Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Debate Like No Other: One for the Ages

Watching the classic debate between the fictional candidates in West Wing, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smitts) vs Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) I could only say, "If only." If only a real debate could be like that, where the moderators stay out of the way and the candidates get to speak as long as they want and then respond to what the other says. But no, I thought, that could never happen in real life.

Tonight, however, I was proved wrong. 

Rachel Maddow and Mark Todd were masterful at serving up the questions and then getting quickly out of the way. And they asked all the questions I wanted to ask: Bernie, are you electable?  Why would you not simply be the next Barry Goldwater or George Magovern, an extremist beloved by a cult following but defeated in 49 states?  Hillary, how can you say you are not in the pocket of Goldman Sachs when you accept $675,000 in "speaker's fees" from them? 

Hillary had the tougher job, in defending taking the money. Basically she said, well, I was cashing in, but that never affected my vote or my vigorous pursuit of Wall Street when it came to voting for regulation and legislation to rein in Wall Street's excesses.  She scored points for saying you have insinuated I'm corrupt for accepting this money, an  "artful smear" on my character.  Bernie deftly side stepped that by saying, essentially, I'm not saying you are corrupt, but I am saying, as a system, it stands to reason Goldman Sachs and the others wouldn't be spending money on politicians if they thought this was not a good investment. When Wall Street Banks spend millions lobbying for regulation and Congress votes for deregulation, don't you think there might be a connection?

Bernie is pointing to our systems of legal bribery, where Congressmen can accept money as long as there is no specific deal for a specific vote.  Hillary responds by saying, Bernie nobody can be pure enough for you: President Obama, Barney Frank, nobody is up to your standards; wake up and live in the real world.

Well, Bernie says, the truth is the business model of Wall Street is fraud. Anyone who saw "The Big Short" or read "Liar's Poker" will know what he is talking about. 

We all have to swim in the same water, Hillary was saying, and she was basically admitting its a toxic system, but you have to swim in the polluted water if that's what you've got. Bernie is saying, no, I won't dive into that scummy pond. I'm going to decontaminate the pond. 

The wonderful thing about the two of them was how they managed to recover from their own tempers, to get past their very apparent, very real anger, and move on. Bernie took pains to agree with Clinton, when he could and she with him.

He refused to take the bait about demanding a recount in Iowa. He shrugged it off. We are talking about two delegates out of 2500, he said. Get past it.  And he reaffirmed his disinterest in her email problems, saying there was already a process in place and he would not politicize it, which was pretty crafty, actually, because he never said it was unimportant. 

Even the final summary statements were worth watching. Hillary was all polished and prepared, saying she was aware some people in New Hampshire were saying they would vote for Bernie if they voted their hearts but for Hillary if they were voting with their heads and then she wrapped up her nicely shaped and well rehearsed summary by saying she hoped voters would bring both heart and head to the voting booths. It was professional and well crafted, but too clever by half and that's why people don't connect with her. She's too well coiffed. 

Bernie, on the other hand, demonstrated why he has won hearts. He started off by saying his father came to America at age 17 and didn't speak English and would be amazed, had he lived to see his son running for President. This is the sort of thing Marco Rubio trots out all the time, but coming at that particular moment in the night, and put in the tone of wonderment Bernie struck, I found myself almost tearing up. It was like his wordless ad, "Looking for America." There is just something so decent and humble and likable about the man. 

I'm just sorry I didn't record it. Maybe it's on youtube.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Agreed-it was superb. Todd and Maddow were wonderful moderators because they did just that-moderate-not grandstand or ape for the camera. Their questions were tough, pertinent and blessedly short so the focus was entirely on the candidates. Of course that's easier to do when there are only two candidates not a large field, however, we both could come up with a substantial list of moderators who would have been hogging the spotlight even with only two debaters.

    It was wonderful that Hillary and Bernie were both at the top of their game last night. For once a debate truly lived up to it's mission of providing the viewer a glimpse at who the candidates really are, as well as a decent dose of what they're for and against.

    Like you, I was quite moved by Bernie's closing statement because you could see the truth in it. His father, a man who arrived in this country at seventeen speaking no English could never imagine his son would one day be running for the highest office in the land. Powerful stuff. It's too bad Hillary didn't have another bite at the apple at that moment. She could have said her father would be equally as shocked that her daughter was vying to be President-when he was a child women couldn't cast a vote. He surely could never have imagined his daughter arriving at the White House as anything other than the First Lady. But she didn't say anything like that-she needs to-then she can be seen as more than just supremely capable..

  2. Maud,
    I've probably got a blind spot which you illuminate: Like those blissfully ignorant people who said Obama's election meant we had entered a post racial era, I tend to think that gender is really not an issue any more. I was schooled by women who were my medical residents and professors and who I never thought of as "women doctors" but simply doctors. So I can't really see it's much of a milestone for a woman to become President. Angela Merckel is President of Germany and, Heaven Help Us, Margaret Thatcher was the political leader of Britain and nobody seemed to focus on their being women.
    As for Todd and Maddow, I agree. Maddow had said before the debate she did not think Sanders stood a chance in the general election, and her question about his being another Magovern, destined to be loved but buried in a landslide defeat, was directly to that point. Of course, what can Bernie say to that? The bigger problem, the 800 pound gorilla is his age. For fans of West Wing, the sheer physical demands of the job is very apparent.
    Mad Dog

  3. Mad Dog,
    Although you "can't see it's much of a milestone for a women to become President" my guess is most women -whether they realize it now or not-would be moved watching Hillary being sworn in. Yes we've already had female leaders like Merkel and Thatcher on the world stage-but we can't presume what the women of Germany and Britain felt when those two rose to power. In any case, this wasn't the reason for bringing it up-this time-instead my point was simply Hillary had as compelling a back story as Bernie, but she rarely shows the warmth and emotion that he did in his closing statement and some would say that is to her detriment. Although it doesn't seem getting warm and fuzzy comes naturally to her and there might not be as much of an expectation for a man to convey warmth,it seems a bit more emotional connection to her audience would help her. Of course when it comes to being a female candidate, displaying too much emotion is always a risk-it's a fine line..

  4. Maud,

    I've never met Hillary, but those who have tell me her warmth and energy do not translate well to the cool medium of TV. Seeing her speak in a convention center, more of it comes across.
    One problem she has is she is so well educated and articulate that she seems scripted even when she is not. She just naturally constructs paragraphs with symmetry and rhythm and that does not sound authentic. If she asked me, I would work on her responses to get her to scuff up her polish. She is terrific when they ask her at debates if she wants to comment on some dumb statement and she laughs and says "No." After they wore her down at the Benghazi hearings she got better and better as she got ground down.
    As for the significance for other women, you can speak to that from real understanding. I'll have to take your word for it.
    Personally, I'd think Elizabeth Warren would have the same significance. Of course, I'd love voting for Gloria Steinem but I think she is now in her 80's.

    Mad Dog