Thursday, September 30, 2004

Advantage: Bush

The first presidential debate of 2004 is over. Let the pundit class debates begin!

Conservatives are disappointed that Bush was no Reagan and Kerry was no Gore. Upon brief reflection, our expectations about the former were unrealistic and our hopes about the latter appear simplistic. We will know before November 2nd if Senator Kerry can sustain the buzz his campaign is trying to generate about his performance, which was remarkable due primarily to its restraint.

President Bush, normally the soul of discipline and self-control, was visibly rattled from the start, as though he just received terrible news. With only a few deviations, Kerry stuck to his game plan with atypical consistency. Theirs was the most unexpected role reversal since Dr. Evil stole Austin Powers' mojo.

The debate was a grim affair, although my family and I laughed long and hard when Kerry claimed that he never wavered. We also took turns shouting suggestions to Bush through the TV. I think the biggest negative for Bush was that he lost the light, humorous touch that was on display as recently as his interview with Bill O’Reilly, which Fox News televised earlier this week. Bush’s mistakes, if they deserve to be classified as such, were more of omission than commission. For every time he capitalized on a weakness, he let pass a golden opportunity to frame an issue and define Kerry’s position.

On the positive side, the President’s growth as a debater since 2000 is obvious and commendable. He has become a more confident public speaker with an easier grasp of facts. Kerry exhibited his infamous tendency to overreach for supporting information that sounds impressive but crumbles under examination, like his visit to Treblinka. For someone who describes the war in Iraq as the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Kerry has a quirky habit of inserting himself in the right historical places at just the right moment with a dramatic flair reminiscent of Zelig, the Woody Allen character with whom Kerry shares other less-than-desirable qualities.

Viewers with a critical ear might find repetition and plain speaking dull or even grating, but the voting public long ago accepted the President’s stylistic shortcomings. Robotic wonkiness might be worth a few points in a CBS poll, but honesty and consistency are priceless.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Comedy of Errors

Historically, Presidential debates are proving grounds to prepare candidates to become the leader of the free world, but this election year viewers may think they are watching outtakes from the NBC series Last Comic Standing. Is it possible that one of the contenders, after reading the poll numbers, has his eye on a different prize?

According to the AP's Nedra Pickler, Senator John Kerry "was cracking up his partisan crowd" at one campaign stop and "he drew guffaws" at another. This is news worthy of a Fox alert, although considering the source I will wait for confirmation from CBS.

Pickler reports that "Bush has been effectively using humor" against Kerry, an understated description of the incumbent's folksy, self-deprecating style. The President's reputation for well-timed one-liners makes him the favorite to score laughs Thursday night, but perhaps Senator Kerry like Al Gore in 2000 will provide most of the hilarity, albeit unintentionally.

Pickler cites this example of the Kerry wit, which owes much to the dry minimalism of Jimmy Carter:

"You're going to hear all this talk, `Oh, we've turned the corner, we're doing better, blah, blah,'" he said, running on the phrase as his Wisconsin audience erupted in laughter. "You know, blah and blah and blah."

The same routine elicited nary a chuckle as Kerry worked the MTV crowd during the primaries (pictured below). Far be it from me to expect honesty from the AP or consistency from Senator Kerry, but he really needs to hone his schtick if he wants to replace Conan O'Brien in 2009.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Blogger's Debt

I predict that 2004 will be remembered as the Year of the Blogger, immortalized by a network of self-published forensic journalists who deconstructed lies and hoaxes accepted uncritically by the mainstream media. The bloggers of summer have colorful monikers like Buckhead, Hindrocket, Big Trunk, Beldar, Captain Ed, and The Elder. Some are known by the names their parents gave them, like Glenn, Hugh, Roger, Charles, Jonah, James and Jim.

I have a baby blog that I adore. Unlike a real baby, I leave this one alone for big chunks of time to work, to shop, to cook, even occasionally to get a decent night’s sleep. When my blog grows up, it wants to be The Corner. But right now it sleeps a lot and sometimes it makes a stinky mess.

When I arrive home each workday, I am greeted enthusiastically at the door by my husband, my son, my brother, Hershey the Republican Attack Dog, and Tigerlily the Fluffy Angel Cat. My family showers me with love and support – that is, when they’re not showering me with demands for conversation, affection and tasty vittles. A happy family is a work constantly in progress – the best work of my life. While I am busy wifing, mothering, sistering or working, I will have one of those clarifying thoughts that I wish I could share with the world, but some other political news junkie beats me to it. I don’t think my experience is all that special or uncommon.

Writing is one of many passions competing for my spare time and, although I envy full-time bloggers and greatly admire several of them, I am content to be a part-timer . . . for now. To be a well-informed blogger, one must be an avid reader of other blogs. I can’t help but marvel at the productivity of the high-traffic giants of the blogosphere. I wonder if they are blessed with awesome powers of organization or the kind of support system that fosters success. Some gratefully acknowledge their helpmates, the Fetching Missus or the Instawife, as they should.

