Saturday, October 31, 2015


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CNBC debate moderators Quintanilla, Quick, and Harwood
    Now that the dust has settled following the most recent Republican debate, and the political commentators and pundits have had their say about who won and who lost, I feel the need to make a few observations of my own, not only about the debate but about the commentators themselves.
    CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla and his two colleagues Becky Quick and John Harwood have been widely criticized about their handling of the debate. I agree that they lost control at times, that when challenged by some of the candidates they did not always seem to have their facts at their fingertips, and that some of their questions were less likely to evoke a good debate on the issues.
    Most of the blame for the debacle, however, should be directed not at the moderators but at the candidates, who evaded the questions, impugned the motives of the questioners, and played to the audience by attacking the network, the “liberal” media, and the moderators themselves. They complained that they were asked “gotcha” questions that had nothing to do with the issues, and contrasted them to what they described as the non-threatening kinds of questions asked of the Democratic candidates in their first debate. Anyone who watched that debate knows that charge is utterly false. Anderson Cooper and his CNN colleagues minced no words at all, and the responses and the interchange were substantive, though one candidate wasted time by complaining about not getting equal time.

    The Republican candidates had plenty of opportunities to address substantive issues, but they chose instead to use their time bashing their questioners, and the audience loved it. I could say a lot more about this, but I want to get to my main criticism of the debate. It has to do with the media’s perception of who won. Some say Marco Rubio, some say Ted Cruz. Why were they the winners? Because they did the best job of bashing their hosts, and the media, and in Rubio’s case one of his opponents. (Irrationally but not surprisingly Donald Trump and Ben Carson were the social media favorites.)
Marco Rubio hits back at Jeb Bush
    Granted Jeb Bush laid himself wide open to a counter attack, when he criticized Rubio for having the worst attendance record in the Senate. Rubio was ready and waiting with a prepared reply, which he delivered in his usual glib and declarative style. He is a very clever, fast talker. He knows that the best defense is a good offense, and he turned the tables on Bush by charging that the only reason Jeb was complaining about Marco’s voting record now “is because we’re running for the same position and someone has convinced you that it’s going to help you.” That’s the zinger that won the debate for Rubio!
    But the charge was true, and he never answered it. There’s no more dangerous politician than a glib talker who sounds as if he is speaking ex cathedra, and no one stops to examine the truth of his words. It was a tactical error on Jeb’s part to go after Rubio the way he did. He seemed uncomfortable in so doing. But he was the one telling the truth, not Rubio. I don’t want a slick talker in the White House.
    It would have been far better if the two men and the other candidates had engaged each other on the economic issues that were supposed to be the main focus of the debate. That brings me to Senator Ted Cruz, who on one question used up his entire time complaining about the debate process and faulted the moderator for cutting him off when his time expired. But he played well to the audience and the applause meter convinced his followers, as well as the pundits, that he was one of the two winners.
    Maybe he was, if that is what these debates are for, viz., to see who can deliver the cleverest rejoinder or the best personal put down. The history of presidential debates would lend argument to that conclusion, as one remembers Ronald Reagan’s famous remark to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate: “There you go again!” or Lloyd Bentzen’s squelch of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice-presidential debate: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”  Such rejoinders have their place in debates, of course, but it is to be hoped that the viewing public will be discerning enough to see who is really addressing the issues and answering the questions, and who is not.
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RNC Chair Reince Priebus is not invited! 
    I think the moderators and the other candidates have a responsibility to push back when a candidate says something they know is wrong or untrue. Carly and the boys wanted no part of that in this third debate. Now their various campaign officials are meeting to discuss setting up their own rules and running things their own way. Reince Priebus and the RNC are not invited! I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
     Perhaps there should be a fact checker at a separate table, with a buzzer to sound every time someone says something that is totally untrue. Of course, most of the candidates, if any, would never agree to that! The buzzer would have been quite busy at their last debate.
    I wish they all would read and live by my suggested Ten Commandments for Political Discourse. Graded on the basis of their keeping those commandments, who could dare claim to be the winner of that debate?

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