What if Republicans ran the Democratic debate?
TPM's Veracifier put together a great clip called "When Russert Attacks" that shows how absolutely goofy and over-the-top Russert was during the debate.
Watch it here.
Well, they did last night.
Aside from the performance of the candidates, the overwhelming thing that could be taken away from last night's Democratic debate was that moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams were essentially representing the Republicans.
Nearly every single question were questions that took as their basis some Republican talking point or attack. And nearly every question was designed to benefit, not the voters, but the Republicans.
The only redeeming aspect of this was that it allowed the candidates to get used to responding too, and refuting, these often distorted or untrue assertions and assumptions, and presumably, dispell them or address them before they are allowed to gain wider currency.
For instance, Russert, in his annoying habit of trying to act intense and getting entirely too excited about his often stupid questions, practically demanded that Clinton release her joint tax returns filed with President Clinton.
Why did he say she had to do this? Because she'd made a loan to her campaign (which was repaid within 48 hours by donations) and therefore her finances were public business.
First of all, is there ONE Democrat anywhere in the country that gives a damn whether Hillary releases her and Bill's tax returns? If there's more than 5, I'd be surprised.
No, the only people who are chomping at the bit to get at these are .... Republicans, represented ably by Russert.
But Timmy wasn't done. Acting as though he were a lawyer who had just produced the smoking gun in a dramatic courtroom, he practically leaned over his desk in demanding that Hillary release the personal logs from her entire 8 years in the White House. These are logs which detail her daily activities.
When's the last time you heard one of your neighbors or maybe someone at a party remark about how they were troubled that Hillary hadn't released her personal schedules from her White House years nearly 8 years ago?
What? You haven't? Why, it must be very important, or Russert wouldn't waste time during the last debate on it, surely.
Well, he did, acting like a prosecutor and demanding that Clinton agree to release them in their entirety.
Is this to benefit the Democratic voters who are making this choice? Is this because this is an issue of concern for many voters?
It's because the Republicans want to get their hands on these documents so bad they can taste it, in order to spend thousands of hours pouring over them doing opposition research... digging for anything they can suggest is dirty or rotten.
That's the ONLY people who want these records, and Russert, good boy that he is, dutifully spent a portion of the debate trying to pin down Clinton into giving the Republicans what they want.
And this from the party who gave us Dick Cheney, a man who to this day refuses to disclose who attended his Energy Policy meetings in the White House, and who demanded that his home in D.C. be erased from Google satellite images, the only location in the world that is erased from Google Earth.
And they don't seem to have had any problems with Bush/Cheney running by all accounts the most secretive administration in history. Guess it's only AFTER you're put in office that you can then refuse to share anything whatsoever with the public who put you there.
In another bizarre attempt at "gotcha" syle, Russert wasted a large chunk of time trying to tie Obama to Louis Farrakhan, the infamously anti-semitic Muslim leader.
In trying mightily to somehow portray Obama as buddy-buddy with this creep, Russert had to make the Republican fantasy that .... see if you can follow now... Farrakhan has expressed anti-semitic views in the past.... Farrakhan has said he's glad to see a black man running strongly for president, and he hopes Obama will win... and Obama's minister in Chicago had once said something flattering about Farrakhan.
See? Obama is anti-semitic. What a joke.
What do you have to believe to make this leap? That Obama should be ASSUMED to share Farrakhan's anti-semitic beliefs because he attended a church .... whose pastor once said something positive about .... Farrakhan.
So this is a fair question? Yet this is what lead Pumpkin-head to DEMAND that Obama denouce Farrakhan? Again, Russert starts out with the ASSUMPTION, presumed to be fact unless contradicted by Obama, that using this bizarre link, Obama must be anti-semitic and therefore requires that he denouce and repudiate Farrakhan and anti-semitism or else stand accused of it himself.
Again, is there ONE SINGLE Democrat in the world for whom this is a big problem? No. Is it a Republican angle that they hope to smear and attack Obama with? Yes.
The questions and lines of attack last night had every indication of having been handed down by Russert and Williams' corporate bosses, not in an attempt to provide informationa and insight to the voters who will make the choice, but to attack them with every possible issue they could to enable Republican efforts to make them look as bad as possible.
Russert seemed on the verge of hyper-ventilating when he asked one of his patented, and utterly stupid, hypotheticals. WHAT IF we announce a gradual withdrawal, and WHAT IF the Iraq government then says that we should just get the hell out completely and kicks us out, then WHAT IF al Queda starts... I don't know... building army bases or something? WHAT WILL YOU DO THEN?????!!!!!
Such questions don't serve any purpose except to aid the right wing in trying to give them something to distort into the Dems being weak on defense (GE, the parent company of MSNBC and Russert and Williams' boss, is the country's largest defense contractor.)
Hypothetical questions such as that are simply unserious and have no bearing on reality. But Russert felt that reeling out this Republican scenario and then demanding that the candidates respond was the thing to do.
Thankfully, both Clinton and Obama refused to fall for such nonsense. Fred Thompson and all the other Republican candidates flatly refused to give any response AT ALL to any hypothetical questions during one of their previous debates.
When Clinton responded by pointing out that Russert asks a lot of hyptothetical questions, Russert shot back, "But this is reality!", to which Clinton calmly informed him, no, it wasn't, it was a hypthetical he'd made up. Apparently Russert can't distinguish between dramatic scenarios he makes up in his head and reality.
Russert/Williams/NBC clearly feels it's more important to ratings to try to increase dramatic conflict between the candidates throughout, typically using Russert's shaky practice of constantly putting up video of past statemtents designed to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the candidates. But they couldn't even get that right, running the wrong clips at the wrong times.
Good moderating isn't a game of "stump the candidate" or do whatever you can to provoke an awkward moment or goad candidates into getting angry. But you couldn't tell from watching these guys.
How does playing candidates engaging in political campaigning, trying to knock their opponents, then demanding that they respond help inform voters? It doesn't. It simply is fodder to try to create conflict.
It's to the Dems credit that they largely refused to take the bait.
If this election is the one where people reject the politics of the past, let's hope that somehow it can reject the media coverage of the past as well and somehow get networks to actually take the matter more seriously than viewing it as just another reality show for people's entertainment.
The idea that they're providing a public service seems to the the last thing on their minds.
This was billed as Clinton's last shot at making her case. Instead, what is likely the last of 20 debates among Democrats, ended with two Bozos acting like they were on a last desperate effort to provide Republicans with something to work with.
Thankfully it didn't work as hoped.
It was really an embarassing effort by Russert and Williams and resulted in less being revealed about the candidates than previous debates, leaving the candidates themselves to try to discuss real issues that are important to voters, rather than the distracting attempts to pin them on issues only of interest to those who want to deny either of them the White House.
I wrote the above only moments after getting done watching a recording of the debate, so it's a little nice to see that the blogosphere is full of people who observed the same thing, namely, how disgusting Russert's performance was.
This post at Crooks and Liars provides a video clip of perhaps Russert's worst moment among many during the debate... the positively frantic attempt to insinuate that Obama is somehow anti-semitic and not to be trusted.
It also provides links to several other posts decrying Russert's performance as a Republican shill, lazy and shallow journalist, and someone more out to inject himself into things than provide any illumination.
Of particular interest are the posts at Digby's Hullabaloo, Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and Illinois' own Arch Pundit.
Thanks to a loyal reader for steering me to the C&L post.