Is it just random coincidence that the rightly famous bloggers who have become poster children for this new medium also share that Y chromosome? Unlike Ann Coulter, I do not disparage the intelligence of my gender. A few succinct words from Kathryn Jean Lopez can be as effective as prosaic paragraphs penned by her homeboys, who are some of the most talented writers of the blogosphere. I suspect, though, that K-Lo is a better editor because she is a woman. Many of us tend to nurture the gifts of others at the expense of our own.

I know well that anyone who loves a writer must be patient and flexible. The muse often strikes at the most inconvenient hour: when my husband wants me to go to bed at a very sensible 9:00pm, when my son is itching for a deep discussion of the day’s news, when my brother asks me at the last minute to print out maps and bus schedules. Even a part-time blogger like me needs help with time management.

Behind every successful blogger is someone who keeps our pajamas clean. So to speak.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Bonus Question

Considering that the rules of baseball guarantee even the greenest rookie a fair whack at a pitch, shouldn't MSNBC drop the fake pretense of Hardball with Chris Matthews and adopt a more accurate title, like Bully Pulpit?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Twenty Questions

Aside from Fox News Sunday, will any of the Sunday news programs explore the connection between Wild Bill Burkett and Mad Max Cleland? Why has contributor Susan Estrich all but disappeared from Fox programming since publication of her infamous syndicated column, which on the eve of Dan Rather's Big Whopper speculated about scandals that could damage George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and hinted at more dirt to come? Has Bob Beckel taken her slot as the Fox house Democrat? What did Susan know and when did she know it?

Do Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly patronize the same hatmaker these days? When Sean admonished Republicans not to get too cocky in the wake of recent polling data, did he consider heeding his own advice?

Will Wolf Blitzer invite Bob Dole back to appear on Late Edition before the election? If so, will Wolf be wearing his black blazer or does he own any other jackets? Is anyone else distracted by his ever-present black blazer? Is that why Joe Biden repeatedly called him Wolf Blazer on the November 24, 2002 broadcast? When will CNN bring back the Late Edition roundtable featuring Jonah Goldberg, Donna Brazile, Peter Beinart, Robert George, et al? Is there a clause in David Dreier's contract as a roving pundit that requires equal time for Charlie Rangel?

Will MSNBC let Joe Scarborough be Joe Scarborough? Did they hire a center-right Republican merely to silence the critics who crowed that MSNBC was all liberal all the time? Why not rename his show Scarecrow Country then? Has anyone counted the number of times Joe asked his guests, "What does John Kerry have to do to win this election?” Doesn’t MSNBC owe its election year ratings creep past CNN to the Bush haters? Has Pat Buchanan, the Ghost of Paleocons Past, gotten so much MSNBC face time because he feeds the false stereotype of the angry, anti-immigration, anti-Israel conservative?

Is there anyone better qualified to host a national talk show than Hugh Hewitt, the Czar of the Blogosphere who possesses impeccable multimedia credentials, a wealth of experience and contacts inside and outside of the beltway, and the unique ability to bridge the gap between old media and new media? Wouldn't MSNBC, which once had pretensions of wedding information technology with telejournalism, be smart to offer Hugh his own show?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Silver Lining

Ron Silver, J. C. Watts and Zell Miller were the only reasons to watch MSNBC this week; dittos for Mo Rocca on CNN. Silver is a revelation: charming, quick-witted, and personable even when shutting Janeane Garofalo up. Quick, dump Joe Scarborough and get this man a talk show.

Give 'Em Zell

Pundits, even those on my side, admire smooth, clever wordplay delivered with finesse. President Ronald Reagan was the master without equal, but what made him so persuasive was that he employed his rhetorical skills to express truths in which he believed unapologetically.

Last night, in his historic address to the Republican National Convention, Senator Zell Miller spoke plainly and passionately of his ideological journey from FDR to W, articulating what so many of us think. After his speech, he called Chris Matthews to task for his boorish partisanship, articulating what so many of us think. Miller has no reason to apologize for his lack of finesse. This was a long overdue smackdown, not a meltdown.

Some conservative spinmeisters are already pronouncing Zell’s zingers too hot for the heartland. Hogwash! Frank Luntz’s MSNBC polling group of “undecided swing voters” (we’ll just have to take their word for it) overwhelmingly approved of Miller’s speech, citing his credibility as a Democrat and former Marine. Indeed, 11 out of 17 said Miller’s speech made them more inclined to vote for Bush-Cheney.

Sometimes I think my conservative brethren are like squeamish puritans, too much of the mind and not of the flesh. I value the service they provide in the factory of ideas, but the ideological war will be won or lost here on the ground, where Americans appreciate the simple, unpolished truth as an antidote to demagoguery from the left. That is one reason George W. Bush and Zell Miller appeal so compellingly to Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Zell Miller saw a momentous fork in the road and, as Yogi Berra would say, he took it, forever redefining the phrase lame duck Democrat. He deserves our thanks, not our ivory tower condescension.

In the event that Miller's preemptive strike against the liberal media sparks a grassroots movement, I have the slogan ready to roll: "We're mad as Zell and we're not going to take it any more!"