Friday Reads: Still not RapturedPosted: February 12, 2016
I’m still not raptured or enraptured. How about you?
Those of us that watch debates a lot will remember that a split screen can bedevil some politicians like nothing else. Practicing composure while your opponent reams your ass or says something particularly irritating is the hallmark of the patience of a Job. Remember Al Gore’s constant grimaces and sighs? Well, last night’s PBS debate introduced us to Finger Wag Bernie and it ain’t pretty. People are beginning to chatter on about it.
It’s a gesture familiar to anyone who’s ever been warned, cautioned, scolded, told they are not very nice or otherwise belittled. A hand, often the dominant one, is raised. An index finger is extended skyward. The finger moves from left to right in a workmanlike arc or, for those with more rococo tastes, a flamboyant circle. Sometimes, a pen adds gravitas to the motion. Though the tempo and exact meaning may vary, the message is always similar, and always at least a little bit threatening. I know better than you. You are making a huge mistake. Back off.
No politician in modern memory seems to favor the finger wag as much as Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). And people are starting to talk about it.
“Sanders … likes to wave his index finger in the air like he just don’t care … although it’s clear when he does it that he actually does care very, very much,” Alex Gladu wrote at Bustle. “The gesture is sort of a mix between scolding his opponent — typically Clinton — and screaming for attention.”
It’s also important not to get a comparison like this when you’re getting all uppity about Henry Kissinger and the Vietnam War.
“I think wagging a finger has an implications [sic] of shaming or pretend authority while waving arms is more expressive,” one commenter on a Mother Jones piece from last month wrote. “I wish he’d do it less, it makes me think of Nixon.”
Ouch. Yes, the luster of the new shiny object is fading for those that haven’t already been raptured.
Sanders pretty much gestures continuously with his hands while he speaks. It makes for a very engaging and hardly ever distracting picture. He’ll point his finger or move his arms in a way that illustrates his point, but he only reserves the index finger wave for moments when you’re imagining him screaming, “I don’t think so, missy!” internally. On Thursday night, those moments even included talk of foreign policy, on which Sanders isn’t usually considered an authority when compared with Clinton.
The discussion of the content beyond the wag is quite telling. Here’s the headline from The Guardian: ‘Sanders squandered his lead while Clinton shone at the latest debate’. Lucinda Graves describes his performance as reaching for “petty one-liners”.
In what was easily her strongest debate performance in recent memory – and arguably her strongest since the campaign began – Hillary Clinton was calm, cool and collected at Thursday night’s debate.
Clinton could’ve been understandably on edge, as she was fresh off a resounding loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday and an effective tie in Iowa the week before. But it was Sanders who was oddly on the defensive despite what has been momentum in his favor, starting out the night more combative than Clinton and wasting his time on petty one-liners. (When Clinton talked about building political capital when she’s in the White House, for instance, Sanders began a rebuttal with “Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet.”)
Perhaps it was understandable that Sanders appeared to be on defensive as the major topics of the night – race, foreign policy and relations with Obama – are all considered areas of relative weakness for the income inequality-focused Sanders, though the the depth of his policy knowledge and ability to articulate it before audiences, particularly on race issues, has improved markedly since the campaign began.
Still, as winning over minority voters will be one of the principal areas of focus for both candidates going into southern primaries like the one in South Carolina and polls show that Sanders is struggling to eat into Clinton’s lead in the coming contests, expectations were high for Sanders this debate.
And while both candidates performed well initially in talking about systemic racism and reforming the criminal justice system, it was Sanders who stumbled when a moderator asked if race relations would be better handled under him than the current president. It was a foreseeable trap – asking a white man whether he’d do a better job on race issues than the first black president – but Sanders didn’t seem to see what he was walking into.
“Absolutely,” he said in response to the moderator’s question before slipping into his classic stump speech. “Because what we will do is instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires, we are going to create millions of jobs for low-income kids so they’re not hanging out on street corners. We’re going to make sure those kids stay in school are able to get a college education.”
It was as tone-deaf a line as any all night and, worse yet, it may have reminded Clinton of another line of attack she’d prepared in advance. In an MSNBC interview earlier on Thursday, Sanders had criticized President Obama’s failure to connect with Congress, saying in an interview with MSNBC, “There’s a huge gap right now between Congress and the American people. … What presidential leadership is about [is] closing that gap.”
There he goes again. Back to the one note he’s played for over 30 years. Clinton closed the deal by basically telling every one that she was not a one issue candidate. Bernie’s dogged attachment to his one issue put me in mind of Marco Rubio. There’s a point when sticking to the message makes you look unable to to do anything else. It also gives your opponent plenty of time to think up nifty comebacks. This is Matty Y. writing at VOX so be forewarned.
