It was an odd news day, a Tuesday filled with talk about what might happen late Wednesday at the first presidential debate. It was a day of talk about what hadn’t happened yet and might not happen at all if someone does the unexpected – not real news. Actually it was more like one long football pregame show about strategy and tactics, all of it hypothetical, and as with football, neither side was saying much about their strategy or tactics. Or they were clearly saying deceptive things about what they had planned – which is a strategy in itself. You don’t let the other team know anything about your new fake-punt triple-reverse end-around devastating trap play that will win the game – the other team would work out how to stop you for a loss. The point is to reveal nothing, which in this case leaves the news folks in a quandary. It’s hard to report on nothing, so you report or what Romney simply must do, and what he should avoid doing at all costs. You got debates like the one about how Romney is stuck at the corner of 47th and Bain – clever, but pointless. Everyone knows he’s stuck there, but on Tuesday no one knew what he would do about that on Wednesday evening.
No one talked much about Obama – everyone knows him by now and he’ll be fine, if maybe too cool and a tad dry and maybe long-winded. Those who want him tossed out of office might not like what’s he’d done, and not done, but what was done and not done is right out there in the open – like it or not. Osama is dead and GM’s alive, and Obamacare is constitutional and getting underway. Deal with it.
Mitt’s the one who puzzles everyone, even most of the Republican Party – no one knows quite what he thinks. On the eve of the debate he reversed himself on immigration again – if elected he would not deport young illegal immigrants who received temporary work permits under Obama’s executive order, even if he had said he would. The party lost the Latino vote long ago, and he led the effort there, or tried to – but he’s also still trying to prove he doesn’t despise the forty-seven percent of the country he had said love to play victim and have no sense of personal responsibility and don’t even try to take charge of their own lives. Maybe some of those young illegal immigrants, brought here as infants, might be okay folks after all – it was worth a try. Or maybe not, as you could almost hear the Republican base groan from coast to coast, and the late Tuesday polls were clear enough – Obama is likely to win in November. So the onus is on Romney. He has to come up with the trick play. There was nothing else to talk about on Tuesday.
That was unacceptable to many on the right – nature abhors a vacuum – and that meant it was time to drop a bombshell, something that would change everything and blow Obama out of the water. Hell, there’d be no point in even having a debate after the news broke, and who better to break the news than Tucker Carlson. Now he’s an interesting fellow – even if he no longer wears those goofy bowties. Carlson may really not be a political news correspondent – he’s more of commentator, from the libertarian side of things, on Fox News now of course. CNN dumped him because he was a jerk, and then MSNBC cancelled his show there after a brief run. He’s now a senior fellow of the ultra-libertarian no-one-really-needs-a-government Cato Institute – now controlled by the Koch Brothers. And he’s co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller – a sort of gadfly news organization funded by Foster Friess – the man who bankrolled Rick Santorum’s SuperPAC. Billionaires like Tucker Carlson.
Others don’t like him much, if you remember the CNN story:
One of Carlson’s most memorable appearances on Crossfire was his 2004 heated exchange with Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, prior to the 2004 presidential election. Stewart criticized the format of shows like Crossfire, calling Carlson and co-host Paul Begala “partisan hacks,” and asked them to “stop hurting America.”
Carlson countered by criticizing Stewart’s July 2004 interview with then-U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry. He accused Stewart of “sniffing Kerry’s throne” and “not asking tough questions.” Stewart replied, contextualizing his own show as a comedic rather than informational venue, “I didn’t realize that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.” After Carlson told Stewart “I think you’re more fun on your show,” Stewart replied by saying: “You know what’s interesting though? You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.”
CNN agreed, and later MSNBC agreed. Foster Friess and the Koch Brothers saved his ass – they found him something to do. There’s always work on the right for a total dick, and on the eve of the election it was this:
In a video obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama tells an audience of black ministers, including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that the U.S. government shortchanged Hurricane Katrina victims because of racism.
“The people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much!” Obama shouts in the video, which was shot in June of 2007 at Hampton University in Virginia. By contrast, survivors of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Andrew received generous amounts of aid, Obama explains. The reason? Unlike residents of majority-black New Orleans, the federal government considers those victims “part of the American family.”
The racially charged and at times angry speech undermines Obama’s carefully-crafted image as a leader eager to build bridges between ethnic groups. For nearly 40 minutes, using an accent he almost never adopts in public, Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event.
