A bit of free advice to Joe Biden in his debate tomorrow with Sarah:
1. Pretend she isn't stupid -- The available video suggests Gov. Palin is actually a pretty good debater, and a master at diffusing specifics with shiny, pleasant sounding generalities. Besides, you get no points for treating her like an idiot, no matter how dumb she might sound. So no matter how absurdly general her answers, treat them seriously, and treat her like she's a serious politician, and an equal. Refer to her as "Governor," not "Sarah," and try not to make faces when she's talking that translate on television as "oh my god, what a moron!" See Katie Couric's therapist-like interview faces for reference.
2. Don't be snide -- Governor Palin isn't good at putting together complex thoughts, and she isn't in possession of a lot of words, but she does do one thing well: the snide laugh line. She'll probably have one or two zingers rehearsed for Thursday night, and when she drops them, be prepared with a snappy, but jovial, comeback. Let her come off as the nasty one.
3. Don't be a smarty-pants -- Unfortunately, Americans don't seem to like the smartest kid in the room. Even when the country is going down in flames, most prefer someone they like, to someone who seems to know more. Keep your answers short and simple, and not larded up with "I've been theres" and "I know that leaders" -- just ask John McCain. It doesn't work.
4. Don't look at her legs -- One of Palin's key strategies could be taglined, "pretty always wins." Since she's a "conservative" brand of "feminist," she's not above using her looks to her advantage. That's why she wore her hair down in the Fox News interview -- she knows that the geezers who watch that station like a little cake on their plate. And she wears skirts that highlight her lower limbs. So whatever you do, don't look down (if the debate is behind podiums, apply the same advice to her cleavage area.)
5. Don't go easy on her -- A tie goes to Ms. Palin, who will get tremendous credit from both the punditocracy and the public if she literally doesn't drool or fall on the floor. So hit the issues hard, without making it about her. Your target during the debate should be John McCain, and Palin figures in only to the extent that you can tie her beliefs and policies to his, and to the extent that her shortcomings point out HIS irresponsibility in putting her on the ticket. Let the moderator point out her dubious record and odd past performances. One exception: do use the phrase "bridge to nowhere" sometime during the 90 minutes, and feel free to point out Alaska's penchant for earmarks and pork. Those issues are relevant because they expose McCain's hypocrisy.
2. Don't count on her to stumble -- Gov. Palin will be so completely rehearsed and robotically programmed by the Rovites, she almost can't screw this thing up. Besides, to repeat, a tie goes to her, and if she gets through the 90 minutes without spitting up, crying or forgetting who the current president of the United States is, most of the media chattering class will declare her the winner, just for beating expectations.
Make no mistake: Biden (who I believe won a couple of those primary debates, though he didn't get credit for it) can't just turn in a so-so performance and walk away unscathed. He has to actually WIN this debate, by being more knowledgeable than (which is a foregone conclusion) but also just as charming, as Sarah Palin. Otherwise he'll be the one being ridiculed on SNL this weekend, for losing to a dumb girl.
Thinking the unthinkable: is Pastor Rick ... a liar?
Pastor Rick Warren is on Larry King right now, giving a post-op on his civil forum on Saturday. I turned the channel and TiVo didn't pick up the beginning of the interview, so somebody please email me and let me know if King asked him about the "cone of silence." A preliminary interview with Beliefnet suggests he won't be forthcoming.
But another aspect of the interview which I did catch is really bugging me. An emailer asked Warren when he did the "coin flip" to determine which candidate would go first. Warren stumbled around a bit, and then said that he did the coin toss "about a month ago," and that when he put the forum together, "we decided who would go first ... and the format."
He flipped the coin a month ago?
Meanwhile, Warren was on "Hannity and Colmes" in the half hour before he did CNN. Hannity asked him a "lightning round" of questions nearly identical to the ones he asked John McCain and Barack Obama on Saturday, including whether he believes life begins at conception (the answer: "of course," and which Supreme Court justices HE wouldn't have nominated. Warren hedged on this one, but then couched his answer with, "well I'm a conservative, so..."
Less than a half hour later, on CNN, Warren had an exchange with Larry King in which he declared that there are many Americans who agree with some parts of the Democratic agenda and some parts of the Republican agenda, and who are neither completely left nor completely right when it comes to issues. King asked if Warren would put himself in that category. Warren's answer sure wasn't "well I'm a conservative." Instead, he said "of course."
So he's a conservative, but also in the middle ... depending on which cable network he's on?
UPDATE: The transcript on the Larry King interview with Rick Warren is in. Here's the part I missed last night:
KING: From Lake Forest, California, we welcome -- it's always great to see him, a frequent visitor to this show. Not frequent enough, by the way. Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life." and on Saturday, he conducted those interviews with Senators Obama and McCain at the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.
Let's take care of one thing right away. You introduced Obama and said that Senator McCain and said he was in a cone of silence.
KING: Now, obviously, Rick Warren would never tell a mistruth.
Did you not know that he was in an automobile?
WARREN: I didn't know they had put -- hadn't put him into the Green Room yet. No, I didn't. When we walked in, I knew he hadn't been in about 10 minutes earlier. And I figured within the 10 minutes we got there, they had put him in.
The whole thing is really kind of bogus, Larry. The Supreme -- I mean, the Secret Service were with him the whole time. Then our facility's staff -- our security staff were with him. And he was put in a building completely separate from everybody else. And there's no way he could hear. I've been talking about this all day. There was a rumor going around that he watched the program on a monitor in the Green Room that we had him in.
Well, there's only one problem with it. My staff, Chuck Taylor, disconnected that thing two days before it happened. So if he -- if they had happened to turn it on, it would have been all just static.
And both Barack and John agreed to the terms that said we will not listen to the other's, we will not get the questions in advance.
Actually, what happened is I did give Obama one in advance that I didn't get to Senator McCain because he wasn't there. Right before we started, I wanted to tell them there's going to be one question that I'm going to ask you for a commitment on. And I didn't think that was fair to ask for a commitment publicly without setting them up. And it had to do with orphans.
And so I did get to tell Senator Obama about that question. But because Senator McCain wasn't there, he hadn't -- he didn't have that question yet.
KING: All right.
Well, could he have heard it in the car, though, if he was still arriving at the event?
