Tag: debate (Page 1 of 2)

Wednesday Morning Linkage

There’s some rambling analysis after the linkage.

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VP Debate once again tells the World that all We care about is the Middle East

Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make earlier – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there…

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If Flip-Flopping is a GOP Cardinal Sin, How can you Vote for Romney after that first Debate?

George W Bush practically built his re-election effort against John Kerry on the idea that even if you disagreed with him, you consistently knew where he stood on stuff. That commercial above is famous. And the US right in general loves that sort of macho grandstanding on behalf of American will in the face of wimpy, carping detractors – usually Europeans, academics, and liberals, ideally combined. Remember ‘freedom fries’?

Palin and McCain struck the same pose in 2008 (‘I would much rather lose a campaign than a war’), and so did lots of Tea Party candidates in 2010 and in the 2012 GOP primary. Remember when Perry even said, “I’ll be for water-boarding until the day I die”? And Fox talks like this all the time, as if Hannity were the last bastion of American bootstrap ideals against a rising tide of liberals, illegal immigrants, and Muslims. So if the Tea Party right loves this ‘let’s-go-down-with-the-ship-on-behalf-of-principle’ posture, how can one possibly support Romney after he flip-flopped all over the place in the first debate last week?

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Syria and Presidential Debate Bingo

Greetings, Duck Followers.  I’m Amanda – assistant professor at Mizzou, avid hiker, crazy sci-fi romance novel reader, and pretty competent mother.  I’m excited to be a new “duckling” on the block.  On the eve of the next US presidential debate, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the dire human rights situation in Syria will be mentioned.  I’ll also bet that neither candidate will say definitively that a humanitarian military intervention is needed.

But, in line with my research and that of my colleagues, some forms of military intervention – especially intervention with a stated humanitarian purpose and that against the perpetrator of the abuses- could really help the extremely dire human rights situation in Syria.  Other interventions, however, could exasperate human rights problems.  David R. Davis  and I have made the case that only peacekeeping operations with a stated humanitarian goal will improve human rights after civil war – some other forms of peacekeeping actually lead to a decrease in human rights…. But, that’s after the conflict. What about during the conflict/genocide/craziness?

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Some IR Thoughts on the GOP Debate Marathon

Here were my first, domestic politics thoughts on the GOP debate-run, particularly the competitive, extreme position-taking forced onto the candidates by the audience reactions. But I thought the debates actually taught us very little directly on foreign policy (beyond bombast, or just watch the vid above you francophile, cheese-eating traitor to the heartland). Instead, most of my cues were indirect, such as audience reaction:

4. We (and the world) learned a lot from the audience behavior. I don’t think anyone anticipated this, but the GOP audience demographic (aging white evangelicals), plus its hoots and hollers (for torture, against the Palestinians, for executions, for war with Iran) communicated a lot of information in itself. It showed just how captured the GOP is now by a hard right Christianist ideology that comes off as more than just angry, but downright belligerent, if not scary. And for IR, this is important too. Foreigners will see this stuff and hardly believe that American hegemony is ‘benevolent’ or ‘benign.’ I’ve said this before, but this Tea Party radicalism is washing downstream to the rest of the world; a few years ago, my students here (Korea) were asking me in amazement why Americans were comparing Obamacare to the Nazis, and I just ran out of lame excuses. Foreigners do pick up on this stuff, Fox News execs. You can’t talk like this and be a superpower at the same time. Foreigners do think we are fairly bonkers, and don’t even start with that ‘bound to lead’ schtick (more like unfit), when so many Americans muse that Obama might be the Antichrist or a Muslim non-citizen.

5. The debates showed how little foreign policy counts, beyond self-congratulatory nationalist bluster about how exceptional we are, or lust for stomping on our enemies (Ron Paul excepted). I suppose in the first post-Great Recession election, this was inevitable, but the debates show just how dominant domestic policy really is. Foreign policy was a minor bit, and then overwhelmed by simplistic, manichean soundbites in which just how ‘exceptional’ the US is became a major issue. Bleh. There is a reason why US political science departments are staffed over 50% from just one subfield (American) –  because we couldn’t care less about foreigners. Call it the luxury of being a superpower. They need to worry about us, but we don’t about them. I see this in Korea all the time. IR is a much bigger chunk of political science here, the two Korean-published SSCI journals I know of are in IR, and foreign policy is much more in the news and politics. Whenever foreign students (especially Chinese) tell me that America should pay more attention to this or that part of the world, I always tell them, you are lucky we care at all – just look at our pathetic foreign language acquisition rates, the wildly inaccurate American belief that we spend huge amounts on foreign aid that should be cut to zero, that we routinely deny foreigners judicial rights in the US that we howl about when it happens to our nationals overseas (Amanda Knox), or that Romney refuses to admit (!) that he speaks French, because the Tea Party will call him a wimp or a traitor or something (watch that vid above). Wow. In most places in the world, foreign language is a highly prized skill, but I guess not in NASCAR-land. To my mind, that tells you an awful lot about the contemporary GOP’s foreign policy: if you are not an American, you are probably mentally ill or something.

