Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jersey Boys' Drew Gehling and My Mom @ REAF Benefit in S.F.

Tickets at

Huff Post Live Bloggers: Iowa Democratic Debate Boring

The Huffington Post hs three people on site in Iowa to blog about the debate. I participated in this as an AOL Instant Messenger user for the CNN / YouTube Debates, but not this time. It's Sunday morning and too early for one who needs his rest: me. Plus, I'm on the West Coast, where this program's going to be pre-recorded so I can see for myself when I'm awake. If I get up.

There's a pattern emerging with these debates. Barack Obama's being painted as the different candidate as much by his challengers as himself. Hillary Clinton's pressing the obvious fact she's a woman. John Edwards makes long statements of feeling, but always misses the soundbites. And the rest are, well, the rest.

I don't think the debates themselves are boring, just the way ABC does it. Remember their fake experience at videoblogging? Well, they entirely ran away from it this time, thanks to me and Newbievids. But hey, they could have improved on the video format, but that's for another blog post.

Heres' the Huffington Post Live Blog text...

Welcome to yet another installment of HuffPost's Debate Liveblog Series ™ — where we watch the debates and critique the candidates in real time. Today we're joined by nonverbal communication specialist John Neffinger, Political Brain author and language expert Drew Westen, and HuffPost/Eat The Press contributor Glynnis MacNicol (with occasional piping up by me — your moderator, ETP editor Rachel Sklar). We are instant-messaging our comments to each other in real time, except for Drew, who will add in his comments later this morning when the debate is broadcast at his local affiliate (learn to stream, ABC!). It will be a fluid and chatty session — refreshed consistently over the morning. So keep checking in — in the meantime, here are some introductory thoughts by our panel!

John: So, here we are again. Another few days, another debate.
Rachel: I know! Did you hear that Obama said he's going to stop the insanity and pull out of the debates?
John: I did -- official, mandatory debates only from here on out.
Rachel: Apparently it's in a memo by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. (Hee hee, "Plouffe.")
Glynnis: Yes - which will either give everyone else the opportunity to do the same...or give Hillary the opportunity to have way more face time
John: Looking back over the debates so far, was this format necessarily favorable to Hillary for some reason, or did it just work out that way?
Rachel: Interesting. Well, it's certainly been favorable to her visually - the eye picks her out of the lineup instantly. That was driven home watching the GOP debate
John: She is the only candidate who can get away with wearing pink. Er, coral.
Drew: We're certainly getting a good picture of how he is or isn't being coached for the debates. It looks too much like it's from Shrum handbook and not enough from Obama's natural style.
John: That's right, very cerebral. Only in the most recent AFL-CIO debate did Obama regularly display any facial expression whatsoever.
Glynnis: I think it has to be said only a small slice of the population is getting a fuller picture of things from these debates...I can't imagine a lot of people are tuning in at 9am on a Sunday in August. Which is why soundbites are smart i.e. "I'm your girl!"
Rachel: Ha, good point. Yet bizarrely ABC claimed that they had a great audience for this last week (even though it was still beaten by "Meet Russert's Giant Head").
Glynnis: On a side note - Karl Rove is doing all the morning shows except "This Week."
Rachel: Oh! That's so interesting! A subtle undermining of the Dems even in retirement.
Glynnis: I think everyone should take a lesson from Kucinich's Chicago performance -- had any of the top three candidates played to the crowd so well, I think it could have defined them better in the mainstream media, "I'm your girl!" notwithstanding.
John: You also mentioned earlier Glynn, given how few people are watching these debates closely, memorable moments (on the upside or downside) are what matter here.
Glynnis: I think that Edwards is going to be the one under the gun tomorrow...he has some 'splaining to do regarding Katrina and mortgage foreclosures.
Rachel: What???
Glynnis: Short version: he has investments with a company that is currently foreclosing on poor people's houses in New Orleans.
Rachel: Yikes. Talk your way outta THAT one, Mr. War On Poverty!
(see the rest of our pre-debate chatter here — the debate!)


