Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘debates’

Thoughts on the 2016 Libertarian National Convention

Posted by sanityinjection on May 30, 2016

In a Presidential election year when we have heard so much dissatisfaction with voters’ expected choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Libertarian National Convention held this weekend assumes greater importance. As expected, the convention nominated former Republican governors Gary Johnson and William Weld as the Libertarian candidates for President and Vice President. Speculation is that the party could have a record performance this year if it picks up votes from Democrats and Republicans unhappy with Clinton and Trump. So what does the party’s convention tell us about who Libertarians are and what chance they have to make an impact in the 2016 election?

I watched about 10 hours of the convention – basically all of it that was covered by C-SPAN. This included a two and a half hour debate among 5 candidates for the party’s Presidential nomination, and the nomination proceedings for both President and Vice-President. For political junkies like myself, the Libertarian gathering stands in stark contrast to the major party conventions, which in my lifetime have been stage-managed, sterile and predictable affairs with less drama than a sewing circle. If nothing else, the Libertarian convention reeked of authenticity. There was little playing to the cameras, apart from some entertainingly cheeky repetitions of the party’s website and phone number (“Point of information, Mr. Chair, I seem to have lost the note where I wrote down the party’s web site, could you repeat that please?”)

And the proceedings clearly were not scripted. Both the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominations required two ballots, and the proceedings were frequently interrupted by various points of order, information, and personal privilege. I was impressed by the convention chair, Nicholas Sarwark (also the party chairman), who exuded professionalism, patience, and good humor as he attempted to herd a room of about 1,000 cats. Many of the points raised by the delegates were clearly out of order, but Sarwark often chose to allow them anyway, reasoning that it would be faster and simpler to do so rather than standing on parliamentary procedure. This strategy worked well for the most part, but it was when Sarwark had to temporarily hand off the gavel to his deputies that things got a little rowdier. Representing a polar opposite side of the party’s character from Sarwark, one delegate managed to get himself added to the  ballot for party chairman just so that, in lieu of a nomination speech, he could (and did) perform a striptease on the podium live on camera. Perhaps nothing illustrates the party’s deep commitment to personal freedom more than the fact that no one made any attempt to stop this, despite later reactions from aghast and embarrassed delegates.

The contrast is a pretty good metaphor for the party as a whole. It often resembles nothing quite so much as Monty Python’s fictional “Slightly Silly Party”; stretches of serious approaches to the nation’s problems punctuated by eruptions from nutjobs, radicals, and goofballs. Even Johnson, who served two generally well-regarded terms as Governor of New Mexico, has a goofy side to him, as evidenced by a pattern of unexpectedly cheek-kissing debate rivals and even reporters. Yet upon reflection, there are plenty of nutjobs, radicals and goofballs in the major parties also. The difference is that the major parties do a much better job of hiding them from the media.

It would be a mistake to allow the occasional circus-like atmosphere to overshadow the wellspring of intelligence, thoughtfulness, integrity and a deep-seated devotion to the Constitution that burbles at the heart of the Libertarian party. There is no doubt in my mind that the average delegate at the Libertarian convention would destroy their Democrat or Republican counterparts in any contest of civic knowledge. And these are people who maintain their principles so strongly that they would rather shoot themselves in the foot time and time again from an image perspective rather than wear the stain of hypocrisy. If nothing else, that aspect alone offers a refreshing choice for voters in the fall, by which time the party expects to be on the ballot in all 50 states. For the party’s wiser heads, the goal is not so much to win the White House – highly unlikely – but to bring unprecedented media attention to their socially liberal, fiscally conservative platform of minimal government and hopefully expand the membership and influence of the party toward a future role something like Britain’s Liberal Democrats.

The party’s greatest challenge this year is to break the glass ceiling that has usually kept third party candidates out of the presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a joint creation of the Republican and Democratic parties, has set a bar of 15 percent support in major polls for the inclusion of any third-party candidate. Johnson and Weld have recently polled around 10 percent (when they have been included in polls at all), so it is not inconceivable that they could pass this bar. Johnson is not a great debater, but the national exposure that comes with being on the debate stage is exactly what the Libertarian party needs.

At the very least, doesn’t America deserve the enjoyment of watching Clinton and Trump squirm as Johnson points out how similar they really are?


Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Biden-Palin VP Debate: Analysis

Posted by sanityinjection on October 3, 2008

There’s an old saying in sports that there is a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. In sports, playing not to lose is usually a bad strategy, but in politics, that’s not always the case. Last night, both VP nominees, Sentaor Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin, were playing not to lose. And in my opinion, both were successful.

The debate held pitfalls for both candidates. For Biden, the danger was that he would get carried away and say something offensive or inane that would embarrass his campaign. He did not do that last night. For Palin, the danger was that she would flub questions and be exposed as inexperienced and not knowledgeable enough on the issues facing the country. She did not do that last night.

I thought both candidates’ performances could be described as good but not stellar. There was nothing “game-changing” in this debate; nobody scored a knockout punch. Biden displayed a good command of the issues and spent most of the debate hammering John McCain’s record and campaign proposals. On the intangibles, he came across as reasonable and avoided the danger of appearing condescending or dismissive of his opponent – notably refraining from correcting her when she flubbed the name of a general. He even choked up slightly at one point when discussing the loss of his first wife and his concern over his son who is serving in the National Guard.

Palin managed to hold her own against Biden. She was never going to outpoint him on policy details, but she was conversant on the issues and succeeded in challenging several aspects of Obama’s and Biden’s records that Biden then had to defend. On the intangibles, her charisma absolutely radiated – she actually winked at the camera on a couple of occasions. She was authentic as she reminded the audience of her solidly middle-class, middle-America status.

To the extent that anyone “won” this debate, I would give the nod to Palin, not because she outpointed Biden, but because she had the most to lose if she had performed poorly. She confounded the many critics who expected her to fall flat on her face. Biden, by contrast was a known quantity; his performance, while one of his better ones, was less of a story.

The problem for the Republicans is that this debate is unlikely to have a major impact on the race, as VP debates almost never do. (In 1988 Lloyd Bentsen absolutely destroyed Dan Quayle in their debate, but the Bush-Quayle ticket still won the election decisively.) Obama is surging in the polls, no doubt in part because of the current economic crisis which focuses voter attention on the Democrats’ issues. McCain and Palin need something in the next 30 days that will reverse that trend, or they will almost certainly lose. As it stands right now, the Obama campaign just needs to play defense. But their lead is not so great as to be insurmountable or irreversible. What we learned last night is this: If McCain loses the election, it won’t be because of Sarah Palin.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Let the mainstream media take note – please.

Posted by sanityinjection on August 18, 2008

 A political event took place on Saturday that probably escaped the notice of all but political junkies and evangelical Christians. Yet it was an important one.

For the first time since becoming their party’s presumptive nominees, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama shared a stage, albeit briefly. The venue was the Saddleback megachurch in California. The church’s pastor, Rick Warren, a major figure in the evangelical community, invited both candidates to come and answer questions that would be of interest to evangelical voters. Obama answered the questions first, followed by McCain, but the two candidates had an opportunity to shake hands and greet each other in between, a nice photo-op.

What was striking about this event was how much better it was than any of the debates I’ve seen sponsored by the major media. First of all, the questions were excellent and covered areas that would be of interest to any voter, not just Christians. They were not “softball” questions or attempts to skewer either candidate, nor were they tied to recent events like the war in Georgia. The questions focused on the candidates’ lives and worldviews. In short, they were designed not to enable the candidates to “score points”, but to help the audience get to know and understand them better. What an amazing thing. Warren, who asked the questions, treated both candidates with respect but also did not let them get away with avoiding direct answers. And how did the candidates respond? Both rose to the level of expectations and for the most part, gave thoughtful and serious answers.

If I were a major news organization, I would be asking myself why a religious leader was able to do a better job of organizing a political forum than experienced journalists. I think the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is that Warren allowed the event to be about the candidates and not about himself, unlike some journalists who moderate debates who seem to want to show off how much more clever and knowledgeable they are than either candidate.  For Warren, having both candidates respond to his summons and appear with him on stage was sufficient to gratify his ego, so he didn’t feel the need to show them up.

I hope that the major media outlets, as well as the Commission on Presidential Debates, were paying attention and learned some valuable lessons from being out performed by an amateur.

Highlights here:

Full transcript here:

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »