Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 22, 2008
POLITICS: You Can't Ask Me That!
So the left-blogosphere, mainly the Obama supporters, has erupted in characteristically unbounded fury at the questions asked in Wednesday's debate - the fact that so many were pointed questions, the fact that they were heavily tilted towards recent controversies around Obama, the fact that the first 45 minutes of the debate covered those controversies before moving on to debate the candidates' positions on the issues. Obama himself has whined and complained and moaned about the debate and cancelled the next scheduled debate, leaving in doubt whether there will be any further debates even if this race goes on for another six weeks of voting.
I had planned a longer, more link-filled post examining the purpose of presidential debates, but I'm pressed for time, so I'll hit here the main points in somewhat disjointed form:
*I'd agree, as I said on Thursday, that George Stephanopoulos is too personally tied to the Clintons to get a seat at any debate involving Hillary, and I'd also agree that a couple of his questions were too aggressive. And I'd feel the same way about having him do a GOP debate. One might ask whether the moderators should really include former Democratic staffers (Chris Matthews, Tim Russert - although I do generally like Russert) or the children of Democratic politicians (Cokie Roberts). Fox didn't have Karl Rove moderating a debate, after all. But the Republicans had to endure Matthews.
*That said, you know, these candidates have debated plenty before; as Obama himself admitted:
"I'll be honest with you. We've now had 21," Obama said of the debates. "It's not as if we don't know how to do these things. I could deliver Senator Clinton's lines. I'm sure she could deliver mine."
On health care, where the two have assaulted each other in tedious detail over the microscopic differences in their proposals, that's true. So, it's understandable that the debate focused instead on what was new, and the first 45 minutes was all about the stories that had come out since the prior debate, the issues about Obama's statements, associations, and philosophy. I have said it repeatedly, and I'll return to this at a later date: ideas don't run for president, people do.
*Perhaps more to the point, this isn't like the silly GOP debate questions about evolution or some of the nonsense Matthews asked at the early GOP debates (I wish I had time now to go back over some of those - we forget quite how terrible many of the GOP debates were, even to the point of having questions from planted Democratic operatives giving speeches, see here and here) - basically every question on Wednesday was a hot issue in the news that any observer of this race would have expected to come up and, with the possible exception of the question about Obama's prior statements about his flag lapel-pin (which he then falsely denied having made), every question was on a topic that one or both of the candidates had raised in attacking each other. It's hard for reporters to say that something isn't newsworthy in a 2-candidate race when one of the campaigns is pushing the story; traditionally, if it's a bogus attack, that's a prime opportunity for the target of the attack to push back.
*I guess Obama would have preferred these people asking the questions - check in particular the Q&A around 1:50