I want to analyze several things about the interviews today with the Democratic and Republican US senatorial candidates for Illinois, from the way each interview was handled, to the candidates themselves. I found it a particularly enlightening day. The contents of both interviews can be found here, in case you want to listen for context. I’m pointing to the archive in hopes that this will be a permalink and not be outdated by tomorrow. I apologize that the show is in audio format, but unfortunately, transcripts cost money.
But first, a couple of disclaimers:
[li]This is in GD because I’d like to read some insightful discussion, especially from Illinois Dopers, but also from anyone else interested.[/li][li]I know NPR in general, and Fresh Air in particular, are moderately to strongly left-leaning. While this fact will figure into my OP to some extent, I would very much like to avoid dismissive “well what do you expect…they’re NPR!” type comments.[/li][li]Personal Full Disclosure: Although I am sure some folks on this board, if I may be allowed the vanity of thinking that anyone has given me a second thought in these terms, have pegged me as a Republican, this is not at all the case. I would describe myself as fiscally conservative, and I have become more so recently. However, I am very strongly socially liberal. I would probably describe myself (in the words of a friend of mine) as a “little L libertarian,” although I am a Democrat by political party affiliation.[/li][li]There is also a Pit thread which may provide worthy reading on the subject here.[/li][/ul]
General Impressions: Obama seems like a genuinely warm, sincere person in an interview…which no doubt contributes significantly to his “warm fuzzy” appeal factor. Another is that he appeals to both white and black voters. He strongly purports to want to run a “clean” campaign - that is, one which focuses on the issues rather than attacking the opposite candidate. While superficially sincere, I have reason to believe that he is not entirely above a little mud-slinging himself. I’ll get to that later. However, it’s obvious that he’s trying to angle for the fresh-faced reform campaign.
But man, did he ever get a fluff interview. The interviewer questioned Obama broadly on the memoir he wrote, and Obama used the wide-open opportunity to hold forth on his American Dream platform. More than 22 minutes of the 28 minute interview were largely composed of soft-pitch floaters about his father, his background, etc. It came off as an intimate “get-to-know-ya” talk, but there wasn’t a lot of substance to it. The second part wasn’t a whole lot better. Ostensibly, they moved the interview into the realm of the senatorial race, but they never actually touched on the issues.
Specific quotes and reactions:
Oh puhleeeze. :rolleyes: Davies might just as well have fellated him on the spot. Some specifics, please.
This was a shrewd, if not totally original, political speech. In one economical statement, he attempted several things:
[li] to cement the idea that he is “ordinary folks,” rather than a professional politician (which he is,) [/li][li] to declare that he is going to run a clean campaign and focus on the issues, [/li][li] to defend himself from Keyes’s flaming rhetoric, and [/li][li] to turn right around and sling some mud at Keyes by associating him by implication with “ruthless, cynical professional politicians” who make back room deals. [/li][/ul]
Smart speech. He’s going to be a shrewd politician. He’s not quite as much the Golden Boy Saint he’d like us to believe he is, but he is smart.
Hoo boy. Obama strikes me as being much, much more subtle and shrewd than Keyes. Such subtlety may not, however, be necessary for Keyes, as he appears to be a hard-line right-winger from the word go, and he is effectively parroting a lot of the neoconservative religious arguments that so much of America gets behind.
Personally, he strikes me as a loud, shrill, contentious ideologue literally imported specifically to out-shout Obama in the Senate race. His interview was considerably rockier. They started pitching him the hard stuff after a brief couple of questions about his family and ideological background (his interview was taped, incidentally, by the same interviewer after the Obama interview.) To start off with, Davies throws him a question which might have been innocent, but ended up effectively contrasting him with Obama in the strongest possible terms.
Bolding mine. So far, everything sounds great. Family? Check. Personal responsibility? Sometimes used as a code word for a “let them eat cake” attitude, but still something most folks can get behind. It’s that last one - moral clarity - that was thrown in there as a ringer, and it’s that tangent that Keyes takes off on. That gets him into trouble. The question also had the added rhetorical benefit of establishing an immediate contrast with Obama. To wit:
He speaks at length about the role of faith and family in the survival of African Americans here. Feel free to listen to the rest of it, but my main point here is that he immediately established himself as not a down-to-earth “man of the people,” but as a cold, aloof intellectual. Uh oh. This is a prime reason I don’t think he’s nearly as shrewd as Obama. Politics is very much a popularity contest. If the people don’t like you, you’re sunk. Take Dukakis for example. He ran a strong race, but in the end, he got the labels “cold,” “passionless,” and “technocrat” attached to him, and that was all she wrote.
That is, incidentally, the main concern I have about John Kerry’s campaign as well.
