Posts Tagged ‘Post-Mortem’

Today’s hot topic is President Barack Obama’s half-hour interview last night on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Obama and Stewart discussed the stimulus, the healthcare bill and job creation, all areas the president and Democrats have taken heavy fire. The interview was markedly unhumorous excepting a handful of moments when Stewart prodded the president, as New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley noted.

He did manage to needle Mr. Obama a little, teasingly retorting, “And I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents.” He even called the president “dude” after the president inadvertently echoed a famous George W. Bush gaffe by saying that his economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, had done “a heck of a job.” Mr. Obama winced ruefully as the audience laughed at his wording and Mr. Stewart said, “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.”

That one word — “dude” — will probably be the most-discussed part of the whole interview, unfortunately. What did Stewart really mean by it? Does its relaxed usage denigrate the president? Was Stewart trying to create a camaraderie? Was it an innocent moment of informality?

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank says Dudegate is indicative of the president’s position.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

Ironically, Time’s Michael Scherer writes, Stewart got from Obama the sanity he seeks at this weekend’s Rally to Restore Sanity.

What is perhaps most interesting about the whole appearance is what it told us about Obama. When he is up against the wall, his response is a retreat to reason. No big campaign rhetoric, no zinging attacks. He gets more humble, and more professorial, less dynamic. This is, ironically, exactly the kind of “sanity” that Stewart claims to want in the political discussion–a reasonable debate on the issues in which no one gets dinged for a clumsy soundbite. But that is not how television works, especially on Stewart’s show, which specializes in exploiting soundbites. What will be remembered from this appearance are the stumbles, not the sober framework that contained them.

Speaking on ABC this morning, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said Obama’s ‘Daily Show’ appearance will serve to motivate some of his base voters.

“The president is trying to reach out to those who are still undecided and perhaps uninspired about the choices that they face in five days,” Brazile said. “But President Obama is a strong closer, he understands what’s at stake and I believe showing up on Jon Stewart’s show, with over a million viewers, will help the president reach the base that he so critically needs to keep control of the House and Senate.”

Former George W. Bush advisor Nicolle Wallace said the president came across as weak by trying to explain and justify his administrative and legislative actions.

“I think the optics of begging Jon Stewart’s forgiveness and understanding are awful,” she said.

“He didn’t do that, though,” George Stephanopoulos countered.

“Well, I think by making the case, it felt like pandering, like trying to win him over. I thought the optics were terrible,” Wallace replied. “I think this White House needed to appear confident, if for no other reason than to settle the nerves of nervous Democrats who are really suffering from the political consequences of the Obama-Pelosi agenda. These voters are rebuking the Obama agenda and I think what they see as misplaced priorities on stimulus, on healthcare, things that added to the deficit, and a lack of attention on jobs, they have one problem, and, you know, the first step is acknowledging a problem and they seem incapable of doing that.”

George Neumayr, writing in the American Spectator, was extremely critical of Obama’s “ill-advised” choice to appear on the ‘Daily Show.’

At a time of high unemployment, Obama is content to play the empty celebrity, appearing on shows as shallow as his policies and delivering trendy messages about the latest anxiety of the coastal elite — the “gay teen suicide epidemic.”

Neumayr’s reference to gay teen suicides confusingly refers not to Obama’s ‘Daily Show’ appearance, in which the president did not discuss that issue, but rather to a recent three-minute video Obama made for the Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign.

Neumayr also makes no secret his disdain for Jon Stewart.

While Stewart engages in a lot of cutesy mugging and seemingly self-deprecating humor about such accolades, he takes himself very seriously indeed. His own liberal assumptions are exempt from mocking, and he claims to be deeply pained by “phoniness” at the highest levels of society. Yet somehow this concern about phoniness doesn’t extend to something as basic as his own name, which is not Jon Stewart but Jon Leibowitz, or his own role in high society. The self-proclaimed puncturer of all things phony has a phony name, and the jester has no intention of dropping his mask or reforming his juvenile ways.

Finally, Adam Frucci, writing at Splitsider, argued Stewart would have been better off in this interview without the ecstatic audience.

Having a crowd cheering and clapping, interrupting both Obama and Stewart multiple times, turned what should have been a thoughtful debate into an arena battle. A crowd makes sense for something like a sporting event or a comedy show. You want an audience to provide energy, to react where reactions are warranted.

