Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt and debate audiences

One of the themes that surfaced early on in the Republican debates was the role of the audience. Who can forget when they cheered Texas executions, or yelled "let him die" when moderators asked about the role of government in treating patients without health insurance, or booed a gay active duty soldier, or gave a standing ovation to racist dog whistles?

That's why I think the most astute commentary on Monday night's debate came from Jonathan Bernstein.

Several people have pointed out that the fantasy fueling Newt’s campaign — that the trick to winning the general election is to destroy President Obama in the fall debates — is nonsense, because general election debates don’t really work like that. But what Monday demonstrated..., is that Newt’s reputation as a brilliant debater is actually a fraud. What Newt has done well isn’t debating the other candidates; what he’s done well is attacking the moderators, and it works especially well when there’s a partisan Republican audience ready to cheer any shots at the liberal media. That’s not going to happen in general election debates. More broadly, he’s quite good at using language designed to appeal especially well to Rush Limbaugh listeners: Chicago-style politics, Saul Alinsky, teleprompters, and more. Terrific, again, for provoking a big reaction from a partisan audience of intense, highly-informed conservatives. Utterly useless in general election debates.

Monday, without a hooting and hollering crowd, and with a moderator who mostly didn’t choose to get in a fight, the disgraced former speaker showed once again what a poor job he does when he engages with other candidates.

Right on que, we have Newt Gingrich whining about skipping debates if audiences can't participate.

Mr. Gingrich, a former House speaker, on Tuesday morning threatened not participate in any future debates with audiences that have been instructed to be silent. That was the case on Monday, when Brian Williams of NBC News asked the audience of about 500 people who assembled for a debate in Tampa to hold their applause until the commercial breaks.

In an interview with the morning show “Fox and Friends,” Mr. Gingrich said NBC’s rules amounted to stifling free speech. In what has become a standard line of attack for his anti-establishment campaign, Mr. Gingrich blamed the media for trying to silence a dissenting point of view.

I find this all rather hilarious. Does Gingrich really think that he's going to get juiced by the same kind of audience when it comes time to debate President Obama (should he get the nomination)? If that's what he's counting on, he's in for a very rude awakening and I personally am sort of hoping it happens.

And while I'm on the topic of audience reaction to Gingrich, I'd just like to point you to an amazing piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the "Food Stamp President" incident from the SC debate.

Racism is, at its root, a lie. The habit of lying does not end with the racism itself. It is a contagion that extends to the defense of the initial lie. The expectation of intellectual honesty, from a candidate who employs dishonesty, and from a slice of the electorate that stakes their political lives on that dishonesty is rather bizarre.

When a professor of history calls Barack Obama a "Food Stamp President," it isn't a mistake to be remedied through clarification; it is a statement of aggresion. And when a crowd of his admirers cheer him on, they are neither deluded, nor in need of forgiveness, nor absolution, nor acting against their interest. Racism is their interest. They are not your misguided friends. They are your fully intelligent adversaries, sporting the broad range of virtue and vice we see in humankind. If you are a praying person, you should pray for their electoral destruction in November. Surely they are praying for yours...

WOW...what he said!


  1. Great points, Ms. Pants. One of the death knells to Sarah Palin as a VP pick (and thus to her ability to help McCain) wasn't just the two televised interviews she gave that highlighted her ignorance. It was her debate vs. Joe Biden. He came across as competent and decent; she, as proudly ignorant, callous and nasty, especially in her cracks about Biden's deceased wife. And the people who reacted most negatively to her performance? Independents.

    1. Exactly. The VP debate clearly demonstrated that Ms. Palin never outgrew her "mean girl" persona from high school.