Category Archives: Debates

So, is anyone paying ANY attention to the races for governor?

Sorry about the picture quality. ETV's online video doesn't have an HD option...

Sorry about the picture quality. ETV’s online video doesn’t have an HD option…

I sort of hesitate to post about the Democratic gubernatorial debate last night, since not one of y’all commented on the GOP one the night before.

I wonder: What was the viewership of those debates? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it was probably lower than the deeply shameful turnouts we get in the actual primaries.

As Cindi noted in her column earlier this week, just 14 percent of registered voters bothered to vote in the state primaries two years ago, and 16 percent in 2014.

Really. Let that sink in. While it’s sinking, reflect that for a huge number of state offices, the primaries ARE the election, with no alternative offered in the fall.

If my guess is correct, and even fewer people watched the debates, that means even among that select few, a lot of people will be voting on June 12 with minimal information about the candidates. Which means that they’ll be voting blind. And while in this race, if not in others, there will be a choice offered in the fall, if it’s between, say, Catherine Templeton and Phil Noble, we are really up a creek.

But let’s not dwell on that.

If you DID watch the Democratic debate, or both of them, what did you think? My own opinion of the three Democrats in no way changed — James Smith is the obvious choice among them, and I’ve yet to see his two challengers offer any reason why they would be better nominees. In fact, they consistently offered evidence to the contrary — although I will say that this debate wasn’t nearly as vapid, to use Republican Micah Caskey’s term, as the GOP one.

Beyond that, just to start things off (or to attempt to start things off), I’ll offer some faves from among my real-time tweets:

Y’all know me. I like to end on a positive note. Throw everybody a bone, why not?… :)

Thoughts on last night’s GOP debate?

GOP debate

Actually, it seems a bit jarring to use any form of the word “thought” in relation to that sorry spectacle. My Republican representative put it well:

There just didn’t seem to be much thinking going on on that stage. In fact, I found myself wondering whether, after all these years, even the GOP base has gotten sick of hearing the same pandering cliches stated over and over, ad nauseam.

Of course, there were exceptions to the right-wing cliche thing:

Old times there are not forgotten. At one point during the debate, someone asked me about McGill, “Is that the one they call Foghorn Leghorn?” No, no, I replied — you’re thinking of Henry. Although even he doesn’t have as firm a claim to that as Fritz Hollings. Of course, with Fritz, you never had the feeling someone was pulling a “Chatty Cathy” string. Fritz always spoke his mind.

My most popular tweet during the debate — 15 likes, which isn’t much by usual standards but I think this was a fairly low-viewership event — came with a typo, I’m embarrassed to say (and with Twitter, once there’s been a like or a retweet, I always hesitate to delete and start over). Substitute “rude” for “ride:”

Lynn Teague had an apropos reaction to that:

Indeed.

In retrospect, I felt a little bad about this one, as I worried it may have been misunderstood:

I didn’t mean to say our lieutenant governor is crazy. I mean he’s got the extreme territory staked out. He’s pretty out there. But at least he’s an extreme conservative, instead of, say, a “buzzsaw,” which means there’s some legitimacy to him, or at least consistency.

Did I have anything positive to say about anybody? Yes, I did:

So good one there, Henry. Nice to hear someone talking about an actual problem that exists in our state, instead of nonexistent things such as “sanctuary cities.” Of course, we know who talks the most about those.

My nominees for lowest point in the debate:

Henry talking about how proud he is to be helping Trump patrol the border down in Texas.

Catherine Templeton expressing her eagerness to execute some prisoners.

You may have your own favorites. Suggestions?

In any case, I didn’t hear anything that made me want to go out and take down my James Smith sign

A brief, belated report on the Democratic debate

debate

I went to the debate between the Democratic candidates for governor sponsored by Progress South Carolina Friday night, intending to blog about it. But the sound was so bad, and my notes therefore so incomplete and uncertain, that I blew it off.