WARREN: You know what, if -- not a chance. The Secret Service would have reported it. When he showed up, there were -- and he says he didn't. You know, I...
KING: All right.
WARREN: ...I just have to accept his integrity on that.
Was it a stacked deck against Obama in the fact that this was Orange County and an Evangelical audience?
WARREN: Yes. Well, there's no doubt about it. I mean it was Orange County. And you're going to have more of a conservative audience.
But if you listen to applause, it's pretty equal in a lot of the places. And we gave an equal number of tickets to both campaigns. So they both had their -- their partisans in there at the same time and they had the exact same number of people.
KING: We have an e-mail question from Jeff in Wheaton, Illinois: "Pastor Warren, you said Saturday that there had been a coin flip to determine who went first."
KING: "When did this coin flip occur? Where were the senators when it took place?"
WARREN: Well, they were certainly weren't around. I just did it with my staff about a month before we even started the program. I started collecting questions myself a month in advance. And right off the bat, I said well, somebody is going to have to go first.
When I created this idea, why don't we figure out a civil way to do this, where the guys can express their views and their opinions in a civil -- a civilized, non-rude, non-got you type of format?
And I just decided why don't we just do one hour at time...
KING: Well, you did it.
WARREN: ...and we'll do them back to back. And I'll ask the identical questions so there's no bias in it.
KING: Excellent way to do it.
Not that Larry is biased... And here's the video:
You be the judge... Meanwhile, Barry Lynn calls Obama's appearance at the forum a mistake:
This crowd was swarming toward McCain to begin with, and Rick Warren has quite conservative views on plenty of hot button issues. But Warren is still a man best known for his homey advice about putting God first (not a very controversial notion for a Christian), so many viewers probably thought he would play "fair and balanced." Well, Jay, he did not. He was clearly well-schooled on how to set up questions with well-tested right-wing talking points, so that Obama would have had to spend a great deal of time just correcting the questioner. (You and I understand that technique well, both as talk show guests and hosts of our own shows.)
Let me give you a few examples on core constitutional and human rights questions. Here was Warren's set up to his stem cell questions: "We've had this scientific breakthrough of creating these pluri-potent stem cells in adult cells..." as if everybody knows we don't need all those embryonic stem cells which create all the problems for "pro-lifers." That crowd would rather grow all these "frozen" embryos into "snowflake babies" (which will never happen) and refuse to admit that these embryos will eventually be discarded as medical waste. But Warren's setup is the problem: there was no great breakthrough that means that all research can be done with adult cells. That is the line of the Religious Right; it is not the scientific consensus. To the lay listener, however, it sounded like God's own truth, not Pastor Warren's spin. Senator Obama more or less fell into the presumption, too.
Best line of tonight's debate according to the collected punditry of MSNBC: Obama responding to the Hillary point that since his 2002 speech he has voted on Iraq exactly as she has by saying that once you've driven into a ditch, there are only so many ways to get out, and accusing her of voting to drive the U.S. into the Iraq ditch. It was a good line, and the Iraq/foreign policy section was one of his strongest sets.
Another good line from Barack: "I think Senator Clinton equates experience with longevity in Washington."
And I like this one: "... the insurance companies actually are happy to have a mandate. The insurance companies don't mind making sure that everybody has to purchase their product. That's not something they're objecting to. The question is, are we going to make sure that it is affordable for everybody? And that's my goal when I'm president of the United States."
Hillary's best line tonight was about the sea change that a woman president would represent. She should have used that tack more during the campaign...
Her worst line, by far, was this one:
SEN. CLINTON: Well, can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I -- you know, I'll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious, and if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow. (Laughter, boos.) I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it.
Bad form, Senator.
I do think its funny that Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews didn't enjoy the debate, with Maddow calling it the "Democratic Voter Enthusiasm Suppression Act of 2008" while Olbermann and Pat Buchanan found a lot to love about the debate, as did Jason and I. I think the better term for tonight is the "Feminists Disappointed by Lack of Hillary Slam Dunk Act of 2008." I guess Rachel and Chris wanted a smack-down rumble, and instead they got a sober, serious debate.
Oh god ... Stephanie Tubbs Jones is back on TV ... damn, she can't even admit that Barack's run fulfills Martin Luther King's dream ... oh, good, she's gone. Whew!
I notice that MSNBC promptly benched Maddow after her sourpuss reaction to the debate.
The Rumble in Cleveland is under way, and the candidates just did a 16 minute back and forth on universal health insurance coverage (horridly misnamed "universal healthcare" by many Dems on the left. Hillary filibustered most of the discussion, and looked a bit like she was trying to prolong it. Barack finally made the point that my husband and I have been screaming at the television hoping he'd hit in the last few debates, in response to Hillary's claim that his fliers on the issue read like they were written by the big insurance companies. Obama pointed out that "the insurance companies aren't unhappy about a plan mandating that everyone in America buy their product." Bingo.
Hillary just made her first big mistake. Taking the second issue question, on NAFTA, Hillary bitched about always being given the first question in the debates, and adding that "anybody who saw Saturday Night Live" would see her situation, and notice that she isn't the one being offered a fluffed pillow by the moderators (paraphrasing). Way too early to use your "hit the moderators" schtick, Hillary. It looked petty.
Update: I think Obama got the better of Hillary over the entire NAFTA exchange. He was able to get to his prescriptions for job creation before she did, while she wasted her first answer mired in criticisms of the way he and the press have characterized her support (or lack of it) for NAFTA during her husband's term. I will give Hillary points for superior fact control. When she is taking criticism, she puts a game face on while Barack tends to pout.
Update 9:40: Barack just delivered a facial to Hillary on Iraq. She tried the "he gave a speech in 2002 but his judgment since then has been the same as mine and I would look more credible standing next to John McCain" angle, and he responded with this:
"Hillary has said during this campaign that she is ready on day one, but she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue. the same person she criticizes for having terrible judgment, and we can't have another one of those, she facilitated him."
He also successfully rebutted her claim that he "threatened to bomb Pakistan."
