Posts Tagged Joe Biden

Watching the watchers, or, Do we want a moderate moderator?

Watching last night’s post-debate coverage, I noticed that moderator Candy Crowley came in for criticism along with the two candidates. Despite her job title, Crowley’s performance was a part of the media circus trying to glean some meaning from what went down in that Hofstra University auditorium. I like that, and I think people should take it a little further.

I’m not saying that the moderator should be a factor in determining which candidate wins a debate, I think that should be based solely on the facts. We have enough subjectivity in our debate coverage already, and that’s why I think consumers of media should scrutinize the people that produce it.

The starkly different roles played by Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz in their respective debates started this fire, and legitimately so. Lehrer failed to ask specific questions, and couldn’t even get Mitt Romney to answer the non-specific questions that Republicans love. Raddatz, on the other hand, kept both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan in line, and forced them to give specifics instead of talking points. Which do you think was more informative?

Now it’s time to take things a step further. We should not only rate a moderator’s performance, but the news organizations that cover politics.

It has to be consumers of media that do this; having news organizations rate each other would be akin to releasing Cthulhu and having him define objectivity. Rather, this should be done informally, preferably on an individual basis.

This more about thinking about what we need to know than judging or punishing people’s stupidity. We simply need to ask ourselves: What do I need to know to make an informed decision in this election? Be specific (you’re talking to yourself, after all) and don’t couch it in terms of pre-existing narratives. Just be honest.

The follow-up is obvious: Is the source of my information, be it a news network, paper, or website, answering my questions.

A candidate’s job is to get elected, the media’s job is to inform the electorate. Said electorate should not have to suffer through ignorance if a candidate misses an opportunity to draw blood in the debate arena. The media needs to tell people what candidates aren’t telling them, and put everything in context.

If you watched CNN, MSNBC, or Fox, or read the New York Times or Huffington Post, on debate night and still don’t know what’s going on remember: you have a choice.

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Not Everything Is Relative

Last week, NPR ran a story on how people “respect civility but reward rudeness” in politics. The author talked mostly about slights against President Obama, but said the trend actually started when liberals made a sport out of bashing George W. Bush.

People on both sides seem to have forgotten the concept of “respect the office, if not the person,” but saying that Bush was treated as badly Obama is being treated is an oversimplification.

It is important to remember that Bush did some genuinely bad things. He invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. He took a surplus and created a deficit. He curtailed civil rights with the Patriot Act. Despite rhetoric about “the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud,” Bush did not seem personally concerned about the threat of terrorism. He gave up the search for Osama bin Laden, and instead took more time off than any other president.

These are not issues to be debated, they are facts. People disagreed with Bush’s policies at the time and now, with hindsight, we can clearly see that many of them were mistakes. Jaded analysts and high school teachers like to say that “both sides have their good points,” but sometimes one side is legitimately wrong. Did we ever find Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction? Did Bush kill bin Laden?

The criticisms of Bush and Obama also differ in their intensity. Some people may have said they “hated” Bush or that “he’s not my president,” but they usually said it with a palm over their face. The operative emotion for many Bush critics was not hatred or fear, but embarrassment.

Bush was not an eloquent speaker. He said things like “strategery” and struggled to pronounce the word “nuclear.” He almost choked to death on a pretzel. Joe Biden may have a reputation for gaffs, but at least he hasn’t shot anyone in the face. How could anyone resist making jokes about that?

In contrast, the conservative critique of Obama has been deadly serious from the start. As soon as Obama was elected, the “Tea Party” rose to oppose him. They called him a threat to American democracy and, despite the fact that Obama had won a convincing two percent majority in the popular vote, felt that he had stolen the election. You would think that the election had been decided by the Supreme Court in lieu of a recount, or something…

While Bush got the benefit of the doubt at first, attacks on Obama started when he took office and grew to a level of hysteria very quickly. People may have questioned Bush’s public speaking abilities, but they did not question whether he was born in the United States. They may have compared Dick Cheney to Darth Vader, but no one compared him to Hitler.

Sideline hecklers are one thing, but what about the other players? Again, despite some outspoken criticism, Bush had it much easier than Obama. Democrats who disagreed with the invasion of Iraq still voted for it, while Congressional Republicans refused to even talk to Obama about issues like healthcare and the deficit until he made concessions.

In politics, where someone is always angry about something, it’s easy to assume that both sides are saying the same thing. However, not everything is relative. Sometimes, politicians make mistakes, and sometimes critics take things too far. After eight years of Bush jokes, conservatives were probably eager to attack Obama, but that doesn’t legitimize what they have done.

Disagreeing with Obama’s healthcare plan is not the same as being angry that we invaded a country for no reason, just as repeating “is our children learning?” is not the same as accusing the current president of being a foreign alien. Failing to recognize objective differences will only make it harder to return civility to politics, because it confuses those two situations.

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