April 23, 2007

Shirking debates: "It’s wrong. It’s a way to shirk their responsibilities as full-fledged candidates."

So says Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Richardson, who, of course, needs more attention, and, I think, could best the other candidates in debate.

The other day, I turned on the radio in my car and heard someone discussing some important foreign policy issue, and I was impressed by his intelligence and expertise. After the segment ended, I was amazed to hear it was Bill Richardson. I hadn't been able to tell that I was listening to a presidential candidate.

But are the debate avoiders sleazy shirkers?
[A]ides to the major candidates have concluded that the sheer number of debate and forum demands combined with a sprawling field of candidates on both sides have made them more of a hindrance than a help, at least for now.

They are, the argument goes, time-consuming and money-burning obligations in which a candidate will realistically get perhaps eight minutes to lay out his views. That is because of the many candidates that are guaranteed to be on stage, since the field on both sides includes candidates that most voters — indeed, most political reporters — have probably never heard of.

In that kind of situation, the most likely way to stand out from the pack is to make a mistake.

The cost of participating in a debate? Days spent on preparation and travel to the often smaller cities where the forums are held. These obligations can take candidates out of states like Iowa and New Hampshire, with their culture of relatively small candidate-to-voter encounters, which presumably can be more valuable for candidate and voters alike.
It's easy to see why the candidates who already have the money and the limelight opt out. They are behaving rationally. The only way it will change is if they get a message that we are judging them harshly. Richardson is trying to frame debate avoidance as shirking responsibility. But since no one's paying attention to him, can he have any effect shaping public opinion?

And, really, do people want debates at this stage? Debates are incredibly tedious and annoying when there are a lot of candidates. The ones who know they don't have a chance -- like for example, in 2004, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich -- can speak in an entirely different way from the "real" candidates. A debate between real and show candidates is not a level playing field. The show candidates can speak from the heart, swing wildly, and deliver zingers, while the real candidates must maintain somber decorum and make absolutely sure that not one phrase will look wrong taken out of context. It's no wonder the frontrunners won't go there.

21 comments:

Annie said...

Slightly OT, I heard a nasty rumor this weekend that roly-poly Richardson could outdo the other Bill in the amorous department; that female aides didn't want to be alone with him. It is, at this point, just that -- a nasty rumor, smoke either indicating fire or being blown you-know-where by somebody who actually thinks Richardson is a potential fire that needs to be put out, now.

Roger said...

Having listened to debates since the JFK-Nixon debates, I can honestly say I have never learned anything substantial about a candidatess' position. As you rightly point out, they look to me to be no win proposition. Its time to end those media circuses.

SteveR said...

One on one, debates can be useful, although they are often useless. The large group ones are a joke, the numerous 2004 democratic debates set a bad precedent. Did we really need to see that much of Carol Mosely Braun or Dennis Kucinich babbling away.

Jeff said...

At this stage of our cultural decay the Lincoln-Douglas debates seem as distant as the days of Cicero's orations.

GeorgeH said...

First of all, they aren't debates, they are joint press conferences in which they take turns answering questions from a few reporters.

Second, all the candidates are so briefed and schooled on how to talk without content that we aren't going to learn anything unless the questioners learn to ask completely off the wall questions.

Maybe it's time to have Helen Thomas as the sole interlocutor.

Mark Daniels said...

Whether in the spring before presidential election years, during the primaries, or during the general elections, I would just as soon get rid of debates altogether.

I wrote about that four years ago here.

The rumors about Richardson have been swirling--and publicly--for some time. If he turns out to be a habitual philanderer, something that voters may think speaks to his reliability and trustworthiness, it could prove fatal to his campaign.

There is no doubt that among the contenders for the Democratic nomination, Richardson has the most impressive resume. He also doesn't speak in campaign-ese. But none of that may be enough in our celebrity-driven politics.

Mark Daniels

Roger said...

Wow--am I out of the loop--I havent heard anything about Richardson. I always miss the good stuff :(

B said...

Richardson is the only Democrat I could realistically stomach - I may not agree with his positions, but he is eminently more qualified than any other Democrat on the horizon.

That said, the Presidential candidate debates - in their current form - are worthless. Exactly who in this country is in such a self-imposed news vacuum that they actually made their voting choice because of a candidate's debate performance?

Revenant said...

There are no political debates between Presidential candidates -- just sequential speeches.

If they would like to actually have a real debate, I'd probably watch it. But there's no point in the so-called "debates" that they actually have -- you can get all the same information from the candidates' websites at your leisure, and not have to endure the posturing that goes with it.

LonewackoDotCom said...

I'm sure that if BR is a philanderer it would interest a wide number of people, but here are a couple things a bit more important.

1. He is/was working for a pan-American group to "promote dialogue" on their behalf. This raises the question of who he's speaking on behalf of:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0YRHXoygRM

2. His past statement of panHispanic solidarity, echoed again just recently regarding Gonzalez:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiszkrzoOs0

Mark Daniels said...

Revenant wrote, "There are no political debates between Presidential candidates -- just sequential speeches."

Precisely.

Mark Daniels

Bob said...

Bill Richardson said that? The only thing I can think is that he is profoundly dihonest! Read this article in the ABQ Journal written by Big Bills's campaign director pertaining to why Big Bill WOULD NOT DEBATE his gubernatorial opponent in 06. Realize also that that this article was posted the morning after Paige McKenzie was beaten to within an inch of her life after having her tires slashed and being stalked to where she tried to change her tires. Paige McKenzie was the campaign spokeswoman for the Big Bill's opposing gubernatorial candidate. Notice the slick use of gangster metaphor and similie. Reailize that Paige McKenzie was LITERALLY beaten to a bloody pulp. COINCIDENCE?? I will never beileve that.


