Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politics: Margin Notes on the Debate and More

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Early in the primary process I actually went on the record as stating that a presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama would likely be best for the United States, as both were positive, forward-looking individuals who didn't hate each other and offered clearly contrasting visions for the future of the United States that the voters would be able to choose between without the race having to focus on personal attacks. Of course, despite getting that pair of candidates, the race hasn't turned out as I had hoped and there has been more focus on personality and lipstick than substantive issues.

The debate last night, though, reminded me why I had made that statement nearly a year ago. The event was civil, focused on issues, and the contrasts in economic and foreign policy were clearly delineated. Neither candidate overwhelmed the other, and neither damaged himself with a consequential mistake. Voters leaning toward one candidate did not likely change their minds as a result of the debate. Undecided voters looking for guidance should understand their choice clearly now, and that's good for democracy.

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Surprisingly, I think the loser of the debate was moderator Jim Lehrer of the Public Broadcasting Service's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, a show that I listen to regularly. In the past, I have always been impressed with Lehrer, but I thought his attempts to try to get the candidates to engage one another early in the debate were unconstructive. If the candidates want to speak just to the audience with substance, it is not necessary to force them to challenge one another. The best way to handle that kind of situation is to have the moderator follow-up on each candidate's responses. Lehrer did some of that, and made his points rather subtly, but I really longed for the late Tim Russert, whose style would have been perfect for the circumstances.

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It is well known that the #1 song on John McCain's iPod is ABBA's "Dancing Queen". However, after the unconventional behavior McCain engaged in last week, suspending his campaign and saying he wouldn't show up for the debate until a bailout package was completed, then participating in the debate even though no agreement had been reached, it would seem the more appropriate ABBA song is "Take a Chance on Me" (just #3 on McCain's top 10).

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On the "Week in the News" hour from NPR's On Point this week, Jack Beatty speculated that the strange moves by McCain were designed to distract attention from Sarah Palin's poor performance in an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric. After watching that interview, and without any official explanation from the McCain campaign, it is hard to discount that possibility.

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Think an electoral college tie is unlikely? It actually seems possible to me. If John McCain wins the same states as George W. Bush did in 2004, and Barack Obama wins the same states as John Kerry EXCEPT that Obama wins in Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa (each of which is likely at present) and McCain wins in New Hampshire (where he led in the polls earlier this week), that would result in a 269-269 tie. Of course, in 2008, it appears that a tie goes to the Democrats, as the race would go to the House of Representatives, where the Democrats will almost certainly be in control.

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People in my riding of Parkdale-High Park in Toronto are sometimes confused between their Member of Parliament and Member of Provincial Parliament. Both are relatively recently-elected, female, and from their respective New Democratic Parties (the provincial and federal parties are technically different organizations). Yet, the reason for the confusion never really hit home until I saw this picture of MP Peggy Nash and MPP Cheri DiNovo together in this picture from a Nash campaign flier:

In case you're confused, Nash is on the left and DiNovo is on the right.

If the NDP was cloning candidates in the late Baby Boom, I'd like to see them run more of the clones in additional ridings around here.

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