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November 29, 2007

The CNN/YouTube Debate: We Are Far From Daylight, My Friends.

I continue to disagree with many, if not most, Republican commentators about last night’s CNN/YouTube debate. The questions were almost all good and appropriate to a Republican debate. I also think the format went a long way toward freeing the event from the stoic, scripted events we usually see and turned it into something that better resembled a real debate between the candidates.

More than that, as commentators like Michelle Malkin, our own Moron-in-Chief, and even Glenn Reynolds, try to outdo each other on the outrage-o-meter while they work themselves and their readers into a scorn-lathered orgiastic spasm of victimhood, we are largely missing the real stories that came out of last night’s debate. Today, the legacy media did better than us at reporting on the content of the candidates’ answers and the debate’s impact on viewers. With a very few notable exceptions (thank you, Slublog), we’re wasting our energy on a silly process story.


The worst part about the outraged protestations I’ve read is that they rely on a series of ever more outlandish assumptions. With the exception of the general, none of the questioners were inappropriate and none of them were “plants.” Michelle Malkin spent the day updating her lead story about the questioners who have been discovered to be supporting Democratic candidates. The only way her outrage works is if we make a wild assumption: the questioners were supposed to be conservative or Republican.

It’s silly to pretend that we thought the questioners would all be Republicans. The YouTube submission contest noted that it would take questions from all comers. The candidates at both this debate and the Democratic one in August understood that they would face questions from people of all political affiliations. You’ll note that if this debate had been moderated by CNN anchors like Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper, such an understanding would have been patent.

Have you noticed what’s missing from Michelle Malkin’s front page? There is no discussion of the content of the questions posed by the so-called plants. At all. The John Edwards-supporting abortion questioner? That was a good question about how criminal penalties will be assigned (woman or doctor or both) if abortion is criminalized. Fred Thompson had a great answer, but I bet you didn’t read about it in the Right blogosphere today. The same goes for the questions posed by the union activist, the Barack Obama supporter, the Dick Durbin fellow, the Bill Richardson supporter, etc.

With the sole exception of the general, who was not only inappropriate as a Clinton campaign member, but as CNN’s choice for extra rebuttal time with the candidates, the “planted” questioners asked important general-interest questions and the candidates used them to excellently distinguish themselves from the Democrats and from each other. It’s not like these fellows are going to be protected from confrontation with an adversarial press or an inquisitive public if they are selected as the presidential candidate. Why would we insulate them from tough questions now?

The second silly assumption I see being made is that the debate was supposed to only be about what Republicans want to talk about. That’s the gist of Jay Tea at Wizbang’s objection quoted in a post below:

But CNN, by playing by completely contradictory standards for its questioners at debates, betrays its bias: the Democrats get to stack their questions to make their candidates look good; the Republicans find themselves having to squirm and evade, or give concrete answers that won’t make some people very happy.

That objection is currently being repeated by readers and commenters all over the blogosphere, and most of them did not take the further position of Jay Tea that Democrats are only hurting themselves. How sad is it that we’re reduced to crying for CNN to go easy on us? It’s just not fair, we (and every 13 year-old teenage girl in the country) whine. Disparate treatment between the political parties is certainly objectionable. But the solution isn’t to complain that the question selection made Republicans look bad by liberals.

That’s what Jack’s talking about below, when he agrees with the guy who emailed the Corner:

Thousands of people submitted questions for this debate; yet, the questions they chose only served to reinforce the stereotype that the average Republican voter is a confederate-flag-waving, gun-toting, bible-brandishing conspiracy theorist! There were staggeringly few questions on National Security, and the few that were asked include some of the substanceless “gotcha” questions which were designed for no other purpose than to induce gaffes. What bothers me most is that CNN’s embarassing performance was not out of malice; they genuinely believe that this is what Republicans are like and that these ridiculous questions are what Republican voters want to hear.

Guns, religion, and the Confederate Battle Flag are important topics both for Republican and Democratic voters. In fact, they are some of the key differences between Republicans and Democrats. A few of the candidates talked briefly last night about black voters and the GOP. You don’t think the Stars and Bars is an important part of that issue? Or do you just not want to feel embarrassed by the fact that it is? The gun-toting questioner provoked one of the best lines of the debate from Thompson. But the email seems embarrassed by the fact that Republicans might be viewed as stereotypically “gun-toting.”

Another assumption made by the Corner emailer is that the questions should have been about issues where Republicans enjoy a natural advantage, like national security. As I wrote last night, that’s silly. It’s like asking the Democrats if they’re in favor of affirmative action. The answers will be, “well, duh.” It’s both uninteresting and uninformative. We know where these guys stand on national security and the War on Terror because every second campaign ad mentions it.

A fourth assumption is that the tough questions and “plants” are all part of a malicious attempt to draw undecided moderates away from the Republicans and into the Democratic camp. Many keep pointing out how easy it would have been to do a google search on the selected questioners. But few of the loudest voices bother to consider that simple laziness and disinterest can explain the selection. After all, as far as we know, it wasn’t a problem at the last YouTube debate. Never assume evil when stupidity will do…even when evil is far more sexy and useful for provoking outrage.

Finally, there is the assumption that candidate debates must be serious. As one commenter put it in the debate open thread, “Richard Nixon wouldn’t have put up with this.” Well, good for President Nixon, although I suspect that he was not nearly so humorless. This is an excellent way to put a real live face on the candidates, and it does nothing to detract from the importance of selecting a candidate. Every important occasion (and I think you’ll agree selecting the next leader of the free world is important) does not have to be a solemn one. For that reason I loved Fred Thompson’s “attack ad” and Giuliani’s funny commercial.

You remember how I ridiculed the fellow the other day for thinking that instant media will lead to the end of unscripted and raw interactions between candidates and voters? This debate just made my point. The candidates knew they were in for surprises and they turned out very personable, real answers. There were no lame stump speeches or always-on-point cardboard cutouts on that stage.

This debate was a great success both for our candidates in general, and for a few specific candidates in particular (Mike Huckabee, damn your eyes). And we’re blowing it on a silly tantrum that doesn’t even make sense. Welcome to the era of perpetual outrage and victimhood at the hands of the “MSM.”

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 06:36 PM

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