Update 10:06: Hillary got Tim Russert on a question regarding Iraq in which he threw out a hypothetical dire outcome of the U.S. pulling out of Iraq (straight out of Fox Noise, Tim...) Hillary called it out as such, and won that exchange with Tim. Unfortunately, she went right back to criticizing Barack rather than making an affirmative case for herself after that. She did score points on Barack's failure to hold any hearings in his subcommittee on European affairs, which includes NATO. Barack's answer that he was appointed to the chairmanship at the start of the campaign wasn't his best moment.
The candidates then reacted to video clips of them criticizing each other. Both did fine.
Now, Tim Russsert is trying to push the issue of Farrakhan endorsing Barack. Barack already denounced Farrakhan's past statements, and Russert won't let it go. Now, he's trying the angle of making Barack answer for his pastor, Jeremiah Wright's past praise of Farrakhan. How in the hell Barack is supposed to answer for someone else's statements you couldn't tell me. Russert is reaching for ways to prove he doesn't have a crush on Obama, and it doesn't make him look good. Obama's line: "I live in Chicago, he lives in Chicago. I can't tell him he can't say I'm a good guy." He kept the answer on himself.
Now, Hillary is trying to turn it around by pointing to her past rejection of the support of people deemed anti-Semitic, when she was running her Senate campaign in 2000. Hillary just tried to say "there's a difference between 'denouncing' and 'rejecting'" -- okay... Obama's response: "I have to say I don't see the difference between denouncing and rejecting ... but if Senator Clinton feels that the word 'reject' is stronger than 'denounce', I will concede the point, and I'll reject and denounce." Set point: Obama.
I hope I'm still somewhat objective on this, but I have to say that so far, Barack is drinking Hillary's milkshake. He's drinking it up...
The TiVo's caught up now. More after the commercial break.
10:20 update: Obama just answered the "National Journal calls you the most liberal Senator" question by pointing out the two issues that placed him to the left of Ted Kennedy in the conservative mag's rankings: revolving guest worker status that includes a year of illegality if the worker doesn't go home, and the idea of having an independent ethics investigator overseeing Senate ethics probes. He turned it around by saying that the American people don't care about the labels, they care about results.
10:23: does it matter that Hillary couldn't quite name the likely next president of Russia? She was very artful in talking about Putin's hand picked successor without using his name, and you knew it was coming that Russert would try to pin her down on the name. Unfortunately for Hillary, she had a semi-Bushian moment, garbling out "Medeveduh ... whatever..." (For those of you writing this down, his name is Dmitry Medvedev, and yes, I had to look that up...)
10:26: Hillary just answered the "is there any word or vote you'd like to take back" question by naming her vote on Iraq, saying "I would never have taken this country to war as president." It's about as close as she's come to apologizing for the decision. Now she's pivoting to a "what we will inherit from George Bush" soliloqy, which was well done. Obama is taking the question now, saying that during the Schiavo dust-up, he is saying he didn't stand on the floor and stop the Congress from voting to intervene. He is rejecting his inaction, rather than an affirmative vote, saying "sometimes inaction can be as costly as action."
Now, Obama is saying that "there's still a lot of fight left in this contest, but one thing I'm clear about is that Hillary has been campaigning magnificently, she's an outstanding public servant, and I'm honored to be running with her. What's important is that these campaigns deliver for the American people." Damn. this guy just stole Hillary's swan song from the last debate, only when he does it, it doesn't look like the ned, it looks like the beginning. He added that both of them are "running to restore the sense of public service." Well done.
Final question, from Brian Williams:
What question does Hillary need to answer for the voters?
Paraphrasing Barack's answer: "there's no doubt that Hillary is qualified and capable and would be a much better president than McCain, who has tethered himself to the policies of GWB... I don't think she has to answer a question of whether she's capable, but here's why I'm better: I think I can bring this country together in a unique way, across race, religion and other divisions..." Well done.
Hillary's turn: what questions does Barack need to answer:
"Both of us feel strongly about our country and bring enormous energy and commitment to this race and would bring that to the White House." She reprised that it's been an honor to run, and added that it's history making. She finally threw in the fact that she's running to be the first woman president, eliciting the first applause for her of the night. "Either one of us will make history, but the question I have been posing is, who can actually change the country?" Also well done, although her answer was more somber sounding and less genuine sounding than last time (besides, he stole her lines moments before... I guess she's not complaining about having to go first this time. Going last against Barack is no great shakes, either...)
Hillary is reracking her line about the wealthy having had a president, and saying its time the working people had one, too, but her final answer lacked the punch and exuberance that it needed to be effective.
Overall, I think Barack one this debate hands down. Not only did Hillary not knock him out, she really didn't lay a glove on him, and I think her demeanor at the end proves that she knows that.
The top three Dems managed to debate with civility, and with a recognition that after all, they are all members of the same political party.
Good show (with the exception of the first half hour, during which I got the feeling Russert was conducting group psychoanalysis or auditioning someone to babysit his kids, rather than a future president of the United States.
The Democratic debate tonight on MSNBC, sponsored by the AFL-CIO, is a wrap. It was by far the most contentious, combative debate so far, and the leading candidates ripped into each other in a way that was almost uncomfortable to watch. Barack took incoming fire from Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden on his comments about invading Pakistan. Hillary took flak from Edwards about being on the cover of Forbes Magazine as the candidate that corporate America is betting on, but she gave it right back, declaring herself the candidate who can win, and who has a history of taking on the wingers. In a nutshell, here's my quick assessment, in order of how well I think they did:
Hillary Clinton - I think she won it again, even though she lost the battle for the crowd with Barack, who had home field advantage. Hillary came off as strong, and as the one on the receiving end, rather than the battering end, of Dem on Dem attacks. Hil needs to watch her upper register when she gets loud to shout over the crowd, but overall, this tiny lady again distinguished herself as the most succinct, the most savvy, the most competent, and the most prepared to be president on the day she enters office.
Joe Biden - Another strong performance. This guy has knowledge to spare, particularly on matters of foreign policy. He did well tonight, even infusing some humor into the debate, i.e., his one word answer to the question of whether he would end no-bid contracts ("Yes.") ... and when he showed a softer side by sympathizing with a woman who lost her husband in the Sago mine, by referring to his own loss of a spouse. This guy would make a hell of a secretary of state.
