O’Malley Invited To Sunday Debate

It really shouldn’t have been a question, and it took far too long to resolve, but former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has been invited by NBC to participate in the Sunday night debate in Charleston.

NBC News invited all three Democratic presidential candidates to debate Sunday night in Charleston, S.C., including Martin O’Malley.

There had been some doubt whether O’Malley would be included under polling criteria announced by NBC last week, but the network included the former Maryland governor, along with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, when it made its formal announcement Thursday.

There’s only THREE of them. This shouldn’t have been hard. I understand it when there were 17 GOP candidates in the clown car, and even now, six is a lot. Up to a point, more is better – bring in different ideas, voices, opinions. I’m glad O’Malley’s going to be there. 

Another Take On The CD8 Debate

Dana Beyer was also at the CD8 debate Tuesdwy night, and wrote up her thoughts for her weekly Huffington Post column. This was previously published here, and is reprinted in full with Dana’s permission.

Dana is right that where there is little to separate the candidates on their basic qualifications for the office they seek, other factors become relevant, such as identity politics. Also tossed around loosely are words like “experience,” which often means different things to different people. There is pure legislative experience, there is experience dealing with the issues in other contexts, there is experience at accomplishing policy goals, be they in a legislature or otherwise, there is “real world experience,” which can be a valuable or risky appeal, depending on how it is framed. But there is no question that the candidates Tuesday were appealing to voters with a pretty straightforward “vote for me because of who I am” which encompasses both identity and experience, as well as the mindset that each candidate brings to policy making. 

Anna Karenina’s Pernicious Influence on Democratic Congressional Debates

Uncontroversial congressional debates are all alike; every controversial debate is valuable in its own way.

This paraphrase of Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening line in the novel, Anna Karenina, mirrors a basic law of politics, whose statistical analogue is called the Anna Karenina Principle: there are any number of ways in which a dataset may violate the null hypothesis and only one in which all the assumptions are satisfied) The legislative counterpart: there are many ways to kill a bill, but only one way to pass one. Last night’s Maryland Congressional District 8 Democratic primary debate (video) at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad exemplified that principle – given a certain class of acceptable questions, there are many ways a candidate can damage himself but really only one way to survive; i.e., by returning time and again to platitudes.

I want to make it clear that knowing almost all the candidates, I believe, as many of my colleagues and neighbors do, that we would be well-served by almost any one of the seven who appeared. Some may need more seasoning, or time in serving the community, but we’re fortunate to have a quality class of candidates.

I do not blame the candidates for resorting to cliché. Having been a candidate myself a few times, I know that candidates don’t get to write the rules (at least not on the congressional level) and do their best to hew to their talking points. We, the community of voters, usually make it too easy for them to do that, and I believe it’s ultimately a disservice to us as well as to them. At last night’s debate a number of candidates, in their allotted one minute response time (can anyone really say anything of significance, other than “yes” or “no,” in one minute?), publicly recognized that they were all in agreement. Given that the Democratic community in Montgomery County has seemingly agreed to the core creed of today’s candidates, what’s left to talk about?

As we learned last night, all that’s left is identity politics. Knowing that in advance, the candidates were very effective in making their case, with much more humor than the previous debate on the environment when teeth were bared and challenges to dignity and honor proclaimed.

Amongst the candidates were Kumar Barve, whose family came from India and whose grandfather, Shankar Laxman Gokhale, had a significant role in the creation of television (yes, millennials, there was a time less than a century ago when television didn’t exist. I know it’s hard to believe with today’s OLED multimedia interfaces, but you can thank the Barve family for that). Kumar joked fluently about being a “liberal accountant” whose family has known discrimination, legal and otherwise, and he returned time and again to the acute issue of immigration reform. Will Jawando undergird his comments with his experience as a biracial African-American, and Ana Sol Gutierrez spoke eloquently of her work as the first Latina elected official in Maryland. This left the white candidates – Jamie Raskin, Kathleen Matthews, Joel Rubin and David Anderson – to voice their support for immigration reform by reminding the crowd that we, like them, were once immigrants, too. They also struggled to differentiate themselves in their commitment to women and minorities, with Joel Rubin pointing out he’s the only male in his household, Jamie Raskin reminding folks he sponsored Maryland’s Lily Ledbetter Act, David Anderson talking about the women in his family and Kathleen Matthews, with obviously an easier job compared to the men, describing her long experience as a working mother.