But looking back, I think I can make a couple of observations. If you want more, or if you want to check my impressions, here’s a video of the whole thing. Bryan tried watching it in real time, and reported that “It sounds like they are underwater.” Which is the way it sounded in the Convention Center — loud enough, but mumbly. The good news is that the video available now sounds pretty good, especially with earbuds.

Here’s my main observation: I still don’t know why Phil Noble or Marguerite Willis is running, or what they hope to achieve. Oh, I can write down the words they say as to why they’re running, but I have trouble connecting those words to anything out there in the actual world.

The two of them seem locked in a bitter battle to see which one can be less likable. You’d think this campaign had been going on for years and they were sick to death of each other and of James Smith, to the point that they could hardly stand to be on the stage with each other.

Smith comes across as a guy focused on winning the election — the one in November, which hardly seems to be on the radar screens of the other two. He started his opening remarks with an upbeat, “Who here is ready to win an election? How about it?” Which prompted cheers, because that would indeed be a novel, exciting experience to this crowd.

tick offAfter a weird 12-second pause after moderator Bakari Sellers introduced him, Noble started off with a rambling, ticked-off, populist-tinged diatribe about South Carolina, starting in 1756, when his ancestors arrived. You can hear his tone on the video. At right you see his expression as he was telling this story. I got pretty lost in the story, along about the point where he went into detail about the curriculum of a school that folks like his ancestors started soon after their arrival. Lots of Greek and Latin, apparently.

In Noble’s world, our elected leaders haven’t failed to do what he wants because they disagree with him, but because they’re all “bought and paid for.” (Which is what I meant on a previous occasion when I said Phil is styling himself as this election’s Bernie Sanders.)

Ms. Willis, who had just gotten into the race that day, set her own tone by saying, “OK, let’s get right down to it. I’ve asked Phil Noble to drop out of this race.”

Noble’s response was along the lines of “Perhaps she oughta withdraw from the race!”

It was a “Yeah? And so’s yer mother!” moment that exemplified a tone that ran through the whole event. There have been times in the past when I have faulted my home state for being too polite. On Friday night, I was missing that politeness a bit.

The snapping wasn’t just between the two of them. For instance, after James Smith said some perfectly harmless things about how humbled and grateful he was for all the support he was getting from women across South Carolina, Ms. Willis replied with a sarcastic, “Well, let’s see how many of those eleven thousand women will still be with him when I tell you what I’m gonna do.”

Noble’s main shot at Smith came when he accused him of getting rating of 100 from the NRA, which Smith dismissed, defending his record of trying to reduce gun violence.

That moment sort of crystallized the point I mentioned earlier. Here we have a Democrat running with what would be an asset in the general election — a respect for gun rights, if Noble’s accusation were true — and that’s the beef his opponent has with him. From the start, Noble has seemed to justify his candidacy by accusing Smith of not being enough of a doctrinaire Democrat. He seems bent on making sure that the party nominates someone who can’t possibly win in the fall,

As for Ms. Willis… it will be interesting to see how many of those 11,000 women she can peel away from Smith in the coming weeks. That would seem critical to her chances, as she seemed to repeatedly put her self forward as the candidate for women. I don’t think she made a really strong start on that Friday night.

But y’all go watch it — you should be able to hear it better than I did at the time — and let me know what you think….

Video and a Twitter account of the city council forum

microphone

Having only one microphone was a bit awkward…

When I’m moderating a debate, I’m always thinking about too many other things — keeping an eye on the timekeeper, shuffling through questions from the audience, picking the next question — to take notes on what is actually being said. I mean, I hear this and that, but I can miss the overall flow, and I wouldn’t trust myself to report on it.

Fortunately, the Chamber streamed last night’s city council forum on Facebook Live. This is good for those of you who’d like to hear what the candidates said, and bad for me, because I find my own fidgeting and rocking back and forth in the background too distracting when I try to watch it.

If you’re only interested in one of the two races, we did the at-large contest between incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine and Joseph Azar first, then you see the candidates for District 1 — incumbent Sam Davis and Chris Sullivan — starting at -49:18.

If you’d like to read what the candidates said, Chris Trainor of Free Times Tweeted extensively during the event.