Barack Obama - I thought he came off as strident, almost to the point of nasty tonight, and far too prone to Democratic fratricide in his quest to topple Hillary Clinton. His constant slaps at Hillary, Dodd and other "Washington insiders" who voted for the war is what he has to do (though they might remind him that since taking office, he has repeatedly voted for the funding of the war,) and he had the hometown crowd in the palm of his hand. But at the end of the day, Chris Dodd was right when he said that Barack was in the wrong for telegraphing his Pakistan policy to the world. Hillary is right on substance, but Barack won the crowd. At the end of the day, when the glow wears off, Hillary will be seen as the more presidential on foreign policy.
Chris Dodd - He's a bit dull, but was good on substance tonight. He still has an image problem, and no shot at being president, but he did well. One caveat: he was one of the worst at not directly answering the questions.
Bill Richardson - Richardson is as dull as dishwater, and he failed to distinguish himself in any way tonight. This guy's timer should have long since run out, but he's still in play, frankly, because Democrats still believe they may have to play the Latino card to win out West.
John Edwards - Edwards probably had the worst performance of the night. He is coming off as increasingly desperate in these contests, flailing out at Hillary's corporate ties (despite being a rich trial lawyer himself), trying to sting his opponents on the war, as if he never voted for it, and pushing his one liner about not taking lobbyist money even when the question was about healthcare. Not a good show, John.
Dennis Kucinich - This guy is a Socialist, pure and simple. He wants to put us all on Medicare, which is insane, he wants to turn the White House into the "workers White House," which sounds suspiciously like "Socialist paradise," and he claims he'd cancel NAFTA and the WTO agreement immediately upon entering office. He sure is animated, though, and I'd have rated him higher than Edwards had he not sounded so insane.
At the end of the day, Barack will probably win the Internet polls, but Hillary will be ahead by another 2 points by week's end.
CNN did a nice job with the Youtube debate last night. No major news, nothing to really shake up the race. I still think Joe Biden is freaking hilarious, John Edwards looks rather desperate (and there was something strange going on with his hair ... kind of an airplane hangar effect in the front...) Bill Richardson looks like a bullfrog, Dennis Kucinich fades into the background and Mike Gravel is nuts ... with moments of lucid truthtelling, if in a bug-eyed crazy kind of way. Hillary and Barack did well and they remain the leaders.
I think that one of the most fascinating things to watch is white politicians attempting to communicate to a room full of black people. At tonight's PBS debate between the Democratic presidential candidates at Howard University, hosted by Tavis Smiley, the performances by the white candidates ranged from full-on pander (John Edwards -- using 2004 "two Americas" rhetoric for God's sakes...) to really loud, churchy sounding semi-pander (Biden) to wrong audience pander (Richardson -- the "I'm the first Latino to run for president" deal works a lot better in front of a Latino audience, pal, especially since many Blacks feel they are being displaced as the Dems' minority of choice...) to surprisingly smooth and stealthy (Hillary Clinton).
It will come as a surprise to the MSM that Barack Obama -- the only Black candidate, as you know -- did not get the loudest applause during the walk in -- that went to Hillary. And she delivered the line of the night when she noted that "if AIDS was the leading cause of death among white women in their 20s and 30s we'd be well on the way to a cure." I won't go through the littany of responses by each candidate, but each gave the star-studden audience (Marian Wright Edelman, Cornel West, Tom Joyner, Harry Belafonte, Al Sharpton, etc., etc., etc.,) some permutation of "the war on drugs is hurting Black people", "racism is still a problem," and "tax cuts for the rich suck."
Maybe I'm being a bit cynical, but I guess I was looking for more questions about Iraq.
OK, here's the rundown:
Hillary Clinton -- she's your winner tonight. She came off as the most commanding, the most prepared, and the most thorough in her responses. She constantly reminded the audience of the contrast between the current administration and her husband's without naming him (he's now known as "the 90s" ... and she managed to stop shouting ... eventually.
Barack Obama -- a close second to Hillary. He exploited his ease with the audience for all it was worth, but as has become the norm with Barack, as much as I like him, he was short on specifics. Barack has a natural, conversational style that is very seductive in a political sense (and he had a great comeback when Biden talked about himself and Barack getting tested for AIDS while in Africa. Barack clarified that he was tested along with his wife, in public...)
John Edwards -- this guy is the ultimate pander bear. He opened by casually name dropping the Howard mascot, and reminding the audience that he's from the Sizzouth. Then he got going with the "talking about poverty is my life's work" spiel. This guy has really got to update his message, and put 2004 behind him. Had he reminded us that he was the son of a mill worker, I would have been forced to jab a fork in my eye.
Bill Richardson -- I can't remember a single thing he said, sadly. Not a single, solitary thing.
Chris Dodd -- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.......
Joe Biden -- he came off as a little bit too forceful for my taste. He came off like an angry father ... either that or a guy just two seconds from using the phrase "you people."
Dennis Kucinich -- still trying to take the profit out of healthcare. Don't tell those med students still paying off their student loans and looking for good paying jobs.
Mike Gravel -- he steals the crazy right out from under Kucinich's nose. I half expected him to leap from the stage, whip off his shirt and trousers and scream like a warewolf. Actually, I wish he'd done that. It would have livened things up. Gravel did make the comment that this debate was the fairest thus far. In other words, it was the only debate that gave the candidates with absolutely no shot at the nomination, much more airtime than they deserved.
Update: it's just after 10:30, and John Edwards just mentioned that goddamned mill. Where's my fork...?
Update 2: Hillary just called for shooting down the planes of those attacking civilians in Darfur. Now Biden is yelling about no-fly zones to try and match her Margaret Thatcher with his Winston Churchill. Bill Richardson's answer on Darfur was both long and boring. Heavy on resume, light on charisma. Oh god, now John Edwards is answering ... here comes the two Americas writ large ... two worlds, perhaps? Obama on Darfur: "no fly zones are important, but we have to look at Africa before the crises begin ... on trade and investment." Good answer, but he failed to get to the passion of the audience. Kucinich is getting some audience love right now by saying that "let's face it, if Darfur had a large supply of oil, the administration would be occupying it right now." Um ... Congressman... there's oil under them there Janjaweed...
Well, the CNN Republican debate is history (and could it possibly have been any older and whiter??? I felt like Wolf Blitzer should have been handing out free Viagra samples...!) Anyway, tomorrow morning we'll be having two Black Republicans from here in South Florida, as well as newly minted MSNBC political analyst Rev. Joe Watkins on the Big Show to discuss their reactions to the debate.
