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Presidential Debate Liveblogging! (Part Deux) UPDATE: “Playing with fire” follow-up

[Click here for the brief back-story on this group liveblog in D.C. for an upcoming PBS documentary.]

Allrightythen, I’m situated in a lovely townhouse in Washington, with the leading lights of the liveblogosphere surrounding me (or at least tonight’s leading lights):  Quin Hillyer (blogging for American Spectator), Leslie Carbone (liveblogging on Twitter), Laura Clawson (for Daily Kos), Lynette Long (who provided the venue for tonight…thanx, Lynette!), and Mary Beth Ellis (of Blonde Champagne), with our documentary host: historian, author, and snappy dresser Rick Brookhiser. Looking around, I think I’m the only one who doesn’t write for a living, at least in part.  Fantabulous.  Pray I don’t embarrass myself.

(Roundup from Instapundit, plus reactions from Power Line, Hot Air, Miz Michelle, Gateway Pundit, The Anchoress, and Ann Althouse.  Don’t forget to check out the work of my fellow Hamiltonian livebloggers linked up top!)

Blow-by-blow liveblogging with after-debate discussion for the cameras (plus a follow-up from a previous post) below the break.

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Playing with fire at the town hall debate?

Miz Michelle raises the specter of the embarrassing YouTube-sponsored debate during the Democratic primary, after which evidence emerged that the Clinton, Obama, and Edwards campaigns had all made use of planted supporters in the question-submitting audience, under the false guise of “undecided” voters.

John Dickerson at Slate is also wary, anticipating a tendency for audience members to grandstand.  He writes an article entitled “Beware of Ponytail Guy,” in a reference to the pony-tailed opening questioner at the town hall debate between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992.  The questioner, a “domestic mediator” name Denton Walthall, scolded the two candidates ahead of time against going negative during the debate, imploring them to treat the audience as they would their own children (he actually used the sentence, “Could we cross our hearts?”).  I remember watching that debate 16 years ago, and my gorge still rises at the memory of this man simpering for the cameras as if he were addressing 5-year-olds.

I think that’s a risk you take in a loose format like this one.  When the audience controls the questioning, the chances of a sideshow, or (as in the YouTube debate) a hijacking by a campaign mole, go through the roof.  If the news is to be believed, it appears the Democrats have a longer track record of plants in town hall debates, but John McCain has been pushing for this format for months now (he is said to thrive in a freewheeling environment), and Obama has been ducking him every step of the way since early summer.  Now that the Democrats have coalesced further behind Obama since McCain first proposed his series of town hall debates (i.e. there’s less chance now of Obama getting unfriendly questions from primary-opponent plants), we’ll see if McCain doesn’t look back thinking maybe he should have watched what he wished for.

However, Dickerson at Slate points out that there’s a factor at play this year that wasn’t present when Denton Walthall reared his pony-tailed head at the town hall in 1992 — the blogosphere:

On Tuesday night, if Son of Ponytail Guy asks a question, he can rest assured that he will receive a thorough going-over in the blogosphere. So I suggest all prospective questioners Google themselves, make sure they’re on good terms with their co-workers, and wipe clean their Facebook page.

May the best troll win!

Biden’s crowning achievement?

Man, Captain Ed is on fire today.  He’s beaten me to the punch in revisiting one of Biden’s statements from last night which I touched on in my liveblog; namely, that he claims “credit” for introducing ideology as a deciding criterion for confirming judges to the federal bench.

The question from Gwen Ifill went as follows:

…Can you think of a single issue, policy issue, in which you were forced to change a long-held view in order to accommodate changed circumstances?

Biden’s answer, in part:

When I got to the United States Senate and went on the Judiciary Committee as a young lawyer, I was of the view and had been trained in the view that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee appointed, suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, had not committed a crime of moral turpitude, and was — had been a good student.

And it didn’t take me long — it was hard to change, but it didn’t take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

First of all, Biden cleverly shifted the focus of the question.  He wasn’t “forced to change” his criteria for a qualified federal judge “in order to accomodate changed circumstances.”  He decided on his own to use his position on the Judiciary Committee to impose those criteria on the rest of the Senate, for purely ideological reasons (i.e. to head off “a lot of changes I don’t like”).  President Reagan was famous for railing against what he called the “imperial judiciary;” Senator Biden is to be congratulated, in a sense, for introducing the imperial Judiciary Committee.

More important, however, is what I alluded to during the liveblog:  specifically, that politicizing the federal bench, especially the Supreme Court, to the degree that Biden confesses to have done is more something for which he might be run out of town on a rail than something to brag about.

Barack Obama, the self-described post-partisan candidate, has chosen one of the most nakedly and appallingly proudly partisan politicians in Washington as his running mate.  That’d make a great ad to rally the GOP base, which is still sensitive to Democratic skullduggery on court appointments, for much of which Biden has just pronounced himself responsible.  Or at least it’d be less lame an ad than one complaining about Biden’s sighing.

Yin and yang

I’ve been hearing scuttlebutt about what the campaigns have been stressing to their respective vice-presidential candidates in prepping them for the debate tonight.  My funnybone was struck by the mirror-image contrast between the two.