Glynnis (9:05:37 AM): Welcome to the first Democratic debate ...from Iowa. George runs through the lineup by talking about Iowa poll support Biden and Kucinich are tied at 2%. Gravel has none.
Rachel (9:06:40 AM): Which gets a rather uncalled for laugh, I think. Shame on you, George.
Glynnis (9:05:55 AM): Stephanopoulous goes straight for the jugular. The big question is does Obama have enough experience? Hillary?
Glynnis (9:06:10 AM): She's wearing a taupe suit. Not showing up so well on the background of red white and blue.
Rachel (9:06:40 AM): I know - her first fashion misstep!
Rachel (9:06:47 AM): Where is the Vogue-sanctioned Huma when you need her?
Glynnis (9:07:19 AM): Biden dodges the question a bit.
Rachel (9:07:49 AM): "Is Senator Obama ready?" George leads with a challenge, to everyone.
John (9:08:00 AM): Hillary began her morning with a nice warm smile today. Is she our girl?
Rachel (9:08:17 AM): And Obama rises to it! Great joke: "To prepare for this session, I rode in the bumper car at the Iowa State Fair" - funny.
Glynnis (9:08:18 AM): Richardson dives in with taking it back to himself: "Clinton has experience, Obama has change. I have both." First laugh from the crowd.
John (9:08:58 AM): I was wondering whether this Pakistan disagreement would be left to lie. George Stephanopoulos goes right for it.

Note that George has set up a direct confrontation between Hillary and Obama here. The disagreement on the facts you can read about in the paper — what "wins" these confrontations in this setting is body language and tone. Hillary is not only firm, but slightly angry and disapproving when her integrity is challenged — her posture stiffens and her brow furrows and she raises her voice. She is not going to stand for attacks on her or her positions.

Obama, by contrast, attempts to take the high road. His response minimizes the disagreement rather than sharpening it as Hillary does, and while he stands firm, he projects serenity instead of toughness, looking disapproving only fleetingly. This shows a form of strength, and is a valid strategy if your toughness has already been established. But next to Hillary it is not clear that he is showing quite enough toughness, enough firmness. She makes clear with her body language when she objects to something. With Obama, you often have to listen closely to what he says to know where he objects.

Why is this so important? Remember the Swift Boaters. The specific facts of the Swift Boat accusations were not the issue. The issue was that when John Kerry's was challenged personally on his integrity, he would not stand up for himself. How then could Americans trust him to stand up for them? This is a dangerous world, and voters are looking for a leader who will stand up for all of us when our enemies challenge us.

Rachel (9:09:30 AM): Wow, that is an interesting way of looking at it. Obama is on the hook to show strength today, since he's the one taking all the heat right off the bat.
Glynnis (9:09:53 AM): Does this line of questioning strike anyone else as strange? Why is everything being viewed in the light of Obama?
John (9:10:36 AM): Very strange... but now George is going after Hillary's flip-flop on the nuclear option being on the table. George is stirring the pot here.
Glynnis (9:11:07 AM): The lighting at this debate is terrible on all the candidates. Everyone looks a bit orange.
Rachel (9:11:26 AM): Wow, it's an actual debate!
Rachel (9:11:30 AM): This is a nice change.
John (9:11:40 AM): Well done George.
Rachel (9:11:48 AM): I will add that the lineup has changed - Hillary is now stuck on the end
Rachel (9:11:55 AM): Good day to wear the bland beige suit.
Glynnis (9:11:55 AM): Hillary is off to the very right of the stage, at the podium usually reserved for Kucinich
Glynnis (9:12:22 AM): George is grinning. He knows he's stirring it up.
Glynnis (9:12:37 AM): Oh John Edwards!
John (9:13:56 AM): Edwards opens on a sunny note: "How about a little hope and optimism?" Unfortunately, we're talking about terrorism and national security, where a big sunny smile does not demonstrate the strength to handle this stuff.
Glynnis (9:14:11 AM): George is trying to turn this debate into a Obama Clinton showdown. Why aren't the other candidates reacting by pointing out they are all still in the game!
Glynnis (9:15:42 AM): Gravel is back! "I think they are all wrong" "Cheney should be committed"
John (9:16:04 AM): Oh brother. When you hear "Here's what I would do...." you know you're listening to Bill Richardson.
Glynnis (9:16:19 AM): Everyone sounds like they have a cold. Perhaps the lack of summer holiday is catching up with them.
Rachel (9:16:42 AM): There's a Bush/Iraqi parliament joke in here somewhere.
Glynnis (9:17:01 AM): George now brings it back to Karl Rove.