But the trouble with having a live audience at what is supposed to be a relatively serious discussion is that it forces everything to be dumbed down to soundbites. Any subtlety is removed, as who cheers for a nuanced argument? A crowd wants to cheer for big proclamations, for sweeping statements. …

Just imagine if a show on Fox News had a live studio audience. If every time Sean Hannity mentioned death panels or Obamacare, he got a raucous ovation. It would make something that’s already oversimplified and dumbed down even more so, encouraging pandering and self-congratulation and lowering the level of discourse even further.


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Last night Delaware Senate candidates Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell debated live on primetime CNN (before cutting away to cover the ongoing miner rescues in Chile).

The most widely talked-about moment came when moderator Nancy Karibjanian of Delaware First Media asked O’Donnell about which recent Supreme Court rulings with which she disagreed. O’Donnell fumbled the question. Video and transcript are below.

KARIBJANIAN: Well, we’ve talked about the Supreme Court, and obviously a United States senator has the opportunity to determine in a way the make-up of that court. So what opinions of late that have come from our high court do you most object to?

O’DONNELL: Oh, gosh. Give me a specific one, I’m sorry.

KARIBJANIAN: Actually, I can’t, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to.

O’DONNELL: I’m very sorry. Right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I’ll put it up on my Web site, I promise you.

BLITZER: Well, we know you disagree with Roe versus Wade.

O’DONNELL: Yes, but that was — she said a recent one.

BLITZER: Well, that’s relatively recent.

O’DONNELL: She said, of late.

Yes, well, Roe versus Wade would not put the power — sorry, it’s 30 (ph)…


BLITZER: But since then, have there been any other…


BLITZER: … Supreme Court decisions?

O’DONNELL: Well, let me say, about Roe versus Wade, Roe versus Wade, if that were overturned, would not make abortion illegal in the United States, it would put the power back to the states.

BLITZER: But besides that decision, anything else you disagree with?

O’DONNELL: Oh, there are several, when it comes to pornography, when it comes to court decisions, not just Supreme Court, but federal court decisions to give terrorists Miranda-ized rights.

I mean, there are a lot of things that I believe that — this California decision to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I believe that there are a lot of federal judges who are legislating from the bench.

BLITZER: That wasn’t the Supreme Court, it’s a lower court.

O’DONNELL: That was a federal judge — that’s what I said, in California.

O’Donnell’s campaign later clarified that she opposes the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London, which in a 5-4 decision held that “the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a ‘public use’ within the meaning of the takings clause.”

O’Donnell also defended herself against controversial comments she made on Bill Maher’s talk show “Politically Incorrect,” including a claim that she once dabbled in witchcraft and her belief that evolution is a myth.

“This election cycle should not be about comments I made on a comedy show over a decade and a half ago,” she said. In a similar vein, however, she attacked an article written by Coons in his college newspaper in which he described himself as a “bearded Marxist,” saying, “Forget the bearded Marxist comment, you writing an article saying that you learned your beliefs from an articulate, intelligent Marxist professor and that’s what made you become a Democrat, that should send chills up the spine of every Delaware voter.”

Coons defended the article as ironic.

It’s an article that I wrote as a senior the day of our commencement speech and the title and the content of that clearly makes it obvious that it was a joke. There was a group of folks who I had shared a room with, my roommates junior year, who are in the Young Republican Club and who thought when I returned from Kenya and registered as a Democrat that doing so was proof that I had gone all the way over to the far left end, and so they jokingly called me a bearded Marxist. If you take five minutes and read the article, it’s clear on the face of it, it was a joke. Despite that, my opponent and lots of folks in the right wing media have endlessly spun this. I am not now, nor have I ever been, anything but a clean-shaven capitalist.

So how did the candidates fare through the debate? Coverage has largely focused on O’Donnell, who worked to lower expectations on her performance. The debate would do little to change voters’ minds, Salon’s Steve Kornacki wrote, unless O’Donnell were “able to create some kind of breakthrough moment – or would Coons commit some kind of paralyzing gaffe?” Coons, Kornacki concludes, did not mess up in any meaningful way.

