I guess it’s never too early to write the end of a story, never mind that you don’t know what’s going to happen in the middle and don’t remember to include all the characters. At least, that’s the tack the Contra Costa Times seems to have taken with its coverage of the District 10 race for Congress.
I’m not going to get deeply into East Bay politics when my bailiwick really is San Francisco (and the Peninsula). And I’ve never endorsed or donated to any candidate for any office — I don’t even tell my wife how I vote — so I’m not going to start now. But I do know that newspapers shouldn’t be in the business of deciding which serious candidates for office they should tell readers about, which is why it’s disappointing that the Times seems to think that even though the contest to replace Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher is “crowded,” it’s OK to ignore the bid of Adriel Hampton, who’s mounting a grassroots campaign for the office.
Hampton doesn’t have the endorsement of Tauscher or Rep. George Miller of Martinez. He isn’t doing the traditional fundraising that goes with a campaign for Congress. He’s got his work cut out for him, and he knows it.
But he’s also smart and dedicated, fiercely passionate about good government that serves the people, and savvy at building community through good ideas and new technologies. I know this about Adriel Hampton because I used to work with him at the San Francisco Examiner, and I’ve followed his blog and his tweets about the role of government in society and the role of technology in government. So take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you think are appropriate, but I know I wouldn’t count him out of any contest.
I don’t agree with everything Hampton thinks. Take, for instance, his stand on religion and pharmacists, which is dead wrong: His platform, as posted online, says he “would not force pharmacists to violate their religious faiths to work at state hospitals.” Pharmacists should be free to follow their conscience, sure — to another line of work. Nobody forced them to be pharmacists and nobody forced them to take jobs that involve state funding. Don’t want to get involved with dispensing certain medications? Fine, you don’t have to. There is a wide variety of other careers where your religion and your job won’t be in conflict. Choose one.
But Hampton is a serious candidate and he deserves serious coverage from the media in his district. District 10 voters, for their part, deserve to hear about candidates other than just the successor anointed by the muckety-mucks of the Democratic Party.
For the record, Hampton did pitch me the idea of writing something about his campaign when he saw that the reporting on the contest wasn’t presenting all the candidates: As the San Francisco Chronicle recently noted, he is looking beyond the mainstream media to generate publicity for his District 10 bid. He’s a friend and former colleage, so I listened. If he had been off base, I would have told him so. But when he was political editor of the San Francisco Examiner, Hampton went out his way to include a broad range of candidates in the discussion because it was the right thing to do (as editor of the San Francisco Independent, the Examiner’s sister paper, I took part in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors District 6 endorsement meetings, so I remember it was a *very* broad range — Oy). He deserves the same treatment now. Report on his poll numbers, report on his platform, give an opinion, but don’t pretend he’s not even there.
On Friday I saw a San Francisco Fire Department pickup truck simultaneously block a crosswalk, a wheelchair ramp and a fire hydrant. I’ve seen many city vehicles block one of these, but to see one score all three at once is pretty remarkable. The truck also had boxed in a silver pickup truck parked behind it.
There was a funeral for a police officer or firefighter at the church half a block away, and I’m sure that if there had been a fire requiring the hydrant, someone would have moved the truck without delay. But the truck was in the intersection of 40th Avenue and Ulloa Street, and the surrounding neighborhood has some of the most abundant parking in the whole city of San Francisco. Even when the church’s school is in session and there is an event at the church, it’s usually easy to find parking within two blocks.
There were no license plates on the truck, but I did get the VIN.
U.S. vice-presidential nominees Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska square off tonight in their only scheduled debate of the campaign for the White House. What do the candidates need to do? What mistakes must they avoid? What should the astute observer look for?
Palin-Biden debate strategy
It may be that for both Palin and Biden, the best thing to do is as little as possible.
If I were advising either one of the candidates, my advice would be to forget about trying to win. Losing this debate by being cautious will be far less costly to either one of the campaigns than committing a memorable, quotable, sound bite-able blunder. It’s much better for them to be conservative and take a few hits than to be drawn into a vulnerable position.