My main aim was to have an informative event that focused on issues rather than irrelevancies. I was pleased that Chris Trainor’s last Tweet said this:

Come to the city council debate tonight

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

This evening, I’ll be moderating the final debate of the Columbia City Council race.

It’s sponsored by the Columbia Chamber, the Community Relations Council (of which I am a Chamber-appointed member) and the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. We’ll be at the Chamber’s offices on Richland Street.

In case you haven’t kept up, Joe Azar is challenging at-large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, while veteran District 1 member Sam Davis faces Chris Sullivan.

We’re on a tight schedule, dealing with both races between 5:15 and 7 p.m., so I’m working today on trying to whittle down the prepared questions so I can get the best ones in. I don’t intend to ask about such irrelevancies as who belongs to the NAACP or who might be a closet Republican, because I can hardly imagine anything less relevant.

Of course, the candidates can bring up what they want, but my intent is to get good answers to how they intend to improve the city.

If y’all have any last-minute suggestions, toss ’em at me…

ebate

The Senate District 22 debate went OK — by which I mean, better than the presidential ones

both

My only complaint was that more people weren’t there. There were about 60 in the audience, which isn’t terrible, but in the vast Richland Northeast auditorium, that looked pretty sparse.

The candidates, Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, were both quite civil and well-behaved, but not shrinking violets. They asserted themselves. More than once, after they both had answered the question and both had rebutted, they asked for more time, so I gave them another round of rebuttal. I think rules should be flexible, as long as order is maintained. I’ll not have any debate I moderate turn into the ugly spectacles we see between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — if I can help it. Harrumph.

Of course, you can’t always help it, and visions of this debate devolving into a scene from Lord of the Flies caused me to be more nervous yesterday than I think I’ve ever been before moderating a debate. I’ve just seen so much chaos on TV this year, I wondered whether it had set an uncivilized precedent. I could hear the nervousness in my own voice at the outset of the forum, but once we were engaged and we’d interacted a bit, I calmed down. (It was kind of like my wrestling days in high school. I always hated, hated, HATED the circling around at the start of a bout — it made me super apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen. But once my opponent and I had a grip on each other, I settled down and knew what to do.)

Interestingly, I actually had to stop Susan Brill a couple of times when she interjected during Rep. McLeod’s time, telling her to wait her turn. That made me feel pretty foolish, since I had earlier asked her whether she was assertive enough to be effective in the Senate. (This was a companion question to asking Mia whether her abrasive communication style would work in the collegial Senate. I saw them as sort of opposites on the assertiveness scale — Mia too hot, Susan too cold.)

Only once did the audience get out of hand. Ms. McLeod was speaking when suddenly a man’s voice boomed from the audience something along the lines of Wait, are you trying to say… Everyone turned to stare in that direction — I couldn’t see him for the stage lights. I cut in immediately with something like, No, sir! We are not going to do that… I said he should write his question on a 3X5 card like everybody else, and pass it to Community Relations Council Executive Director Henri Baskins. To his credit, he complied. (As I said that, I knew I probably wouldn’t get to his question, because I had plenty of good questions — many more than I had time for — in front of me already, and I thought polite people’s questions should have precedence. But as it happened, Henri passed his question to me and, deciding I may have implied that I would ask his question, I made it the last one in the program.)

Were there any serious gaffes? Not really, although Ms. Brill got a pretty snarky reaction to her assertion — in trying to prove that the Richland Two school board of which she is a member provides all the district’s schools what they need, without favoritism — that the board had provided Ms. McCleod’s children’s high school with… wait for it… Astroturf for their football field.

At this point, y’all are saying, “Where’s the substance? You’re talking about the style.” Well, that’s the thing: When I’m moderating, I find it impossible to take notes. I’m too busy with the forms — making sure the rules are followed, watching the timekeeper, trying to keep up with what the candidates are saying even as I sort through the 3X5 cards from the audience trying to pick the next question.

