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Walking the Dogs to the Tune of Debate

As I walked the dogs, this evening, I listened to a debate between my RI district's two candidates for Congress, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D.) and David Rogers (R.). As long-time readers (for two whole months) may recall, I'm a Rogers fan, and this debate helped that along.

Unfortunately, I may be an anomaly in that I like the rational, reasonable, well-thought-out tone of Mr. Rogers. It gives me confidence in his judgement. The debate format, however, lends itself to political declarations, dogmatism, and demagoguery — strategies at which professional politicians (those "in the club," like a Kennedy) excel. The greatest advantage of this posture is that it works both as an offense and defense.

For an example of offense, Kennedy attacked Rogers for changing his position on abortion ("waffling," changing tactics now that he's won his primary, and so on) because he essentially admitted that abortion laws must be made sane — and attitudes changed — before they can be made nonexistent. Rogers attempted to make the distinction between sharing a goal with pro-life groups and sharing a strategy. Personally, I think he was a little softer than he ought to have been, but he's seeking a political position, and that comes with exigencies. The strategy on Kennedy's part was to insist that a middle position, one dealing in reality, was a betrayal of the extremist position that he would have voters believe "pro-life" is.

For an example of defense, when Kennedy was on the ropes about prescription drugs (go figure!), he declared that the average citizen doesn't realize that "more or less" "most of" the research and development money for new drugs comes from the federal government. I wish I had been paying enough attention to catch the number that he threw out faster than a used-car commercial disclaimer (or from where he got it... if he said), but my sense is that it was much less than the $30+ billion spent by the industry last year. In a debate format, there simply isn't the opportunity for hey-wait-a-minutes, especially if the opponent uses the clock well.

One other thing that I wish Rogers had mentioned, when Kennedy was expressing contempt for "tax cuts for the rich," was that it was Kennedy's uncle who believed in "rising tides" and "all boats," and proved it by pursuing a huge tax cut, by today's standard, for the upper bracket. Although, it's hard to guess in what way Kennedy would have used mention of his most famous relative to change the subject or rhetorically filibuster (which was perhaps his most frequently used tactic).

Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:13 PM EST