Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Wilson - Madrid Debate: Impressions from Inside the Auditorium

UNM CONTINUING ED. AUDITORIUM, UNIVERSITY NE--I managed to get a ticket and was inside the auditorium trying to get a little different perspective on this, the last best chance for Heather Wilson to turn the Madrid momentum around. An outstanding performance here might change the dynamics of the election--at least concerning the 9% of likely voters still undecided at this late date.

But the big question here has to be, "How could anybody still be undecided when the differences between the two candidates are so stark?" I think the answer is that they don't really like either one of them. And this debate did little to change that.

Madrid Scored Early, Needed a Closer
It seemed to me that Madrid tired towards the end of the hour. Her pauses were longer and sometimes awkward. Her answers didn't have that ring of certitude and confidence that she had earlier. She misspoke on the final question, leaving the impression that lobbyists paid for access to her. Wilson jumped on this rhetorical blunder and tried to turn it into something major. And I have to say it did give Heather Wilson a big final punch at the end.

Where Madrid scored her points was on a discussion of the issues. More and more of them were strong points for Madrid (Iraq, tax breaks for the rich, the national debt, social security, etc.). Wilson's strongest showing on a substantive issue was in a discussion of a possible base closing. She just seemed to have a better handle on it.

I thought it was interesting that GW Bush seemed to have left Wilson standing out there on her own in terms of defending "staying the course." His retreat on this point has left Wilson with little to say except, "Let's leave it to the commanders in the field" to decide when we should withdraw from Iraq. Madrid's response was devastating: "It is up to the President and Congress" to make those kind of decisions. Indeed it is.

Saddam's Drones of Weaponized Small Pox
Madrid attacked Wilson for backing Bush on going into Iraq with such flimsy evidence concerning WMD. Wilson countered with an amazing statement. She said what really tipped the scales for her was that George Tenet told her there was a 50-50 chance that Saddam had weaponized small pox sitting inside pilotless drone aircraft...and that Iraq was searching for a "route mapping system" to bomb the United States.

She introduced the subject saying that she was unable to tell anyone about this until now. Well, this is certainly the first time I've heard about it. In any case, it appeared to be a desperation move in a game where her accountablitiy is being questioned. As far as the drones are concerned, it seemed like she had literally pulled them out of thin air just for the debate. But in any case, it would not have "tipped the scales" for any kind of thinking person. This nation doesn't need a 4-year war to get rid of those kind of weapons.

The Creepiness Factor
Going beyond the personalities of the candidates, there is something that sticks out and bothers me. I'm not sure I can put my finger on it exactly, but it concerns Heather Wilson.

She seems to vacillate between almost automatic responses and extreme, barely controlled emotions at the oddest moments. She almost cried talking about the Air Force Academy. Yet, most of the time, her tone is somewhat stilted and impersonal, even when attacking Madrid. It is as if everything was rehearsed, but she would just get overcome with emotion on occasion.

Remember she actually did cry on the floor of the House of Representatives concerning Janet Jackson's exposed breast. Also, in many of her TV commercials her voice really does quaver with emotion in an unexpected way. Odd.

What Do I Call Patricia Madrid?
Wilson is still experimenting with how to talk about her opponent. In the first debate she constantly referred to her as "Patsy." Now she mostly calls her "Mrs. Madrid." Once she said Attorney General Madrid. She could have just said, "Patricia Madrid." Madrid refers to Wilson as "Heather Wilson." I wonder where the "Mrs. Madrid" came from. Someone must have thought it was the equivalent of "Mr. Madrid." It is not. But like many things, language eccentricities sometimes call more attention to the speaker's intentions that they might wish.

I thought this issue was one where Wilson could have scored big time and helped to woo back some of her lost support with the hispanic population. She didn't. Instead it was Madrid who took Congress to task for spending a good part of the summer debating the issue and then only coming up with an unfunded 700 mile fence along a 2000 mile border.

The real problem here is what to do with all the Mexicans living here illegally. You can't just say, "No amnesty." That won't solve the problem. They aren't going back. I was suprised when that was all Wilson had to offer. Madrid's position isn't much clearer...but at least she knew that we have a problem that is more complicated than that and offered a way to citizenship for those Mexicans living here.

Something has to be done. And this is not a time when slogans are helpful. We are talking about real families, and some members may be citizens and other members not. And new generations give this issue even more complexity. Why can't the Republicans and Democrats compromise on this? It is not liberal or conservative. It is just the Real World.

How Important Is This Debate?
I bet a lot of people were watching the World Series. Or at least flipping between channels trying to catch some action. MaryAnn said that the debate just gave you reasons to NOT vote for someone. And it is certainly true that the debate was just about as negative as the ads on TV. Also, it didn't define each candidate's issues in any new way: Wilson is still attacking Madrid's character...Madrid is still attacking Wilson's actions in support of the President.

So, although I would have to say the Wilson did indeed finish the night strong, her victory was on more of a "debater's error" rather than anything substantive. And in the final analysis, I think it will be those substantive issues that decide this contest.


Maggie said...

Good analysis... I agree with you, especially on the beginning v. ending and Wilson's weird mood shifts. Wilson's "Janet Jackson" voice really spooks me, especially coupled with that "Air Force Academy" smile. Eek. Based on the issues, Madrid was clearly on top, and I'm shocked that even the Journal article this morning conveys that.

Anonymous said...

I agree! And I had forgotten about the weeping over the nipple. But I think both candidates were not thrilling, not substantive, and not personable. That said, I think Patricia Madrid did well by merely standing up to the Republican wall of sound.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, most of this is true, but one has to wonder, if Madrid can't keep her composure together and her answers get sloppy after 40 to 50 minutes of debate, which she practiced for for a few days, how can we expect her to represent New Mexico with any sort of confidence or composure in Washington? Heaven forbid they ever have a long day on the floor and she is expected to speak.