Neither immigration reform nor diversity, however, is a salient issue in helping the Democratic voter distinguish amongst the crowd. One candidate, David Anderson, both opened and closed his remarks by attacking the two putative frontrunners – Kathleen Matthews and Jamie Raskin – claiming that he is the only center-left progressive in the bunch and implying, by contrast, that one is a Trotskyite and the other a Stalinist. Other than Anderson’s combativeness, which actually generated boo’s from the audience, there was a sense of deep camaraderie throughout.

Similar concurrences developed with questions on the budget, “entitlements,” campaign finance and the environment. Nary a difference amongst them, unlike the frisson generated when independent candidate Liz Matory crashed the Progressive Neighbors/Sierra Club debate on September 30th. She asked uncomfortable questions, and the structure of the debate, where candidates could question one another, forced the candidates to think on their feet.

Admittedly, the winner of this seat will not get the “3 am phone call” with the fate of America on the line, but given the near-total dysfunction of Congress it would be nice to know that our representative could think quickly on her feet, with creativity and persuasiveness that was only occasionally on stage at this forum. There are other ways to structure future events – reporters asking questions and follow-ups, more candidates questioning one another, or even a series of Rachel Maddow-style, one-on-one discussions with questioners known for their tenacity in asking tough questions.

The missing element in the debate was discussed by The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus in her column today (“Bernie Sanders highlights a critical division within the Democratic Party”). Ms. Marcus, reaching back to English lit with Jane Austen rather than Russian lit, talks about the “subtle and more interesting” contest between the governing ideologies of Clinton and Sanders. I don’t think the differences are subtle; I believe the issue of capital in the twenty first century, with the increasing wage and wealth disparities, threatens to tear this country apart in far more significant ways than Daesh (ISIS). And yet those issues rarely came up.

If any community can handle such subtle and not-so-subtle debates, it’s ours. We need to obviate the need for one candidate to beg another to be attacked just so he can get another thirty seconds to speak. Let’s let them really go at it and not only help us make a choice, but set a standard for other congressional districts as well.

Pictures And Words 

So in addition to my brilliant analysis of the debate last night, Bill Turque of the Post and Lou Peck of Bethesda Magazine also have some thoughts as well. And Kevin Gillogly has a great set of photos from the event posted here.
Both reporters stressed the generally agreeable tone of the debate and the lack of sparks between the candidates. Turque:

On the issues, the only major differences between six of the seven Democratic primary candidates at Tuesday evening’s 8th Congressional District forum were in degree, not kind.

Dels. Kumar P. Barve and Ana Sol-Gutierrez, state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, former news anchor Kathleen Matthews, former White House aide Will Jawando and ex-State Department official Joel Rubin all supported an aggressive response to the attacks in Paris, but only in concert with allies. They deplored Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s request that the federal government bar the settlement of Syrian refugees in the state, and they called for a humane path to citizenship for all immigrants now on U.S. soil.

There was agreement on the need for campaign finance reform and for putting an end to the unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions allowed under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Not a shaft of daylight appeared among the candidates on paid parental leave, pay equity and protection of Social Security benefits — core issues for a primary electorate that is dominated by women ages 50 to 70.

Peck made the same point while focusing on the relative absence of conflict.

In a debate filled with appeals to female primary voters but which produced little in the way of verbal fireworks, the seven candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District faced off Tuesday night at a crowded event sponsored by the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County.

In comparison to the sniping that dominated much of the Democratic candidates’ first forum six weeks ago, the third debate of the campaign—held in the meeting room of the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad—was a largely civil affair. The only candidate-on-candidate criticisms of the evening came from David Anderson of Potomac, a former university professor, who repeatedly attacked two leading contenders, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase and state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, as representing “an establishment orthodoxy” with regard to national family policy.

The fact is that there are certain unwritten rules to be obeyed in Montgomery County politics. First, obey what David Anderson called the “progressive orthodoxy” of the county. Yes, there are moderates and even some conservative Democrats in the primary electorate, but the zeitgeist is decidedly more left than that. In the end, however, and paradoxically, it is likely to be moderate and (relatively) conservative voters who end up deciding this election if it is even remotely close. But wandering publicly off the progressive reservation is likely a suicide mission, because progressive voters are the most engaged and also the most vocal of all voters. As David Anderson found out last night.

Second, while a certain amount of “attack dog” politics is OK, it is not to be done by candidates and it is not to be done in public. There’s a long tradition in Montgomery County of the Watergate-inspired term “ratfucking,” which generally means any political dirty tricks or sabotage. It is done, but always quietly and out of the spotlight. No fingerprints. Direct assaults by candidates on other candidates bring down criticism on the ratfcker (as Charles Pierce so daintily uses the term), not the ratfckee.

