Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Not Wearing a Tie At All!

So, I liveblogged what could very well be the last Presidential Debate of the season. If Barack decimates HilRod in Ohio and Texas as he has been in...well, pretty much every state for the past month, you're looking at the End of the Clinton Era.

I think we can all agree on one thing...Tim Russert is very much like Lionel Hutz. A halfwit playing at being a fearsome interrogator.

The man you knew as Tim Russert is dead...Say hello to Miguel Sanchez!

Words cannot describe the abject stupidity of Russert's moderation of this debate. It's not just his performance either, although he talks too much and too fast and he actually cuts off and interrupts the candidates while they're in the middle of making a point to re-ask the question they're already answering. (As opposed to Brian Williams, who interrupts the candidates so that he can segue into SUV commercials.)

He's starting from the wrong place. Instead of choosing questions that will provide us with some insight into these people, their ideologies, their values and their intentions, he constantly tries to catch them in some kind of inconsistency. I'm not sure where this fascination with inconsistency comes from. I mean, sure, if someone is constantly taking contrary positions (like, oh, I don't know, JOHN MCCAIN), it's fair game to point this out and ask a question about it. But every single one of Russert's questions carried with it the sole intention to root out some sort of reversal. (Except when he condescended to Hillary by giving her a pop quiz).

On NAFTA: "You said it was good on balance for New York and America in 2004, and now you're in Ohio and your words are much different, Senator. The record is very clear."

On Hillary's plan to create jobs: "And I was reminded of your campaign in 2000 in Buffalo, my hometown, just three hours down Route 90, where you pledged 200,000 new jobs for upstate New York. There's been a net loss of 30,000 jobs. And when you were asked about your pledge, your commitment, you told The Buffalo News, 'I might have been a little exuberant.' Tonight will you say that the pledge of 5 million jobs might be a little exuberant?"

If we -- if this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and al Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?

He's now asking if, at some point in the future, they might hypothetically hold one position on Iraq and then reverse it should the circumstances change. "Imagine how stupid you'd feel if you got our troops out of Iraq and then had to go back. Like if, say, you forgot your wallet in the Green Zone! Wouldn't that be stupid?"

Also, it's theoretical that maybe one day Iraq might "go to Hell" because al Qaeda "resurges." MY GOD THIS GUY'S AN ASSHOLE! Al Qaeda can't resurge there because they were never there in the beginning. He means "al Qaeda in Iraq," which is not the al Qaeda that blew up the World Trade Center, and is only one group responsible for insurgent violence in Iraq. Also, Iraq has already gone to Hell. Iraq went to hell in 2003, and it has been getting worse ever since. Having us there doesn't make it better. It just makes more Americans and Iraqis dead. And it makes us look greedy, bloodthirsty and insane to the rest of the world. And we are all of those things, I just don't know if we need to keep advertising it to the neighbors. Dexter doesn't go around blabbing to everyone in sight about cutting up criminals after hours.

Again, though, note that this whole Iraq question pivots on an inconsistent opinion the candidates might have at some point in the future. This is "gotcha" journalism of the silliest form, where the whole point is to make the subject look foolish, not to get any useful information out of them.

Senator Obama, let me ask you about motivating, inspiring, keeping your word. Nothing more important. Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public financing in the general election of the campaign; try to get some of the money out. You checked "Yes" on a questionnaire. And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let's do it. You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an arrangement here. Why won't you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by public financing of the fall election?

Motivating and inspiring don't have much to do with keeping your word, first of all. Russert just brings it up because he apparently thinks being consistent is the only thing that matters about a politician. (Notice how having good ideas and plans has nothing to do with anything.) Motivating, inspiring and keeping your word are all good things, but not necessarily connected. Someone could be motivating and inspiring and also totally full of shit. It's not mutually exclusive.

This is just so tiresome. Russert kept on repeating the same attack, as well, which only makes it seem more insipid. Russert has no real ability to devise provocative questions or to genuinely challenge his subjects, so he resorts to haranguing, badgering and these kinds of clumsy rhetorical traps. He's trying to bully them, not extract carefully-concealed truths.

There is so much going on that these candidates never talk about...Every debate is health care, Iraq, the economy (and always in the vaguest terms possible) and then these niggling little "can I catch you in some slip or misstatement or inconsistency." When it comes right down to it, who cares if these people used to say one thing and now say another? Seriously. Let's take them at their word and consider what they're actually saying now. We'll never know if they're planning to do the complete opposite once they're in office anyway, so we might as well evaluate their decision-making process, professed beliefs and general intelligence, right?