John (9:17:14 AM): Now George invites Obama to take a shot at Senator Clinton based on her soaring negatives in the polls. True to form, he is much too gentlemanly for that.
Glynnis (9:18:05 AM): They just did a crowd shot and there is a woman asleep in the audience.
Rachel (9:18:28 AM): I'm your guy!
John (9:18:30 AM): If they did a whole-stage shot, they might catch somebody napping up there too.
Rachel (9:18:32 AM): And nobody reacted!
Glynnis (9:18:40 AM): Obama has slipped into "hopeful" platitudes.
Rachel (9:18:41 AM): Obama is doing well today.
Glynnis (9:18:54 AM): George is trying to press him for details.
Rachel (9:18:58 AM): I'm not sure they're platitudes - and he's certainly not alone in THAT, anyway.
Rachel (9:19:09 AM): (Cf. Edwards, Richardson.)
John (9:19:28 AM): Yeah, Obama tried that at a moment when George was itching to cut him off. Wrong moment if he was trying to make that his soundbite.
Rachel (9:19:55 AM) has left the room.
Glynnis (9:19:58 AM): Edwards jumps in now : "America wants change in the most serious way"

[Technical difficulties courtesy of AIM - yay, Drew gets to fill this part in!]

Glynnis (9:29:09 AM): The questions have moved on to Iraq.
Glynnis (9:30:59 AM): Joe Biden is looking good. The fact that he isn't forcefully jumping in to the questions, however, seems to drive home that conclusion of the last debate that he is now vying for an alternate position.
Glynnis (9:33:03 AM): Hillary says getting out of Iraq is dangerous and people don't like to hear this. She says she doesn't want to oversell the evacuation.
Rachel (9:33:12 AM): She sounds strong and authoritative here. Dropping facts like a vandal.
Rachel (9:33:33 AM): (Um, not a good time for a Vanilla Ice lyric?)
Glynnis (9:33:34 AM): Gravel wants to make it clear that he disagrees with everyone!
Glynnis (9:34:24 AM): I like how Clinton and Obama are looking at him as though they are taking Gravel seriously.
John (9:34:39 AM): Yes, let's talk about the Turks. Hillary is going into the details just to show off that she can speak about them fluently.
Glynnis (9:35:22 AM): Edwards concedes that he understands that George is trying to create a fight up here. If George continues to be so aggressive I think that he is going to unite the candidates against him.
John (9:35:57 AM): Richardson now directly challenges Hillary, saying that Hillary has talked about leaving non-combat troops behind in Iraq without combat troops to protect them.
Glynnis (9:36:20 AM): Well, now Richardson is questioning Clinton and Obama. Richardson sounds good on pape, but is awkward visually.
Rachel (9:36:23 AM): We don't need no civil wa-a-ar!
Rachel (9:36:34 AM): (Um, not a good time for a Guns N' Roses lyric?)
Glynnis (9:37:43 AM): Biden may be so far down in the polls that it's safe for everyone to agree with him. The other candidates seem to be turning him into the wise old sage.
John (9:38:05 AM): He is awkward visually. When Richardson emphasizes his question: "What is the purpose of the residual force?" he holds out his hands and nods from his waist, and for a moment he looks like Bluto Blutarski.
Glynnis (9:38:14 AM): But George wants to bring it back to Obama and Clinton.

Glynnis (9:40:10 AM): Oooh. Obama starts out all friendly and then drops in the point that he wishes all the people on this stage had considered these points earlier!
Rachel (9:40:12 AM): "Nobody had more experience than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney" - brilliant point.
Rachel (9:40:22 AM): And man does he sound authoritative.
Rachel (9:40:31 AM): Something is different about Obama today. He has it.
Glynnis (9:41:02 AM): Obama just turned his lack of experience into a positive...just as Hillary turned her "negatives" into a positive.
Glynnis (9:41:49 AM): I agree. Obama seems to be at the end of his rope with the "lack of experience" comments.
John (9:41:51 AM): He is doing pretty well today. I wonder though if any of this rises to the level of a clip that anyone not awake right now will ever see.
Glynnis (9:42:50 AM): Kucinich says the Democrats on this stage have to take responsibility for this war. The camera cuts to Hillary and she nods.
Glynnis (9:43:21 AM): George isn't even pretending that the other candidates matter.
Rachel (9:43:52 AM): I'm just a caveman, I don't understand your world...
Glynnis (9:43:59 AM): Apropos of nothing. Hillary is really good on stage. So polished.