So if you’re looking for fireworks of that sort, my guess is that you’re going to be disappointed. To the extent I become aware of such ratfuckery, which I would say is likely at some point, I will share it with the class as seems appropriate. Sometimes giving it more attention only encourages the practice. But we’ll see what happens.

EXCLUSIVE: CD8 Debate Videos

Rescued from the foul demons of Periscope oblivion. Bwahahahahaha.

There’s four videos, primarily because I got two phone calls early on, causing me to miss a few seconds of Kathleen Matthews’ opening statement, and then later I missed the beginning of Joel Rubin’s answer to one of the last questions. My apologies. But all the rest is there. The first video is about three minutes, the second runs for about 18, the third for an hour and five minutes, and the fourth is for 26 minutes. Total of about 1:55. Have fun.

Tonight’s Debate

I think there might have been 400 people in the room for what turned into an entertaining, funny, rollicking exchange of ideas. I’ll have to video posted later on (I got all but about 2 minutes, as someone had the temerity to call me during the event – of all the nerve!), but overall, not a lot to criticize, but here’s some thoughts.

Kumar Barve had a great night. He injected a lot of humor into his presentation, which really went over very well with the crowd. We knew he was serious and substantive, now we know he’s got some Borscht Belt in him.

Joel Rubin impressed me very much, and not just because I sat next to his wife for the entire debate. He started out a little nervous and tentative, understandable as this was his first public forum. But the more he spoke, the more comfortable he got and the better his answers became. He got a solid amount of applause lines throughout the night.

Kathleen Matthews has clearly adapted from being a good public speaker to being a first rate candidate. It’s not as easy a transition as it might seem; I’d been standing up in front of judges and juries for 20 years before I ran for office, but speaking like a good candidate was one of the hardest things I’d ever tried. By the end of my campaign I was much better than when I started. Matthews made the jump a lot faster than I did. She was smooth and effective again tonight.

Jamie Raskin also had a very good night. He was sharp and focused, and like Barve, deployed his humor to great positive effect. In particular, Raskin did an excellent job of stressing his experience and legislative accomplishments. Nobody can match his oratorical skills, but his strengths as a candidate have sometimes gotten lost in the weeds of his rhetoric. Not tonight. A very effective presentation.

David Anderson took the most confrontational approach to tonight’s debate, calling out Raskin and Matthews – sometimes by name – for what he sees as slavish devotion to party orthodoxy. I give him a great deal of credit for bravery, because the crowd was on more than one occasion uncomfortable with his stated desire to work cooperatively with Republicans on shared goals, and he was booed on more than one occasion. While I don’t agree with Anderson’s views, I find his challenge to progressive orthodoxy refreshing. When all the candidates agree on a point, the conversation can quickly become stale. David Anderson is determined not to let that happen, and he deserves credit for that, not booing. My one piece of advice is to work on the tone of his criticism, which too often comes across as harsh and might well have contributed to some of the negative reactions.

Ana Sol Gutierrez was also solid. She made her points more crisply and effectively than I’d seen her do before, and like Barve, she injected some lightheartedness info her delivery, which worked very well for her. She’s an appealing and likeable personality, and she did a good job of showing that tonight.

Will Jawando had the toughest seat in the room tonight. As you’ll see on the video, he was in the first seat next to the moderator, and on virtually every question he had to walk down to the other end of the table, retrieve the mike from Kathleen Matthews, snake it back through the middle five candidates, and only then begin his answer. But he handled all that coolly and with grace, and delivered his message cogently and effectively.

Finally, kudos to Linda Kolko of the Women’s Democratic Club, who organized a great event with around 400 people in attendance, and kept her cool when the sound system stopped working right from the start. And also to former Gazette reporter Kate Alexander for effectively moderating the debate. It was a really fun night full of lively and interesting conversation.

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

I only yesterday got a chance to read Bill Turque’s account of the Silver Spring Hootenanny Wednesday night. Some phrasings fairly leaped off the virtual pages of the usually stolid Post.

“Greener than thou” Takoma Park?

Silver Spring is the “crunchy heart of the 8th”? (I love Silver Spring, I’ve lived here 25 years now, but we can’t hold a crunch to Takoma Park).

There are a few others, but you get the idea. Bill Turque was getting his snark on this week, as much as anyone can who has an editor. Just remember, big guy: I don’t have one. Bwahahaha.

I’ve said that I want to be Lou Peck when I grow up. My Jimmy Olsen persona attests to that. But I never would have guessed that Bill Turque wants to be Maryland Scramble. I am well and truly flattered.