6. There was almost nothing on the Asia pivot; it was all about the Middle East, because of its central religious importance to hardcore GOP voters. If you actually looked at what was covered, it was almost all the ME, basically Israel and Iran. It seems like the GOP has basically out-sourced US ME policy to Netanyahu. Issues like the BRICs and other second world risers, the terrible effects of the drug war in Latin America, NK and Burma’s transitions, the euro crisis, even China barely got any attention. If the euro meltdowns, it will impact Americans a lot more than an Iranian nuke, but that’s boring economics. The Tea Party doesn’t care; foreign policy is the war on terror and clash of civilizations in which Christianized American exceptionalism must endlessly re-affirmed. Instead of coping with rising states, we just chest-thump that America is not in decline and that Obama is an appeaser. Whatever. This is just fantasy, which in itself is rather important information for the rest of us, so again, the debates served a useful purpose in an oblique way.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


Some Political Science Thoughts on the GOP Debate Marathon

So it looks like the GOP debating season is over. Wow. I don’t study American politics, but I can’t remember a marathon run of debates like that ever before. (Can anyone speak to that point, btw? This is something very new, right?) I think there will be much discussion in both parties about whether or not to run this sort of marathon schedule again in 4 years. Like most people I watched bits and pieces of them, and I concur that they should probably come with a drinking game like the State of the Union does. I zoned out a lot when it got (often) insider-y about who voted for which earmarks, but there were some good insights. On foreign policy, ironically the best insight is how little it interests Americans as measured by how how little it was discussed.

So here are some other political science-y thoughts after 6 months of these things:

1. The debates were good, because they forced the candidates to function in unscripted environments. I worked for a congressman and volunteered on some campaigns back in the 90s, and my strong impression was that candidates love TV buys and friendly, highly-scripted forums (the Rove formula, I suppose). No one likes to go door-to-door, and no one likes to explain themselves. By contrast, I thought the debates really pushed the candidates. It forced them to get out there in (relatively) unscripted environments and answer off-the-cuff. This is when the most useful gaffes (ie, honesty break-throughs) happen, which tell you a lot about what candidates really think (Romney’s 10k bet, Perry’s ‘oops’ meltdown, Gingrich’s ‘the Palestinians don’t exist’). Gaffes and other slips are often the most revealing information about candidates who are otherwise ‘constructed’ by consultants and media groups (Romney’s robo-slipperiness being the most obvious example in this cycle). So the more the candidates are forced to be themselves and answer without a script, the more you learn their real beliefs and prejudices. That in itself is valuable in the Rovian world of stage-managed everything.

2. So many debates were bad, because they egged on the candidates to take more and more extreme positions to satisfy the audience. It was a like a domestic politics version of the ‘audience costs’ problem behind deterrence and the domino theory in IR; i.e., credibility concerns before an audience pulled the candidates into more and more extreme positions they didn’t really want to take. The downside of so much audience participation was that otherwise decent candidates were forced to competitively outflank/’out-hawk’ each other more and more to the right, saying sillier and more extreme stuff they almost certainly don’t believe. Perry’s ‘I’ll support waterboarding till the day I die’ strikes me as the most obvious example of this. Perry seems like a fairly congenial guy, who was not a bad guv but then got way out of his depth. He didn’t really know what he was doing and so found himself backed into saying ever more absurd things, like closing down this or that department with no forethought, or waterboarding forever. Romney too clearly doesn’t believe Tea Party ideology, which is why he keeps gaffing; he’s not a movement conservative, no matter how hard he pretends. I am sure Ron Paul believes in the gold standard, and Bachmann that the ACLU runs the CIA, but a lot of these guys have been in this business long enough to know how much Tea Party ideology (climate change and darwinism as liberal academic conspiracies, eg) is bunk. The most depressing thing is that no one will take a stand against it. Instead of trying to pull the GOP back to reality (at the very least so that it will be competitive this fall), the candidates are pandering their way toward 1964-style unelectability. It’s not good for a biparty democracy when one of its just two parties implodes into fringe paranoia like this.

3. If you want democracy to be more democratic and participative, then the frontrunner’s dislike of the debates is too bad. I was disappointed to hear of Romney’s rejection of the next two debates, but not surprised. The debates give the also-rans a chance to fight back. This is one reason I liked them. For as frightening as Santorum and Bachmann are, at least they believe what they say. Its nice to see passionate underdogs push back against Organization Man’s money and TV. The debates and the circulating roster of challengers have really forced Romney to work, although his response has, sadly, been to just pander rather than distinguish himself. One of the big problems of mass democracy is that you never really get to know elected officials. You see them on TV, you seem some campaign literature. I think this is why so many action movies (Air Force One, National Treasure, ID4) show the president as a regular guy who can be an action hero. We desperately want to identify with him. Well the debates give you a little more access and make the process a little more participative and less distant. That’s good in itself.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


Colin Kahl responds to Matt Kroenig

Foreign Affairs has gone live with Colin Kahl’s explanation of why we shouldn’t commence bombing in five minutes. A sample:

In arguing for a six-month horizon, Kroenig also misleadingly conflates hypothetical timelines to produce weapons-grade uranium with the time actually required to construct a bomb. According to 2010 Senate testimony by James Cartwright, then vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and recent statements by the former heads of Israel’s national intelligence and defense intelligence agencies, even if Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in six months, it would take it at least a year to produce a testable nuclear device and considerably longer to make a deliverable weapon. And David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (and the source of Kroenig’s six-month estimate), recently told Agence France-Presse that there is a “low probability” that the Iranians would actually develop a bomb over the next year even if they had the capability to do so. Because there is no evidence that Iran has built additional covert enrichment plants since the Natanz and Qom sites were outed in 2002 and 2009, respectively, any near-term move by Tehran to produce weapons-grade uranium would have to rely on its declared facilities. The IAEA would thus detect such activity with sufficient time for the international community to mount a forceful response. As a result, the Iranians are unlikely to commit to building nuclear weapons until they can do so much more quickly or out of sight, which could be years off.

There’s no question in my mind that Colin gets the better of Matt in this debate, but I think a bit of background might be of interest to Duck readers.

