Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ken Blackwell: Master Debator?

Dear Secretary Blackwell: I know Ronald Reagan, I've heard Ronald Reagan, and Mr. Secretary, you're no Ronald Reagan.

Well the first gubernatorial debate is over. Didn't you all watch it today at noon on the first day after a three-day holiday on the Youngstown-area only TV media outlet? Of course, you didn't. And even if you did, since the debate rules made initial responses only 60 seconds and rebuttals only 30-second responses, you didn't miss much even if you did bother to watch it. (Incidentally, if you do have an hour to kill, you can still watch the debate on WFMJ's website by clicking on the video link at the immediately left of the story.)

Since the primaries, the right-wing Blackwell base has been almost like a kid waiting for Christmas for these debates. Blackwell was supposed to be the smooth Communicator, next to not-ready-for prime time Strickland (as the Ohio GOP called him just before the debate.)

Am I saying Strickland KO'ed Blackwell? No. But Blackwell didn't KO Strickland, and given the state of the race, he needed a clear-cut victory in this debate. Strickland had to show basic competency (a very low burden); while Blackwell had to show that he wasn't the polarizing, extremist the "liberal media has falsely" portrayed him to be. Or at least, that's what I would have said his campaign needed to do.

Instead, in attempting to rebut Strickland's point that Blackwell is so extreme on abortion that he opposes abortion even in the event that the mother's life is in danger by the pregnancy, Blackwell made a false assertion that current medical technology makes such a situation impossible, and then concluded by asserting that abortionists promote abortion as a means to exterminate the African-American race. Seriously. (If you don't believe me, pull up the video and fast-forward to 55:09.)

And if the Blackwell campaign wanted to paint Ted Strickland as not having a grasp of the issues, Blackwell failed to demonstrate such mastery when asked the obviously predictable question of what he would do as Governor for the Mahoning River Valley. Congressman Strickland was able to talk about what has worked in the valley and how local, state, and federal partnerships have brought important economic development projects and developed entrepreneurialism in small business incubators. Blackwell only talked in broad, vague, terms about tax code and regulatory reforms without specifically demonstrating any grasp of the local challenges of the area.

Yes, Blackwell again and again called Ted Strickland a "tax and spender." He couldn't give an answer without using the term. But to a point, the attack loses its sting with repetition and stops sounding like a critique, and more like childish name-calling. Especially after Strickland promised that his Turnaround Ohio plan does not include tax increases and that he opposes raising Ohio's taxes. Yet, Strickland was able to deliver body blows to Blackwell by pointing out his flip-flops with concrete examples. Blackwell was asked point-blank about his recent reversal on "Right to Work" laws. He fumbled it poorly. Strickland used it to point out how Blackwell has reversed his position on his own campaign platform and how his TEL amendment proposal would have been a disaster for the local government to deal with the economic challenges in the region.

In the end, Blackwell seemed like the divisive extremist he's been portrayed. He repeated ridiculed Strickland as a "goes along, get along" leader, but then claimed he changed his position on Right to Work because the General Assembly would never support his position. His constant refrain reenforced Strickland's portrayal of himself as a consensus leader who will work with Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Blackwell appeared as a "my way or the highway" leader who can admit no mistakes, misteps, or judgments in error. He acted and sounded more like President George W. Bush than Ronald Reagan while Strickland looked more like the "uniter" W. always promised he'd be, but never was.

How do I know that the Republican base is not satisfied with the result of this debate, though? Well, after any debate of this importance, it's tradition that the Democratic Party and its candidate issues public statements declaring victory while even the Republican Party and its candidates do the same. Even after the disasterous first debate between Bush and Kerry, the Republicans tried to put their best foot forward.

And yet, at the time I write this post, it's been seven and half hours since the debate began. Strickland and the ODP's websites declare victory on the debate. But neither Blackwell nor the ORP's websites even mention that they've occurred. And all those conservative bloggers expecting Christmas? They're silent hoping nobody notices the calendar and that their stockings, instead of overflowing with presents, have nothing but coal in them.

No comments: