Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Last Week's Debate

James Fallows has a good takedown on what was fundamentally so bad about last week's Democratic presidential debate, which was almost an hour old before any of the moderators asked a question about a policy issue, and which featured Charles Gibson pointedly asking Barack Obama, "Does Reverend Wright love America as much as you do?" as if it were a legitimate question.
When ordinary citizens have a chance to pose questions to political leaders, they rarely ask about the game of politics. They want to know how the reality of politics will affect them—through taxes, programs, scholarship funds, wars. Journalists justify their intrusiveness and excesses by claiming that they are the public's representatives, asking the questions their fellow citizens would ask if they had the privilege of meeting with Presidents and senators. In fact they ask questions that only their fellow political professionals care about.


At Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 12:28:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Victor said...

(1) Except that these questions from so-called "ordinary citizens" are not better -- they're basically all forms of "what can you do for me," i.e., invitations to pander and promise this or that payoff -- a post-modern form of patronage. They're only more "substantive" according to a particular understanding of "substance" -- government as dispenser of favors. And they're as likely as not to come from self-interested activists rather than genuinely "ordinary" people (and often from the other side, witness the disgraceful YouTube Republican debate).

(2) As for the questions from Gibson and Stephanopoulos -- they're much closer to the sorts of questions that will come up in the fall, and Obama's performance showed (among other things) that he is weak when directly challenged on his feet on "muthos"-type questions. And besides, who needs to hear the 38th reiteration of who is more against NAFTA, whose aides conspired with what other foreign enemy over trade, and bickering over the very slight differences between their health-care plan.

At Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 1:44:00 AM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I'd certainly agree that there've been too many debates... leading up to Super Tuesday, there were how many? 20? And then this one was the first in how long?

I don't really disagree with what you said, but --- and I know this is idealistic --- instead of yet another healthcare or NAFTA rehash or the question of whether everybody they've ever sat down at a table with is pure of heart, I'd like to see them ask questions of a more substantive nature, but on different subjects.

Yeah, I know, it's naive of me to ask that the press actually try to inform the public instead of just playing "gotcha" with the candidates.

At Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 3:13:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Victor said...

You're wrong that these questions are not "actually informing the public." They are; just about certain things, rather than certain other things.

And I'd submit that questions of character, values and ideology are actually much more revealing and important than programmatics, simply because:

(1) in foreign policy, what matters is uncertain and subject to the vagaries of history and chance (how much discussion was there about dealing with a post-Communist Russia in the 1988 campaign or about Osama bin Laden in 2000?);
(2) the way the US government is structured, a president can't deliver too much on many domestic issues (not that they don't promise far beyond their ability to deliver in their "substantive" discussions);
(3) the American president is a symbolic head of state as well as a policy-making head of government (in fact his HoS powers are actually greater, or at least more reliably and surely *his,* than his HoG powers).


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