Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Republicans face problems in debates and the House of Representatives

Commentary by James Shott

Say what you will about the way CNBC conducted the Republican debate, the business side of NBC News did something that neither Fox News nor CNN were able to do.

All three had similarities, like gotcha questions and efforts to pit one candidate against another, elements that obstructed a discussion of the serious issues of electing a nominee for President of the United States, rather than assisting voters in making an informed decision. To the extent that real issues arose, the combative atmosphere moderators created in all three debates got in the way.

In sharp contrast to the mood in Republican debates was the Democrat debate on CNN, which also failed to reveal important information about the candidates, but approached not doing so by giving hugs and kisses to the candidates.

CNBC was both over the top and under the table. The three moderators were clearly not up to conducting a meaningful debate, not even on business and economic issues, and the muddle that resulted drew almost universal criticism. Moderators were poorly prepared, partisan, thought they were the stars of the show, were argumentative and often interrupted the candidates. While so many TV news people seem infected with the idea that being quarrelsome is cool, CNBC took that to a new level. You can challenge candidates on issues and answers, and still be civil.

However, as horrible as it was, CNBC did succeed in uniting the candidates for the first time since the campaign began, if only against CNBC’s amateurish approach, and the revolt that followed did produce a little discussion of important issues.

The 2016 debate series should be a valuable element in the process of selecting presidential candidates. Along with public and media appearances, the debates are opportunities for voters to hear candidates discuss their platforms and they are the only vehicle where the pros and cons of the various positions are aired in a way that voters have the opportunity to evaluate them side-by-side. 

So far they all have been disappointing, in terms of illuminating the candidate’s views, but CNBC wins the brown ribbon for the absolute worst. In place of questions on substantive issues, the moderators worked hard to trap and demean the Republican participants, which is very different from challenging them on issues.

Unfortunately, our campaign process identifies the best candidate, not necessarily the person best suited to be president. So much is based on appearance and performance, rather than candidates’ understanding of the country’s problems and sensible ideas for addressing them. A track record of success takes a back seat to image, charm and glibness.

And Republicans have the additional obstacle posed by the liberals in the media, who often misunderstand and not infrequently deliberately mischaracterize their objectives, and tell the world how awful they are.

Granted that the GOP is sharply divided, unlike the Democrat Party that pretty much possesses no diversity of thought. But the left portrays this Republican diversity as a weakness, which is interesting, since the left considers diversity one of the most important things in life.

It suits the purposes of the left to mischaracterize and demonize the House Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party groups and other elements of the right, and there are plenty of media sources indulging in that activity.

Some, commenting on Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s election as House Speaker, wonder how he will possibly be able to manage such an unruly group. The liberal writers characterize the conservative Republican bloc with terms such as “right-wing fringe” and “radicals.”

The liberal writers are happy to offer guidance to conservatives, such as that if their subgroup wants to set policy for its party, all it needs is to have a majority of the party’s support. And if it doesn’t have a majority, it should meekly abandon its position and support the position of the majority.

And that no doubt would please liberals and Democrats, and many Republicans. However, millions of Republican voters recognize that this approach is largely why things are worse today than when the GOP gained control of the Congress, and why the Republican Congress has been so ineffective at representing their views.

These conservative House members were elected not to offer their ideas and then surrender, they were elected to fight for their supporter’s beliefs in the traditional conservative values that built the country, and to stick by them. Isn’t that what republican government is all about?

The liberals advise that when voters have put one party in charge of the executive branch and another party in charge of the legislative branch, as is the case today, compromise is demanded to move the country forward.

However, compromise does not mean surrender, as many of these “advisors” suggest. One does not oppose a bill with multiple objectionable elements, and then “compromise” by accepting the whole package when others resist changes. The two sides identify those elements they agree on, take the rest out of the legislation, and move the compromise measure forward.

Compromise means that everyone gives up something, not just the conservative Republicans. It is sad – even dangerous – that so many Republicans do not understand this.

Cross-posted from Observations

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