First reactions to the Indiana Senate debate
I have avoided reading anything about the debate, since I just want to get my first impressions down. I guess that’s a benefit of having to turn off my electronic devices before entering the debate.
I’m actually more unsure of who I’ll vote for after this debate. I assumed that I would hold my nose and vote for Donnelly against Mourdock. (I probably would have voted for Lugar, again, if he had won the primary. I often disagreed with Lugar, but his methodical, tireless work on nuclear proliferation is simply amazing. Lugar and his staff were very helpful when I was considering the service academies in high school, and his constituent service has always been top-notch.)
I know that none of these candidates are trying very hard to win my vote. But tonight, it often felt like they were trying to alienate me and make me vote against them.
- Security presence was especially heavy. There were lots of uniformed officers around, plus several conspicuous plainclothes security folks around. It was really weird – I know there wasn’t anywhere near that amount of security presence at the Gubernatorial debate in 2008, and I don’t even remember that much security at Obama events in 2008.
- Dennis Ryerson didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason as to when he gave candidates a chance for short 30-second rebuttals. He seemed to save them for the end, when all of the candidates were all in agreement on the answer to the question. When all 3 candidates agree on something, there probably isn’t much need for rebuttal.
- The Debate Commission chose a few interesting questions. And then some really horrible, predictable, and pointless questions. I don’t mind letting the candidates pick their own topics with the “Lincoln-Douglas” section, but in practice it’s just shortened stump speeches and more talking points.
- The sound and mics were terrible. I don’t know how it came across on TV or the stream, but there was lots of crackle & hiss, and you could frequently hear the candidates inhale. At the beginning of the debate, the mics were so sensitive, we could hear some of the producer chatter coming over Ryerson’s earpiece.
- About 25-30% of the seats in the auditorium were empty. I don’t know if it was the heavy-handedness of the Debate Commission’s warnings, or IU Southeast’s lack of publicity, or if many people just stayed away because they bought into the hysteria that Union Thugs™ might be in attendance. Our row was only about half-full, and the row behind us was mostly empty.
- Speaking of Union Thugs™, there wasn’t even a hint of disruption during the event, except for when one of the ushers came over and told the (apparently Libertarian) guy a couple rows in front of us to stop taking pictures with his camera. After the debate, the Union folks in Chrysler gear all cheered, “Go, Joe!” But that was about it.
- Andy Horning really needs to write some new material. While he got in a few laugh lines, he didn’t actually mention any current issues – or really any political developments since 1936 – in his answers, and it was pretty much word-for-word from his shtick from previous elections.
- Andy Horning gets big bonus points for being the only candidate for federal office that I’ve ever heard mention the corrosive influence of money in politics. Do you think those donors are giving without expecting something in return, he asked? That said, he missed his opportunity to talk about any real, concrete examples, or ways to reign in Citizens United, or much of anything else other than voting for Andy Horning, who was apparently appointed by our Founding Fathers to single-handedly decide what is Constitutional and what is not.
- But Horning immediately loses those points for touching on bullshit mens-rights-activism during his abortion response. And for favoring term limit laws, which of course were opposed by the Founders and are blatantly unconstitutional.
- Mourdock didn’t answer a single question directly, until the very end, with the bizarre question that included both the right to bear arms and marriage equality. Several people in the audience looked frustrated when he dodged a straightforward question about specifics for Social Security.
- I haven’t looked yet, but I assume the fact-checkers will have this covered. I lost count of blatant lies, untruths, and factual errors from Mourdock after about 15. (If only I had thought to bring pencil & paper, since I couldn’t even use my phone to take notes.) Off the top of my head, there’s the “21 taxes,” “biggest tax increase in history,” and “Obamacare forces churches to provide abortifacients.”
- Much hay has probably been made of this, but Mourdock said that pregnancy from rape is approved by God, or some such nonsense. (This was probably the worst theological answer of the night. The worst political answer was a much more contested category.)
- Mourdock sounded very whiny at times, complaining that Joe Donnelly was using his own words against him. It was a very “Don’t think of an elephant” moment – if you’re repeating what the other guy has said about you, even to debunk it, you’ve already lost that argument.
- Mourdock constantly brought up big-sounding (not to mention misleading) numbers in his over-rehearsed answers, and kept trying to bring every question back around to his 3-4 talking points. Kudos to him for staying on message, but try a little bit of subtlety, man.
- Both Donnelly and Mourdock lose points for conflating Social Security and Medicare. As Dean Baker says, anyone who ties those two programs together in the subject of a sentence is getting ready to lie to you in the predicate.
- Donnelly repeatedly promoted the Grand Bargain, in which a handful of wealthy Democratic and Republican Congressmen with government pensions and guaranteed health insurance will decide what forms of austerity are best suited to be inflicted upon middle-class Americans and senior citizens.
- Donnelly also touted his support for the taxpayer giveaway to foreign oil companies, known as the Keystone XL project, and proudly recounted his vote against sensible, proven policies like Cap & Trade. (Please, do yourself a favor and look up what we did to fight acid rain with a cap-and-trade policy on sulfur dioxide.)
- Donnelly also touted Clean Coal™. His opinions on Dark Wizards, unicorns, and Minotaur-attack-preparedness were, sadly, unexplored.
- Donnelly’s garbage answer on abortion was weak, but sadly expected. Donnelly’s garbage answer on marriage equality was extremely disappointing, and reminds me that he voted against the Murphy amendment to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (Donnelly would, eventually, support a later version of repeal.) Also disappointing was his regurgitating untruths about the exemptions for faith-based organizations with regard to contraceptive co-pay requirements.
- The one thing Donnelly did well was to frame every answer into how policies affect real people. He turned every one of Mourdock’s number-based attacks into a Hoosier life that was affected. I’d love to see him expand on this, but he seems unwilling or unable to make a positive case for government. There were plenty of opportunities here to vocalize a we’re-all-in-this-together approach that would effectively highlight and counter Richard Mourdock’s extremism. But Donnelly left those things unsaid.