Monday, January 23, 2012

Florida Debate

I have a debate wrap over at Plum Line, mainly pushing the point I've made before that Newt's debate skills are something of a fraud. I thought he did quite poorly tonight.

A couple of other points. Of all the whoppers I've ever heard, Newt's claim that he left the House...I don't have the transcript yet, but as the NYT put it "Mr. Gingrich made it sound as if he left the speakership out of a simple desire to do something else." As I was saying, of all the whoppers I've ever heard, that sure is one. Not that I expect him to say: "well, it was a combination of the ethics charges against me, the open secret that I was carrying on an affair with a member of my staff while impeaching the president for infidelity, and that pretty much everyone in the conference was fed up with my shoddy management skills and dictatorial tendencies." But there are some more plausible sounding answers than the one he gave, surely.

The other point is about the debate. During the first half hour, all of us on the twitter machine were bashing Brian Williams for asking only political and gotcha questions, which he did to the extent of twice interrupting a Newt/Mitt policy discussion to urge them to return to personal attacks (yes, really). Then they went to a break, and came back focused almost exclusively on policy questions until the end, when Williams asked an open-ended question that allowed everyone to make a final statement. About 15 minutes or so into the policy portion, the reporters and others I follow on twitter started complaining how boring it all was. My feeling? I'm for the policy questions. Sure, they're dull for those of us who have watched over a dozen debates, plus stump speeches and TV hits and the rest of it. But part of the point of having debates, presumably, is for regular citizens, and while most of them probably changed the channel after the fireworks, a good number of them presumably stuck around and heard all that stuff for the first time from this field.

Indeed, while I'd be fine with leaving the political and gotcha questions out altogether (the candidates will find ways to get their prepared attacks in regardless of what the moderators do), I'm mostly fine with the way that NBC handled their job tonight.

And that's all until the next debate, on Thursday. Yikes!

5 comments:

  1. Paragraph number 2 is my favorite thing I've read all week. Thanks for that.

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  2. The thought I had while watching the policy part of this debate is that the voters in the early states, plus the media and/or party actors who were doing the vetting this past fall, did their jobs pretty well. Of the pack of loons with which they were originally presented, they correctly eliminated the craziest and least experienced, and left four finalists who, though nutty by the standards even of recent history, are all obviously political pros with an ability to discuss public policy in some detail. There was no "vaccinations cause retardation" or "let's kill the Fed chairman" or "remind me which country is Libya" kind of moment.

    On the other hand, Williams as moderator also steered the conversation toward real questions, and in that sense may have done the country a disservice by helping the candidates sound more normal than they really are. It might be more helpfully revealing if they were pressed to defend their more colorful views. I see no reason that a debate can't be an occasion for Santorum to explain why contraception is wrong, or for Romney to cite an actual case of Obama apologizing for America, or for Gingrich to detail the impending threat from Sharia law, or for Paul to remind us of the many ways in which modern economies worked better before we had central banking and floating exchange rates. Williams just seemed to take for granted that these extremist positions aren't worth discussing, and in that sense did all the candidates a favor.

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  3. I dunno, man. I think you're letting your idea of Newt color your interpretation a bit. I think that he didn't have a real answer for Mitt's attacks, but he mostly parried and dodged well enough. One thing that stood out to me was at the end, when they were asked about their contributions to conservatism, and Mitt's answer was largely, well, he had a family and worked in the private sector, and made Massachusetts marginally less liberal, whereas Newt regurgitated 45-year resume as a movement conservative. That seemed like a pretty stark contrast. And sure enough, Newt's camp apparently sent out a press release playing off that question:

    http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/updates/4591

    -atomsareenough

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  4. If political-campaign reporters get bored by policy discussions, maybe they should go out and work at a job that pays $30,000 a year so they might develop an interest in policies that make real people's lives easier, or more difficult. What a bunch of spoiled brats!

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  5. Politco is echoing JB on Newt being an actor! Great catch, JB.

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