CNN's mini-panel has already weighed in, with Paul Begala scoring the debate for Rudy, GOP strategist Amy Holmes going for McCain, and the eternally non-committal Bill Schneider being non-committal.
If I had to score it, I'd give a slight edge to Rudy, because he managed to improve his answer on abortion, and finesse most of the questions that raise doubts about his conservatism. Also, he gets points for sheer will in getting 9/11 into literally every question -- I think he even shoved it into global warming!!! Overall, however, I think McCain might have himself some good, by appearing the most knowledgeable, the most sincere and the most passionate, about Iraq, immigration and even his defense of Native American tribes who might not fit an "English only" bill (McCain's answer had poor Duncan Hunter begging for a chance to show how much he loves the "injuns" too...)
I think Romney was the big loser tonight. He wasn't as polished as he was in the first debate, and he seemed unprepared to give fresh answers to the mounting questions about his flip-floppery. And he got nailed on the Spanish language versions of his ads and web-site. N.A.I.L.E.D.
Tom Tancredo put on a surprisingly good performance this time, with his blistering attacks on President Bush, which probably sets him apart as the true anti-Bush candidate this go-round. The crowd actually cheered when he said that as president, he'd echo what Karl Rove recently told him, namely, don't bother to darken the Whtie House door (then he lost it by saying we should halt all legal immigration into the U.S.) ... By contrast, I was amazed at how closely Rudy has decided to tack to the president, mimicking his stump speech lines on the "war on terror" and almost taking on his healthcare tax credit scheme verbatim, as his own. He was the most vigorous supporter of a pardon for Scooter Libby, and the staunchest defender of the decision to invade Iraq, saying it was "absolutely the right decision." (By the way, Bill Kristol has gone OFF on Bush over not immediately giving Scooter that pardon...)
One more point for Rudy, and I hate giving him points because I utterly loathe the man -- he was the only one to pick up on the political tactic of using the debate to attack the Democrats, based on their debate two nights ago.
By the way: best moment of the night: God striking Giuliani with lightning -- or at least striking his microphone -- as he tried to square his views on abortion with his Catholic faith. (See previous post).
Ron Paul struck me as exasperated, but again, as the only one on stage with a realistic grasp on the historical realities we face in the Middle East. Every one of his positions were ones that just 20 years ago, would have been wholly supportable by most Republicans. It's astonishing to me how much corporate greed (particularly in the oil and defense sectors) and neoconservatism have twisted and misshapen the Republican Party. It's almost unrecognizable from the party of even the 1980s. The bent toward interventionism, the hyper-paranoia, the desire for massive influxes of cheap laborers from abroad ... and all while apparently, the causes of Christian conservatives have fallen by the wayside, as much relics as Alberto Gonzales and Rudy Giuliani believe the Geneva Conventions to be.
It is precisely because the GOP has drifted so far off its moorings, that the neoconservatives have been so effective at taking over, shunting religous conservatives and fiscal conservatives (and Constitutional conservatives for that matter) aside, and made Wilsonian liberalism the standard that a Rudy Giuliani can carry right to the front of the line as a presidential candidate.
What a revolting development.
Update: MSNBC analysts call the debate a snooze. Haters. No, actually they're right.
God, Wolf Blitzer is annoying. Just thought I'd mention that...
The GOPers are in part two. The citizen question period starts with a very poignant question from a woman whose younger brother died in Iraq in December 2005, eight days before he was to return home.
Duncan Hunter and Sam Brownback answered pretty well, with Hunter getting in the fact that his son is serving. But John McCain owned the question, standing up while the others sat, and talking "straight talk" (ahem) about why we have to win in Iraq. Not that we can, John...
Ron Paul is taking the second question on Iraq. He says the biggest incentive for the Iraqis to do what they need to do is to leave and let them do it. Paul's answer on this so far has been the high point of the debate for me.
Oh God, now it's Rudy's turn. He's up and stalking the audience, and guess what? He's mentioned 9/11!!!!! Surprise, surprise. He is saying we need to properly "take on the role of nation building." I guess that answers whether he is a neocon. "We have to train our military" to do an "Iraq-stat" program (like his COPSTAT program in New York City) to determine whether schools are opening, factories are opening etc. Is this guy serious? That's NOT what the military is trained for. This guy is a Wilsonian Democrat from 1913! He should be writing for the New Republic, not running for president! Jeez...
Next question: Gilmore is saying conservatives should conserve ... the environment.
Tancredo says "ditto."
On healthcare: A town moderator told the story of a friend of his who discovered on vacation in Spain that his prescription drugs cost $600 less there. What do do?
Rudy Giuliani was first up, and may I say that it's really creepy when Giuliani gets up and walks toward the audience. He looks like an evil robot. He shouldn't do that anymore. His answer, by the way, was verbatim, the Bush "buy your own insurance through a tax credit" strategy. VERBATIM.
Now Tommy Thompson has bounced out of his chair to anwer a question about single payer healthcare. He's scaring me. His hair looks like it's going to get up and run away. And he's talking really loudly... Why is Tommy Thompson yelling at me...???
Most pressing issue facing America today (asked by a philosophy professor):
Gov. Huckabee -- "getting all the moral questions tonight better than getting the immoral questions..." -- understanding the sanctity of life...
Giuliani -- selling American freedoms to the Middle East (good God, this guy is a total neocon!)
Ron Paul is the town crier tonight. He sounds exasperated, saying the most pressing issue is the idea that we've now accepted the idea of preemptive war, rejecting the "just war" theory of Christianity. "Tonight we hear that we're not even willing to rule out a nuclear strike against a company that has done nothing to us directly and that is no threat to our national security" (Iran). "We have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our Constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights, but not to think we can change the world by force of arms and to start wars." Brilliant. In the background, you can hear cries of "Wolf! That's not right...!"
Brownback - the issue of life. That's why we can't nominate somebody who's not pro-life. Forget what I said in the first post. This guy's "I'm not a religous nut" disguise is starting to chip off. So if Rudy got the nomination, could you support him? "Um... " Brownback says he doesn't think we'll nominate someone who is pro-life. He's waffling. I'm taking that as a no.