Colin (who is literally “one of the smartest guys in the room”) recently stepped down as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East in the Office of the Secretary of Defense(Policy). Matt had an International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) during the 2010-2011 academic year; Colin arranged for Matt to spend the fellowship in his office. Matt worked there part time, as I understand it, writing and assisting with analytic reports. I did a similar stint in Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia (RUE), although I did less analytic work and more backfill. In other words, Matt was basically a high-level intern and Colin was his boss. That, of course, doesn’t invalidate Matt’s arguments–they rise and fall on their own. But it does provide some reason to put more faith in Colin’s expertise (and hands-on knowledge of) Iranian-US security dynamics than in Matt’s.


Why we need to debate foreign policy in elections: Lessons from the UK 2010 General Election

FYI: I am blogging on Canada-related issues at the Cana-blog. It basically satiates my desire to engage with Canadian issues without boring Duck readers to death about our various neuroses from North of the 49th Parallel. Do check it out though, eh?

Last year I blogged about the UK General Election as a “Johnny Foreigner”. I thought it would be a very dull affair, but it ended up being pretty interesting with the first televised election debates, “Cleggmania” and the subsequent coalition discussions. What didn’t the election have? Foreign policy.

In fact the only foreign policy-related items that really featured at all were brief disagreements over relations with Europe (more about the transfer of Westminster powers), climate change and a really, really dispiriting debate on immigration (especially if you are said Johnny Foreigner).

Depressing immigration debates aside, this makes sense. The UK was hit hard by the recession and the debate was largely about the economy. Foreign policy, seldom a popular topic in elections anyway, was even less important. It’s the kind of thing that won’t help you win an election – only lose one.

Lo and behold, it’s 2011 and Canada finds itself in a national election. And what’s not on the agenda? Foreign policy. Why? The economy. And healthcare (which always ranks as important in Canadian elections).

Foreign policy has not and will not play a large role – even if Canada is in Afghanistan and helping to lead the NATO mission in Libya. (Although, to be fair, Carl Meyer at Embassy Magazine has a good article on the ways that foreign policy may feature in the election.) In this sense, there is a certain amount in common with the UK 2010 General Election – at least in terms of the downplaying of foreign policy issues to domestic ones.

But is this something that us IR-wonks should learn to live with? Is there anything we can learn from the UK experience?

In short: yes. After the UK foreign-policy-free election, the coalition has made major and significant policy decisions which affect foreign relations. Some of the significant ones include:

There was no debate on any of these issues. For Afghanistan, all that the leaders spoke of was their trips there and meeting the troops. It could not be said that there was a major debate about the scale, scope and vision of the mission. So should there have been a debate on the UK’s foreign policy priorities and its role in the world? And why wasn’t there one?

There are a number of factors which may have prevented a foreign policy debate.

First, quite frankly, it may have been something that the political parties just didn’t want to confront. It’s not an easy question and, as argued above, it was simply not a priority for them or the voters. Additionally politicians may want to avoid saying anything inflammatory about allies or policies during the election which may come back to haunt them later.

Second, in the parliamentary system, where cabinet ministers sit in the legislature (and owe their position more to patronage and party balancing than expertise), there were not necessarily any obvious foreign policy spokespersons. Certainly there were politicians with interest (such as Rory Stewart). But while positions are fluid and unclear, it’s not obvious that there were any obvious persons to debate the issue.

Third, foreign policy events are unpredictable. While some things are constant – NATO, the EU, relations with the United States – no one could have possibly predicted the uprisings in the Middle East or the fact that NATO would be bombing Libya as some kind of R2P operation. So, for example, while Bush and Condoleezza Rice wrote about not using the 82nd Airborne for nation building in 2000, he ended up spending most of his presidency doing just that. Events may distort or even dictate policies – and this is why they are not carefully outlined (other than broad, vague ideas at best) in elections.

Finally, foreign policy is just something that politicians feel that international affairs are best debated in Parliament rather than on the campaign trail. (Although the debates may sometimes be lacking as well.)

But there is a lesson here for Canada (and other democracies) that tend to not debate foreign policy in elections: governments are going to have to deal with foreign events, and without some kind of guidance, or debate or understanding of what our interests are and what our priorities should be, then there can be major surprises later on.

Even if it must take place in terms of vague generalities, a foreign policy debate is worth having. It is worth knowing where political parties stand on R2P, development, the United Nations (and UN Security Council) international organizations, etc. Broader ideas and goals should be outlined even if, inevitably, events cause change and reversal later on. While I do not anticipate huge cuts to Canadian defence spending nor a major change on our alliance policies, it would be nice to know what the Conservative (UK and Canadian) line on “the Responsibility to Protect” is – since we seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

EDIT: James Joyner has a great post on the US take on this at Outside the Beltway.


Debate Day

When I was a college student, I spent every Labor Day working in the debate squadroom at Kansas. Everyone on the team, in fact, was expected to put in a full day working on their affirmative cases, negative arguments, etc. Sometimes, debaters learned the identity of their colleague on that day — it is a two-person team activity after all. After the work ended, our coach and his wife hosted the team for dinner.

Even though it was a Labor Day of work and not rest, I always enjoyed it and have fond memories.

Recently, former National Debate Tournament champion Michael Horowitz (Emory 2000) wrote a short piece for Slate about his own fond memories and experiences in college debate. In the article, he discusses a book by Mark Oppenheimer about that author’s personal experience in debate. Indeed, the piece is penned as an open letter to Oppenheimer.

I’m not sure I agree with Horowitz and Oppenheimer that “debate is ‘football for dorks.'” Yes, it is a competitive activity, but I’d probably use a different comparison. My colleague during sophomore and senior year used to describe our skills metaphorically by quoting from Stripes:

The world isn’t fair! Truth isn’t fair!

Is it fair that you were born like this? No!

