A cut from my favourite American election tracking blog.


Taxonomy of Political Debates

There have been numerous "debates" between candidates this year. Actually, none of them have been real debates, but more like intertwined question-and-answer sessions between candidates and moderators. Chistopher Beam of Slate has examined them and come to the conclusion that there are four kinds, as follows.

Regular Americam vs. lifelong politician. A lot of people are angry at politicians for not solving the country’s many problems, so rich businessmen, former athletes, and others for whom this is their first run for public office often endlessly pride themselves on not being a politician. It’s hard to imagine this working in any other field though. Can you see a doctor applying for a job at a hospital bragging about the fact that he has never worked in a hospital? Still, in politics this is a popular gambit this year. Meg Whitman (R) in California and Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin are pushing this theme.

Insider vs. outsider.This is kind of a variation on the first theme, but here the emphasis is on not being a Washington politician, making it available to people who have been lifelong politicians, but in state rather than national politics. Here the idea that it isn’t the political system that is broken, but the wrong people are in charge in Washington.

National vs. local.Former Speaker Tip O’Neill once said: "All politics is local" but this year that is not true. Republicans in many states and districts are running against President Obama and Nancy Pelosi even though Obama isn’t on the ballot anywhere and Pelosi’s only actually opponent is John Dennis in CA-08. Sometime this approach gets so out of hand that the Democrat has to remind his opponent who is in the race. Halfway through their debate Monday, Kentucky senatorial candidate Jack Conway (D) had to point out to his opponent that their election was about whether the people of Kentucky wanted to be represented in the Senate by Jack Conway or Rand Paul, not whether they wanted to be represented by Barack Obama or Rand Paul.

Exciting weirdo vs. boring normal person. With so many fairly unconventional candidates running for office this year, debates like the one between Harry Reid (D) and Sharron Angle (R) in Nevada have become common. The standard-issue politician then tries to refute the insider-outsider argument by saying, in effect, you may be an outsider, but you’re crazy. I’m at least normal.

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