But here are my prepared questions — I got to all but one — and a very brief summary of what I remember them saying in response. Sorry I can’t do better:

  1. I think most voters in the district are sorry to see Sen. Joel Lourie ending his distinguished career in the state Senate. He has played a leadership role on a number of issues of statewide importance. I’d like to ask each of you, to what extent to you intend to follow through on Sen. Lourie’s initiatives, and what sorts of issues are you likely to stress that he has not? Both said they would follow through on his issues. Mia mentioned DSS reform in particular. She also said one issue she would work on that she didn’t think Joel had done enough on was gender pay equity.
  2. We’ve had the opportunity to observe both candidates in public office for a number of years. I’d like to ask a question of each of you regarding your personal leadership styles. Ms. McLeod, you have been a very active and energetic advocate on a number of controversial local issues. You sometimes have a forceful, assertive style. Your critics say it’s too forceful, and unnecessarily alienates people. Your supporters say you’re a breath of fresh air, and exactly what’s needed. You’re running to be a part of the state Senate, a body that prides itself on its collegiality. My question is, how effective do you think your approach will be in that body? She had said in opening remarks that she was “a fighter,” so I reworded this to reflect that. She maintained that she had nothing to apologize for, and cited her ability, for instance, to work across the aisle with Republicans.
  3. Ms. Brill, I have almost the opposite question to ask of you. In many ways your leadership style seems the opposite of your opponent’s. We seldom see you stepping out and making headlines in the same forceful way that Ms. McLeod does. Some might see your approach as more passive. Our state, and Richland County, have a number of very contentious, controversial issues lying before them. My question of you is, are you assertive enough to lead on these issues in an effective manner? She argued that she was, too, a leader, although it seems in retrospect (my memory could be playing tricks) that she had to go back to her time on county council years ago to come up with good examples.
  4. As I said, you are both experienced officeholders. Ms. Brill has gained a perspective on education and on local government that many members of our state Senate may lack. And Ms. McLeod well knows that the House can see things very differently from the way senators do. I’d like to ask each of you, what will you take from your specific experience in office that will make you a better senator? Sorry. I know they both had fairly substantive answers to this, but I honestly can’t recall the specifics
  5. Let’s talk about the Richland County Recreation Commission. After a year of upheaval in which many residents of the county began to despair of seeing the matter addressed meaningfully, we have recently seen movement, in part because of stands taken by the legislative delegation. But what has happened falls far short of what lawmakers have demanded. What should happen next, and what would you do as a senator to make it happen? I didn’t feel like either fully answered this, which may be because I wasn’t specific enough about what I meant. Mia sort of leaped ahead to answer Question 7, saying she would change state law to make lawmakers able to remove commissioners. She also noted that she thought the governor had all the information she needed to act. I think Susan also spoke of broader remedies. I considered asking the question again, demanding to know what they think should happen with the problem commissioners who haven’t quit, but I had a lot of subjects I wanted to get to, and moved on.
  6. Here’s a question near and dear to the CRC and its mission: The Recreation Commission issue is like many in Richland County, including on the Richland Two school board. It often breaks along racial lines. Things can get pretty ugly. Even Sen. Lourie, after all his years – and those of his father before him – of leading on social justice issues, has had the race card flung at him. How can we move forward on these difficult issues, which are tough enough without the painful ingredient of racial tension? How would you further communication to achieve the understanding needed to get everyone working together? Mia got slightly defensive on this, and defended herself well by going back to her leadership on the Election Commission debacle, when hers was the loudest voice calling for reform, and saying failing to run an election competently has nothing at all to do with race. (At some point in the debate — I don’t recall if it was now or later — there was some back-and-forth about Mia having injected herself into the incident at Spring Valley last year, something Brill supporters have decried as inappropriate.
  7. One more related to the Recreation Commission. The central political problem it poses is that while the legislative delegation can appoint its members, lawmakers can’t remove them, even if the delegation can itself come to agreement on something so difficult. This, along with hundreds of Special Purpose Districts across our state, is a vestige of the Legislative State, of a time when state legislators ran everything on the local level in their communities. The SPDs just did not go away when the Home Rule Act was passed in the 70s. What should be done about these hundreds of unaccountable little governments called special purpose districts, and will you lead on addressing the situation if elected? Neither seemed as interested in taking this on as I would be, although Susan may have been more willing than Mia — I really can’t recall now. I just remember being disappointed, and moving on.
  8. Let’s talk about infrastructure. Even before the floods of a year ago, our state was struggling to figure out how to maintain its vast network of roads, and failing to agree. Then came the floods, with all those dams failing right here in this district. The damage to dams, roads, bridges and such landmarks as the Columbia Canal was tremendous, and we had not nearly recovered from all that damage when Hurricane Matthew came along and did further harm. What should South Carolina do to address its infrastructure challenge, for the safety and economic development of our state? Both decried the situation, but neither really offered a long-term solution for paying for infrastructure. At some point — but I think it was later — Mia mentioned raising the gas tax, and if I remember correctly, Susan did not disagree. (Anyone who was there, please jump in and correct my memory if I get it wrong.)
  9. Let’s switch to taxes. Speaker Lucas has a committee looking at our tax system, so some pretty big potential changes COULD be before the General Assembly soon. I want to ask about the LAST big change lawmakers made to state law, 10 years ago. I refer to Act 388, which removed the burden for supporting public school operations from homeowners and placed it on a combination of business property and an increased sales tax. This has had a number of unintended consequences, such as stifling business, and people who can’t afford to own their homes paying higher rents, and schools and local governments not being able to raise the money they need to operate. Should ACT 388 be maintained as it is, repealed or amended? And if amended, how? Mia said repeal. I think Susan’s answer was more nuanced, but I don’t remember the details.
  10. South Carolina has a vast army of state retirees, including, I would expect, some in this very room. How would you address the unfunded liability of state retirement systems? I remember nothing at all about their responses.
  11. Here’s something that over the years at the newspaper I ALWAYS asked candidates about. We have before us, as usual, a Democrat and a Republican. I want to ask each of you, how important is party to you? To what extent will you follow the party line, and to what extent will you go your own way? I skipped this question, as after asking some audience questions, I was running out of time.
  12. South Carolina opted not to expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Was that the right course? What should our state do about healthcare going forward? Sorry. I forget the details. Dang.

OK, that was a pretty pointless exercise. I just don’t remember enough — and worse, I tend to remember Mia’s answers better than Susan’s. Not that Susan’s were bad; at the time I felt like she was addressing the questions well enough. I just can’t remember them as well.

Dang. Well, y’all should have been there.

Oh, wait — people want to know about zingers. I remember one in particular aimed by Mia at Susan. And it may have been the one thing Mia said that illustrated the unnecessary abrasiveness that her critics cite. One of the audience questions was about Mia’s $49,500 contract with the city of Columbia for communications consulting. That’s the subject of an attack ad from the Senate Republican Caucus, and a sore point for the Democrat (and it wasn’t among my questions because I knew it would come up).

She used it as an occasion to lash out at her opponent as a woman who had never worked outside the home, and didn’t understand people who had to go out and earn a living. She also hit her for failing to distance herself from Donald Trump — something I was about to ask about (another audience question).

Ms. Brill responded accurately that she had nothing to do with the attack ad; that was the caucus. I found her answer about Trump less satisfactory, but let’s be fair: I’m never satisfied with anyone who won’t say she’ll vote for Clinton — which is, of course, the only way of stopping Trump.

Yeah, I know; this was a lousy report. But I just don’t know how to moderate and take proper notes at the same time…

Open Thread for Monday, October 24, 2016

Come on out to the debate at Richland Northeast.

Come on out to the debate at Richland Northeast.

You know how you can tell when it’s a really slow news day? This way: Look at what the major news outlets are leading with. If no two are leading with the same thing, and none of the ledes are particularly impressive, you know everybody’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. For instance, at this moment we have:

See what I mean? The State doesn’t really design its website around what I would call a lede, per se, but the story getting the biggest play at this moment is, USC freshman Felder assaulted victim and police officer, incident report says.