One of the biggest knocks against the McCain campaign (and I agree with this, incidentally) is that they’ve kept too tight a lid on Sarah Palin out on the trail.  She doesn’t come across well when her answers are canned and over-rehearsed; this problem was especially apparent during her disastrous encounter with Katie Couric.  Word is that this ends tonight, and that she’s much more comfortable in a debate environment where she has more time and latitude to speak from the heart (assuming Gwen Ifill follows Jim Lehrer’s example in asking questions that elicit information without being leading and simply gets out of the way when the answers start flowing).  Politico (via Allahpundit) says she’s likely to cut loose tonight and go on the attack.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, is under strict instructions from his debate prepping team not to take any bait tossed his way by Palin, to stick resolutely to talking points (“the Obama message”), not to talk about himself too much, and to avoid even the appearance of condescension.  One insider has said that Biden’s best strategy is to finish the debate in such a way that nobody will remember he was even there.

In other words, the respective candidates’ strategies are:

  • On the Republican side, “let Sarah be Sarah.”
  • On the Democratic side, do not under any circumstances “let Joe be Joe.”

I said it before, and I’ll say it again…I wish there were another one of these before the election.

Moderating with money on the mind UPDATE: McCain-Palin bites tongue

A number of blogs are raising the alarm over Gwen Ifill’s selection as moderator for tomorrow’s vice presidential debate, saying she’s “in the tank” for Obama.  In fact, she’s written a pro-Obama book, due out for release in the near future, entitled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

Yes, fine, that may well be a legitimate complaint, but come on, Republicans have had to deal with biased moderators since time immemorial, and in this election season especially.  The very first Republican primary debate was presided over by Chris “Thrill Up My Leg” Matthews, for cryin’ out loud.  His “moderating” was so officious, intrusive, and obnoxious that even the unflappable Sen. Fred Thompson felt the need to put the MSNBC crank over his rhetorical knee after hearing Matthews sneer that Thompson’s answer was so long, he should have just “stopped at no.”

So Republicans like Sarah Palin have grown fairly accustomed to debate moderators with an ideological interest in the political well-being of their opponents.  At this point, they’ve pretty much accepted it as part of the cost of doing business.

However, this year, Gwen Ifill is a different case.  This time she has a financial interest in the Obama-Biden ticket prevailing.

Ifill’s book is pro-Obama, true, but that’s not the head-turning part.  What caught my attention is that The Breakthrough is set for release on Inauguration Day, Jan 20, 2009.  That gives Ifill’s interest in this debate’s outcome a whole new dimension that wouldn’t apply if it were set for release before the election.  A book that expounds on the “bold new path to political power” for African-Americans, paved by Barack Obama’s “stunning presidential campaign” (quotes from the book’s product description), would generate considerably less interest if, for example, it were released on the day of the swearing-in of the man and woman who brought about Obama’s defeat.

In short, due to the post-election release date, Ifill is looking at a serious dent in her book sales if the Obama-Biden ticket loses.  Did the Commission on Presidential Debates even ask her about this?  Or at least do a Google search?

Gwen Ifill may well be a perfectly competent and even-handed moderator tomorrow (I’m certainly hoping so).  However, the fact that she could lose money if McCain-Palin wins makes her too much a part of the story; Sarah Palin and Joe Biden should not have to compete with her for the spotlight.  The CPD really dropped the ball in missing this looming appearance of impropriety.  Perhaps Ifill will use her newly broken ankle as a medical excuse now that her book schedule is finally being examined more closely, but I doubt it.

UPDATE: Politico reports (via Allahpundit) that the McCain-Palin campaign has taken the high road, figuring (correctly) that there’s no sense whining about it, certainly not at this late date.  I agree that crying “bias” would be pretty lame, but I still stand by my contention that Ifill’s book conflict is too much of a distraction.

State intimidation of political opponents, again

(UPDATE: David Bernstein at Volokh has an excellent point.  Following his example, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and putting the controversial “Hunter” ad right here on the blog.  You’ll see embedded YouTube video below the break.  Let ’em come after me.  Now on to the post…)

On the heels of the Democratic Party threatening to release the IRS hounds on the organizers of the anti-Ahmadinejad protest earlier this week if they didn’t personally snub Sarah Palin as a speaker, here comes Barack Obama’s lawyer threatening to release the FCC hounds on any TV station that dares to air an anti-Obama issue ad released by the NRA.

If shutting down TV stations weren’t bad enough, officers of the court and law enforcement in Missouri, prompted by the Obama campaign, are gearing up to prosecute for libel anyone the campaign says “lies or misleads” about Sen. Obama.  Fabulous idea:  a political candidate formulating his own standard of libel and recruiting officials with the power of the state to enforce it.

It’s tough to type while I’m clenching my fists in white-hot anger, but details are indeed below the break.

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Swimming against the rapids

It’s times like this that make me wonder why I bother.

A columnist/commentator on the political beat at TIME Magazine, Karen Tumulty, is the latest to be so desperate to make this a racism-tinged campaign she’s liable to see it everywhere she looks.  This time, she’s indicted the McCain ad team for putting more than one black man in an anti-Obama spot.  On top of that, she slammed McCain’s camp for leaving a relevant white man out of the ad; had she simply paid a single quick visit to the official McCain site she’d’ve known that was because that same man was given his own ad entirely.

There will always be cranks who think this way, but when high-profile figures validate such conspiratorial paranoia, it ceases to matter whether or not it’s true.  If Obama loses the election, racism must have taken it from him.  If he wins, racism must have robbed him of a landslide.  If he wins by a landslide, racism must have robbed him of the first unanimous Electoral College victory since George Washington.  It looks like the cranks will be dragged into the mainstream for at least another four years.

See the TIME post, and the story of its cringeworthiness, below the break.

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