Some of the talking heads and consultants on TV may say that both candidates have to play to win, that they have to prove they could be president if called upon, but I disagree. The news cycle just won’t let this debate live long enough to matter much (again, unless one or both of the candidates commits a huge blunder). On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a controversial Wall Street bailout bill (now stuffed full of pork-barrel goodies by the Senate), and Friday also will bring a new batch of unemployment numbers. This all adds up to the fact that unless something spectacular comes out of tonight’s debate, the news media will be on to the next topic in just a few days, if not sooner.
The debate may still make the news on Monday, particularly if there’s good tape from the Sunday-morning talk shows to use as follow-up material. But the next debate between Barack Obama and John McCain is Tuesday, and even without that new debate, both campaigns are capable of pushing some new story — any new story — hard enough that by Tuesday, the debate will be way down the list.
Vice presidential debate: what to watch for
In spite of my belief that it would be in the interests of both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to take a conservative approach to the debate, this is a very highly anticipated TV event that will draw a big audience. So, what should viewers expect to see tonight?
Palin’s awkward silences, inability to answer simple questions with specificity and tendency to dodge inquiries with folksy, tail-chasing palaver — strikingly reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s well-known verbal floundering, and captured artfully by Tina Fey — have become the stuff of pop culture. If Biden can manage to just leave her alone, it would seem that Palin has plenty of rope and knows how to tie her own knots.
On the other hand, some very successful politicians (Ronald Reagan comes to mind) have made pat, easily-remembered statements their stock in trade. And as I wrote earlier regarding Palin’s speech at the Republican National Convention, the Alaska governor seems to possess a real talent for enthralling the party base this way.
The bottom line for Palin is that I will be surprised if she doesn’t stick fairly closely to a rehearsed script peppered with a couple of the kind of lines that supporters see as down-home zingers and that make detractors roll their eyes.
Biden’s tendency to ramble on is almost as well-known as Palin’s inability to give a substantive answer. On the other hand, he’s a bright guy who knows foreign policy as well as anybody in the Senate — including John McCain. And he’s no stranger to the rough-and-tumble required to get laws passed. To ask him to not go after Sarah Palin is like asking a fighting bull not to go after a cape-waving first-time matador with a gammy leg. But he can’t go after her — there’s no way for him to win a contest of public perception, even if he gets her on the facts. If he attacks anyone, it has to be John McCain.
I expect Biden to be polite to Palin, but not overly deferential. If she says something stupid, he might quickly say that he’s not sure what she meant, but then he’ll quickly move on to his own answer, which will be more succinct than usual.
I would be really surprised if the Obama people let Biden go out on stage without knowing more or less what he was going to say, so I don’t expect him to come out with any wild statements on policy. However, his tendency to improvise the filler material around policy statements, such as when he said that FDR addressed the nation on TV after the 1929 stock market crash, may still produce some interesting moments.
The Padin-Biden vice-presidential debate time is set for 9 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. PDT.
Most of us think we know where televised debates fit into a campaign for elected office. They can remake a failing campaign or break a glass house. They provide iconic moments by which history remembers the participants. They show us just how shallow our political process has become. Right? Wrong.
Or, at least, largely wrong, according to Bruce Carlson’s podcast My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.
After watching Friday’s debate between U.S. presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, I listened to an episode of the fascinating My History podcast covering the impact of television, including televised debates, on the American political process. According to Carlson, TV hasn’t cheapened modern politics, in part because earlier media accomplished that task already. And as for debates making or breaking candidates? Seldom true, Carlson says. All in all, it’s a fascinating listen that may help put the next few weeks of the presidential campaign in a historical context
I should say that I’m not really clear on who Carlson is, exactly — or what makes him an expert in either history or politics. Below is how Carlson replied when I asked him about how he knows the things he says he does. His podcast and opinions undoubtedly are fascinating, and I listen to his podcast regularly, but make up your own mind about how reliable you think his facts are.
“I work outside of politics and history, and my college degree was in literature. I have no training but a lifetime of spending bizzare amounts of time in the public libraries reading old books on history and politics. I suppose. My observations then, must stand on their own.”
– Bruce Carlson