They’re not expecting somebody like you. They’re expecting some clown.

You’re different. You’re weird.
You’re a mutant. You’re a killer!

You’re a trained killer!

You’re a lean, mean, fighting machine!

I’ve written before about being a “made man in the Kansas debate mafia.”

For me, this is the key paragraph in the Horowitz piece:

One thing that struck me was how you were discouraged early in your debate career, by an “earthy, hippiesh senior girl,” from “trying too hard” and doing too much research. You were encouraged instead to exercise your brilliance and charm to win debates, and the most entertaining debate stories in your book are the ones in which you emerge triumphant thanks to a clever turn of phrase, an eloquent monologue, or your sharp wit. To me, eloquence, research, and reasoning form the trinity of good debate. Too often, all of them are lacking from our political discourse. To the extent any of them are present, however, it is often style (or attempts at style) privileged over substance. This is unfortunate, because debate without substance runs the risk of being mere sophistry or just a dilettantish rhetorical dance.

I could not agree more with this.

Incidentally, Horowitz recently published a book that looks interesting: The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics.

Update 9/7/10: A friend of the blog sent along a link to a new debate documentary: “Debate Team.” Apparently, it is available in DVD — and they have a lot of interesting deleted scenes online. The clips seem to support the Horowitz point about substance vs. style.

Also, if you look around on the web, you can find an old photo of my colleague and I holding Mike’s trophy. It gets around.


The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part III – Cursing old ladies edition

I’ve been getting surprisingly decent feedback on these posts. Some of my colleagues at work (who know more about democracy and elections than I do) have said that they felt that they were not entirely wrong or embarrassing so I’ve decided to stick with it until it’s all over next week – and then get back to blowy-uppy-thingies after 6 May.

So what did we see and/or learn in the last leader’s debate on foreign policy last week?

My first observation was that it was stupid to try and find a pub in central London that was showing the debate. In the struggle between a Liverpool football/soccer game and politics, the former was bound to win. So I had to listen to the first 30 minutes on the radio while I scrambled home!

Interestingly enough, despite having listened to the first half of the debate on the radio and the second half on the TV, I did not feel that there was a real difference in how I perceived the debate. I kind of had the impression that they were all doing about equally well. The only major difference that I noticed was that Gordon Brown actually looked a bit better than he did in the first debate. It was the best hair style I’d seen on him in years.

Going into the debate I figured that each of the three leaders had a mission:

Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) – keep it up
David Cameron (Conservatives) – ramp it up
Gordon Brown (Labour) – don’t look undead

I think, by and large, they all performed these tasks – and the polls seem to confirm this. Cameron has slightly increased his lead, Clegg has held on and Labour… we’ll they’re kind of hanging out (or were until Brown decided to say some really silly things with a live microphone on him as discussed below…)

But the difference from the first debate is that there was no clear winner. When I asked my flatmate who won, she replied that she thought it was Sky News. I think she might be right.

So Brown looked less uncomfortable but still a bit rehearsed. (Also – no one in the Labour Party should ever let him smile. Ever. It’s just not a good look for him.) Clegg had a slightly more difficult task because the LibDems are perceived to be weaker on foreign policy. They oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent (and nuclear energy in general), they are the party that is by far the closest to the European Union and possibly the least friendly to the US. Still, in this heated exchange, I think he held his ground – and did rather well. Cameron seemed to have some of the confidence that everyone expected him to have in the first debate. I think he did much better (though I came to this conclusion after two glasses of Merlot.)

But ultimately I was disappointed because I thought the foreign policy questions were pretty disappointing and in a lot of cases the answers were worse. All of the international questions really came down to domestic issues. Climate change? Insulate your house! (Although Clegg did charge Brown with failing, or being sidelined at Copenhagen… unfairly, I think.) Afghanistan? (Let’s all thank the troops! And we’ve all visited!) A visit from the Pope? (Diplomacy good! Gays good! Touching children bad! But we can all chat!)

Robin Nibblet of Chatham House was pretty critical in his assessment, noting that there were no questions on China. Inderjeet Parmar of TransAtlantia that there was nothing on the Iraq War, UK complicity in the torture of terror suspects, or any kind of troop withdrawal as well. Yet, as David Aaronovitch notes, there was a second question on immigration (which, to be fair, has become pretty much the second major issue of the campaign over the economy). The LSE’s Election Blog reaction is here.

Still, despite my disappointment with the “foreign policy” aspect of the debate, I found myself enjoying the program. Actually, so far I have liked the debates MUCH better than the US ones. They are more dynamic and interesting. I think that so far they can be described as a huge success for generating interest in the election and (with the exception of foreign policy – as discussed above) there have been some pretty good discussions on policy.

They took our jeeeerrrrbs!

The part that I’m finding most painful is the section on immigration. From my perspective as an migrant worker (of sorts) myself, the debate on immigration has been kind of offensive. We’re over-crowding Britain. We’re taking people’s jobs. (British jobs for British workers!) And even then, I am not subject to a lot of harassment that people from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia get – but only because I speak with an “exotic” Canadian accent and I’ve spent a few extra years in school.

But after nearly a month of this I’m wondering if the UK can have a sensible discussion on immigration that isn’t trying to play in the hands of some of the more fringe parties? Yes, controls are a good thing – a crucial thing, actually. But the debate seems less about what we should do about the situation the UK is in and more about numbers, jobs, council flats, etc. Have Labour’s policies actually reduced immigration? Let’s fight about numbers and statistics! Maybe this is just what is foremost on people’s minds and the politicians feel that this is what they need to respond. I’m certainly not going to pretend this is an easy issue – but I can’t help but feel the current state of the debate (literally) is a race to the bottom.

