Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Supposed clutter

As I've said before, I haven't decided which presidential candidate I am going to vote for. It's too early in the process and, frankly, I want to see what happens as the campaign goes along. That is the point of being a political junkie, after all, to watch the process and then decide who to vote for at the last minute.
But the other part of this is that each and every voter should have the opportunity to hear from all the candidates running or at least the serious ones who are going to make it on enough primary ballots to have the potential to win the nomination.
However, in this ever impatient media and political punditry world in which we live in, it seems as though some people don't want the people to hear from all the candidates. And it is not a new phenomenon. It has happened since probably 1992, when the word "electable" and "electability" first seemed to enter the news media lexicon.
At that time, those terms were used to reference former California Gov. Jerry Brown's insurgent campaign for the presidency. Brown hawked his campaign with an 800 number - standard operating procedure today - and limited his contributions to $100. Therefore, he was not considered serious. In the end, Brown was the only man left standing against Bill Clinton in the later primaries. And I've always contended that had Paul Tsongas not jumped back in the race to deflect votes from Brown late in the race, the We, the People campaign might have forced a brokered convention that year.
In virtually every election cycle since 1992, when Americans put themselves up for review by the voters for any kind of office, a tier system is created by the media to separate the "electable" from the rest of the field. The thinking is that, Well, the lower tier candidates can't win, so they shouldn't be included in the debates. But, no matter if there are three candidates or 30 candidates in a race or included in debates, there is only going to be one winner, and a whole bunch of losers. So, the process of winnowing down the number of people who participate in the debate is pretty foolish.
Currently, there are 10 serious Republicans running and eight serious Democrats running for president. In New Hampshire and Iowa, there will be others running. But for the most part, these are the most serious candidates. There have been a bunch of forums and a few debates and some people have complained that the debate formats haven't allowed the candidates enough time to respond to serious questions. They also blame the numerous candidates on the stage as the reason for this problem. But the blame should be squarely placed on the debate organizers, not the number of candidates. So far, MSNBC and FoxNews, which held a GOP debate tonight, have been the two entities which have offered time for debates. We should be grateful to them for putting these debates together so early in the process. But why just 90 minutes? Why not two hours or three? Give the candidates 2 minute opening and closing statements to make their points and then go after them with the 30 and 60 second answers for questions. Have a short break in between to let the candidates refocus and allow comment from the hosts, not unlike a chess match or something. Voting is, after all, a civic duty. It isn't a movie or a lineup of prime time sitcoms. If it takes time for eight or 10 candidates to answer questions, then give them the time. Don't take away choices from the American people.

But that's just what some are suggesting and they've got their targets squarely on former Alaskan Sen. Mike Gravel. Since the first Democratic debate, Gravel's campaign has gotten a bunch of press, Internet support, and even donations. Both Democrat and independent voters want him in the race. Here is one of those recent pieces published today in the Washington Post via the Concord Monitor: ["Gravel brings the clutter"].
But is Gravel really clutter? Is he clutter, especially compared to some of the other candidates? Earlier today, the May edition of the Daily Kos Straw Poll was put up and after almost 17,000 votes, Gravel had more votes than more "serious" candidates like Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich. Gravel had more than three times the amount that Biden and Dodd received. And, he had more than Biden and Dodd combined. So, among the rank-and-file Democrats - not the cats who dole out the checks, but the actual voters - Gravel has more support than two middle tier candidates like Biden and Dodd [Edwards led the poll with 39 percent, Obama had 24 percent, Richardson had 8, and Hillary had 6]. In other words, it is hardly clutter to have Gravel and Kucinich in the race while Biden and Dodd, who also have no chance in hell of winning, are in the race and included in the debates.

Over on the GOP side, it is a similar situation. Ten candidates are on the stage, almost all of them basically saying similar things, if not the same things. Sure, Rep. Ron Paul is making some pretty good points, including accurately putting partial blame for 9-11 exactly where it needs to be: On our government's foreign policy. But beyond Rudy Giuliani saying he is pro choice and Duncan Hunter attacking NAFTA and GATT/WTO, there isn't much difference between the candidates. But who cares? Let them all debate [after tonight's debate, watch for the move to strike Paul from future debates].

Keeping with this same theme, FAIR, the liberal media watchdog group, put together this great collection of quotes which shows how the Democratic lower tier of candidate has been pummeled in the media but the lower tier Republican candidates have been cheered: ["Democratic Excess"]. One has to wonder if it is just the cocktail crowd stuff rearing its ugly head again. And what is all this stuff about the liberal media if the two most liberal candidates running for president - Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich - get hammered by the media?

Update: In the post-debate FoxNews roundup, Sean Hannity attacked Paul for his comments about 9-11 and Paul whacked him right back. After Hannity kept saying that Hussein gassed his own people, Paul made the point back at him: "We gave them the gas, we gave them the gas!" Wow, finally, some facts and realities get into the discourse.
Paul also polled strong with the FoxNews debate audience, leading the field for most of the night before Willard Mitt Romney caught up and passed him by a percentage point or two.
Also, here, a syndicated columnist attacks the clutter issue: ["What's wrong with candidate clutter?"].
Sometime tomorrow, I'll comment on this one and the potential Hagel independent run: ["Bloomberg poised for third-party campaign"].

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