That was the bombshell that would render the debates moot. It was hyped all day on the Drudge Report and the video premiered on Sean Hannity’s Fox New show in prime time – but it wasn’t news. Even Tucker Carlson had discussed it in 2007 – and so had everyone else under the sun – including Fox News at the time. The Associated Press covered the speech and Brian Williams mentioned it that night on his NBC News broadcast and Maureen Dowd referred to it the next day in her New York Times column as so on. Obama discussed it too in his speech on race in America way back when. It just wasn’t news anymore.
Josh Marshall adds this:
I’m sitting here watching Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity discuss the intonations of African-American speech patterns and decry Barack Obama’s invocations of race hatred, presumably because I have some yearning to watch performance art. I don’t know. I also wonder, what happened to Tucker Carlson?
In any case, here’s the big picture I see here.
You don’t imagine you’ve got a big shocker story like this unless you really think you’ve got something big. And that tells me that there’s a big chunk of rightwing America living in a cocoon in which black people even talking about racism or race at all is ipso facto shocking.
I think Americans know Barack Obama is black.
Yes – and most people got over it. Some didn’t. But in that other world, talking about racism is racist. You know the drill – bring up the issue of race and you’re obviously stirring up racial hatred and trying to start a race war, because the issue of race was settled long ago. You’d then also be talking about something that isn’t.
Perhaps it was a day for that – there was no real news – and perhaps everyone should just stop talking. In fact, in the Atlantic, Elspeth Reeve in this item calls this week’s debate a “reality show” for the two candidates:
PBS’s Jim Lehrer, who’ll moderate the first debate, said it will be, in part, about “presidential temperament.” And on ABC’s This Week Sunday, former adviser for George W. Bush Matthew Dowd warned that “Obama has got to be careful… that he doesn’t come across as irritable, impatient, ‘Why am I here?’… and performs well from a mannerism standpoint, because if he doesn’t,” Romney could pull within one percentage point of Obama in polls. Former presidential candidate Howard Dean agreed, saying, “The key to a debate… is to turn off the sound, watch the mannerisms. It’s not what they say… It is their mannerisms. It’s how they come across.”
Reeve offers short GIF clips of instances from past debates when a candidate’s mannerisms and visual cues like blinking too much seemed to guarantee a poor debate performance, no matter what they said.
It happens, and Nate Cohn understands that:
In vice presidential debates, surely Benson’s observation that Quayle was not, in fact, Jack Kennedy would qualify. Perhaps Reagan’s “there you go again” or his refusing to exploit Mondale’s youth and inexperience would count, as well. Could Romney pull something like this off? Perhaps – but these ’80s highlight-reels are the exception, not the rule.
Since perspiration cost Nixon in the first televised debate, candidates like Al Gore have lost by sighing, and incumbent presidents committed horrible gaffes like glimpsing at a watch or appearing perturbed. Did Kerry land an incredible rhetorical blow during his debate against Bush? No, but he looked presidential and Bush was peevish.
It’s a minor thing, but sometimes what is said doesn’t matter:
Here’s one way to think about it: If SNL can knife the mannerisms of a candidate’s debate performance, there’s a real chance that he’s lost. And after six years of Obama either running for president or holding the office, SNL still doesn’t know how to make fun of the guy. While Chuck Todd thinks Obama is a mediocre debater – because he doesn’t land flashy blows – that doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that the president’s subdued and level-headed demeanor likely won’t give the media many weird mannerisms or stylistic flaws – like those that plagued the two Bush’s, Gore, McCain, or Nixon – to complain about.
Maybe Tucker Carlson was onto something – Obama’s mannerisms and “black” style in that speech long ago should count for something, except we’d had almost four years of him being cool and measured and gracious, day after day after day. He’s got that subdued and level-headed demeanor thing down pat. And that speech Carlson revisits was long ago and now seems an anomaly. Are we supposed to forget the last four years? That’s asking a lot.
So, on the day before the big first debate – where Mitt can turn things around with a trick play or something – Tucker Carlson, the man financed be three billionaires, can’t deliver the goods. The day’s news refuses to be about much of anything – it’s still a pregame show.
This must drive the select few billionaires who finance the Republican Party – and Cato and the Tea Party – up the wall. In fact, Stanley Crouch puts it this way:
The wealthy buyers are afraid that they can’t win this election with big bucks alone.
They are no longer sure that they can lead the public by the nose, under Karl Rove’s expertise and with the hundreds of millions available from the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. None of their power can stop the clip of Romney talking about the 47% of Americans he supposedly knows all about and doesn’t care much for.