Still, if I was in one of the above categories of immigrants, I would probably be feeling a whole lot worse about all of this. Or at least a bit more vulnerable. Eastern Europeans can’t be feeling particularly welcome right now. But I guess this is the same debate that is being held in other countries, like the United States, where immigration seems to be just as toxic of an issue (although no one has started a vigilante group here yet.)

JFGTTUKE highlights this week:

1. Clegg-mania continued – kinda: Clegg is widely seen as surviving a major test with the second debate and as having potentially changed the political landscape of the UK. Labour is now considered to be in third place (if only just) or barely hanging on to second – something that was truly unconceivable three weeks ago.

2. ‘Hung’ out to dry?: The impact of this goes beyond pushing labour into third place, of course. Virtually all of the politico-media driven hype has been on the impact of a hung-parliament. Will it drive the UK economy into a Greek-like collapse? Will it mean years of paralysis and backdoor deals that will undermine the parliamentary process? Will a hung parliament kick your grandma and eat your baby?
The answer of course, is – who knows. (I’m thinking a definite “no” on the baby-eating.) But there is no question that the Conservatives have been doing whatever they can to frighten the daylights out of the electorate? But will it succeed?
Some of my political friends, (not Tories – though I wouldn’t care if they were) are saying that the spectre of a hung parliament is having an impact on how they will vote. One indicated that because he felt that because the percentage of the popular vote might now have an impact on what happens in the possible post-election negotiations, that he would now vote Labour (despite being in a LibDem safe seat) so that they may have more bargaining power.
Now this individual is politically informed (though not active) so I have to wonder exactly how many other people are feeling this way? Will Clegg-mania survive in the polling booth? Or will people resort to their old loyalties (or the two dominant parties) at the last minute. I suspect Gordon Brown is hoping that this will be the case.

3. Brown Toast? Gordon Brown was caught saying some things about an elderlywoman – a lifelong Labour Party member at that – that were far from flattering. She was asking questions about the economy and immigration (of course) – Brown pretended to make nice, but then, when he thought no one was listening called the woman “bigoted”. (And if you need something to crush your soul, look at the expression of disappointment on the woman’s face when she finds out about it.) I’m sure politicians probably feel this way a lot and say things like this behind closed doors all of the time. However, Brown got caught in a big and bad way. Will it affect voters? There is a lot of media speculation about this today. Certainly it has not helped the perception that he might be a bully, or that he is bad with the general public.

4. Foreign press coverage: I’ve noticed quite a few stories on the election in the foreign press – New York Times, Washington Post, etc. (Check out Karla Adam’s piece on political betting if you want to know the other creative ways people speculate about the election at the bookie.)

However, I’ve also noticed in the last few days that this story has been pushed aside to a certain extent by and large in favour of the speculation about the Euro and the future of Greece, Spain and Portugal.

So is there interest in the US? Are they following it at all? Always impressed that C-SPAN 3 is covering the debate (is that like the ESPN 82 of the political world?) I was impressed that Sky News had Dan Rather deliver his opinion afterwards – although I didn’t find his comments particularly insightful.

Finally *phew* – what can we expect in tonight’s final debate in Birmingham?

Well the debate is on the economy. I would imagine that Brown (while trying to say how much he admires grandmothers who have concerns about immigration in the North of England) will be defending his economic record and how well he managed a “global” crisis. There is a perception that this will be his strong suit. The other two parties will be going after this – saying that years of Labour mismanagement resulted in the UK facing a recession in a much weaker position than it otherwise might have been. They will all talk about how they will cut out waste, preserve the fragile recovery and why the other parties will basically destroy the economic foundation of the nation.

But the UK economy is in a terrible position (although, admittedly, relatively good in terms of, say, that it’s not Mediterranean or needing IMF assistance). Whoever comes in is going to have to wield a terrible axe. I think much of the discussion will be on what the best approach to do this is – Conservatives will attack Labour’s “tax on jobs” (raising the National Insurance – Social Security in the US) and Labour will say that the Conservatives will plunge the nation back into recession. Both will attack the LibDems, who will in turn say that they were warning about an impending financial crisis years before it happened.

I suspect other major issues to be unemployment – particularly youth unemloyment and NEETS (youth Not in Education, Employment, or Training), the Euro and European economy, and (why not) the impact of immigration on the economy.

As for me, the plan for rice cakes last time succumbed to pizza and wine. Now I’m trying to think what suitable economic debate food stuff will be? Probably a tin of beans. Suggestions welcomed, of course.


The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election Part II – The Second Great Debate

I’m planning on writing a larger post on the topic after the Second Election Debate tonight – particularly since it is going to be about UK Foreign policy (and, in theory, more or less related to the topics of this blog…)

In the mean time if you haven’t been paying attention, the election has basically exploded into interestingness in the last week. The First (ever) Leader’s Debate basically jump-started the election in a way that I (and I suspect most people) never anticipated. Tonight’s debate is now pretty much mandatory watching.

The short version is that the third party candidate, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg (the guy I wrote about last week and said no one expected to win except Howard Dean) has surged in the polls after an impressive performance. While I wouldn’t call him our “White, tea-drinking, private-school-educated Obama” yet, he has shaken up British politics in a BIG way and has possibly changed the electoral map of Britain in the meantime…. if he can stay on in the polls. If you don’t believe me about “Clegg-mania” (no really, that’s what they’re calling it) – check out the polling insanity – and the effect it could have on the seat distribution here.)

In the meantime, for those of you who have access (I assume they are showing it on BBC World – and apparently CSPAN 3 – how’s that for a prime tv slot!) I highly recommend the LSE’s Election Blog. Chris Brown has a good backgrounder on the Trident Nuclear system which is up for renewal – and sure to feature in tonights debate.

