Saturday, October 04, 2008

how to lose a debate and alienate people, part deux

So, now that a few days have passed (and the SNL skit has run), we can better digest the VP debate and predict what to expect from the second McCain-Obama debate on Tuesday. Let's go back to my criteria, and then I will add two more that I recalled during the debate.
  1. Jargon: For Joe Biden, it was a struggle not to sound like the chairman of the foreign relations committee. For Sarah Palin, the goal was to sound like some one who knew what the foreign relations committee did. For the most part, Biden sounded like a normal, educated person. Palin, in an effort to sound educated, rattled off the names of people she met at the UN the other day and those that were on her cue cards. It was a rare time that her sentences had a coherent thought. Biden spent his time explaining (without condescension) the 2005 Bankruptcy bill, the 2005 Engery Bil, how McCain's vote and Obama's vote were equally "against the troops" and how McCain is no maverick/different than Bush. Advantage: Biden

  2. Talking about unpopular things: Palin went back to the old "But the Surge is working!!" crap, but did not dwell on it as long as McCain did, showing that it is his obsession, not the Republican Party's. Biden had to spent time explaining how his position on the war was different from McCain's and the same as Obama's. Advantage: Palin.

  3. Look them in the eye and tell them that they were wrong: Palin had her "oh no Joe, there you go again!" line and a couple factually inaccurate ways of attacking Obama and Biden. Biden smartly (more on this later) did not directly attack Palin, rather he praised her when she "supported" something McCain opposed, like a windfall profits tax on oil companies or same-sex couple property rights. Instead, he looked into the camera and attacked McCain, which is a VP candidate's job. Given that Biden's attacks were crisper and more factually based, Advantage: Biden.

  4. Gimmickry: Calling yourself a "Maverick" and referring to middle class voters as "Soccer Moms" and "Joe Sick-Pack" makes people wonder how regular-guy/gal you really are. Given her dearth of knowledge of public policy and current events (despite her claim that she reads all of the world's newspapers) might make her seem average, but then her ability to drop G's like they were dollar bills and other repeated folksyisms lend an aire of phoniness. My contrast, Biden gets a softball thanks to Palin (who must not have been briefed on Joe's personal tragedy) to choke up and talk about being a single dad worried about his children surviving. Her response to this signature moment? Recite her drinking game words. Advantage: Biden

  5. Moderator's pet peeves: At least ten times, Palin opted to explicitly not answer the Gwen Iffil's question and to go to her talking points. While Ifill was powerless (given the debate format) to call Palin on it, she sure was pissed. “Blew me off i think is the technical term,” Ifill said today on Meet the Press. Answering questions is not an odd pet peeve, it is the point of the debate. Otherwise, it is just a cue card recall competition...oh wait. Advantage: Biden

  6. Hold your tongue judiciously: Joe Biden's preppers proudest moment, I learned today, was when Palin confused the name of the general in charge of the war in Afghanistan with the worst Civil War general for the union. Why? Because you could tell that this error irked Joe, but said nothing about it. The old Biden would have given a 10 minute lecture about the subject and come off like a blowhard know-it-all. Thursday night's Biden let Palin hang herself with her own rope. Advantage: Biden

  7. Treat her like a lady: [New point number 1] When a male politician debates a female one, it is a rare moment of a double standard in favor of the female. Instead of worrying about what the woman is wearing, viewers worry about the aggressive body language of the male towards the female. Rep. Rick Lazio blew his shot at an open senate seat by (among other things violating Hillary Clinton's personal space during a debate. While males can call each other by their first names to convey collegiality--like Biden or Obama and McCain--but to not call a female politician by her title is seen as condescending/demeaning given the history of males doing just that with a malicious intent. Especially for Joe Biden, a man known for his gaffes and arrogant reputation, he had to call Sarah Palin "Governor Palin" and not Sarah, while she could call him "Joe." Only once did I hear Biden not call her Governor Palin, and then he immediately corrected himself. Advantage: Biden

  8. win the SNL primary: In 2000, Al Gore was mocked for his excessively loud sighing in the first debate, then for his overly mellow behavior in the second (they joked he was on horse tranquilizers). In the meantime, George W. Bush got close enough to "win" the electoral college. John McCain didn't pick Sarah Palin because or despite the fact she looks like Tina Fey, but this similarity has resulted in a lasting caricature of her as an idiot who is has trouble even parroting her lines. Fey's latest take down of the debate showed how empty the word "maverick" has become. They made fun of Obama for being a Chicago politician (and therefore must want to help his corrupt friends back home), and Biden for his love of John McCain but their mockery of McCain and Palin has been much harsher. These days, it is impossible to separate Fey's impression of Palin from Palin herself. Her actual debate performance actually dragged down the ticket among undecideds, even if Republicans were less depressed after the debate. This shows that my analysis is not as biased as you might think: Biden did much better than Palin did.Advanatage: Biden

This leads me to my point about the principals as well, McCain might be boxed in by SNL as Gore was in 2000. It will be interesting to see how McCain will adjust after an 0-2 performance from the ticket thus far in the debates and Obama being up by about 8.5 points (with significant leads in OH, FL, VA, and within striking distance in NC and MO). Will be be less aggressive/more friendly, seeing how people reacted to his "What Senator Obama doesn't understand..."? Will he be even more aggressive, given his campaign (and therefore Palin) has decided to talk about William Ayers? Will Obama bring up Charles Keating like he went tit for tat against Hillary Clinton during the primaries? I will get the popcorn ready, you bring the butter.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

good for Jim

I watched the local news last night, and they spent all this time telling us what Rep. Rob Bishop thought of the bailout bill, and that Rep. Cannon voted with Wall Street, since "the voters can't hurt him any more" as Rod Decker put it. But they failed to mention that Rep. Matheson voted against the bill too.

After the Senate bowed before Mr. 22% and Goldman Sachs CEO Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson last night to the tune of 75-24, the House gets to vote on an even crappier version of the Paulson bill. Thanks, Obama and McCain!

But for our Blue Dog, this bill don't hunt.
"I don't believe this bill is the right medicine to cure the disease," Matheson said. "The Senate version is even worse. It's larded up with more debt and doesn't include long-term reform language that would prevent this kind of crisis from happening again."
But Matheson says: "Economists aren't able to say that this bill is actually going to solve the credit freeze problem."
He's not convinced the plan will function as designed or that taxpayers will receive an appropriate return on their investment.

He predicts that Congress will have to take further actions to respond to the financial crisis.
"I am certain this isn't the end of the difficulties we face," he said. "Congress will have to return in January to deal with this again."
Probably true, so why did our next president vote for this bill and hamstring their administration with cleaning up yet another Bush mess? And why did the Senate force the issue by voting on this bill last night? I don't get it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Could Hill be the next Winder?

Remember two years ago, it seemed like the Salt Lake County Sheriff's race was a snoozer, with the incumbent sporting a big lead? And then it came out that the sheriff regularly played golf during the day, and his excuse was that they could always reach him via his cell?

Next thing you knew, we had a new sheriff in town by large margin.

Now, the Salt Lake City Weekly did some investigative journalism the big boys were afraid to do, and found AG Mark Shurtleff gave one of the local ambulance chaser law firms a big case (with big fees) shortly after said firm hired his daughter and gave him lots of campaign contributions.
Hill questioned the attorney general's ethics, both in his receipt of hefty campaign donations from payday lenders, and in his inability to investigate bribery allegations against former GOP state treasurer candidate and former state Rep. Mark Walker.
"That was due largely to the fact that he had endorsed [Walker], hosted a fundraiser for him and made a large contribution to his campaign - creating an obvious conflict of interest," Hill said.
Hill added allegations in the recent City Weekly story to that list.
"My opponent steered lucrative legal contracts to Siegfried & Jensen shortly after the firm hired his daughter as a paralegal," Hill said. "He entered these contracts without a formal competitive bidding process."
Since 2000, Siegfried & Jensen has fed Shurtleff's campaign fund close to $60,000. Shurtleff said his daughter, Ambra Gardner, worked for the firm for about six months.
The bid process - for lead attorneys to recoup state Medicaid funds from the manufacturers of Vioxx and Zyprexa - was less than formal, acknowledged Shurtleff.
It is as if these incumbents have no clue about the term "appearance of impropriety" or "image problem." Like I have said before, this is not the year to be an incumbent and running for reelection. The voters in Utah and all over the country are in a (justifiably) rotten mood, and there will be surprising upsets.

Monday, September 29, 2008

how to lose a debate and alienate people

Despite John McCain's attempt to call it a tie, poll after poll after focus group (even on FOX News) says he lost Friday's debate and Obama won. While some of the reasons apply specifically to the unique dynamics of 2008 presidential campaign, there are some general rules of thumb that can be extrapolated that Palin and Biden, as well as any state or local politician should heed from McCain's mistakes.
  1. Avoid jargon. To rebut Obama's claim that he was a leader on the issue of Nuclear Proliferation, McCain talked about he was an original co-sponsor of Nunn-Lugar. As a international relations major in college, and a political junkie with internship experience with a Congressman, I knew exactly what he was talking about. But I doubt most of the people watching had a clue. McCain also railed on Obama for not holding hearings in his sub-committee, when Obama explained that really Joe Biden is the committee chair and he held the necessary hearings, McCain said something like "well, I always held hearings when I was chair of my sub-committees."