Which further proves my point.

So… since no one else can find any news out there, why don’t y’all just come on out to the Senate District 22 debate tonight? I’m pretty sure you’ll find that interesting. I’m about to head out to Richland Northeast High School momentarily…

flier

Senate District 22 debate coming up Monday

On Monday night at Richland Northeast High School, I’ll be moderating a debate between Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, who are competing to replace Joel Lourie in representing state Senate District 22.

The event is sponsored by the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, of which I am a member. It will be in the school’s auditorium, and will run from 6-7:30.

Y’all are welcome to come, especially if you live in the district.

Also… I’ll be working on my questions over the weekend, so this is your chance to offer any suggestions you have along those lines. What would you like to ask these candidates?

This is the only forum we’re doing for the general election. We selected it as the one truly competitive general election contest in the Midlands area. We may have missed some just as hot, but if so, I haven’t heard about them yet.

So come on out if you’ve a mind to, and meanwhile, feed me some good questions…

flier

Again, Trump completely disqualifies himself

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less...

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less…

Sorry I haven’t had time to post today, ere now… Anyway, to business…

As bizarre and grotesquely inappropriate as some of the things Donald Trump said in the second debate were (“tremendous hate in her heart”), the most important and instructive was his threat to imprison his opponent if he wins the election.

Similarly, as agog as we may be from such outbursts as “Such a nasty woman!”,  the one thing we heard in the third and final (thank the Lord) debate last night that was easily the most important, and instructive, was that Trump will not agree to abide by the results of the election. Something that was not a slip of the tongue or a momentary lapse, as he doubled down on it today.

As I said via Twitter last night:

If there were referees in American politics, Trump would have been thrown out of the game for the offense in the second debate (actually, much sooner, but let’s stick with the debates). He completely and utterly disqualified himself.

And if the refs had been deaf and blind in that instance, they would have tossed him out for the offense last night. He showed in both instances that he has no idea at all what elections are about in this country.

The gift that America gave to the world was not merely the promise, but the fact, of the orderly and peaceful transfer of power from one person, party or faction to another. As I said above, the miracle of the election of 1800 — one that for sheer nastiness at least deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this one — was that Jefferson took over from rival Adams, and everyone accepted it.

This miracle has been repeated every four years, with one exception: South Carolina, and a number of other Southern states, refused to accept the results of the election of 1860. Thanks to the preternatural wisdom, leadership and political skills of the man who won that election, and the blood of hundreds of thousands, the nation was saved. But that was the central crisis of our history, as Lincoln himself explained. It was the great test as to “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

So we got through that and made it all the way to 2016, and Donald Trump — a man who does not have a clue what this nation is all about, and does not care. Trump, the nominee of the party of Lincoln. God help us.

When he is asked whether he will accept the results of the election if he loses, he thinks it is a question about him, and what he wants, and how he feels. Because in his universe, everything is all about him.

The nation, and the things that make it exceptional and wonderful, matter not at all…

What needed to happen last night did not happen

brighten

What needed to happen in the debate last night was this: Hillary needed to beat Trump — or rather, he needed to beat himself — as soundly as in the first debate. That, combined with the recording of Trump being Trump in 2005, would have meant the end of this drawn-out farce. Continuing the weekend trend, virtually every Republican who has gone along with his campaign would desert him, and we could all talk about something else for the next four weeks, secure in the knowledge that he would be so crushed on Nov. 8 that nothing like this will ever be repeated.

That didn’t happen. Not that Trump debated well, or in any way acted like the standard-bearer of a major party. But the bar for him is the lowest in living memory, perhaps in U.S. history, and in the expectations game, he held his own, since he was no worse than he is on an average day.

There were many low points in this debate, but what was the lowest? It was this:

Only that had been lacking to complete the portrait of Trump as the jefe of a banana republic: The use of the power of the state to persecute and imprison political opponents. All hail the caudillo!