Coons was probably a bit too dismissive of O’Donnell at times, frequently prefacing his replies to her statements by shaking his head and marveling that “there’s just so much there” to respond to. Voters already see that O’Donnell as something of a lunatic; they don’t need Coons pointing it out to them over and over. But his stylistic sins were minor and he committed no major gaffes. Die-hard conservatives surely found plenty of ideological objections to Coons’ statements, but they’re already in O’Donnell’s camp.

Courtesy of the Washington Times

Slate’s Dave Weigel, a Delaware native, noted that he listened to the “over-played” debate and continues to be amazed that the national media is interested in a race where Coons has nearly a 20-point spread.

She’s a competent TV pundit who doesn’t really drill down into policy. Lo and behold, she tossed off a ton of TV lines without saying much about policy. Oh, yes, she spoke about it in soundbite terms, but at every moment where Coons or moderators asked her to take her stance to its logical conclusion, she wandered into Neverland. Really, 10 minutes after she was explaining that it was unfair to judge her on her financial record, she proposed more accountability from people who used emergency rooms because they didn’t have insurance. Or something.

I suppose that the Rise of the Tea Party candidate — and we could say the first one was Sarah Palin, really, as she was given national prominence by conservative bloggers and media — has led to debates with ultra-low expectations for those candidates. I imagine that Sharron Angle will fail to spontaneously combust, and thus be declared a surprise winner on points of her debate with Harry Reid.

The BBC said that O’Donnell’s sassiness could not overcome her shallow answers.

Ms O’Donnell’s sassy, everyday-girl appeal couldn’t obscure the lack of detail in her responses.

Nor could it compensate for her dumbfounded silence when asked to name a recent Supreme Court ruling she disagreed with.

But that might not matter in this election. She successfully touched on the talking points that have proved to resonate so powerfully with conservatives – repeatedly referring to the constitution, railing against “Obamacare” and accusing Mr Coons of being a Marxist.

Some call this “dog-whistle politics” – these kind of references hit a pitch, and speak a language that supporters hear differently, and respond to more strongly, than other constituencies. Ms O’Donnell appears to have mastered the technique.

The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawick was confused by all the hype surrounding O’Donnell. “I tried to look past all the wild stuff said about her to see what it was about this candidate that led to her upset victory in the primary race, but I honestly couldn’t find any real takeaway. I wanted to see some honesty and new answers, but I saw nothing much to get excited about.” Nevertheless, Zurawick still liked her “better than the drab, smarmy guy she’s running against, Coons.”

Finally, the National Review’s Jim Geraghaty, despite not being a fan of O’Donnell, criticized Coons’ answers as unsurprising and banal and moderators Karibjanian and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as in the tank for the Democrat.

I’m not inclined to agree with the positions of Democrat Chris Coons, but he struck me as terrible. I wondered if he felt a bit like Al Gore taking on Dan Quayle in 1992 or Joe Biden taking on Sarah Palin in 2008; the opponent was supposed to be a blithering idiot and anything less than a TKO would be a disappointment. But Coons seemed intent to play it safe, to the point where the local moderator, Schoolmarm McFavoritism, had to invite him to jump in twice. Several times he said he didn’t have the required time to answer the questions, and so he punted. His answers were pat, predictable, almost rote recitation of standard-issue Democratic talking points. As I said on Twitter, the generic ballot numbers in Delaware may be strangely relevant, since it seems Chris Coons is the Generic Democratic Candidate.

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The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a controversial First Amendment case regarding protesting military funerals. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas are infamous for protesting military funerals across the nation, displaying signs that imply soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment on the nation for things such as accepting homosexuality, laws allowing abortion and rising divorce rates.

One recent protest took place for a soldier and 2008 graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. As has become more and more common at the WBC’s protests, locals showed up to counter-protest, in this instance over 100 people.

For this case in particular, members of the church protested at the Maryland funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq. Snyder’s father, Albert Snyder, sued the church for emotional distress and was awarded $5 million before a federal appeals court reversed the decision in favor of free speech, no matter how offensive.

As Mike Sacks reports over at First One @ One First, the press and general public seeking entrance to yesterday’s oral arguments in the case, Snyder v. Phelps, was larger than any case last term, including Citizens United.

The upshot, however, is that those cases yielded landmark decisions, while Snyder will bring nothing of the sort.  If there’s any lesson at all to be gained from this morning’s oral argument, it’s a reassertion of the truism that bad facts–or, in this case, exceedingly unique facts–make bad law.

