About Lincoln’s Body Language…. Tuesday, Oct 23 2012 

Wolf Blitzer here with CNN’s elite panel of political experts to dissect what we’ve just seen in the first of seven planned debates between Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, and his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas.

First we go to our senior analyst David Gergen who, having worked for both candidates at one time or another, is guaranteed to be—

GERGEN: Objective, which allows me to say in all fatuity that while both candidates get high grades for making their case, I think Douglas did a better job connecting with the back rows because of his—

BLITZER: Projection?

GERGEN: Exactly. I don’t know how many times I’ve told Abe he has to do something about that tinny voice—

GLORIA BORGER: I couldn’t agree more, David, but I think Lincoln’s inability to speak from the diaphragm is the least of his worries. I got the distinct impression he felt he was above it all, didn’t even want to be there.

PAUL BEGALA: Yeah, right, I mean pulling out his pocket watch in the middle of Douglas’ peroration was bad enough, but that habit of looking down at his opponent, it’s a definite no-no.

MARY MATALIN: Hey, he’s a foot taller, what do you expect? Though I have to admit, Lincoln’s body language wasn’t all his base could have hoped for. Not to mention that fuzzy reference to a house—how did he put it?

ARI FLEISCHER: A house divided against itself cannot stand. I think that’s what he said. For a moment I thought he was going to get into the housing crisis but—

CANDY CROWLEY: May I say something here? I thought the same thing, that he’d get in a personal touch about growing up in a log cabin with his mom Nancy Hanks, then splitting rails—

JOHN KING: A missed opportunity there, no doubt about it. Our focus group by a 3-to-1 margin gave Douglas the edge in likeability and having a personal narrative more like their own.

BLITZER: Fascinating stuff, John. Next, our CNN poll telling us who won, Lincoln or Douglas, after this brief station break . . .


Sound bite to remember 

“You will find out that you cannot do without politicians. They are a necessary evil. But the thing for the school people to do is that if the politicians are going to steal, make sure they steal for the schools.”

–Huey Long to the faculty of LSU, April 12, 1935

Biden in 2016? It’s All in the Game Wednesday, Oct 26 2011 

I can’t pinpoint precisely when Presidential politics turned into a game, but I can tell you who owns the casino.

Flashback: Halfway through the Nixon v. McGovern campaign of 1972 — ancient history, but bear with me — Vice President Spiro Agnew arrived in Los Angeles prepared to answer reporters’ questions about the Vietnam war, Nixon’s new economic policy, and a host of other major issues (including the Watergate break-in five months earlier). Instead, the first question asked by a local TV reporter was whether the Vice President was planning to run for president in 1976.

As Agnew’s press secretary at the time I’d long since learned to expect the unexpected when the man was provoked by what he regarded as nattering nabobs. What followed was true to form: A glare, a clearing of the throat, then: “In ten years of holding press conferences on a local, state and national level,” said the Vice President, “that is absolutely the stupidest question I’ve ever been asked.”

All of which came to mind last week when I tuned in to hear CNN’s Candy Crowley ask Vice President Joe Biden the same stupid question: Was Biden, in his campaign travel this year, laying the groundwork for a presidential bid in 2016?

For Crowley, of course, the question was anything but stupid. It was smart television, what she’s paid to do. That whatever answer Biden gave – it was predictably vapid – would shed no light on the issues and substance of the current campaign made no difference. As a political correspondent for a cable news network, her job is to give the dull grind of a presidential campaign the casino touch.

It’s all about the game – the ratings game – and second only to controversy, there’s nothing like speculation to entertain an audience, raise the numbers that keep sponsors happy. What value would those vacuous candidate “debates” be without a covey of instant analysts and partisan touts coming on to tell us who won, who lost, who held the hot hand, who crapped out.

In their book The Permanent Campaign and Its Future, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein deplore the impact that pollsters and spin doctors have had on our political system, blurring the line between running for and holding office. All to the good, as far as the boys (and girls) on the Permanent Campaign Bus are concerned.

Joe Biden running in 2016? Why should this question come up now? The answer is that having exhausted the list of prospects for the 2012 race, there was nowhere else to go. Remember Trump, Daniels, Barbour, Palin, Christie?

The last named, you’ll recall, became so tired of telling reporters he wasn’t going to run that he famously asked, “What do I have to do to convince you? Commit suicide?”

And if a non-candidate did in fact kill himself to end speculation about his running, what then? No problem. I can hear Chris Matthews now: “Good campaign move.”

Sound Bite to Remember (1972)

“He’s a Democrat. What would you expect him to say, ‘Kiss my elephant’?”

— Campaign manager Frank Mankiewicz explaining why his candidate George McGovern told an obnoxious heckler to ‘kiss my ass’

Who Is/Was Robert Gibbs? Tuesday, Feb 22 2011 

It’s hardly news that over the past half-century the city of Washington, once described by John F. Kennedy as a community “with Northern charm and Southern efficiency,” has been transformed — some would say transmogrified — into Hollywood East.

George Clooney sightings on Capitol Hill, Tom Cruise eating peanuts in the owner’s box at Redskin games — but that’s only the half of it. What’s really changed, thanks to the impact of television and cable news, is the ga-ga elevation of mere political functionaries into five-star celebrities.

Reverse reel, back to the future: It’s February, 2009, a mere month after the inauguration of the forty-fourth president, Barack Obama. Most Americans know who his Vice President is —Joe Biden.  An even greater number know who his Secretary of State is — Hillary Clinton.  A large number can even identify the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. But who, tell me, is this fellow Robert Gibbs? If one out of a hundred Americans could identify him two years ago, I’d have been surprised. (more…)

CNN discrimination Tuesday, Oct 5 2010 

As a Southerner inured to Eastern media ridicule whenever one of our   politicians embarrasses himself and his state, I confess to a certain degree of satisfaction when reading about New York’s inability to find a governor or gubernatorial candidate who isn’t a socks-wearing adulterer, a crony-favoring incompetent, or an e-mailing idiot. That said, why is it our Southern scumbags are discriminated against by the cable networks? Now that Eliot Spitzer has been redeemed, when, I want to know, is CNN going to offer David Vitter a prime-time spot as a news anchor?

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