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Posts published in “Day: February 8, 2016”

“Debates” in quotes


Against the informed advice of smarter, saner people, I’ve tried - yes, really tried - to watch the presidential “debates” this year. Even though there’s only been one real “debate,” I’ve tried to watch all of what the national media passes off as “debates.”

I put the word “debate” in quotes here because all but one really weren’t actual debates. They were shows - displays of unchecked egos - flights of brainless fancy - unfounded charges - verbal putdowns - lies and damned lies. In terms of issues, they lacked reality-based discussion of the problems this nation faces and avoided mention of a number of subjects voters need to know more about from the candidate’s perspective. Nada. Zero. Zip.

The only real debate thus far has been the Sanders-Clinton match-up on MSNBC - and not because they were Democrats. Simply put, it was because the candidates were allowed to go back and forth directly and the two moderators stayed out of most of the discussions. There was actually a 28 minute period when no one spoke a word except the candidates - something I’ve never seen before.

There are two reasons why Republicans have shown so badly. First, there have been too damned many of them. When you have six-eight-10 or whatever behind matching podiums, there’s no real opportunity for meaningful face-to-face action or moderator followup. People just fling a bunch of unchallenged statements or charges without being cross-examined for accuracy or truth. Throw it against the nearest wall and see what sticks.

The other reason is that GOP candidates - all of ‘em - deliberately avoided subjects on which they could be challenged. If you wanted to see how each felt about global warming, it never came up. In any meeting. Not once. If you wanted realistic in-depth discussion of whether we should continue or change our approach to middle east issues, it didn’t happen. Not once. Lots of irresponsible gibberish about nukes, carpet bombing, unwarranted attacks on the current administration and empty threats made by voices with no serious knowledge of what they were talking about.

Maybe there’s a third reason for the failure of GOP “debates” to have any real substance. That’s the candidates themselves. With one or possibly two exceptions, the rest didn’t deserve a place on any of those stages because they had nothing serious to say. The one talking about “carpet bombing” couldn’t accurately describe it in a media interview the next day.

In a way, I envy the people of New Hampshire for making candidates show up for small town hall gatherings - one-on-one. I learned more about Bush, Christie and the rest by watching some of these back-and-forth sessions with real voters. Hard to hide who you really are when it’s just you and 50-60 people sitting around in a circle listening to every word. A lot more information - and better information - than the televised “debates.” As a result, by the end of this week, there’ll be fewer Republican candidates.

The recent GOP “star” has been Rubio, though his stock took a real plunge Saturday. Pleasant enough fellow. Good speaker. Pleasant appearance. But he’s undisciplined and, at the moment, an untruthful voice for his party.

An example. Last week, President Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore. Among his remarks describing this country, he said “An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and (which) targets people because of a religion.” Word for positive word.

Rubio’s reaction? “Always pitting people against each other. Look at today. He gave a speech at a mosque. It’s this constant pitting people against each other that I can’t stand.” Word for lying word.

It’s this kind of uncalled for B.S. that’s marked the Republican “debates” and has made them far less useful than they were intended to be. I don’t care which party or what candidate positions are on anything as long as they can clearly state those positions without a lot of carping and flinging too-often false charges about the sitting administration, each other or anyone else. Just make your case as clearly as possible, avoid useless and false rhetoric, stick with the truth and let us know who you really are and what you really think. It’s just that simple.

Some advice for Republicans left in the count. If you’d like to know how that’s done - what a real debate can be - how much more effective you may be - dig up a tape of the Sanders-Clinton match-up. You may not like what you hear and their answers might not be your answers. But count the number of subjects addressed, the depth of understanding each participant was allowed to display and the amount of real information produced for voters in the same 120 minutes as your last “debate.”

Candidates should not be up on that stage for their own gratification. They’re up there to make give important information to voters - you and me - about subject knowledge, goals if elected, direction of the country and improving our national quality of life. So far, one of those debates has done that. The rest are still “debates” in quotes. Spectacles we can do without.

First take/flip

Watching the two presidential debates last week, the Democratic on Thursday and the Republican two nights later, the idea of a question reversal returned . . . with a variation.

Start with Fox media commenter Howard Kurtz, who tweeted after the Thursday MSNBC debate about the source of some of the questions: "Rachel Maddow's smart & did a good job last night. But why did MSNBC put a liberal commentator on that debate stage?"

Hmm. Probably for the same reasons that Fox and other Republican debate media several times used as hosts conservatives Hugh Hewitt, Neil Cavuto and Mary Katherine Ham. On each side, the campaigns probably preferred it that way, which will make for an interesting set of negotiations come time for debates in the fall.

Before going further, I should say that both sets of moderators, across most of the debates, have not embarrassed themselves by throwing softballs. The questions typically have been at least reasonably challenging.

But there is this: The parties are talking about different things. The Republicans are talking much more about foreign policy and national security, and Democrats much more about domestic policy. They're on different planes. What would happen if you actually forced them to interact?

So let's put this idea out there: For at least one of the remaining debates, flip the moderators: Hewitt & company for the Democrats, Maddow & company for the Republicans.

That might bump the ratings a bit. - rs