As for me, I’m loading up on my cheese and onion flavoured crisps and a few pints of Old Speckled Hen to hopefully watch the sparks fly tonight.

(Who am I kidding… it’s always rice cakes…)


Quick Debate Thoughs

I actually enjoyed last night’s debate much more so than the previous three. Part of it could be that I watched with a real-live crowd of college-aged students instead of by myself at home with only my minuscule live-blog audience. But mostly, I think, it was because it was, finally, more of an actual debate and less of a set of parallel talking points. The two actually had to speak to each other and were given sufficient time to articulate a campaign position, criticize the opponent, and then respond directly to that criticism. It made for a much more lively show.

Overall, I thought that both candidates boxed their corner well on the issues. I actually like it when they each go after each other’s health care plan or tax plan, as you can see that there are clear differences between them on key issues.

The best question was when Schieffer asked the obvious: you’ve each called the other nasty names (and proceeded to list them all), will you say that to his face here live on national TV? Like Nate, I think this is where McCain started to lose the contest, however I do think that Obama’s response here was very important in allowing McCain to over-play his hand. After McCain’s missive about not enough town hall meetings and negative advertising, Obama replied:

And there is nothing wrong with us having a vigorous debate like we’re having tonight about health care, about energy policy, about tax policy. That’s the stuff that campaigns should be made of.

The notion, though, that because we’re not doing town hall meetings that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks.

What the American people can’t afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies. And what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what’s most pressing to them: the economic crisis.

Sen. McCain’s own campaign said publicly last week that, if we keep on talking about the economic crisis, we lose, so we need to change the subject.

And I would love to see the next three weeks devoted to talking about the economy, devoted to talking about health care, devoted to talking about energy, and figuring out how the American people can send their kids to college.

I think this was a very effective way to rise above the attacks, return the focus to “issues” and allowed McCain to make himself look angry.

Down hill from there, according to all the insta-polls, McCain clearly lost.
Now, I’m not totally sold on that–to a certain extent, I think these debates are solidifying existing leanings, and more people lean Obama than McCain, so more will go for Obama’s performance than McCain’s.

But I also think that McCain doomed himself with these debates in that he forgot (or maybe Obama remembered) that “winners” (in the political narrative sense) are determined only about a third by actual substance. People also listen for tone, and watch body language. Obama appears clam, respectful, dignified. McCain is blinking incredibly and making astonishing faces in reaction to Obama’s statements, as if he’s shocked, shocked to hear that Obama differs with him. That image matters, and when you have a split screen, as we did in our venue, that speaks almost louder than the other candidate’s answers.

Game, Set, Match Obama.


Oh, wait. There’s a debate on!

The third “debate” turns out to be an actual debate. Other than that, no live blogging tonight. Had to finish a midterm for one of my classes.

I may post some general impressions after the debate. My gut reaction now is that McCain isn’t pushing a consistent line of attack. In consequence, his digs at Obama are rebounding to the latter’s benefit by making him look cool, reasonable, and collected.

In some respects, this may prove a real problem for McCain, insofar as it gives Obama a platform to answer the least persuasive ones (ACORN, Ayers) head on. At best, the McCain campaign can hope that the news organizations replay these moments enough to drive them into the consciousness of people who don’t watch cable news channels.

That being said, McCain is much better prepared for this debate than the earlier two. No “Mr. Puddles” moments, but that “Joe the Plumber” thing is going to get him into trouble when SNL and the Daily Show take on this debate.


Intervening to stop the Holocaust

Erik Erickson at RedState thinks he’s found an Obama gaffe:

Barack Obama suggests we need to consider moral issues in intervening with combat forces. He mentions intervening in the Holocaust and how we should have done that.

Um Senator, we did intervene in the Holocaust. It was called World War II.

I guess you hadn’t heard of that, kind of like you hadn’t heard of Bill Ayers.

I hate to say it, but Mr. Erickson just had a moment of profound ignorance.

The Holocaust had squat to do with the US intervention in Europe. Hitler declared war on the United States out of solidarity with Japan. In fact, US inaction in the face of genocide against European Jewry is a well-known historical fact:

During World War II, rescue of Jews and other victims of the Nazis was not a priority for the United States government. Nor was it always clear to Allied policy makers how they could pursue large-scale rescue actions behind German lines. Due in part to antisemitism (prejudice against or hatred of Jews), isolationism, the economic Depression, and xenophobia (prejudice against or fear of foreigners), the refugee policy of the U.S. State Department (led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull) made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas to the United States.

The U.S. State Department also delayed publicizing reports of genocide. In August 1942, the State Department received a cable confirming Nazi plans for the total destruction of Europe’s Jews. The report, sent by Gerhart Riegner (the representative in Geneva of the World Jewish Congress), was not passed on to other government officials. The State Department asked American Rabbi Stephen Wise, who also received the report, to refrain from announcing it.

Reports of Nazi atrocities often were not publicized in full by the American press. In 1943, Polish courier Jan Karski informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt of reports of mass murder received from Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto. No immediate executive action was taken. The U.S Congress twice rejected legislation that would have allowed entry to the United States for 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children seeking refuge.

On April 19, 1943, U.S. and British representatives met in Bermuda to find solutions to wartime refugee problems. No significant proposals emerged from the Bermuda Conference. In January 1944 Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (within the Treasury Department) to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees. Fort Ontario, in New York, began to serve as an ostensibly free port for refugees. Refugees brought to Fort Ontario, however, were not from Nazi-occupied areas, but rather from liberated zones.

