27 September 2008

2008 Presidential Debates, Round I

Friday, 26 September 2008 9:00 PM
University of Mississippi
Moderated by Jim Lehrer
Available for download via iTunes in the Video: 2008 Presidential Debates Video Podcast by CBS

Post-debate analysis always centers on defining the "winner" and "loser" of the debate.  Often, this is really in the eye of the beholder--supporters will find a reason to believe their candidate "won."  Last night's debate, though, left much to be desired of both candidates.  Here are some basic observations and thoughts about what helped--and hurt--the two senators.

Barack Obama
Pros: Seemed entirely awake and alert throughout the night.  Stayed poised and collected, for the most part.  Spoke clearly and simply, for the most part.  By calling Senator McCain "John" throughout the debate, suggested the idea that they are colleagues and, by extension, equals thus chipping away at the image of McCain as the political veteran.  His running mate accepted the invitation to appear on TV after the debate to field questions.

Cons: Never really pounced on McCain and delivered a coup de grace.  By Rudolph Giuliani's count, Obama said he agreed with McCain eight times during the foreign policy portion of the debate.  While I am loathe to reduce our political ideologies to sound bites, Obama never really had a standout remark through the night, either.  I am left, barely twelve hours after the debate, with little sense of what Obama actually pushed forward.

John McCain
Pros: Time and again in the foreign policy portion, McCain shared examples of places he's been (recently) and name-dropped foreign dignitaries with whom he has discussed how to handle global issues.  Each time, he repeated that "I know how to get this done" and "I've been doing this a long time."  Those assertions--and their supporting evidence--never really were challenged by Obama.  Also, he had the single best line of the night (and the only memorable one) when, after Lehrer prodded Obama to address his remarks directly to McCain in the first segment of the debate, McCain asked, "Were you afraid I couldn't hear him?"

Cons: McCain's wit suffered from the rules of the debate, which prohibited those in attendance from responding to his several throw-away jokes (though he did elicit a moment of laughter near the end of the debate).  We've all seen comics bomb on stage, and that creates the idea that the speaker is in over his head.  Several times, it also appeared that McCain's thoughts were jumbled, as though he were up past his bedtime.  Furthermore, the party's decision to send Giuliani--and not Sarah Palin--to field questions on TV after the debate added further credence to the claims that the McCain/Palin ticket is an old man past his prime running with a soccer mom out of her league.

Jim Lehrer
Pros: Never really asked any softball questions of the candidates, and kept the debate moving through some very serious topics which no one should expect could be entirely properly addressed in the span of a cumulative nine minutes.

Cons: Lehrer asked early in the debate how the current bailout plan would impact each candidate's platform proposals.  Obama responded that it would be impossible to know next year's budget until next year--an entirely reasonable and fair response.  Lehrer kept after the two, wanting an answer along the lines of, "Well, Jim, what I said about helping poor kids go to school?  Yeah, that's a goner."  Casual viewers will claim that Obama hemmed and hawed his way out of answering the question--and that McCain held back, letting Obama hem and haw for him--but the truth is that both candidates have ideas about what to do with the budget that involve slashing funding for programs each finds frivolous.  Until the next president is sworn in--three long months from now--there is really no way for either candidate to know what kind of budget restraints he'll have.

Lehrer's questions were streamlined, but he wasted too much time on the aforementioned quest to get each--or, later, either--candidate to say outright what proposals he had previously brought forward would be sacrificed to the bailout plan.  For that matter, the entire economy section was really about the bailout plan.  Yes, it is important, but as Obama stated, there are other questions that must be asked--and addressed--about how we got to this point.  Unfortunately, Lehrer never asked those questions.

Final remarks
This more academic style debate format often favors an experienced debater, and often fails to give us "good TV."  Last night, the format favored neither candidate; McCain's sense of humor fell flat without proper, reactive laughter and Obama was left giving excerpts of his campaign speech.  A different format should favor both candidates.  Before they go at it again, though, we get the singular Vice Presidential debate on Thursday, 2 October 2008 between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.  If, of course, Palin gets permission to attend.

23 September 2008

Big Oil Wears #4

For years, one player has dominated his field.  Just as it appeared that he would yield his position to a younger, healthier successor...he decided to keep playing.  Football fans know him as Brett Favre, but others know him as Big Oil.

Like Favre as the Green Bay quarterback, Big Oil has been the principal source of energy for as long as anyone can remember having energy.  In recent years, we have begun to question paying so much for a veteran that has not always yielded the results we would like.  We've looked at other teams, and we've seen where they have started to replace their aging marquee players.  Solar, wind, hydroelectric, electric--they're the up-and-comers and they have very high ceilings.  It appeared that, for Americans, Big Oil might have played its final political season under the Bush/Haliburton administration.

But wait!  Now the McCain/Palin team has come along and is interesting in keeping Big Oil in the game.  By moving from Green Bay to New York, Favre has a chance to be reinvigorated--he's getting a brand new start, rather than coming back for the same team.  Not dissimilarly, Team McCain wants to move oil production to our own land.  They concede that, down the road, we'll have to replace Big Oil.  For the time being, though, they want it to extend its playing time.

Favre might succeed in New York, he might not.  There was, however, no way that Packers ownership was going to bring him back.  Whatever reasons they had, they were clearly not wanting to bring back the aging star.  Fans were divided; some wanted to keep him out of loyalty and fondness; others agreed the time had come to move on.  Whether Aaron Rodgers pans out this year is not the most important tell of whether or not this decision is sound.  Favre has toyed with retirement following each of the past few seasons, and ownership clearly decided it would rather be free of such games.  "Will he come through and play or won't he?" gets old.  About as old as "Will gas prices double or won't they?"

No, the time has come for someone to tell Big Oil to hang it up.  We'll retire your number, give you a plaque in the Hall of Fame when the time comes.  You'll be looked back on as the star of your era.  But it makes no sense to keep paying you so much money when someone younger and healthier is ready to take over your position.  Maybe you can get on with another team--the Jets, China--but we're ready to bring up the new kid.

18 September 2008


Ah, Autumn.  That wondrous time of year when the last vestiges of Summer yield to the birth of Fall.  Mornings are brisk, afternoons are breezy and nights are crisp.  The misleading vibrance of the color of leaves as they begin to die.  Shorts go into storage under the bed; longsleeves and sweatshirts replace them in drawers.  Baseball teams compete for the postseason (the Cubs/Rays Series we've all joked about may not be far off!).  TV series return (or, in the case of the ones I actually watch, wrap up until January).  Looking ahead to scary movies and bonfires, but not there yet.

For me, this time of year is marked by classic country music and spy stories.  It seems I'm drawn to Johnny Cash around now...Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, the Unearthed box set.  As those who know me are aware, ever since I got into James Bond in 1995 I have permitted myself to read one Ian Fleming Bond novel annually, and earlier this week I finally gave in and read You Only Live Twice.  It was excellent, but not enough, so I proceeded to read my third John le Carre novel of the year, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  (For the record, yes, it's every bit the masterpiece you've heard it is.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab my iPod and take a walk with the Man in Black.  While I'm out and about, be sure to comment on this post with your own thoughts on Autumn.  What do you associate with this time of year?  What habits do you have for it?  The first person to respond to this post will be entitled to a free gift.

07 September 2008

Hurricane Sarah

Amidst the threat of natural disasters was the emergence of Governor Sarah Palin as Senator John McCain's running mate in the 2008 Presidential election. Much has already been said about her, and here are some additional thoughts.

Gov. Palin as a Novelty
Some have decried that Gov. Palin was chosen to counter Senator Obama's bid as our first African-American president with our first female vice-president. While this becomes a historical footnote, and while it has stirred attention (and much media attention), this is irrelevant. Though, if we were to thumb through our history books, we would see that when white males were forced to award suffrage rights, they gave the nod to non-white males before they gave it to females of any gender.

Gov. Palin as a Female Vote-Stealer
"They picked her to get the 'Hillary' vote" has been bandied about as a theory for Gov. Palin's selection. This would only have worked among low information voters (i.e., voters who know names and faces, and let a few soundbites on TV tell them all they care to know about the candidate). Gov. Palin's social positions, though, could not be farther from Senator Clinton's. Because of this, anyone whose vote was ever going to be cast based on any real thought at all will never allow Gov. Palin's gender sway them from candidates that reflect their ideology. So, again, the notion that Gov. Palin will attract "the 'Hillary' vote" is absurd.

Gov. Palin as SNL Fodder
O, Tina, where art thou?

Gov. Palin as Small Fry
Bill Maher recently cried foul that Gov. Palin's "small town values" and experience were "not good enough" to be a heartbeat away from the White House. The most common comparison has been between Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama and this, too, is off the mark. Those who favor Sen. Obama seem to argue that his Chicago background and recent-years national exposure has given him better experience to adapt well to the presidency. Certainly, another veep choice like Rudolph Giuliani (former mayor of New York City) might have had experience with larger populations and more media presence, but does that mean that Gov. Palin's lower-population background is "not good enough?" There are entire states whose population is smaller than Chicago, and in those states, there are generally few large population centers. By saying that Gov. Palin's small town experience is insufficient for the vice presidency, Maher has also said that those small town citizens's concerns are not important, that their wants and needs are also inferior to that of their big city brethren.

Gov. Palin as the GOP Sparkplug
Watching the 2008 GOP Convention did nothing to dispell the stereotype that Republicans are all old, rich, white people. Whenever network camera crews could find anyone under the age of fifty, they were shown on TV; anyone under thirty was interviewed. Gov. Palin's nomination has to be encouraging to a political party where the fear exists that the ideology will die with most of the people in the convention hall (in, say, ten years). Older Republicans must be reassured that their message has resonated with younger Americans, and Young Republicans must be reassured that they are not the only ones drawn to the old folks and their doctrine. Besides, if there's one thing that the Republicans have become not only good at, but obsessed with, it's a political fight. They have certainly circled the wagons around Gov. Palin, and they have done so with far more enthusiasm than they displayed for any of this year's presidential candidates. Had she had the notion to seek it, Gov. Palin might well have carried the GOP's presidential nomination.

Gov. Palin as a Sex Symbol
Without doubt, Gov. Palin's image will be plastered on the dorm room walls of economics majors across the country. Her ideology harkens back to the Reagan 80s, so she should be comfortable being called a "sexy grandma."

Gov. Palin: From Oprah to Jerry Springer
Consider the following hypothetical taglines:

"A mother of five children, one of whom has Down's Syndrome, pursues a political career. Her dedication propelled her into an election showdown with an incumbent governor...and she won. Hear her remarkable story, next on Oprah."

"Tomorrow, meet a woman who retaliated against her ex-brother-in-law by having him fired and persecuted. All this while finding out that, at 44 years old, her 17 year old, unwed daughter was going to make her a grandmother! She'll be here, along with her knocked-up daughter and her baby daddy, on The Jerry Springer Show."

Amazing that one person's biography lends itself so easily to both contexts, n'est ce pas?

Gov. Palin in 21st Century America
Gov. Palin favors drilling for oil and espouses much of the divisive rhetoric as the evangelical wing of her party on social issues. Her message will certainly resonate with small town voters, where churches outnumber restaurants and only winter coats come out of the closet. Her pro-drilling ambitions will not only endear her to Big Oil and her home state of Alaska (which has often favored the prospective prosperity that drilling might bring it), but will also make her seem like a candidate who will take the "obvious" solution for our nation's problems rather than making things harder than they need to be. Oh, Gov. Palin. You're young, you're enthusiastic, you excite a crowd. Why must you live in our past, rather than in our present?