    Both instances gave Obama the perfect opportunity to showcase why being in the Senate for decades is detrimental to one's ambitions for higher office. He said the sub-committee thing was "Senate inside baseball" and summarized the substance of bills he was touting as his ability to do big things, not the names of them. While McCain's points might have been valid, they came off poorly. Obama came off as a good explainer of his vision and why McCain's is myopic (comparing the $18 billion a year spent on earmarks to the $10 a month spent on the war in Iraq), and McCain came off as a guy whose been in DC for 26 years.

  2. Never belabor your support for unpopular positions. During the debate, CNN had a graphic underneath the feed from Mississippi of the dials it gave to its Cleveland, Ohio focus group, color coded for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. McCain's numbers tanked the most (they went down a lot) among all three groups when he went on and on about the war in Iraq and how leaving would be declaring "defeat." For over two years now, something like 60% of the country has decided that the war was a mistake and that we should start getting out. So the debate over Iraq is now how to best get out, not whether we should get out at all.

    Obama skillfully beat back McCain "but the Surge worked!" retort by saying it was a tactic that was necessary to prevent further catastrophe of a war that was unnecessary and poorly done, a war that McCain cheerleaded for years until he complained about Rumsfeld's incompetence. Rather than addressing the merits of this point, McCain went back to the "What Senator Obama doesn't understand..." well and kept rambling about tactics versus strategy and mentioning General Petraeus as if just evoking his name would destroy Obama's argument. McCain should have focused on his (belated) calls for Rumsfeld's resignation and other harsh words he had for the Bush Administration's prosecution of the Iraq war.

  3. Look your opponent in the eye and tell them they are wrong. Media commenters and those in the blogosphere noticed that McCain avoided eye contact with Obama. Instead, he uttered profanities under his breath. This reminded me of Al Gore's sighs and Bush's winking in the 2000 and 2004 debates. Body language is more important than substance in these debates for undecideds, especially when the topic is something "boring" or "wonky" like foreign policy. Obama projected confidence with his positions and self, while McCain seemed desperate and nervous.

  4. Keep gimmicks to a minimum. John McCain attempted to "shake up the race" twice, once by picking someone as qualified for the Vice Presidency as SL County Mayor Peter Corroon, and next by claiming to be suspending his campaign and attempting to cancel/postpone the debates. The public (and SNL) saw through these attempts as stunts, and not serious efforts to do anything. When comedians can parody your attempts to change the dynamics of the campaign, you know you have gone too far. You can only debate a cardboard cutout/plant so many times.

  5. Ignore the moderator's pet peeves, gently. NBC's Tim Russert was obsessed with Social Security's solvency. ABC's Charlie Gibson is obsessed with the capital gains tax. PBS's Jim Lehrer on Friday was obsessed with the candidate talking to each other and not rhetorically to him. Obama was admonished for saying "Jim" like Senators say "Mr. President" in their speeches (referring to the Senator sitting in the chair (the President Pro Tempore of the Senate), not the President of the US). So Obama semi-mockingly repeated his sentence replacing "Jim" with "John" and everyone laughed at how silly the pet peeve was. This simultaneously satisfied Lehrer, made Lehrer stop talking about it, and made the media aware of McCain's lack of eye contact.

  6. Don't try to have the last say on every point. This is one of the toughest ones to do, since it is a debater's natural instinct to attempt to correct the record/the opponent and stick it to them one last time. But overdoing it makes you seem like a insecure jerk, not an alpha dog. A couple times Obama attempted to respond a second or third time on a topic and was interrupted again by McCain or Lehrer. Obama merely smiled and said something like "well let's move on." While some Democrats were annoyed with this apparent passivity, Obama had countered that with prior instances of asserting himself against McCain earlier in the debate. This way, Obama appeared gracious and eager to address other topics, without looking like a complete doormat. And by contrast, McCain appeared to be a guy that couldn't let go and had to make the same point yet another way. Gore suffered from this problem in the first debate in 2000 as well.

That's about all I can think of at this point. Of course, it is easier said than done. But if you remember nothing else VP wannabes, just because your goal is to be the President of the U.S. Senate, you shouldn't sound like you are the president of the Senate.