demagoguery can be a thin one indeed. Kudos to Jim Lehrer for repeating questions when they weren't answered the first time, something most political reporters seem unwilling to do.
Thursday's vice-presidential debate should be as cynically entertaining as it will be informative. It will be the longest Gov. Palin has been exposed to those pesky questions without her script. After her less-than-impressive (a nicer phrase than "occasionally insipid") performance in her interview with Katie Couric, it should be interesting to see how she manages against the formidable debating skills of Sen. Biden. (My son's recent comment on the previous post said it better than I could ever hope to. I'd written at first about Palin that only time would tell if she would stand up under closer scrutiny. His elegantly concise response: "Time told. :-(" )If nothing else, we can keep ourselves amused by counting how many times she says you can see Russia from Alaska while claiming to have opposed the "Bridge to Nowhere." At first I had thought her candidacy would, if nothing else, give credibility to wearing glasses, the way Ronald Reagan once made it fashionable to wear brown suits in the business environment. Now that we're getting to know more about her, even that's not working out.
A final thought as we prepare to watch the remaining debates. Around this time of the election season, we frequently hear how most people who watched the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates on television said that Kennedy won, and that most who listened to it on the radio said that Nixon won. I wasn't there, or at least wasn't listening at the tender age of 1, but I can accept it as probably true. What I don't accept is the point people usually are trying to make when they bring it up, that Kennedy's "win" was due primarily to his good looks. I don't know about you, but when I'm hiring someone for an important job, I don't just want to hear what he's saying. I think it's just as important to see his eyes when he's saying it. Think of serving on a jury and only hearing what a witness is saying. Now think of how much more you have to work with if you get to see him saying it. I don't expect this will put that Kennedy-Nixon thing to rest because people seem to like it too much. It's just something we may want to consider as we make an important decision we're going to have to live with for a long time.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Thanks for your patience with the time between posts, folks. I could say I'm going to make sure I do better in the future, but we all know better than that.
I love this time of every four years. It's the time when people of all political persuasions get whooped up about one vice-presidential candidate or another, in preparation for forgetting they exist after the election. (Ok, Dick "five draft deferments" Cheney has achieved the same infamy as his boss, which itself is no mean feat, but that's the exception.)
There's Sarah Palin, of course (more on her in a moment), but before that was the selection of Joe Biden and the criticism from the right that his selection signals a lack of self-confidence in Obama. That criticism - which, like most extreme criticism by either side, gets the partisans energized but ultimately falls apart after, say, five seconds of thought - appears to suggest some kind of new business model: show how confident you are in your leadership abilities by bringing only unqualified yes-men into your organization. After eight years of that very thing, you'd think they'd have learned by now. Who was Obama supposed to pick, a latter-day Dan Quayle?
Palin herself is an interesting choice for McCain. A great public speaker - Obama's good, but so far Palin looks like the best of the four - with a zip and charm ideal for the age of sound bite logic. (The two biggest applause points in John McCain's nomination acceptance speech were his first mention of Sarah Palin, and when she came out at the end. What are we saying here?) Will she hold up under scrutiny? Time will tell, and we'll learn more about her and the others as the campaign rolls on. Handlers are already moaning that she's the only one not getting privileged treatment from the media. Perhaps what Phil Gramm meant to say a few weeks ago was "we've become a party of whiners." I'm not sure it would have gotten him into any less trouble, but at least it would have addressed this point.
My take to date on Palin is this: she's presents herself well, is not afraid to make decisions, and has packed a lot of executive experience into a fairly short time. Plus, she's a woman, as the photo-ops with Mrs. Bush and Mrs. McCain remind us. And remind us. And let's not forget this one: frame it how you will, all these admirable personal attributes have been, and will continue to be, used to push the same old mean-spirited right-wing agenda that has been such a big part of getting us into the current mess. A colorful personality doesn't change that. She was suggested to McCain by Newt Gingrich, for heaven's sake. What does that tell you?
Yes, I know. Palin-McCain, sorry, I meant McCain-Palin, say they're about change. But - campaign-season emotions notwithstanding - hasn't experience taught us that "change" would just be code for a new, slightly modified mean-spirited right wing agenda? Sometimes we get so enamored with someone's plain talking style that we forget to pay attention to what they're saying.
It's ironic, then, that I'm not convinced any of this really matters. History has shown us that at the final moment people vote for a presidential candidate, not for a running-mate. Everyone remembers Lloyd Bentson leaving Dan Quayle speechless with his "You're no John Kennedy" punch, arguably still the most famous remark made in any debate, ever. (I didn't say most important. I said most famous.) It was strong stuff. And come election day, the ticket Quayle was on won, and the ticket Bentson was on was never seen or heard from again.