The morning after a debate, it’s natural to focus on the most dramatic moments. But in the case of Thursday night’s Clinton-Sanders showdown, the most significant exchange was arguably one that featured almost no drama. It’s a dog that didn’t bark: a moment where it initially looked like Sanders was going to hammer Clinton on her Achilles heel — personal, professional, and financial ties to Wall Street — but ended up retreating into generalities.
And what’s really striking about it is that it wasn’t a blunder or a missed opportunity on his part. He wasn’t able to blast away at Clinton’s weak spot because she very effectively covered it with a human shield named Barack Obama — forcing Sanders to choose between slamming a president who has a 90 percent approval rating among Democrats and abandoning his key argument against Clinton.
It came about midway through the domestic portion of the debate, when Sanders — who’d been rambling a bit — started to close in on his view that Clinton is hopelessly compromised by a system of money and power in Washington.
“Secretary Clinton’s Super PAC, as I understand it, received $25 million dollars last reporting period, $15 million dollars from Wall Street,” he said. “Our average contribution is $27 dollars; I’m very proud of that.”
Sanders was clearly winding up to throw some kind of punch, but before he could, moderator Gwen Ifill said, “Sen. Sanders, are you saying—” and then Clinton cut her off and launched her move.
I debated then-Sen. Obama numerous times on stages like this, and he was the recipient of the largest number of Wall Street donations of anybody running on the Democratic side ever.
Now, when it mattered, he stood up and took on Wall Street. He pushed through, and he passed the Dodd-Frank regulation, the toughest regulations since the 1930s. So, let’s not in anyway imply here that either President Obama or myself, would in anyway not take on any vested interested, whether it’s Wall Street, or drug companies, or insurance companies, or frankly, the gun lobby to stand up to do what’s best for the American people.
On its face, this isn’t an amazingly strong argument. “Barack did it too,” as we all remember from second grade, is not a real defense against charges of misconduct. But in the context of this particular Democratic primary, it’s a daring gambit. Rather than directly defend herself against the charge of having been corrupted by Wall Street campaign contributions, Clinton is taking Obama hostage.
The debate itself was actually quite historical. There were two women moderators and a woman candidate. This gave the debate its first female majority.
In a historic first, two women will ask all the questions at Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate.
Co-anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will moderate the PBSNewsHour debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though women have moderated primary debates before, they’ve often been paired with male moderators or tasked with letting audience members ask the questions.
When the first two women moderated debates, they weren’t even allowed to ask questions.
NPR correspondent Pauline Frederick became the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in 1976, when she participated in thesecond debate between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but she was joined by three male journalists who asked every question.
A week later, ABC News anchor Barbara Walters moderated the final presidential debate between Ford and Carter, though she too was joined by three male colleagues.
In both cases, the women’s only role was to call on the candidates and introduce the male journalists.
“Thank you. Governor Carter, your response, please,” went a typical statement from Walters in that debate. “Thank you. Mr. Maynard, your question to Governor Carter.”
The moderators actually gave me the smile of the night when this happened. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a response to a producer because I basically was frustrated by this mechanical response to every foreign policy question so I’ll just have to say the original analysis fit me to a t.
[Update: PBS says the moderator was responding to a producer, not making an editorial comment. Their statement is appended below.] Following an otherwise lackluster (if not borderline uncomfortable) attempt at discussing foreign policy, Bernie Sanders moved to something he actuallycould speak confidently about: Hillary Clinton’s bizarre Kissinger boast. But as Sanders opened with a Vietnam reference, one of the debate’s moderators—apparently unaware her mic was still on—could be heard sighing in the background, “Oh, god.”
It was the reflexive response of an antsy kid who just had to listen to grandpa talk about his Iraq war vote for the 52nd time, and if you weren’t paying close attention, you almost certainly would have missed it. So in case you did, you can watch this rare bit of raw, uncensored moderator emotion above. Enjoy.
I was actually sitting in a local bar during part of the debate last night. This is the kind of stuff we’re up against. A older than middle aged woman was lecturing a young man (both white) on how Hillary always uses Bill and Chelsea as props post debate. That she drags them up on stage like their all a package. I basically mentioned that all candidate’s use their families that way. She asked me where was Bernie’s wife then? I said she’s probably down front and to just wait.
I was sitting next to a younger woman at the time and muttered on about how it’s bad enough to face sexism and misogyny from men but from women it was particularly disturbing. So, when the debate closed, lo and behold! there was no Bill or no Chelsea on the stage their in Wisconsin. Hillary spent the handshaking ending all by herself accompanied primarily by Secret Service and possibly one aid that I did not recognize. But who was looking all nice and Vermont homey standing by her man? By that time, I was not able to correct the older woman and had to satisfy myself with asking the younger one to be my witness.
Rapture does a strange thing to people.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?