Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Few Words In Defense Of Michelle Bachmann's Whine

I don't pay attention to the Republican primary candidates' debates out of a sound sense of personal preservation. It seems, however, the latest dust-up might - despite my preferred attitude of bemused neglect - have some merit. Michelle Bachmann is complaining that last night's debate in South Carolina was weighted against her.
Michele Bachmann told reporters in the spin room after Saturday night’s presidential debate here that her campaign has proof that, in the words of a Bachmann spokesperson, debate sponsor CBS News had “a pre-planned attempt to limit” the number of questions Bachmann was asked on stage.

Bachmann has an email from CBS News Political Director John Dickerson she says backs up her claims, but before the controversy could cook off, one debate co-sponsor — the South Carolina GOP — said Bachmann was barking up the wrong tree.

“The SCGOP had no input on how questions were developed or to whom they were addressed,” party Executive Director Matt Moore told TPM. “Congresswoman Bachmann seemed to receive a fair number [of] questions, and had ample opportunities to answer.”

That’s not how Bachmann saw it.

“Clearly, we received an email today, unintentionally, that CBS had an effort not to ask questions,” she said. “That was their effort, I don’t know why.”

“The email was targeted to me,” Bachmann said. “I don’t know if it was targeted to anyone else.”
TPM, which is covering this latest bit of news, offers the following less-than-sterling defense of the decision by CBS to ask Rep. Bachmann fewer questions than other candidates:
CBS’s just hired political director, John Dickerson, wrote an email — apparently to CBS colleagues — noting that Bachmann probably wouldn’t get many questions tonight since she’s basically tanked in the polls. That’s not terribly surprising — also-ran candidates typically get less mic time in a multi-candidate debate.


For some context, the TPM Poll Average puts Bachmann currently at 3.2% support nationwide among Republicans. So she’s creeping up on Gary Johnson territory. And well into Santorum-ville.
I have been immune for quite a while to the nonsensical "liberal media!!!" screeching from the right. This case, one would think, is evidence of the real problem with so much of our national political media. It isn't liberalism, or excessive Democratic partisanship.

It's hubris. Stupid hubris.

"Polls" at this point in time - before a single vote has been cast - are meaningless. Considering current "polls" have Herman Cain in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney, one would think cooler heads would merely chuckle at them then insist on going about the business of constructing these debates with some sense. The constant tea-reading - it's Perry! no, it's Cain! Gingrich is up! Bachmann is down! - is meaningless drivel. Even Romney's pretty consistent high numbers are meaningless because there haven't been any primaries or caucuses yet. The playing field is level for one simple reason - the current crop of Republican primary candidates haven't had anyone vote for them yet.

So, basing the number of questions any particular candidate will face at any given time based on polls is ludicrous. A good answer here, a bad answer there, a misstep on this one, a clear, concise, knowledgeable response on that one - this, too could change the polls. Most sentient people understand this. None, apparently, work for CBS.

Putting in writing that the debate format is limiting opportunities for some candidates is monumentally stupid. It may well be the case that Michelle Bachmann deserves less attention than some other candidates. We have no way of knowing that unless we as the voting public are exposed to her ideas on specific topics. We can't be exposed to them if she has fewer questions addressed to her, and is allowed a shorter response time than other candidates.

There was a time when these debates were run by the League of Women Voters. Back in those halcyon days, the League made it a policy to just let candidates in, to have a moderator ask questions, then sit back and let them talk. Complaints over the way the League did things were perennial, especially when they had the temerity to refuse to block debate access to non-party and Third Party candidates. It would be preferable to have such institution do these things without any input from any of the candidates or news organizations. The candidates want to debate? Here's the format. Folks who show up will be asked whatever questions we want. Folks who don't show up, well, doesn't that tell us something about them?

I would be more sympathetic to Ms. Bachmann if she, and so many conservatives, hadn't spent decades whining about the liberal media. I would be more sympathetic if this whole incident didn't start before the debate was even over last night. Running as the perpetual victim of Big Blue Meanies who lie in wait ready to pounce is unbecoming, to say the least. Yet, she does have a point. No matter her standing the "polls", she deserved the right to have as many questions asked of her as other candidates did. It isn't "fair" to deny her time just because her poll numbers are low. Even if Josh Marshall thinks it is, or CBS, or anyone else.

Besides, according to the same site that thinks she got about as much attention as she deserved, she did manage a marvelous whopper.
“If you look at China, they don’t have food stamps,” she told the GOP debate moderators. “They save for their retirement.”
I mean, come on. Why deny us the opportunity for more of this preciousness?

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