Next question is for Romney from an airline agent. He says Romney has been accused of "flip flopping" on immigration, and that "just earlier tonight you said you're for the national language being english, so why are you airing ads in English, and providing a Spanish language version of your website?" Romney's answer: "well, I'm not anti-immigrant ... I'm pro borders ... I'm not for illegal immigrants staying ... oh God ... please zap me with your Mormonic laser in my magical undergarments and get me out of here ... I mean I'm Mitt Romney, and I approved this message..." Romney didn't answer the question. He's making a speech about making America great.
Tancredo: would you advertise in Spanish? In MIAMI???? No, says Tancredo. He's advocating the preservation of English as the glue that holds our country together. Can I say, Romney down 5 more points by week's end???
McCain: starts by saying "first of all, governor, muchos gracias!" Good one. McCain is saying that Hispanic immigrants are enriching the culture, especially in his state, where Spanish was spoken before English was. He says go look at the Vietnam War memorial, and you'll see the names of Spanish speakers and even green card holders. "So lets from time to time, remember that these are Gods children. They must come into the country legally, but they have enriched our nation like generations of immigrants before them." Elegant answer.
Next: Why did the GOP lose in 2006 and how to stop the bleeding in 2008?
McCain: spending, spending, spending, and the attendant corruption. He promises to veto all pork bills as president and "make the earmarkers famous." Good answer.
Giuliani: Democrats. This guy is bald and not in a good way. He gives me the creeps.
Interestingly, these guys are answering the question "what was Bush's biggest mistake" but none is answering it. They're all answering what Republicans did wrong.
Finally, someone answers! Tancredo, who is on fire tonight, says Bush's biggest problem is that he "ran as a conservative and governed as a liberal." He says that is the basis of his rightfully lost credibility.
Paul: Bush ran on a humble foreign policy and then changed his tune. He drained the treasury for his mad ambitions.
Gilmore: principles were violated, on immigration, on spending and earmarks, and taxes.
Hunter: the Republican Party has to become family friendly. Huh???
Huckabee: Americans want low taxes and no regulation and no illegal immigrants or lawsuits. Again, HUH???
These nimrods aren't answering the question and Wolf isn't making them. I give up.
Next question: re illegal immigration, what does it mean to be an American?
Tancredo: "cut ties with the past, especially politically, from the country you came from." Tancredo wants a time out. He wants to stop all legal immigration except for family members and refugees. We need assimilation! And English only! Tancredo just boarded the crazy wagon. And he was doing so well.
Show of hands: end legal immigration? No takers.
Last question: Should the GOP follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's example of working with Democrats to win back popularity?
Duncan Hunter got in a three way broadside against Rudy McRomney, saying Romney supported the Clinton assault weapons ban, as did Rudy, that Romney took a "major step toward socialism" with his Massachusetts healthcare plan, and that McCain is on the wrong side of immigration, adding that "I think the person who has the most influences with these guys is Ted Kennedy, and I think we need to move away from the Ted Kennedy wing of the Republican Party." Bang! Zoom!
Romney's answer was a rambling mess that had something to do with Reagan and optimism, Rudy tried a one liner, saying "the way to do it is to nominate me" ... then he went back into his terrorism spiel. UNITED AGAINST ISLAMIC TERROR!!! THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU! ELECT ME OR DIE!!!! Ahem. McCain tried the soft sell, saying "protect our American family." Awwww.... and fight "this transcendent issue of our time: the battle and struggle against Islamic extremism..." now it's Baghdad John's turn to cite the supposed terror attack tries in the U.S. He ends with a flourish about his life, experience, background and heroes qualifying him to lead.
And that's the end. Thank God. My ears were beginning to bleed ...
The GOPers are debating on CNN. They were asked to give a brief self-introduction. The best one: Mike Huckabee -
"I'm Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas. I'm from a town called Hope. You might remember it. And I hope you'll give us another chance." Cute...
Worst: Rudy Giuliani - Paraphrasing: "I'm Rudy Giuliani -- vote for me or die..." (He actually said, "I like the motto of this state, 'live free or die." I think it's a good motto for our country...'
On a more substantive note, Giuliani followed Mitt Romney's feeble attempt to deflect Wolf Blitzer's question of whether he would invade Iraq today, knowing what we know now about how it's turned out (Mitt made no sense) by saying the invasion was "absolutely the right thing to do." The base will love it, but it will also end up in a campaign commercial should the unthinkable happen and he becomes the nominee.
Update 7:12 - How hard is it to remember Matthew Stanley? John McCain had to look at his paper twice to remember the name of a soldier killed in Iraq whose family he met with. Not good for a politician. Meanwhile, he can't seem to answer the question, if Gen. Petreus reports in September that the surge is not working, what then? McCain trotted out his tried and true, "they'll follow us home!" chestnut. In other words, he wants in until the last American dies, just like Bushie. ...
Tommy Thompson chimes in: if it ain't workin' divide Iraq! Somebody's been listening to Joe Biden...
Just a note: Thompson looks like he needs a shower...
Duncan Hunter looks like a grumpy security guard...
Oh, ok, Ron Paul is up. He says if no progress in September, we should bring our troops home. He added that it was a mistake to go in, and if you get a bad diagnosis, you change the treatment, saying we're less secure now than before we went in ... and you know what? He got applause. Clearly, this is not that rabid Fox News audience.
Mike Huckabee's head is too small for his body... sorry...
Tom Tancredo is saying the surge isn't working and he didn't support it. He says he "hopes to God" it works, but if it isn't by September, we need to tell the Iraqis the answer to the age old question, what have you given us? "A Republic, if you can keep it." Now keep it. Applause.
7:22 update: Mistake number one for Rudy. He just said we need to make it clear to Iran that it's unacceptable that they have nuclear power ... nuclear power??? Oh dear... He also added that we'd nuke Iraq to stop them from having ... nukes ... and he got his chance to throw in that "Islamist terrorists have been nabbed trying to ATTACK JFK AIRPORT!!! ATTACK FORT DIX!!! VOTE FOR ME GODDAMIT OR YOU'RE ALL GONNA FREAKING DIE!!!!!!!" Ahem...