Big Mitt cut his own throat by talking the way he really thinks. The damning comments were made at a private show for fat cats who were tired of being soaked, or imagining they were. It’s a safe bet that Romney was told he had to step up and defend them.
Americans could see the bare flesh of Romney’s crooked hand. Every indicator is saying the same thing: He and Paul Ryan are not the bargain the American public is willing to buy, no matter how high the sheen on the GOP’s fool’s gold.
Money cannot buy everything, and it certainly cannot make news when there is none. And Crouch notes money cannot create a winning candidate:
The former Massachusetts governor has long been known as a flip-flopper who constantly changes what he claims he believes – a political prostitute, legendary for the willingness to do anything for a vote, a buck or committed support.
Now, finally, he is paying the full price for it. The Republican Party has moved far, far to the right, and the former “moderate” has been pulled along. On almost every issue, he has taken the most extreme position demanded by his party. And just about every poll seems to be saying the same thing: The gamble is not going to pay off come November.
Romney had too much faith in the Republican base, weaned on the propaganda of Fox News, and the ruthless billionaires who fuel the whole machine of factoids and lies that brings uninformed life to the radical right. He must have thought that if he just mimicked the positions of the GOP’s loudest blowhards, political love would follow.
But the nation is not so easily fooled – either by Romney or by those from whom he takes his cues. Men like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity cynically believe that the public has no intelligence, that its memory is nonexistent and it has no ability to tell fact from fiction.
And everyone knows Tucker Carlson is a total dick. Jon Stewart just pointed out the obvious. Someone had to say it. The nation is not easily fooled.
All this does not bode well for Romney, but there’s this National Review article on how Mitt Romney’s going to try to show the American people a warmer, more likable side of himself at the first debate:
Romney’s advisers have a simple strategy: They want their candidate to balance his finely tuned arguments with personal warmth.
And they have a plan:
Romney is inclined to talk about his business experience, sources say….
Indeed, the most important anecdotes, aides say, may not even be family stories, but memories from his days at Bain Capital. Bain Capital’s rise from an offshoot of a consulting firm to a major power in the private-equity world is something Romney takes prides in, and his advisers hope that the candidate defines those years on his own terms.
Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog is amazed:
That’s how Romney plans to show his human side? By talking about his business experience? By talking about what a bitchin’ CEO he was, and what a gift his excellent CEOing was to people?
That’s what happens when a few billionaires are in charge of the campaign. They define personal warmth a bit differently than the rest of us.
And in the Guardian you’ll find this:
Romney, in an interview with the Denver Post and at a late-night rally in Denver on Monday, offered a preview of his line of attack for the 90-minute debate….
He will list damning statistics showing the extent to which Americans have become dependent on the federal government, from food stamps to unemployment benefits.
So if I understand this correctly, Romney’s message tomorrow night is going to be: Hey, not that I’m saying it’s your fault, but you people have really been reduced to a state of helpless, flabby dependency. I, on the other hand, used to be a brilliant, tireless CEO, and I made crap-loads of money. Vote for me!
Yeah, that ought to work.
The billionaires think it will, and the National Review item was based on Robert Costa’s extensive conversations with the Romney team, and Costa says this:
Romney’s campaign sees the first debate as more than a contest to win on points. They want to introduce Romney to the country. They saw Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention as part one of that project and the three presidential debates as the final chapter. Romney’s wife, Ann, stands the best chance of being mentioned at least once. But don’t count-out his father, aides say, since Romney likes to discuss his father, the former head of American Motors, when talking about business and innovation.
Don’t expect family stories, just memories from his days at Bain Capital, when he worked out how to become even richer than his father, but without having to make anything at all, like dumb little cars or whatever.
Ed Kilgore comments:
If, God forbid, I were advising Mitt Romney, I’d urge him to steer clear of his privileged upbringing and Bain Capital. Nothing about his past performance indicates an ability to infallibly juggle the dynamite that always comes up in a presidential debate and to frame his own background in a way that doesn’t backfire. It sounds a lot like Mitt’s handlers are telling him what he wants to hear in encouraging him to talk about Dear Old Dad and his own love for the pirate life at Bain. He might as well announce he’d like to discuss his tax returns.
Yeah, but rich people like to talk about how they got rich, and then got even richer, and then even richer. They’re proud of that, even if they cut some corners and other got hurt. It happens. It doesn’t occur to them that others, still struggling, or who value other things like family or friends or bird watching or a cold beer in late afternoon, might find this offensive, or at least shallow. But those other people aren’t paying for the campaign, are they? The odd thing is that they won’t be watching the debate either. There was no news after all.