Fair and Unbalanced
Littwin: It’s bigger than personhood, Mr. Gardner
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the prime-time 9News Senate debate, which was broadcast on Channel 20, actually got a decent audience (I doubt it, but let’s say it anyway).
If people were watching — hey, it was the last Senate debate of the season and what else were you doing at 7 on a Wednesday night? — what did they see?
It’s a harder question to answer than you’d think, which gets at the heart of the problem. Let’s take the first question of the debate — on Ebola. It’s a question ripped from the headlines, as they say. And since the crisis is still moving, the candidates haven’t had time to polish their responses.
More than that, the Ebola crisis doesn’t seem to fit the standard liberal-conservative model. It’s not abortion or birth control or immigration or taxes or ISIS or Iran or minimum wage or paycheck equity or entitlement reform or climate change or Harry Reid or Ted Cruz. As Mark Udall said, the virus is the enemy. Doesn’t everyone agree on at least that much?
OK, you know better.
Udall went first. He said he had gotten a briefing that day from the Centers for Disease Control, but Udall didn’t have much specific to add, except to say we should focus on the problem and listen to the experts. And, he said, the experts at the CDC were on the case — and, in a pre-emptive move against Gardner, added that senators and congressmen weren’t in a very good position to judge.
Gardner countered by saying basically that he was in great position to judge — and that we should immediately ban travel to the United States from those West African countries most affected. He blamed Barack Obama for having no strategy, as if he were talking about war in Iraq or Syria. In fact, the tone was pretty much the same. It was spoken with the 99 percent certainty that Obama must be wrong, whatever position he takes.
And then the moderators asked Gardner what expertise he had used to determine his position because, as it happens, most experts think a travel ban would be counterproductive. Gardner responded by saying that polls showed most people agreed with him. Udall, meanwhile, ripped Gardner for a vote that would have cut $700 million from the CDC. Gardner said he was voting against Jazzercise and that, besides, Udall had voted with Obama a lot of the time.
So, what do you think?
Does it matter that Gardner thinks the wisdom here can be found in the majority?
Does it matter that Udall had access to top people at the CDC, but didn’t have much specific to offer?
Does it matter that the co-moderators – Kyle Clark and Brandon Rittiman – jumped a candidate when he gave an unsupported answer? (This was speed-debating. Clark and Rittiman sped up the tempo, cut off answers that were going nowhere, tried to force tough answers to tough questions, got almost nowhere anyway, but still provided a good hour’s worth of entertainment.)
And the strange thing is, the Ebola argument, even if it didn’t offer much, was illuminating. It showed us Republican-congressman thinking vs. Democratic-senator thinking, and, depending how you see it, it should offer a strong hint about how you should vote.
I mean, what’s the real question here? Udall’s a mainstream Democrat. Gardner is a down-the-line conservative Republican. If Gardner wins, Republicans will almost certainly control the Senate. If Udall wins, Democrats may well hang on. That’s pretty much it. Don’t listen to editorials suggesting Gardner would be a moderating force in the Senate. He’d be a reliable soldier, just like he is in the House. If Udall loses, the Senate would lose a strong voice on privacy and also a reliable vote for liberal causes. But mostly, the race is about whose side you’re on.
Or is it?
The headlines in the debate came from the moderators, just as they did in the Denver Post debate. Rittiman asked Udall to name an Obama policy he’d be likely to oppose over the next two years. Udall wouldn’t, or couldn’t, name one. And Clark put a large dent into the Gardner smile on personhood. Clark said there was no debate about whether the House bill that Gardner co-sponsors is a personhood bill that would ban abortion and many kinds of birth control — and that Gardner is the only one who says otherwise. Clark said he wasn’t going to “debate” the question because it was a “fact.” And then he hit Gardner with a little more than a jab.
“Let’s talk about what that entire episode may say about your judgment more broadly,” Clark said. “A charitable interpretation would be that you have a difficult time admitting when you’re wrong and a less charitable interpretation would be that you’re not telling us the truth.”
The Denver Post, in its surprise endorsement of Gardner, said Udall was “obnoxious” to keep hitting Gardner on women’s reproductive rights in ad after campaign ad. Gardner, suddenly a big fan of the media, mentioned the Post in the debate more often than he mentioned the 99 percent.
And now Clark suggests, in a remarkably aggressive question, that the issue is not only about women’s choice, but about Gardner’s judgment and character. Gardner dodged and feinted in response, of course.
Is Clark right? Is the Post right?
The race might be decided on whether — after the fifth and apparently final meeting between Udall and Gardner — you think the question is still debatable.
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