What about you, Mormon guy? Should we nuke the Persians? "You don't take options off the table," says Guy Smiley. "You stand back and say, 'what's going on here...'" Huh??? Now he's saying we need to move the moderate Muslim world toward modernity with the help of our allies. Sounds like a Democrat, except that he just said the Democrats don't understand that there's a war on terror. Gulp...
7:25 - immigration time. Tancredo's up. He's asked about his vow to oust any Senator who supports the monstrous "reform" bill now winding its way through Congress, and the retort by senior NH Senator Judd Gregg that Tancredo is from the "no nothing" wing of the GOP. Tancredo is wearing a really cheap, ill fitting suit. I'll bet it was crafted by illegal immigrants...
Giuliani has called the bill a "typical Washington mess" that has "no organizing purpose." And what should that purpose be? Identify all aliens with a TAMPER PROOF I.D. CARD THAT MAKES SURE THEY'RE NOT TERRORISTS!!!! PHTTTPH!!!
Mitt Romney says his big problemo with the immigration bill is Z visa ... get it? "Z visa..."? Sorry, I know I should be taking this more seriously, and take it seriously I will...
McCain's turn: he starts by saying "I agree with Judd Greg" (ooh, no he didn't! Tancredo, he just called you a no nothing...!) McCain says that the bill is a national security bill. "For us to do nothing is silent and de facto amnesty. What we have done is what you've asked us to do, my friends, and that is, come together with the president ... sit down and figure out an approach to this problem." He adds that if someone has a better idea ... which caused all other hands on the dais to go up...
Rudy has managed to get a 9/11 or terrorism reference into every single one of his responses. He was just on a roll, saying the legislation is "typical Washington" in that it doesn't say in the text (he says he read all 400 pages) what McCain says is in it. He says there should be one form of ID, a national database, etc. Not unreasonable. And then he goes for the 9/11 reference and I immediately tune him out.
Duncan Hunter's up: cue the double fence!!!
I had to stop and Tivo a bit, so I'm running a scosh behind real time.
The first wire stories are coming in. The AP has this unfriendly headline:
I guess that kills that anti-Hillary ad. I wonder if snarky-ass Tucker Carlson will go after them the way he did Hillary. Newsflash: Few members of Congress read either the legislation in front of them, or the reports handed to them. Their staffs read it, and then they get briefed. Sad, but true.
I don't think Tommy Thompson's hair is real...
Ron Paul is getting only his second question. Does he still support the border fence? Paul says the fence was his "weakest reason" for voting for the Duncan Hunter bill previously signed into law. He says he supported the bill because of the rule of law, and the need to stop drawing people here and paying for their healthcare and education. He calls illegal immigrants the scapegoat for our failure to have a true market based economy.
Should English be the official language of the U.S.? No hands went up, but John McCain makes the point that his state, AZ, has made treaties with the Navajo, who speak their own language, and "that's okay." He uses his answer to reiterate that his bill isn't amnesty, and to thank Jeb Bush for his support. I'm thinking running mate...
I was just about to blog about Gov. Gilmore's "Rudy McRomney" retort, but Wolf just asked Rudy about the Rhode Island Bishop's equation of him with Pontius Pilate. Just as he began answering, a bolt of lightning struck the CNN sound system, BY WAY OF GOD...
Giuliani is saying he feels he has to make good government public policy decisions, consulting his views, but not having government impose those views on women. God is still striking down CNN's sound system. I take it as a sign.
There goes the lightning again ... every time Rudy opens his mouth to speak ... spooky...
Romney McFlipflop is justifying his change of mind on abortion. Interestingly enough ... no sound glitches ...
Update: Gov. Huckabee, who is an ordained minister, just finessed the hell out of his previous answer about whether he believes in evolution, saying that he believes the question was unfair, because he isn't "asking to write the science curriculum for an eighth grade textbook" and that knowing how long it took God to create the earth or mankind wouldn't make him a better or worse president. This guy hides being a religous fanatic nut job better than anybody I've ever seen!
Now it's wacky Brownback's turn. He sounds like a Sunday school teacher, but his suit fits him better than any of the other candidates. Brownback says we should "engage faith and reason." Okay, so does that mean you believe in evolution now?
McCain is saying students should be exposed to "all theories" of creation, not exclusively creationism. McCain says that he believes that God loves us. That's nice. I feel much better now. Update: The candidates are asking questions about American dependence on Mideast oil and the GOP's close ties to Big Oil, this after Rudy Giuliani put another nail in his conservative coffin by saying he believes in global warming. Ron Paul was great on this question, giving a brief history of why we overthrew Mosedeq in Iraq in the 1950s -- because of oil. He pointed out that we shouldn't be so dependent on oil that we fight wars over it.
On gays in the military, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee agree that homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, is outlawed under the uniform code of military justice. No need to change existing policy.
Giuliani is asked to address the dismissal of gay linguists. Rudy says "this is not the time to deal with disruptive issues like this." Okay... he says that "in a time of war..." terrorism, war, blah blah blah... this isn't the right time to deal with this. We should "listen to our commanders." Sounds like Bush...
Romney: "in 1994, you were quoted as saying you advocated gays serving open and honestly in the military." Surprise, surprise, he's changed his mind. He says "I was wrong." and "this is not the time to change 'don't ask don't tell.'
McCain, same issue: "we have the best equipped, best trained military in the world and I'm proud of them. We just don't have enough of them. It would be a mistake to reopen the issue. The policy is working."
Anyone for open service? No takers.
Next question: Tommy Thompson, how would you use George W. Bush in your administration? Thompson says "I certainly would not send him to the United Nations...." pause for applause ... find that there is none ... resume answer awkwardly ... Thompson is now saying that GWB should be used speaking to young people about public service. So ... Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. get to travel the globe taking on AIDS, famine and natural disaster, and Dubya heads back to the classroom to read "My Pet Goat..." Damn.
Senator Brownback says former presidents should sit quietly in the corner and shut the hell up.
Tom Tancredo says some time ago, he got a call from Karl Rove saying that because of his criticism of the president, he shouldn't "darken the door of the Oval Office." Tancredo says that he has been so disappointed in the president, that he's afraid he would have to "tell the president the same thing Karl Rove told me." DAMN!!!