By the spring of 1944, the Allies knew of the killing operations using poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Jewish leaders pleaded unsuccessfully with the U.S. government to bomb the gas chambers and railways leading to the camp. From August 20 to September 13, 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Auschwitz-Monowitz industrial complex, less than five miles from the gas chambers in Birkenau. However, the U.S. maintained its policy of non-involvement in rescue, and bombed neither the gas chambers nor the railways used to transport prisoners.


Initial thoughts

The conventional wisdom was that McCain needed to “take it to Obama.” McCain even signaled that he’d take the gloves off. But Obama swung first and was, in many ways, the more aggressive of the two. I’m not sure what to make of that.

1) I’m hearing a lot of people saying that McCain was more aggressive. I don’t think that’s true. I think his demeanor was more aggressive, and his attacks (with one exception) more personal, and that’s an important difference. It hurt McCain last time.

2) The McCain campaign’s attempt at a “game changer” was clearly the proposal to have the government refinance mortgages. Stop and think about that for a moment, and what it says about the “Republican Revolution.”

3) I thought that McCain narrowly won the last debate, and I turned out to be in the minority. My sense this time is that Obama did better than McCain, and that this is how the public at large will react as well. I’m a former debater and debate coach, but I can’t really put my finger on why I think this debate may turn out to be very bad for McCain. Obviously, comments like “that one” are going to hurt him. But something about the whole tenor of the debate played into the existing narratives about the two: that Obama is steady and articulate, and that McCain is struggling and, well, losing.

…. On further reflection, I’m still stuck on the second point. So, let me get this straight: the candidate of the Republican party just tried to “change the game” by proposing to socialize mortgages?

The Republican Revolution might not be dead, but it’s definitely on life support.

Image source: KDRV



9:35 — ….. zzzzzzz ………. zzzzzzzzz …… huh! wazaht? Oh, yeah.

Isn’t it amazing how each year the campaigns come up with an even worse format than they used the last time?

9:40 — Obama gets animated… on tax policy.

9:41 — My big question is whether McCain’s constant references to the 1980s make him seem Mavericky, or just really old.

9:42 — Oh, Peter’s already doing this. I guess I’ll stop now.

9:44 — The candidates fiddle while Iceland melts.

9:45 — Given that they both want the same things, it all boils down to the details of their proposals….

9:46 — Got you at 9:45, didn’t I? It probably boils down, sadly enough, to who radiates more empathy or something.

9:47 — Go Brokaw! Who needs a more detailed discussion if it’s against the rules?

9:48 — McCain: “That one.” Hmmmm.

9:49 — If the markets react to the possibility of more oil years in 5-10 years, then they’re even more hair trigger than I thought.

9:50 — Why is McCain wandering around in the background? And why is Obama not answering the “is health care a commodity” question? It’s a gimme for discussing McCain’s attempt to push everyone into the market as individual purchasers…

9:52 — Okay, Obama’s sorta doing it now.

9:53 — Does the Obama plan have an employer mandate? Gotta check.

9:54 — It looks like it does. Well, you need either an individual mandate or an employer mandate.

9:59 — That was actually a pretty good health care debate. Color me surprised. Of course, on this issue I side with Obama, and I’m saddened that McCain’s proposed a plan that’s actually worse than the status quo.

10:01 — I hate to sound like just about everyone else with a keyboard and push-publication capability, but the problem for McCain on the Iraq issue is that most people don’t agree with him. I think he needs to stop framing this as a judgment question–“Obama opposed the surge”–and instead frame the issue as “Obama wants to leave before the mission is done.”

10:06 — Okay, he did… but not in a very effective way.

10:08 — The Cambodia analogy is actually a pretty good one to put in a question about crossing Pakistan’s border. Bet Obama ignores it.

10:10 — What would Teddy Roosevelt do?

10:14 — Ouch. Will Obama get under McCain’s skin with that dig at his stability? Alienate undecideds? McCain’s response depends on the strength of his brand, which isn’t in the best shape ever right now.

But this is pretty much a distinction without a difference.

When McCain says he’ll get Bin Laden, but he won’t “announce” he’s going to do it, he “telegraphed” that he would.

10:20 — We are all Georgians now. Misha Saakashvili won by losing.

10:22 — Doesn’t Obama know we already gave Georgia a billion dollars with no strings attached? And what does Misha do? Crack down on the press.

10:25a — I suppose it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the best moments of the debate came when they ignored the rules.

10:25b — McCain’s patting of that guy on the back probably helped him more than anything he said tonight.

10:28 — They both go out looking strong.

10:33 — The known unknowns or the unknown unknowns? … Now we get the biographies. Obama kind of stumbled on his. McCain definitely has a better swan song.

10:34 — I’ll bet that McCain blocking the script becomes the most replayed part of the debate.


Ducking the Issues: The Candidates “Debate”

Why, o why do I subject myself to this exciting town hall styled ‘debate’? Is boring, and my prediction is that it stays boring, and in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t do all that much. And yet, I feel compelled to watch and blog. I guess it gives me something to do while my brisket is in the oven. Mmmmmmmmm brisket!

McCain is good in this format, its his strength. He’s hitting many of the same themes of the last debate. Obama is decent as well–he’s better at speaking directly to the questioner, whereas McCain is on campaign message a bit more. He told these same stories in the last debate for those of you who might have missed it.

I don’t really think that Warren Buffett would want to be Treasury Secretary…

That Obama knew the price of gas in Nashville is a good thing, obviously someone will instantly fact check this, but assuming he’s right, its a nice I’m in touch with your needs moment.


McCain has the zinger of the night– Nailing Jello to the wall. Of course, invoking Herbert Hoover is never good, as Hoover was the Republican. I like how McCain talks about taxes as if the tax code alone can solve economic problems.

