2nd Presidential Debate: Answering questions in the town hall setting

In this debate, Obama was very good at answering questions. He listened very attentively, and then focussed coolly on individual aspects of the question, answering each in turn to showcase his position. He uses a relatively simple tactic in answering, namely to give highly structured and “signposted” answers – signposting meaning adding words and phrases to highlight the structure of the argument. It’s illuminating to listen to the way the candidates respond to the initial question by Jeremy Epstein, the college student who asks for reassurance that he will find a job after his studies.

Romney refers back to the last four years and says “I know what it takes to get this economy going”, repeating “I know what it takes” again and again as he starts new phrases. This is an example of hollow, unfounded repetition, which is completely ineffective as a political rhetorical device.

Obama by contrast accentuates the details: i.e. creating not just new, but good jobs, those that support the family, detailing the areas that need special attention. He signposts each one explicitly (“number one”, “number two”…), which makes him seem completely in control, and able to make transparent what he is doing and thinking.

In many questions, Romney evades the question and tells general stories that accentuate the difficulties that people are currently in, and uses the general argument “I know what it takes to make the economy work.” By contrast, Obama focuses on a key area of the question and picks up on related specific policy decisions, and then explains the effects these have on the citizens’ lives in that area, creating emotional and intellectual involvement that puts Romney at a disadvantage. These micro-policy-presentations must surely be extensively rehearsed, and Obama can retrieve them from memory at will, when he needs them.

In the debate setup, when one speaker has gone, he does not get a chance to respond to the response. In Romney’s case, this in several cases causes him to lose his cool, to the point where, after he has been “beaten” by Obama in an exchange, he can’t move on directly to answer the next question. Back-paddling at the beginning of the following question, and saying that the opponent’s statements are false, is ineffective in a debate, where each point is a separate entity and must stand on its own – unlike in a less structured discussion. The second speaker on each point has the advantage of being able to pick out the weaknesses of the first. This is something a good listener can do far better than someone who simply repeats his beliefs or states unrelated “facts”. In a debate, both candidates have to think on their feet, but the second respondent has to think more deeply and in greater complexity.

This debate was much more aggressive, and emotions flared, despite the town hall setting, where candidates often avoid divisive, head to head debate. After all, citizens want to look up to their presidential candidates. Overall, after the first debate went to Romney, Obama supporters really wanted their candidate to get into the ring and show Romney who’s President. And he did.

Who will win this election? The polls say it’s very, very close, but I’m betting on the incumbent, and I hope his supporters all go out and vote. My ballot goes out today.

Democratic Conventions

I found Michelle Obama’s speech very interesting to watch. She’s an icon to professional women, and a fine speaker, obviously, and so beautiful. Her messages are reassuring, reasserting values and good, decent, community-building citizenship, telling stories to remind everyone how what Obama has achieved is based on his “down-home-and-real” deep-seated beliefs. All good.

But seeing her performance (and it is classic prime-time TV) brings home what it means to have to “do rhetoric” to be elected, because it includes applying a thick veneer of perfect public protective polish on top of stories engineered and strung together to pull heartstrings. That will in fact make you go ah! or ugh!, depending on whether you are actually ready to have your heartstrings pulled and to surf in on party patriotism, or not. Me, I sit here dourly scratching my head and think: Do they really have to pile all that on? Do they really have to play the “conventional” card?

Maybe, yes.
But then again, maybe no.

After all, there’s Bill Clinton. Unconventional, passionate, wild, real Bill. Rules of rhetoric? of course. Populist? always. Clichés? no. Going through Republican arguments point by point, and defusing them. And then zooming in to focus on Obama’s continued commitment to bipartisan politics (a key element in his politics from the start):

“He also tried to work with Congressional Republicans on Health Care, debt reduction, and jobs, but that didn’t work out so well. Probably because, as the Senate Republican leader, in a remarkable moment of candor, said two years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work, but to put President Obama out of work.
Senator, I hate to break it to you, but we’re going to keep President Obama on the job!”

And the best part is how he builds on his own work to say that we need cooperation:

Through my foundation, in America and around the world, I work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents who are focused on solving problems and seizing opportunities, not fighting each other.
When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics, but in the real world, cooperation works better.
What works in the real world, is cooperation!

Not only does Bill Clinton still love politics, he still makes politics fun, because he’s got real, muscular, scrappy values. Yeah! Whoop! Come on, damn the veneer, let’s get down and be political!