Friday, October 6, 2006

Gov. Won't Debate A 'Political Thug'

By John V. Wertheim
Chairman, Democratic Party of New Mexico
The banter surrounding the lack of a televised debate between Gov. Bill Richardson and Republican John Dendahl has been amusing, but the real context of the situation deserves to be explored.
I agree absolutely with those who say the political process is served by rival candidates debating the issues live before the electorate. Gov. Bill Richardson would gladly engage in such a debate with Dendahl or any other challenger— were that what was on the agenda.
But it's not.
That is because John Dendahl is not a serious candidate for governor of New Mexico. He is a political leg-breaker sent in to try to inflict a hard intentional foul on the incumbent.
I am reminded of John Chaney, the once well-respected coach of Temple University's Owls. He was embroiled in scandal last year when he admitted he had sent a player into a game with express instructions to injure players on the St. Joseph's University team.
That was an overt act contrary to all the rules, written and unwritten, of sportsmanship and fair play in basketball. Coach Chaney paid dearly for his indiscretion, being suspended for three games and marking his place in history forever with the dark stain of transgression.
The New Mexico Republican Party is using the Chaney gambit in the 2006 gubernatorial race.
Faced with the reality that a nice guy Republican who won the nomination by the rules had no chance of defeating Richardson, they pulled him from the lineup and sent in the "goon." (That's the term Chaney used to describe the little-used 6-foot-8, 250-pound player he sent into the game with orders to rough up the other team's players.)
Certainly, Richardson doesn't fear the political thug in the game— but his coaches are smart enough to be wary of a jump ball at center court (a debate), where his opponent's objective will be to knee him or trip him while he is extended reaching for the tip.
Had J.R. Damron remained the Republican candidate, debates would probably have been scheduled— as Damron is a principled man who would have focused on issues and records.
Dendahl's only purpose in the New Mexico gubernatorial race of 2006 is to try to foul Richardson hard enough to get him off his mark and block discussion of the most impressive four years of progress in recent New Mexico history.
The back-room leaders of the GOP, who engineered this substitution outside the view of the rank and file, did a disservice to party activists when they put politics above principle.
John Dendahl is a slick, anti-minority political manipulator who will be remembered in history as the Republican who finished the worst ever in a New Mexico gubernatorial race. The GOP cabal who put him forward to hard-foul our governor should be remembered as the team that decided to inflict pain and cause injuries when they saw they had no chance to win by fair means.
Coach Chaney issued a statement the day after that controversial game: "I would like to apologize to Saint Joseph's University, its fans, student-athletes and head coach Phil Martelli for my reprehensible behavior. Like my student-athletes, I must be held accountable for my actions."
Don't hold your breath awaiting similar words from the Republican Party.
Hard political debate is one thing. Combat by character assassination is something else. Had the Republicans had a genuine gubernatorial candidate on the ballot making a genuine attempt to win the election, there would have been debates. But to carry out their attempt at political knee-capping, they will have to go it alone.

ModNewt said...

Most of the single party debates are worth watching only if you want to laugh at the candidates trying not to say "I agree." They hold basically the same views.

This year is different for the Rs. I want to see the Republican debates to see if there is one I could conceivably vote fore. In 2000 I could have voted for McCain, but not now with him pandering to the far Right and his fantasies of a presently stable Baghdad. I've heard awful things about Rudy's temper and would like to see if he pulls a Howard Dean at some point. If he seems level headed then I'd consider voting for Rudy.

Mortimer Brezny said...

A major problem is that reporters ask conversational questions rather than trying to hit candidates with clear ones like:

Will you promise to repeal the AMT if elected President? or Exactly when do you think dinosaurs roamed the earth?

You get the point.

MadisonMan said...

A major problem is

the candidates usually answer the question they want to answer, not the question that was asked.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Which is why you ask questions it is obvious the candidates have not answered. Which was my entire point. Thanks.

MadisonMan said...

Will you promise to repeal the AMT if elected?

Thank you for asking that question, for it reveals a stark difference between me, Presidential Candidate John Doe and my opponents. They would rather tax the middle class and increase spending, all the while retreating from Iraq and surrendering to Fundamentalist Terrorist Thugs. Some people say this is the right thing to do! I could not disagree more strongly or emphatically. If I, John Doe, am elected President, America will never surrender and we will be strong and powerful again!

(Cue wild applause from Doe supporters in audience)

Gabby said...

I'm not certain, but I *believe* that Richardson appeared in NO debates during the last New Mexico election for governor on the excuse that the pure hatefulness of his opponent's words would harm the state if given any sort of forum to be heard.

He's a skillful politician and I can't say New Mexico would miss him, but be a wee bit careful of being too impressed with the guy.

Synova said...

Gabby is me.

Somehow I ended up on my daughter's account.

Synova said...

I guess Bob had it covered.

How it could logically be that a debate would have done anything *other than* illuminate Dendahl's supposed evilness, I can't imagine.

I'd fogotten that McKenzie was associated with Dendahl's campain.

Bob, do you know if she's fully recovered yet?

Mortimer Brezny said...

Yes, Madison Man, and the candidate would look like as much of an ass as you, especially if other candidates received the question and said: "Yes." or "No."

I have seen this in many debates.