As many reports indicated, the Court had a difficult time parsing the case’s facts and emotional impact. It was made exceptionally difficult in that both sides were well-prepared with legal arguments.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog asks “Should we — and can we — set aside our emotional reaction?  If the answer, implicit or otherwise, is no, the Justices may then proceed to craft a way to write into the First Amendment a  ‘funeral exception’ to the right to speak out in public in outrageous and hurtful ways.”

Such an exception would change be a major change to the court’s list of exceptions to free speech established in 1942’s Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire.

There are certain well defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting” words — those which, by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

Although some facts threw doubts on the Snyder camp’s claims, the court seemed split between protecting free speech and sympathizing with the Snyders. The justices spent a while on hypotheticals when question the church’s lawyer, Margie Phelps (the daughter of Fred Phelp, WBC’s pastor and the case’s respondent), including this gem.

Alito: All right. Well, Justice Kagan gave you one example. Let me give you another example along the same lines. Let’s say there is a grandmother who has raised a son who was killed in Afghanistan or in Iraq by an IED. And she goes to visit her son’s — her grandson’s grave, and she’s waiting to take a bus back to her home. And while she’s at the bus stop, someone approaches and speaks to her in the most vile terms about her son: He was killed by an IED; do you know what IEDs do? Let me describe it for you, and I am so happy that this happened; I only wish I were there; I only wish that I could have taken pictures of it. And on and on. Now, is that protected by the First Amendment? There is no false statement involved and it’s purely speech.

Phelps: Right. And — and it may give rise to some fighting words claim, depending on the proximity and the context. And I would have to know what –

Alito: Well, it’s an elderly person. She’s really probably not in — in a position to punch this person in the nose.

Scalia: And she’s a Quaker, too.

The court transcript here notes laughter, and after hemming and hawing for a bit Phelps reluctantly said it was not protected speech as they may constitute “fighting” words.

SCOTUSblog’s Dennison noted that, while many justices seemed undecided on the matter, Stephen Breyer spent some time ruminating on possible middle-of-the-road solutions.

By the end of the argument, it seemed that, if the Justices could settle on a legal principle to govern funeral protests of the kind that greeted the service for Marine Lane Corporal Matthew Snyder, it might well be the compromise position suggested at one point by Justice Stephen G. Breyer.  The First Amendment would allow a lawsuit for outrageously causing harm to someone’s emotional life — at least at a funeral — but limit it so that it would not forbid all forms of protests at such an event.  As Breyer put it: “What I’m trying to accomplish, to allow this tort to exist but not allow the existence of it to interfere with an important public message where that is a reasonable thing to do.”

NPR’s Nina Totenberg said that it appears “that some justices who just months ago expanded the right of free speech to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts in candidate elections are looking for a way to limit the rights of picketers at funerals.”

Mike Sacks at First One @ One First wrote that the court may in the end suck it up and side with the Westboro Baptist Church.

Yet for all the doubt the justices expressed towards the WBC’s claims of constitutional protection, Snyder’s argument simply could not carry the day.  Challenged by Justice Kagan to articulate a standard for how to determine which protests “glomming to a private funeral” should or should not fall outside of the First Amendment, Summers could articulate no governing principle.  Ultimately, it seemed, Snyder sought not a general rule of law, but rather a Constitutional carve-out for his own grief.  Such personalized positions are not the stuff of Supreme Court precedent.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick agreed that the court faces a choice between the law and the facts.

The headline writers are going to say that the justices “struggled” with this case. That may be so, but what they struggled with has very little to do with the law, which rather clearly protects even the most offensive speech about public matters such as war and morality. They are struggling here with the facts, which they hate. Which we all hate. But looking at the parties through hate-colored glasses has never been the best way to think about the First Amendment. In fact, as I understand it, that’s why we needed a First Amendment in the first place.

On the other hand, she wasn’t pulling any punches when it came to her own opinion.

Oh, and just for the record: What I hate is tripping over a child holding a sign that reads “God Hates You” as I am trying to get to oral argument at the Supreme Court. There is a special charcoal briquette in hell for parents who teach kids to think that way.

The court is not expected to release its ruling for several months. You can read the 56-page transcript of the argument here.

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