Rachel (9:44:48 AM): Oh, gosh. John Edwards, talking about the death of his son, and Elizabeth's cancer. Wow.
Rachel (9:45:03 AM): This is a sobering reminder of what this man has been through. What his family has been through.
John (9:45:39 AM): Hillary nodded very empathetically when she had the question re-read to her. That was her answer right there.
Glynnis (9:45:42 AM): And now she manages to turn a question about a personal God into an answer about her experience. "If I wasn't a praying person before I got to the White House I would have been after a few days."
Glynnis (9:48:32 AM): Obama is owning this question. He takes it out of the personal sphere and equates prayer with the ability to effect change.
Rachel (9:48:52 AM): Nice ice-breaker from Kucinich!
Glynnis (9:49:18 AM): Kucinich is funny! "I've spent the last twenty minutes praying you were going to call on me."
Glynnis (9:49:36 AM): He is also the only candidate to refer to specific Biblical passages.
Rachel (9:50:37 AM): I think Dodd is a wonderful speaker. And there's his trademark Kelly green tie! (He favors those.)
John (9:50:41 AM): Matthew 25, every liberal's favorite Bible verse, will not impress evangelicals.
Rachel (9:51:03 AM): I rather like Genesis 38:10, but that's just me.
Glynnis (9:51:22 AM): George isn't even pretending to be representative of the larger viewing public. He is showing his colors as a Washington insider here.
Glynnis (9:54:09 AM): Somebody needs to do something sharp soon! Or John is right, this Sunday morning August debate won't even make a wave in the MSM.
Glynnis (10:00:41 AM): This debate is not furthering a whole lot in my opinion except to strengthen Obama's decision not to participate in them anymore.
Rachel (10:01:04 AM): Yikes. This ain't no snowman!
Rachel (10:01:48 AM): I'm gonna say it: This is a boring debate.
John (10:02:21 AM): Joe Biden just brought down the house with one of his trademark "I'm a big-mouthed idiot" jokes.
Glynnis (10:02:51 AM): Yes, we love Joe Biden and his self-deprecation!
Rachel (10:01:04 AM): Well, you do, Biden girl!
John (10:04:37 AM): Obama has a good response here, highlighting his speech to Detroit automakers telling them we need to raise fuel efficiency. It was a good moment that has not gotten all the attention he had hoped.
Glynnis (10:04:52 AM): Edwards is far from owning this debate, but I think if he can hang in there until Feb/March I think he could be the alternate for those independents that Hillary supposedly alienates.
John (10:06:13 AM): That's interesting: despite his stumbles, Obama has been leading the race for the not-Hillary candidate. But at this point maybe there will be room for a not-Obama not-Hillary candidate as well.
Glynnis (10:07:09 AM): Richardson says he is not the "scripted candidate" alluding perhaps to his homosexuality is a choice remark at the LOGO forum.

John (10:08:04 AM): Richardson saying he is "averaging about one mistake a week" is endearing, but not a compelling case for supporting him.
Glynnis (10:08:40 AM): Especially not when he follows it up with talk about nukes and Iran.
Glynnis (10:09:58 AM): Despite all of George's antagonism, the candidates seem to be going out of their way to point out how they agree with eachother.
John (10:10:30 AM): Everyone except Hillary.
Rachel (10:10:52 AM): What? She kicked that off from the very beginning, talking about building herself up and not tearing others down, taking it back to being a united force agains the GOP. C'mon, give our girl a little more credit.
Glynnis (10:12:52 AM): Considering this debate is being held in Iowa (some of the most privileged voters out there) they are very tame! Perhaps everyone there really is in church.
John (10:13:48 AM): Richardson is strong on education here, with a nice ringing response that does not sound canned. But the camera catches him looking sad and out of sorts for several long seconds after George cuts him off.
Rachel (10:13:57 AM): As in the GOP debate, George let's them talk, so it's telling when he does actually cut someone off. Perhaps he was doing Richardson a favor, cf. Melissa Etheridge ("I don't think you understood my question..."). God, that just never gets old.

John (10:14:07 AM): Glynnis, you were wondering if Gravel was going off the cliff..?
Glynnis (10:14:25 AM): Gravel is speaking truth to power. We are 46th in literacy in the world he points out. And then somehow makes it about nukes...
Glynnis (10:14:38 AM): ...and then goes right off the cliff
John (10:14:46 AM): Even he was chuckling at how disjointed that was after George finally brought the curtain down.
Glynnis (10:16:21 AM): Biden says regarding education: "don't tell me what you believe in, show me your budget."
Glynnis (10:17:56 AM): Richardson excessively laughs at Gravel's response before responding himself. Badly timed, and makes Richardson look like the silly one.
John (10:19:20 AM): Gravel aside, all of these people have a coherent, strong story to tell on education. I wonder what any of them could actually get done on education as President.
John (10:19:26 AM): Would any one them make it a priority? Would they have any political capital or budget left after a bruising health care fight?
Rachel (10:19:34 AM): Obama looks prescient here - this debate seems like a tipping point of non-relevance. When's Karl Rove on?
John (10:19:56 AM): Good question.
Glynnis (10:20:04 AM): Can we watch Karl Rove after this?
John (10:20:18 AM): Okay, the final question - what decisive moment shaped your character?
Rachel (10:20:30 AM): I would like to see some of Obama as an angry young man here, frankly. He doesn't move the needle much on showing emotion.
Glynnis (10:21:02 AM): With his working class ties and his radical plans...
Rachel (10:21:59 AM): Nice! This is the song-droppingest liveblog ever.

Glynnis (10:22:47 AM): Guess what? John Edwards father worked in a mill...had you heard?
Rachel (10:22:49 AM): Aw. That was a nice story about Edwards' dad. Today he's connecting with me. I think a lot of Americans would connect with that notion, the notion of self-improvement and aiming high - it taps into the upward striving element of the American Dream.
Glynnis (10:23:19 AM): Hillary on feminism: She owns this answer.
Rachel (10:23:24 AM): HILLARY IS A SISTA!!!!
John (10:23:25 AM): Wow. How is it that these people speak in public for a living, and are asked for a compelling personal story from their lives, and can't come up with anything memorable?
Rachel (10:23:35 AM): (Note how she folds in people of color.)
Glynnis (10:23:48 AM): ...and she does by alluding to the women's movement. I really think she needs to play this angle a bit more.
Rachel (10:23:54 AM): I'm sorry, I was inspired by that last interchange. John, I think these are actually quite compelling personal stories. I'm with them.
Rachel (10:23:57 AM): Which is the point, right?
Glynnis (10:23:58 AM): And then she brings it back to her mother. Nice.
Glynnis (10:25:23 AM): She says thirty years ago she could never have imagined herself as president. And then refers to the women's movement/civil rights movement
Glynnis (10:25:49 AM):...and then takes it to a personal level by saying how much she owes her mother, who never got a change to go to college.
Rachel (10:26:07 AM): Like I said: Inspiring. Look at all these candidates, running for president - something their parents could never have dreamed of doing. That, right there, is the best of America. (Says the Candian. But still.)

Glynnis (10:26:35 AM): Okay! Impressions on the whole?
John (10:26:43 AM): Thanks for that. What I could see was that she said it with a warm smile, which we are now seeing more regularly from her.
John (10:28:53 AM): Yeah, she does. And she is now showing us real warm smiles occasionally too.
Glynnis (10:29:17 AM): However, I don't think that we learned anything new from this debate. If anything, this debate seemed like a bit of an ego exercise for George Steph..perhaps a metaphor for the media in general as far at these debates are concerned
Glynnis (10:31:16 AM): I think it's interesting though what wasn't mentioned. No 9/11 mention despite yesterday's fire at ground zero. No mention of Obama opting out of futher debates.
Glynnis (10:31:28 AM): ON TO ROVE!
John (10:31:42 AM): Should we liveblog him? We can follow him from channel to channel.
Rachel (10:31:52 AM): Neat timing — to pass off gracefully to NBC.
John (10:33:34 AM): The only thing I saw new here was Hillary being warmer. George started strong, trying to start arguments, but Hillary swatted away his challenges.
John (10:33:39 AM): And no one -- not George, not her rivals -- would hold her feet to the fire either on the substance of the Iran/nukes issue or on the separate issue of why she would accuse Obama of things she had done herself.
John (10:34:35 AM): There were some good substantive responses along the way, but nothing for the highlight reel.