The [Friday] Papers
Here's some breaking news for you: The presidential debates are not boring. They're really not. And they aren't a waste of time. They're quite useful.
We've been having quite a bit of fun with the debates here at Beachwood HQ. Invite a few friends over next time and see how it goes.
Debates are just one part of the campaign mix - and certainly not everything when it comes to assessing the candidates. But I know I've learned a great deal watching them the last few months.
For example, Bill Richardson's resume looks great on paper. His candidacy looks awful on the stage.
John Edwards' poverty agenda is noble. He comes off, however, as smarmy and insincere.
Hillary Clinton - oh no, here come the e-mails - is commanding. Barack Obama not so much. He's a bore.
Joe Biden is super smart and fun to watch and listen to. I'm not sure he should be president, but he should be something.
God bless Dennis Kucinich.
Chris Dodd is . . . a senator. An elder statesman. From Connecticut.
Mike Gravel is missed. The nation needs Mike Gravel. After all, when he filed for bankruptcy he stuck the credit card companies with the bills. "You're damn right I did!"
At one (Republican) debate there was a giant airplane on the stage. At last night's (Democratic) debate in Las Vegas, the candidates were escorted out by, well, not showgirls exactly, but escorted out one by one as they were introduced.
Of course, the debates are about much more than stage presence. Real differences and discussions of issues actually do occur. Kucinich wants to cut off funding for the war. Yesterday. Richardson wants to bring the troops home. Today. The rest of 'em - for reasons good and bad - want to muddle along until an exit can be (theoretically) carefully executed. Biden wants to divide Iraq into three ethnic-religious states - a position Obama considered but rejected.
This is important stuff.
The candidates' approaches to health care are different too. Only Kucinich is calling for a single-payer system. The others are working around the edges.
And so on.
The Republican debates aren't quite as much fun, not because of ideology but because they are simply more narrow in scope. Tax cuts and Iraq. Tax cuts and Iraq. Tax cuts and Iraq. The Republican candidates aren't as funny, either. Their truth-teller is Ron Paul, whose dour outlook is no match for Gravel's inspired outrage or Kucinich's commitment to peaceful, humane values.
Still, we're watching with anticipation waiting for Duncan Hunter to order a Code Red and Mitt Romney to die from a toxic mix of slick and glib. Rudy Giuliani is truly frightening, but at least he's not in a coma like Fred Thompson.
If you watch the Republican debates, though, you'll see why Mike Huckabee is a legitimate contender and John McCain ain't gonna make it. You will also see Giuliani's appeal.
Sure, the pundits like to dissect exactly the wrong things said at these affairs and mistake sentences spoken without one hundred percent parsed articulation as gaffes instead of calling out the true hypocrisies and trying to understand where these folks stand and what they would do as president.
But it's too easy and lazy to dismiss these gatherings - and the campaigns' daily grind - as unworthy of our attention because so much of it is shallow and cynical showmanship. That's all the more reason to pay close attention and disabuse yourself of the caricatures in your mind of who these people really are. You can find out watching these debates. They're easy enough to see through.
"Drew Peterson races out of his garage and past the media outside his Bolingbrook house yesterday," the paper says breathlessly, next to a fuzzy photo of Peterson on a motorcycle and under the headline "Easy Rider."
"Later in the day he got news that his $72,000-a-year pension is safe despite the fact that he's a suspect in his wife's disappearance."
You are supposed to be outraged. Despite the fact that he's a suspect in his wife's disappearance.
The wise moral arbiters at the Sun-Times, you see, believe that mere suspects should lose their legal rights.
"His wife is missing but his $72,000-a-year pension is safe," Dan Rozek and Joe Hosey write.
How could that be?!
What kind of world are we living in?!
"By law," we learn upon reading further, "Peterson can lose his pension only if convicted of a felony related to his job as a police officer."
I remember the good old days when being a suspect was enough!
"[T[he police pension board voted 5-0 to authorize the retirement benefits - with trustees saying they had no choice but to approve the payments for the 30-year department veteran."
The Sun-Times, however, voted to revoke Peterson's pension, saying it had no choice but to exploit personal tragedy for commercial gain despite the story's minimal public value.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Like a good wine.
Posted on November 16, 2007
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