Okay, so that's my Tim Russert rant. As for the candidate's themselves, I think Hillary came off way way too mean-spirited and angry tonight. I feel bad saying that, because people often characterize Hillary this way and I tend to think they're overstating it, but it's genuinely how I reacted to her performance tonight. Her efforts to attack Obama, for whatever reason, just don't seem to work, ever, and she responds by making them more forcefully, which just makes her seem agitated and angry.

She strikes me as being far better at playing strong defense than offense. When attacked, Hillary can often come up with a reasonable explanation or a carefully-worded evasion. Often, they won't make any sense, but you'll only realize that later. Like her husband, she's hard to rhetorically pin down. But when she goes after Obama, the jabs just never seem to land. Sometimes, she misses the mark completely and winds up seeming desperate.

The most obvious example tonight was the exchange about noted anti-Semite and all-around piece of crap Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of Obama. Russert asked: "Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?" (Another question not worth America's time! What a shocker!)

And Obama answered: "I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments." And also: "I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with Minister Farrakhan."

Which sounds clear enough to me.

Then Russert asked: "Do you reject his support?"

Which sounds like the same question Obama just answered, repeated. To which Obama replied: "I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments."

Denunciation. Cut-and-dry. Obama denounces Louis Farrakhan and his past statements. Let's move on...Oh, no, wait:

MR. RUSSERT: The problem some voters may have is, as you know, Reverend Farrakhan called Judaism "gutter religion."

OBAMA: Tim, I think -- I am very familiar with his record, as are the American people. That's why I have consistently denounced it.

Ugh. As if this all weren't painful and repetitive enough, Hillary had to jump in by bringing up an occasion when she, too, was endorsed by an anti-Semite:

And, you know, I was willing to take that stand, and, you know, fortunately the people of New York supported me and I won. But at the time, I thought it was more important to stand on principle and to reject the kind of conditions that went with support like that.

So, she's calling Obama unprincipled for not...what...super-double-plus denouncing Louis Farrakhan? What's he supposed to do, ding-dong-ditch him? Fart in his soup? Burn the guy in effigy?

It gets worse:

I'm just saying that you asked specifically if he would reject it. And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know, inflammatory -- I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we've got to be even stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching.

Wow. This is what you get when one candidate is losing by a bunch and your moderator is an idiot. Utter nonsense in place of actual political discourse.

There were other Hillary moments like this. She's essentially resorted to machine gun tactics: just fire everything you've got at the other side and hope something, anything, sticks. I'm really starting to doubt it will work (and I've been convinced Hillary would eventually be the 2008 Democratic nominee for years now).

My theory on both Hillary and Mitt Romney is this: they are too successful for their own good. They just win all the time, and they're so used to winning and succeeding, they are utterly incapable of processing failure. Romney obviously believed he could buy the Republican nomination, and when throwing millions of dollars at the polls didn't make them go up, he became frustrated and angry. He started lashing out (remember that tiff with the AP reporter in the hardware store?) and generally guaranteed his own political demise.

Ditto Hillary...In case you haven't noticed, the Clintons don't lose elections very much. I'm sure they're not used to it. And I think it's kind of freaking her out.


Peter L. Winkler said...

I tuned out when they started quibbling over NAFTA and whether Hillary did or didn't support it when her husband was in office. Then, knowing how unpopular it is with workers, especially in Ohio, she suddenly promises to renegotiate it. Puhleaze!

Nobody's going to change NAFTA, which multinational corporations wanted in the first pace and still want. If either candidate had had the honesty to say that, I would have been impressed. Instead we have a contest to see who can slice the baloney the thinnest.

Apart from Obama's opposition in 2002 to the invasion of Iraq and Clinton's support fr it, here's not a dime's worth of difference between their political positions. Who you support depends on whose personality you like better.

Nathan said...

Ya, the whole Farrakhan bit was very retarded and off-putting. Lamebrain thinks to himself, "Let's see if I can get a politician to REJECT votes"? Niiiiiiiice. Who the fuck is going to reject votes? And what difference does it make if he says he does anyhow? Like all of the Black Muslims are suddenly going to say "Wuh, huh? Fuck that guy I'm voting for McCain". The sad thing is that I actually saw Bill Maher and crew discussing this aspect of the debate on his show tonight. Even if they were criticizing it, this truly isn't worth anyone's time.