Text of Bill Clinton’s Address to the Democratic Convention, September 5, 2012, WSJ Washington Wire

Remember Reagan? Seriosity plus humor

He was called “The great communicator”. At the time I wasn’t willing to listen to any of his speeches, because he was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and I was out in the streets demonstrating against cruise missiles, Star Wars and all that. But I was just reading Vicki Hollett’s very interesting analysis of the current BP crisis yesterday and have been thinking about her idea that Americans are expected to demonstrate “seriosity“, a lack of which is seen as cynical and subversive. Vicki thinks that seriosity doesn’t play the same role in the UK. I don’t know much about the British take on this, but I do have insight into the American side, and I think the magical formula to demonstrating that you are 100% engaged and really care about an issue in the US must be seriosity plus humor. For me, Reagan telling Russian jokes in 1988, the year before the wall came down, epitomizes what Americans cherish in their public figures. Reagan’s timing was brilliant, he knew the exact moment and situation when humor would seal his commitment.

Right-wing hate moves into the mainstream

The violence against elected officials by hate groups in the USA this past week was a real shocker. Racism and homophobia are penetrating into the mainstream. “Rage on the Right” is certainly nothing new, it’s long been a part of the right-wing militia movement, the militant wing of the “patriot movement” who say they are protecting civil liberties against a government they see as an enemy (see Rage on the Right, 2003.) But a new study just published, Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism (summary here), shows that various streams are mingling.

Listen to this interview with the author of the new study, Mark Potok, on NPR. A survey on Republican political opinions shows that

  • 2/3 of Republicans think Obama is a socialist
  • 47% of Republicans believe the “birthers'” idea that Obama was not born in the US and is therefore not legally eligible for the Presidency
  • 38% say that Obama is doing some of the things Hitler did
  • 24% say he may be the Antichrist

Today, the face of the government is the face of a black man. That draws the anger, fear and frustration of the white racist militiant right. And coincidentally, the Democrats are losing support among white men. The next Republican presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, has the uncanny ability to play to exactly that crowd.

All the news of home just gives you the blues

WTF? “Senate Republicans succeeded early Thursday in forcing a change in a measure altering President Barack Obama’s newly enacted health care overhaul, meaning the bill will have to return to the House for final congressional approval.” How is that possible? It’s enacted. Something that is signed into law IS law. I just don’t get it. Deeply depressing. Joni, sing us a song of hope.

Joni Mitchell: California

Sitting in a park in Paris, France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in it’s ways here
Oh, but California
California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California, when I get home

I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue, the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you, California
Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock’n roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California, I’m coming home

CHORUS:

Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues

So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue
They said, “How long can you hang around?”
I said “a week, maybe two,
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California”
California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home

CHORUS:

Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as l am?
Will you take me as l am?
Will you?

song of the week :-) englisch lernen mit liedern

Swabian English

What’s with the politicians in Germany? Yesterday was the first day of Merkel’s new government, and it includes Guido Westerwelle, who can’t manage diplomacy even at a press conference, as foreign minister, and Wolfgang Schäuble, who forgot he had some of Schreiber’s slush money in his drawer and thinks torture is ok to extract information, as minister of finance.

At least Swabia is kicking its politicians out. Günther Oettinger, the former Swabian premier, a man who denied Hans Filbinger was a Nazi, has now been sent to Brussels, joining that other German premier the Germans wanted out of the country, Edmund Stoiber. You might enjoy this reminder of the Oettinger-Filbinger embarassment:

Now, I hear Oettinger is taking English lessons. Better late than never? What are his chances of actually reaching a level that will suffice for international diplomacy? My husband (who is Swabian) is skeptical. “Swabians can’t speak English,” he says. As an English teacher I tend towards professional optimism, and I know: where there’s a will, there’s a way! (It helps to know Swabians who speak great English.) But the problem is really more fundamental, as Hermann Scheer says, because like most Swabians, Oettinger doesn’t speak German, so interpreters won’t be able to translate what he says! (“Wie alle Schwaben kann er bekanntlich kein Deutsch und kein Dolmetscher kann ihn daher in andere Sprachen übersetzen.”)

JFK: We choose to go to the Moon

In the fall of 1962, when the USA was far behind the Soviet Union in its space program, JFK held his rivetting “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, proclaiming space to be the new frontier. I’d like to highlight two excerpts, with the minutes in the video indicated so you can read along as you watch.

See min. 4:35-6:20 and min. 8:40-9:17, text experpts below

4:35-6:20: “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space to the moon and to the planets beyond. And we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We avow that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we and this nation are first, and therefore we intend to be first.”

8:40-9:17: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon… (interrupted by applause) we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Trivia: Kennedy said that the year’s space budget stood at five billion four hundred million dollars, calling that “a staggering sum” (!) but saying that the American people were spending more than that on cigarettes and cigars (!!)

Full text

http://wechoosethemoon.org/