Given that the interview was taped after the Obama interview, and the fact that a later question shows that Davies did some background work on Keyes beforehand, I wonder if Davies led Keyes down this path quite purposefully.
Zing! Fast curve ball to the inside! Keyes takes a swing at it, and in my opinion, misses badly, making himself look like a hypocrite.
He then goes on to explain that he did not decide to do this on his own, that he was approached by the “people in Illinois” (presumably the Illinois Republican Party,) making it consistent in terms of sovereignty, and also that his move was somehow related to the other part of Federalism as he defines it, “national unity.” This falls far short of an adequate explanation, IMO, because:
[li] it appears to be a rationalized excuse cobbled together out of makeshift definitions, [/li][li] it makes him out not to be a self-guided political opportunist, but nothing more than a political mercenary…a hired gun. I mean, Hillary showed some political spine. Keyes is just shouting his rhetoric on whatever street corner he’s told to.[/li][li] it espouses a rather subtle difference between the two cases. I’m not even sure I fully understand what he’s saying the difference is, and I’m pretty sure most voters aren’t going to even put as much thought into it as I have. A lot of folks are just going to think, “Bullshit. He’s an arrogant hypocrite.” Which, admittedly, is pretty much the conclusion I’m forced to come to.[/li][/ul]
The very next question is a question about Keyes’s now infamous comparison of Obama’s position on abortion to the “slaveholder’s position.” Keyes defends this with a complex set of, in my opinion, highly spurious and questionable arguments:
I take issue with Keyes’s comparison of abortion to slavery. The differences in the two issues are too numerous to dwell upon. Slavery, for example (the 3/5 Compromise, etc. notwithstanding, as they addressed blacks’ status for purposes of taxation,) had no scientific grey area concerning what qualified as human life. Nobody can answer that question adequately, and Keyes’s evocation of slavery is just a bit intellectually dishonest.
Also, he misrepresents Douglas’s position badly. Douglas was not “pro-choice” on slavery - at least, not in the same way as the term applies to abortion. To be the same, Douglas would have had to supported the rights of each individual person to either have, or not have, slaves. This point can’t even be interpreted the same way as in abortion, since to be “pro-choice” in slavery means you’re pro-slavery. Nobody is “pro-abortion.” They’re for the choice to have an abortion. Given the grey area previously mentioned about the scientific qualifications for human life, it’s not nearly so cut-and-dried.
:rolleyes: What a mess. In the first place, our “common principles” (whatever they are) don’t say anything in one unified voice about “development.” That’s why the issue is - say it with me - controversial. Second, our "common principles (whatever they are) don’t say anything in a unified voice about a creator. Once again - controversial. Third, the Declaration of Independence is not, I repeat, not the foundation of our national conscience. Finally, slavery is not the same as abortion. Jesus.
He then claims (seriously) that his introduction of the slavery comparison has nothing to do with a cynical ploy to bring a racial element into the argument…to play the race card. He jumps through a series of hoops to establish that all he really means is that it’s a human-decency issue, not a race issue (while nimbly playing the race card by declaiming that since his ancestors were slaves, he oughta know.) Strawman. Poor argumentation. False analogy. Blegh. He’s not fooling anyone, of course. His analogy was rather carefully developed for precisely that rhetorical reason.
He goes on to say that he would ban abortion in the case of rape and incest as well, launching into a diatribe about how it is fundamentally against our principles of justice (assuming that an embryo is a human life, I presume, at the moment of conception. Again, controversial. Remember?)
After all this, he drops the Bomb:
As if anything he’s said is anything more than airy, flimsy assertion based on bad logic.
To wind up the interview, Keyes excoriates Obama for
In my socially liberal opinion, this is pure insanity. Obama is not even pro-gay marriage! He’s actually against gay marriage, but pro “civil unions.” When confronted about why gay marriage is a threat to traditional families, Keyes responds that
Uh, where does he get his definitions, cause they’re crazy. Assuming for a moment that “hedonistic self-gratification” is not a good reason to get married (who gets married for hedonistic self-gratification, anyway?,) he commits a beauty of an Excluded Middle Fallacy. The truth is that people get married for any number of reasons, from Twue Wuv all the way down to base greed, and as long as the parties involved are male and female, whether their purposes are procreative or not, it’s perfectly legal.
Conclusion: Barack Obama is a shrewd, subtle politician, regardless of his assertions to the contrary, but I don’t fundamentally think I learned anything about his politics in the interview. He seemed to be there as a foil for Keyes’s ridiculous pseudo-intellectualism, and that can’t ultimately be anything but good for Obama. Alan Keyes is a self-righteous, arrogant blowhard who will ultimately hang himself with his wild-eyed rhetoric, and it was difficult to find anything in his spittle-flecked diatribe which I didn’t think was stark, raving insane.
Advantage: Obama. Keyes will get his ass handed to him on election day.