Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Other Side of the Coin

Another day, another presidential debate, this time the Republicans taking the stage. We livestreamed real time response again and technically there were no major problems. You would think, however, that in 2007 we would have developed some kind of modern format -- something different than what Lincoln & Douglas employed. I'd like to see people e-mailing in real-time questions that get printed on screens that candidates answer in a rapid-fire format. SOMETHING different. Anything.

The reality is, you rarely get a real sense of who a candidate is when the debates are so formatted. It seems it's only when there's some deviation from standard "issues" questions that you get the true measure of the man. For example, I recall the 1988 debate where Mike Dukakis was asked how he would react if his wife was raped and murdered. Because he dispassionately re-stated his opposition to the death penalty, he was seen as being cold and emotion-less. Voters saw a side to the candidate that transcended his platform. Same applied when Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle he was "no Jack Kennedy." Those moments tell me, as a voter, so much more about the candidate I might vote for than a policy statement.

This GOP debate was completely different in tone and flavor than the Democratic debate. For some reason, the Democrats always seem to come off as cartoon-ish. They talk rhetoric, platitudes, and never seem to get to the meat of any issue. The Republicans, on the other hand, can be very serious, very intellectual and downright frightening. Their topics covered evolution versus creationism, abortion, the health care system and the cost of prescription drugs. All I can recall of the Democratic debate was Hillary braying like (shall I say it?) a donkey who got a kick out of calling Dick Cheney names. THAT'S original.

There are plenty of weird Republicans as well. Tom Tancredo seems to be an angry, vindictive, small-minded creature. I'm not sure why he's running, but it seems like it's just to get even with the Bush Adminisration for some perceived slight. He said as much on national television. Some of them seem like they're just running to get attention, like they were children who never got enough of mom and dad's time, because you know they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning anything and they've got to know it too. There were people on the GOP debate stage I have never heard of before and I work in the media. Who the heck is Duncan Hunter? Sam Brownback? Come on! Are these guys for real? Do they seriously think anyone's going to elect them president?

There were only three people on the stage who can be considered viable GOP candidates and the rest should stop wasting other people's time and money: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. That's it.

Which isn't to say some of the others didn't appear to be decent human beings. Mike Huckabee was apparently a Baptist minister at some point in his life and he was at times eloquent and articulate -- even if I'm far from being a conservative. But he'll never get elected to the White House.

Maybe what they are really doing is running for Cabinet positions -- trying to get their name on a national marqee and build some political capital. Otherwise it makes no sense.

On some levels, the Republicans are scary because they're SO sincere. In this they are the polar opposites of the Democrats, who you get the sense are trying to pick all your pockets even as they grin and shake your hand. The problem with the GOP is that while they're sincere, the things they believe in are appalling. One of them talked about building a wall along the U.S. southern border to keep illegal immigrants out, but when he was asked if a similar wall should be built between the U.S. and Canada, he said no. Archie Bunker, your spirit is alive and well in the Grand Old Party, where everyone is welcome under the big tent as long as they're wealthy, educated and white.

John McCain, interestingly enough, has always seemed to have a soul. He seems to be genuinely trying for an illegal immigration solution, unlike all the politicians who argue about it and do nothing. He's put his money where his mouth is and he sincerely seemed to believe it when he said during the debate that our neighbors to the South are "all God's children," too. The problem with McCain is, someone let the air out of his tires. I don't know whether he's on medication or what, but he's not the firebrand he once was, which was what always made him so appealing. Whether you agreed with the guy or not, he said what he said and he meant it, no retreat. You had to respect that. The other night he was like a man who's taken anti-depressants. Very little affect and tired to boot.

Which leaves the growing legion of Independent voters, once again, without a place to hang our hats. I almost can't remember the last presidential election that anyone I know got excited about. I think, maybe, it was when Nixon ran. Everyone I knew thought he was the boogie man he eventually turned out to be, but people were psyched about that race. For some reason, I always remember the "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern" bumper stickers that sprouted later on. Ever since then, I haven't seen anyone become passionate about a presidential election. It's really a pity.

No, like a lot of things, politics as we know it is freeze-dried, formulaic, tired and predictable. Get one candidate out there who can shake things up and they could have the world as their oyster.


N. Hanks said...

MRF - I like what you're saying here, although I might be even more skeptical that the two parties can come up with a candidate that will break through the frozen tundra. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm putting my faith in building an independent movement--bringing indies together to create the environment where hopefully someone will be able to speak out and REALLY offer a choice or two or three....
See my post on The Hankster...

Kirk said...

I think the Republicans are facing a real problem that's the legacy of the Bush campaigns (appealing to moral conservatives at the expense of traditional, economic conservatism). With the perceived failure of many of the "neocon" political philosophies, you've got some candidates who want to turn away from that and get back to old-school Republican basics. But that's not where their electorate is at now. I don't think they have a clear idea of who they need to appeal to in order to get back the votes.

You'll always see some fringe candidates, like Tancredo, who function as polarizing figures in the primaries. I think they can be very useful to gauge how the core reacts to some of these issues. It's always interesting to see how (or whether) the front-runners massage their message based on how those candidates capture some voters.

What's kind of interesting in all this is that polls are showing that independents (at least in New Hampshire) are planning to vote in the Democratic primary, rather than the Republican primary. This is a key turnaround from before, when McCain was able to capture independent votes. It may mean that more die-hard right-wing messages will work better there than moderate ones would. It may also help explain some of the blandness being seen on the Democratic side as they try to capture those independent votes...