Of course, the “Straight talk Express has lost a wheel” on the tax issue.

Keep ’em coming!

A commission! Did he say a Blue Ribbon Commission? Well, you can’t do any better than that!

Finally, McCain throws Bush and Cheney under the bus by name. Should I time stamp these little missives? Eh, too much work.

McCain likes the Kitchen Sink approach to solve problems. On health care–lets do lots of things. Here’s where he has a fundamental message problem, he’s saying government is the problem, the private sector is the solution. Has not read the financial pages lately? The unregulated market, the unregulated financial companies just got us into a mess. Everyone is looking to the government to bail us out.
(no one is getting his little do the math project, as my wife just asked, what’s he even talking about, do you understand his plan? no).

Hurray for foreign policy (we at the Duck should be excited about this, no?). I was just about to type “There you go again” on the Sen. Obama doesn’t understand, and Obama basically does that. Nice flip to McCain doesn’t understand.

This is such a status quo debate, so Obama wins in the grand scheme of things. No game changers here.

Brokaw, why must everyone have a doctrine? This question seems….. so Clinton Administration, so 1990’s.

Pakistan is the new Cambodia. Why must we re-fight the Vietnam war? Trudeau nailed this one this past Sunday.

Here’s what bothers me about this Israel / UN question from the Navy vet. He frames the UN as an impediment to US interest, as standing in the way of help to an ally. No one challenges the frame, that the UN could be a tool to help the US reply to just such a threat to world peace. This throws the UN under the bus, and in the long run, undermines the organization’s effectiveness as a tool of US diplomacy. McCain has no problem doing this, I had hoped for a bit more from Obama.

I like this last question, its perhaps one of the most important aspects of qualification for Presidential leadership. Obama pivots straight into his closing remarks. So does McCain. In part the question is vague enough to allow this, but I would have liked a more honest, reflective answer.

Ok, not as bad as I had thought it would be. Nate and Sean think that Obama won, and say that the focus group dials tilt toward Obama. Again, no game changer, Obama retains his lead. McCain makes no inroads.

Time to tend to my brisket, its been cooking for a nice 4 hours.

(and if anyone is interested, we can do the food chat and recipe share in a future post)


A cliché….

it is bad enough that our professional pundits feel compelled to tell us what “average Americans” think, but do bloggers really have to imitate this particularly insipid form of analysis?

The polls give it to Biden. As dubious as these “snap” surveys are, I think they’re a better indicator of what your average (undecided) American thinks.

I don’t have any profound insights about this debate. I thought McCain won on points last week, and I think Biden won on points tonight, but by a slightly larger margin than McCain did against Obama.

I already posted my favorite line of the debate below.

… But I have to admit that I’m a bit flummoxed by the notion that all those greedy bastards on Wall Street deserve to be regulated by a government that should get out of the way of business and reduce their taxes.

This is hardly Palin’s fault, though, as she has to walk the fine line between class-war populism and pro-private enterprise conservatism. In the old days, politicians resolved this tension by blaming the Jews. I, for one, am sure glad that’s off the table.


Biden my time, Im-Palin myself

I’m watching the debate. Not even 10 minutes in and its anti-climatic.

Palin: I’m not going to answer the questions the way you or the moderator want to hear, I’m going to talk straight to the American people.

I’m not sure what that means.
I can’t wait until a student shows up in class and says I’m not going to answer the question on the test the way the professor or the students want, I’m going to write my blue book straight to the American people.
What do you say to that?

Sarah Palin: Middle Class, where todd and I have been all our lives. Middle class equals worth over a million dollars. That’s not my middle class.

Updates as I watch:

H/T to Drezner, this is priceless: 9:21 PM: God bless Megan McArdle: “Sarah Palin winks at the camera. I didn’t believe it the first time I saw it; thank god for TiVo. I think all three million viewers are supposed to come up to her hotel room with a bottle of champagne after the debate.”

What I hate about this type of debate format: Let me go back and respond to some previous thing you said so I can get in my talking points. There’s no flow. Really, I’ve lost track as to what they’re talking about. What was the question again, Gwen?

Here’s why this debate is impossible–the two debaters aren’t actually debating each other, they are debating people not in the room. Biden is talking past Palin, at McCain and Bush. Palin is talking past Biden at Obama. Neither can respond for themselves, they have to respond for their principle. Biden, being more familiar with the positions of both sides (he’s been at this for a while now), is, clearly, more able to do this. Palin, who by her own admission has been at this, what 5 weeks, doesn’t have the same command of McCain’s positions, so she’s not as fluid in her answers. Regardless, it leads to a very scattered debate.

This debate has been unwatchable. I have no idea what Palin is talking about most times. Biden is Biden–at times fantastic, at times all over the place. My wife is asleep on the couch next to me, I think she got the better end of this past 90 minutes.


Debate reaction – a few more thoughts

1. McCain did make one major strategic mistake in the debate. Although he may have thought that he was pushing his “change” theme by invoking his status as a “Maverick,” distancing himself from Bush, and talking about earmarks, he dropped it as a framing theme in favor of “experience.” He needs to at least stay competitive as a “change agent” if he wants to win the election. I assume that he’ll return to this frame in later debates, but he needed to do more of it last night.

2. If the polls are still at Obama +5-6 by the next debate, I expect there’s a good likelihood that the current differences in Obama’s and McCain’s tone and presentation will become more acute. Although Democratic partisans want Obama to go more offense, at that point he’s likely to be focused on running out the clock, i.e., reprising his themes and avoiding making any negative news.

3. I’m not convinced that the debates will matter very much this year. If we do see movement in the polls away from Obama by the middle of next week, don’t assume that it had anything to do with the debate. Likewise if his lead continues to expand.

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