Mike Hukabee is answering "what happened to the GOP"? He says the party lost credibility because they didn't do what they were supposed to do, from corruption to Katrina, and that they "deserved to get beat" in 2006. He's using his answer to focus on GWB and the GOP's indifference to border security to score points.
Next topic: Pardon Scooter?
Duncan Hunter: you'd have to look at the transcript. You know what transcript he's looked at? Campeon and Ramos. Score an applause line for Duncan Hunter. He's now saying we need to "bring back the Reagan Democrats" by getting right on trade.
Yes or no: pardon Scooter? Paul: no, Gilmore: no, Hunter: no, Huckabee: no, McCain - says he's going through an appeal, he'd wait and see ... Rudy says the prosecution was "way out of line." He would wait for an appeal, but the "excessive punishment" favors a pardon. He's filibustering. The case is "incomprehensible." ... I think he says yes. Oh, God, now Mitt is filibustering. He says he didn't pardon anybody as governor so as not to overturn a jury. He says the prosecutor was dead wrong, and he's look into it. Brownback says yes. Tommy Thompson says he'd wait for the appeal. Tancfredo says yes.
With the dawning of another day, the completeness of Rudy Giuliani's screw-up in last night's debate becomes more and more clear. Giuliani, asked a round robin question about whether the overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a good day for America, chose to elaborate on his flippant answer of "it would by okay..." and then did so to disastrous effect. Said Giuliani, who was ninth in line to answer the question, and preceded by a string of "yesses" (meaning it would be a great day), told his red meat craving Republican audience of Reaganites:
"It would be OK to repeal it. It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent."
He then went on to publicly support public funding of abortions, but only in New York, and despite the fact that he "hates" them (abortions). Well, as a pro-life Democrat, I suppose that's just fine, if a bit all over the place. But, and here's the key part: I'M NOT RUNNING FOR THE REPUBLICAN NOMINATION FOR PRESIDENT WITH A BASE OF RIGHT WING CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES.
Reactions from the wingersphere?
Redstate ponders the vicissitudes of Rudy's thoughts on abortion.
Wizbang has a decent roundup of winger reax, and Auntie Kim has not a word about Rudy therein. Here's something on which Kim and I actually agree
I was amazed at how inane the questions were. What's with "do you believe in evolution?" With all the turmoil going on in the world, that's a question Matthews chose to use? Or "would it be good for America for Bill Clinton to be back in the White House?" What kinds of question is that? Although I loved Romney's reaction: "You've got to be kidding."
As to the scoring, I think it was a clear win for Romney, with the only possible dent being his rather egregious flip floppery on abortion. I'm told righties really liked Mike Huckabee, too. However, it appears the punditocracy is congealing around my conventional wisdom.
According to our poll, Drudge’s poll, and many bloggers, Romney won the debate. I’ve got to say, I’m not a Romney guy, but he came off as the winner to me. However, he also won the “invoke Reagan as much as you can” award. It would be interesting to see Fred Thompson debate this “incomplete crowd.”
What's interesting is that Rudy's performance last night has actually earned him some stripes with Democrat and probably with Independent political watchers. Maybe that's his strategy -- catapult over the GOP primary and into the general election debate. Maybe he was running for California. The problem, though, is that in order to get to California you have to go through South Carolina first. Perhaps Rudy is figuring that he can afford to lose the early contests, with a look toward winning the more moderate Super Duper Tuesday States on February 5th, including Nevada and California. We'll see...
Meanwhile, Ms. Malkin has a good roundup of conservablog reax. Best line so far:
A HA commenter on Rudy's NYC talking points: "I love you Rudy and I want to vote for you, but if I hear you rewind that 'Rudy Crime Statistics' tape one more time I’m going to go hang myself."
As Chris "Clinton Obsessive" Mathews would say, Ha!
No surprise, Barack Obama wins the South Carolina stream of consciousness poll, which is heavily weighted toward Black Carolnians. But Hilary still wins the day, having come off the most prepared and presidential in last night's debate. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Meanwhile, surprise! The day after the debates, the Bush administration announces a major terror arrest! ... and there are big, nasty terror plots afoot in Saudi Arabia!!! See the media pant like a trained puppy over this one, but sorry guys, I've seen this movie before.
Evaluating the Democratic debate tonight, overall, I think Hillary Clinton was the best on stage tonight, scoring with her answer on the response to a terror attack, and being straightforward and succinct regarding the war.
Barack did quite well, too, though I don't think he did nearly as well as Chris Matthews thinks he did on the foreign policy questions.
It strikes me that were it not for his position on cutting off funding and ending U.S. involvement in the Iraq war this year, Bill Richardson, because of his views on guns and national security overall, could almost run as a moderate Republican, which makes him all the more attractive as a vice presidential candidate. One big miss for Richardson tonight: saying that he hesitated on Alberto Gonzales because he's Hispanic. That won't play in Peoria.
Dodd was a non-entity. Except for the one good line on speaking economically, Biden was, too.
I was disappointed in Edwards, who didn't really raise his game from the 2004 race.
Kucinich had his crazy guy routine stolen by Mike Gravel, who is truly out there. As I said in the previous thread, Kucinich should thank Gravel for making him look fairly normal tonight. Either that or he should hate him for stealing his lines...
There were no serious discussions on racial issues, nothing much for other minority groups to seize on (gays won't like Dodd's answer on civil unions), and not much fire overall. The debate was genial and mostly headline free. I'm looking for the Miami machine to start cranking on Richardson's Cuba answer, and I suspect the Iraq portion of the debate will make the most headlines.
Overall, if I had to guess, I'd say this debate will move the needle up slightly for Hillary and Obama, might make some GOPers take a look at Richardson (the NRA thing stands out) and also will make him the primo vice presidential candidate down the stretch.
So far, Obama is winning the post-debate online poll over at MSNBC, and Hillary is getting the highest negatives. I think that's just built in for her, because I don't think an honest reading of the debate supports that Barack won it, or that Hillary came off as less than credible. I really like Barack, but off all the eight standing up there tonight, Hillary was the one I could picture actually taking office as president.
So far, Edwards and Obama are neck and neck in the Kos Kids' poll, but commenters are lauding Mr. Gravel ... no, seriously they are ... which tends to take away from the lucidity of the poll.
Next week, it's the Republicans' turn. That one won't be as nicey-nicey.