Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Last night’s debate

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

The Romans understood that politics is a particularly weird/brutal kind of sport (check out Tom Holland’s brilliant Rubicon for specific analogies vis-a-vis chariot racing), and they wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest by our presidential debates, where a single false move could cost a candidate the election. Neither candidate made such a move last night; indeed, Jim Lehrer’s decision to open things up at the start paradoxically seemed to make both Obama and McCain more careful in navigating their way forward. Which made for a somewhat boring first 15 minutes as the two men gingerly maneuvered around each other, neither wanting to start debating the specifics of a bailout bill that changes with every passing day . . .

But hey.  I just read John Scalzi’s latest post, and he’s got all sorts of advice for those who would comment on the debate, in particular the injunction to STAY AWAY FROM VIOLENT SPORTS ANALOGIES.  (Yawn.)  Though I do think he raises a good point in wondering why the “real people” scored the debate so differently from the pundits.  John thinks that’s because the voters are concerned with “steak not sizzle”; I gotta admit that’s news to me.  Because I didn’t hear a whole lot of substance last night.  What we got was the standard thing we get in every debate:  two candidates eager to allow the American people to continue in their delusion that fiscal questions can be addressed without hard decisions vis-a-vis military spending and entitlements.

No, I think the gap between the pundits (who rated the debate as even) and the independent voter/focus groups (most of whom scored it for Obama) has nothing to do with what was said and everything to do with what was seen.  Obama simply looked more presidential; he looked McCain in the eye, he didn’t cringe when the other guy was talking, and his posture was confident throughout.  McCain couldn’t even make eye contact in the initial handshake, and that says volumes to the voters.  Palin said she watched Tina Fey impersonate her with the sound down; anyone who did that to this debate knows exactly who won, and why.

Obama veers into Carterland

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

So Obama clearly had his work cut out for him appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show. But O’Reilly couldn’t be happier with this first part of the interview. What a #$# disaster for Obama. The clip’s at the end of this (and at this link): but on question after question Obama comes off as a waffler. If he goes into the debates like this, he’s going to get taken apart. Play by play:

First, at the beginning; Obama suddenly smiles, and it looks fake as hell. This is undoubtedly Fox News’ little touch (it’s a travesty they call themselves unbiased and fair); he didn’t know when the camera started running, but it’s not a great start.

Second, he’s asked if he thinks Iran is a threat, and he launches into a discussion of Sunni vs. Shiite. Does he think Middle America cares? He should have just said, absolutely, it’s a threat and left it at that.

Third, when he’s asked if he would use military force against Iran if necessary, he says he wouldn’t take the option off the table. A yes answer would have been a little more impressive.

Fourth, when he’s asked would he even PREPARE for the military force option against Iran he starts waffling about all those other great options:  embargos, sanctions, etc., etc., while O’Reilly jumps all over him.  Aargh.

Fifth:  the surge.  This is giving Obama all sorts of trouble, especially because he’s already said the surge has worked “beyond our wildest dreams.”  So naturally when O’Reilly says, “c’mon, admit it, you were right on the decision to go to war, and wrong on the surge, c’mon, just say it,” Obama comes off as stubborn.  There’s a far easier way out of this:  look, Bill, the surge may be working so far, but it hasn’t worked yet….and unless we follow it up with rebuilding and aid to Iraq it’s not going to work….and if we do all that, I’ll be happy to come on your show and say it works but until then how about you shut the fuck up with all your posturing, huh, Bill?

Sixth:  when they get to Pakistan, O’Reilly taunts him with “well, you wouldn’t send in the ground troops”, and Obama doesn’t disagree.  We’ve already HAD ground troops (well, special forces) in Pakistan; why assume anything at this point?

Anyway.  Point being we’ve seen all this before:  Democratic candidates/presidents coming off as being way too reluctant to use military force.  It spells electoral disaster.  And it also makes for weak presidents.

The experience question, and the Palin trade-off

Friday, September 5th, 2008 has a great article on how overblown the whole experience issue is. Put bluntly, there’s no evidence to suggest that less experienced presidents underperform more experienced presidents. This is in large part due to the nature of the Oval Office: by definition, everyone who ends up there has no idea what it’s really like, and they’re going to be playing catch-up as best they can.

Which may still leave open the question as to whether there’s an “experience threshold”: i.e., a desirable minimum of exposure to the pitfalls of high office prior to taking over the highest office of them all. While the Dems hasten to defend the magic power that serving only a few years in the Senate can apparently have (at least on Democratic candidates), I think the most telling argument in favor of Obama is the campaign he’s run:  a highly successful undertaking that beat the favored incumbent and may yet win the presidency.  While the nature of modern campaigning gets (and deserves) a lot of flack, the sheer volatility/complexity of running a national campaign has the benefit of signaling when someone’s totally unqualified, as a candidate who loses control of his campaign isn’t likely to make a good president.  (Which is one reason I think Kerry would have been a disappointment had he won in 04.)  This of course doesn’t prove that Obama would make a great president, but it does at least indicate he has the potential.

Palin is more of an enigma.  Whereas with Obama we have at least have some clue as to how he might cope with a blizzard of domestic and foreign issues/crises, with her we have none (beyond, of course, her socially conservative views).  This doesn’t mean she would make a terrible president.  Were she to shadow a President McCain for several months/years, she may yet cut a formidable figure on the world stage.  Great leaders often come from humble origins and backgrounds; there’s nothing in Palin’s biography to suggest she won’t learn if given time.

But that’s the problem:  time.  McCain is betting that he’ll have it, and he may, if all goes according to plan.  The press is agog with the notion that the Palin pick is a terrible risk to his campaign.  I don’t think it is:  she will fire up the GOP base like no one has done since Ronald Reagan, and her very lack of experience will prove to be a boon with an electorate desperate for something new.  The real risk here is that Palin may succeed quickly to the presidency, and I can’t see anyone arguing with a straight face that putting someone into that office after (let’s say) three months in the national spotlight isn’t a colossal gamble.  It’s hard to escape the notion that in picking Palin, McCain has optimized his campaign at the expense of his legacy, and the repercussions could be with us for a long time to come.