This was no doubt lost on people who support Trump, and those who might consider voting for him. But this was a low point in American democracy, another bold step toward fascism. By contrast, his statement that his opponent has “hate in her heart” — also something we’ve never seen before — was less remarkable. And all the talk about adolescent sexuality was just background noise.

His supporters will protest: But Hillary said he had run a “hateful, divisive campaign!” Yes, she did, and that would indeed be a terrible thing to say if it weren’t true. Even being true, it’s not helpful, only a step or two above deplorable. But the difference between running an awful campaign and having hate in your heart is considerable.

What was Hillary Clinton’s lowest point? Well, I was most bothered by this:

See what she did there? She normalized Trump. She mainstreamed him. She did the thing that I, and many others, have begged people not to do: pretend this is just another election like any other, a contest between (in Republican eyes) wild-eyed, left-wing statists and (in Democratic eyes) fat cats who look like the little top-hatted man in Monopoly. She watered down one of the most disturbing things about Trump — that he’s always out for himself, not the country, or a party, or a class, or a faction. Just himself.

Yeah, I know why she does it: To please the “feel the Bern” crowd in her own party. But this is NOT a contest between classes, or of ideas. This is an election to decide whether an out-of-control, deeply narcissistic, crude, avaricious, vindictive, unbalanced man with fascist tendencies and no concept of what a liberal democracy is about will hold the most powerful position in the world.

That is all this election is about. It could have been about other things, had the Republicans seen their way clear to nominating a normal person. But it isn’t, because they didn’t.

(Perhaps this is a good moment to pause to speak to those just joining us, who have not followed my blog over the past 11 years, or my long career before that: I’m not one of the “liberal media” one hears so much about. I’m a guy known for only endorsing Republicans for president during all those years leading The State‘s editorial board — although we were about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans on the state level. I’m a guy who is stunned that the GOP didn’t nominate someone normal, such as John Kasich — someone who is as disgusted by Trump as I am, someone I would gladly vote for instead of Hillary Clinton. I just thought I’d mention all that, in case you don’t know me and you think, like Hillary Clinton, that this is about Democrats vs. Republicans.)

Maybe in four years we can have a normal election, talking about the usual tiresome stuff, with 40 percent of the population voting one way without thinking and 40 percent doing the same in the other direction, and the 20 percent of us who don’t subscribe to either brand of nonsense will step in and made the decision.

From the perspective of this election, that almost sounds lovely. But we don’t have that luxury this year…

Join me on Twitter for tonight’s debate

it-begins

A little over an hour ago, Donald Trump held a brief presser with several women who have terrible things to say about Bill and Hillary Clinton.

His precise point wasn’t clear, but it does seem obvious that he doesn’t intend to elevate the discussion tonight.

But we’ll see… it’s about to start… Join me on Twitter, which is where I’ll be until it’s over…

The vice-presidential debate last night

Still from NYT video feed.

Still from NYT video feed.

Yeah, I watched it until the end, although I want you to know I didn’t enjoy it.

I liked this Tweet:

… to which I responded by reTweeting, with the added comment, “Rephrase: ‘Please, be gentlemen!’…”

A few general observations:

  • If you have to pick a winner, it was Mike Pence. But it’s less that he won, and more that Tim Kaine lost it — threw it away, really. Yeah, I understand that the running mate is supposed to be the attack dog so that his principal seems more likable, but now we have a situation in which neither Hillary nor Kaine is seen as likable — which means, I don’t think we saw the real Tim Kaine. He was playing a different character last night, and it was awful.
  • When I say Kaine lost, we’re talking in terms of the impressions we got of the candidates’ characters, not about issues. I can’t begin to tell you who did better on issues, although I’ll say that with some exceptions, Kaine did better on facts, especially when the facts involved Donald Trump — which most did. Kaine would cite an incontrovertible fact, and Pence would look incredulous, pained, saddened that Kaine would say such awful things — when all Kaine was doing was quoting Trump. Since Pence stayed above the fray, but failed to offer any substantive defense of his principal, some analysts today are saying Pence won, but Trump did not. (The one way Trump would be a winner is if he did a credible impression of his running mate in the next debate. But is he capable of that?)
  • About that moderator… Last night, I saw something bizarre happening over on Facebook — a couple of Trump fans I’m friends with were protesting vehemently about how the moderator was biased against their guy. One said of Pence, ” Poor guy had to deal with PLANNED INTERRUPTIONS FROM TWO!” Another said, “Can you not see that the questions are biased?” Which kind of made me wonder what debate they were watching. The moderator was a cipher, a nonentity, utterly ineffectual. I know that she asked some questions, but I can’t remember any of them. She was like a substitute teacher in middle school, pathetically trying to keep order, completely in vain. The moments I came closest to turning the thing off was when all three of them were talking at once, and no one listening to anyone.
  • I started off praising them for their civility and maturity, and then having to quickly eat those words. Which were not tasty.
  • Civility returned at the end when both men talked about their faith, for which I was grateful. It caused me to Tweet that “At least they’re not shouting over each other over their religious beliefs. So our politics have made SOME progress since the 15th century.” Toward the end of that segment, Pence did get on Kaine’s case a bit over abortion, but then he was just saying what I was thinking — especially after having read this piece that morning in the WSJ. And it stayed civil.
  • I liked a point that Mark Shields made after the debate was over on PBS. He said yeah, the veep candidate is supposed to build up the head of the ticket, but Kaine was just too fawning when talking about Hillary. Absolutely. Yeah, she’s way, way better than Trump, but she’s not that awesome.

Shields also said this, which I appreciated: “This was supposed to be the nice guys.” Right. So the night was a great disappointment — especially Kaine. I still think he’s a guy I’d like in a quiet meeting in an editorial boardroom. But he did himself no favors last night…

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant 'moderate?'

For the next debate, instead of these media types, how about having a Marine drill sergeant ‘moderate?’

Sure, Hillary ‘won’ the debate, but does it matter?

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To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.

She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.

But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.

I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.

I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.

Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.

A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)

No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.

So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.

But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.

Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.

And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…

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Dreading tonight’s debate (but follow me on Twitter)

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Come join me on Twitter tonight, if you’re so inclined. Just click on the image anytime after 9 p.m…

I have been dreading this presidential debate tonight, which I think may be the most hyped that I can recall.

Perhaps something good will come of it. Perhaps Trump will do or say something that causes him to lose all his support, and the nation will be saved. What that would be, though, I have no idea. The bigger jerk he makes of himself, the more they love him.

Or maybe…

No, that’s the only thing good I can see coming out of it. I honestly can’t imagine anything in particular that Hillary Clinton can do to help herself in this debate, against such a damage-proof opponent. About all she can do is hurt herself, and there are plenty of ways she could do that. I wouldn’t be in her shoes for anything.

But I’m less concerned about her, and truly concerned about the nation.

I’ll be there on Twitter tonight, commenting away. Come join me if you’re so inclined. The torment begins at 9 p.m., pretty much anywhere you care to look…

Thoughts on last night’s Univision debate?

These things are wearing me out. And there’s another one tonight!!!

I only Tweeted once during the whole thing:

You know what I mean? Last night, it got sounding like one of those reality/talent shows that I could almost tolerate if not for the constant shrieking of the crowd. Those audiences exercise no judgment whatsoever. They scream at exactly the same volume and pitch for every performer. I’ll never understand people like that, or how other people can listen to them.univision

At least the howling last night was variable. Apparently it was the fans of Hillary and Bernie cheering whatever was said.

I like debates with rules against applause. Actually, I wouldn’t mind applause if it were impartial — if the audience cheered only when either candidate said something really good. But you know that the level of hollering is purely a matter of who managed to pack the room with more of his or her own followers. Which means that it’s just meaningless noise.

Aside from that, there were only two parts of the debate I liked, both from Hillary:

  • When she admitted that she is lacking in political gifts, especially compared to her husband and President Obama. So true, so it’s good that she knows it.
  • When she started riffing on Trump’s wall in his terms, going on about how beautiful it would be, etc. I like when pols make jokes that work…

That was about it.