Tag Archives: Presidential Debates

The Politics of Exclusion

Over at The Politics of Scrabble, Scott Payne has some interesting ruminations on Bob Barr and the presidential debates (emphasis mine):

Insofar as elections are opportunities for a national discourse, it stands to reason that we would want that discourse to be as representative and searching as possible. This does not mean that we are obliged to open the flood gates and let ever shmo who can open their yapper into such an important event, but those who represent legitimate perspectives that have viable options for pressing challenges ought to be given the opportunity to speak. Had Canadians not pressed this point, I would likely still be very much in the dark as regards May.

The question becomes: how do we determine who represents a valid perspective? That question, I believe, is a qualitative one, not quantitative. Saying that this or that candidate has “X” percent if support in national polls is essentially an arbitrary determination. It’s not unhelpful, but I don’t think it gets to the meat of the matter. What I believe we’re really looking for, though, is the quality of thought that has gone into those candidates’/parties’ positions: do they represent a bona fide worldview, is that worldview comprehensive as regards the office being sought, is there a constructive and contributory element to what is being representative, or is it wholly reactionary, and, perhaps somewhat controversially, is there a genuine intellectual under-girding to the proposals offered? On all of these counts, I think Barr and libertarians pass the threshold, whereas, Nader, to my mind, does not.

The issue of presidential debates is an interesting one, and while I’m deeply sympathetic to political inclusion, I’m not sure that a debate commission should determine the merits of each third party candidacy. Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party, for example, espouses a coherent political philosophy. His worldview is well outside the political mainstream, but then again, so is Bob Barr’s. Baldwin has also been endorsed by Ron Paul, one of the few fringe candidates who achieved real political visibility this election cycle.

Nader is frequently accused of political narcissism, and having heard the man speak I find this viewpoint entirely plausible. That said, I think it would be wrong for a debate commission to exclude him based on the perception of insincerity. His views represent a readily-identifiable strain of left-wing progressivism, one that has had an important impact on the United States’ political development (as a consumer rights advocate, no one did more than Nader to shift the language of public consumption).

In other words, I think that every prominent third party candidate meets Payne’s criteria for inclusion. If you let them all in, the debate commission will undoubtedly be accused of wasting the public’s time. If you only let one or two third party candidates participate, there’s no compelling reason to exclude their counterparts from the other side of the political spectrum.

Holding candidates to a minimal standard of public support remains the least controversial way of determining participation in the presidential debates. If libertarians can’t reach a certain popularity threshold, maybe we need to do a better job of choosing our political leadership.

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Filed under Libertarianism, Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics, The Media

The Debate, Take Three

Didn’t watch it. My gal on the street says Obama won. The focus groups say Obama won. So I guess Obama won.

UPDATE: The Next Right says McCain crushed. I think this proves Isaac Chotiner’s point – if you’re stuck inside the GOP bubble, you have no way of measuring the salience of partisan attacks. I’m sure the Republican party faithful found the Ayers nonsense incredibly persuasive – but these are the same people who are arguing over Obama’s Maoist sympathies. On the other side of the fence, the last few decades of conservative dominance have forced liberals to tailor their talking points to an unfriendly media environment. I wouldn’t go to The Daily Kos for post-debate analysis, but websites like TNR and The American Prospect do a decent job of evaluating liberal arguments in light of actual public opinion. As a purely tactical matter, the GOP will continue to lag politically so long as Rush Limbaugh and National Review define its electoral approach.

UPDATE II: See also James Fallows:

Here’s why the third debate, and all three debates, helped Obama so much more than McCain.In general-election debates, it’s a losing strategy to “rally the base.” That’s what your own campaign events, and your fund-raisers, and your targeted ads, and your running mate are for. Especially by the time of the second and third debates, the job is to “rally the center.” That’s where most of remaining persuadable and undecided voters are.Everything about Barack Obama’s approach to this debate, and all debates, was consistent with this reality. Almost nothing about John McCain’s approach was.

I imagine it’s pretty difficult to “rally the center” when your targetting reticule is aimed squarely at the radical fringe.

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But Senator Obama, I don’t want to serve . . .

I caught a few snippets of the debate, but I’ll outsource my insta-verdict to the girlfriend: “Obama came off as a bit more fluent and cordial.”

And there you have it. For what’s it worth, I could do without all these calls for service.

UPDATE: More Promise Ring punditry! It’s about time elites took notice of the crucial “listened to obscure bands in high school” demographic. Tragically, David Broder has yet to adopt “Sunny Day Real Estate” as his euphemism of choice for bad subprime mortgages.

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Stay in and watch the debate or go see an all-lesbian Zeppelin tribute band?

Yeah, it was an easy decision. For what it’s worth, Lez Zeppelin rocked the casbah last night, belting out impressive covers of “Ramble On” and “Kashmir,” among others. They also stayed away from the really obvious song choices (thank God “Stairway to Heaven” didn’t make the set list). Of course, attending the show was merely a pretext for an in-depth look at Virginia’s shifting demographics, which is how this political blogger justified missing the debate. Based on an informal tally of the number of 40 year-old lesbians making out in the audience, I’d say Obama will win the state pretty handily.

And while I understand the importance of debates for voters who haven’t been paying attention, I’m not sure why even a disastrous performance from either candidate would change anyone else’s mind. Extemporaneous speaking is certainly useful, but it doesn’t say much about either candidates’ judgment. Obama and McCain have already had months to explain and defend their positions on a wide range of issues. The one new development that may have influenced previously committed voters was the bailout controversy, but Lehrer was unable to elicit anything from either candidate other than maddeningly vague commitments to “action,” “oversight,” and the like.

Predictably enough, the commentariat’s collective reaction to the debate was quite silly. National Review reconfirmed its authors’ amazing ability to generate faux-outrage from any Obama statement, no matter how innocuous. This piece from Politico highlights one of the more obnoxious habits of political pundits – namely, the tendency to attach an inordinate amount of value to a trait that says nothing about the candidates’ judgment or ability to govern (emphasis mine):

True, the majority of the debate was fought on McCain’s strongest ground: foreign affairs. And true, McCain’s feet were not held to the fire as to why he urged the postponement of the debate in order to secure a financial bailout package in Washington, but then decided to show up without any such agreement in hand.

But it didn’t seem to matter much. McCain just pounded away on his central argument: Obama just didn’t “understand” how to deal with Pakistan; how dangerous it is to meet with foreign leaders without preconditions; how serious the Russian invasion of Georgia was; the price of failure in Iraq.

“He doesn’t understand, he doesn’t get it,” McCain said of Obama, also saying, “There is a little bit of naiveté here.”

Of course, the author doesn’t bother to examine the merits of McCain’s positions. The only thing that matters to Roger Simon is that McCain has been around the proverbial block; never mind the fact that the block is a lot worse off for McCain having been there.

Simon would surely reply that he is only assessing voters’ likely perception of the exchange. So why not outsource that sort of thing to the focus groups, who awarded the night to Obama? Then again, that might force Roger Simon to actually comment on the substance of the candidates’ positions, which could have the unpleasant side-effect of informing his audience that McCain’s foreign policy proposals are absolutely insane.

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