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Now, children

Posted by pocochina on February 27, 2008

The funny thing about debates at this point, is that the candidates aren’t really talking to the people we all think they’re talking to. Generally, political spectacles about this are thought to be for the press. And the press is part of it, and its lunatic drones many members certainly benefit, but it ain’t about them.

The press has made up their minds, they have a narrative and they’re sticking to it. I watched ten minutes of the KOlbermann last night (PR commercials, dontcha know) and he was stuck, like a pin in an old-fashioned wax record, on the idea of how Clinton “expects to win over Obama supporters by attacking Obama.” She doesn’t. Maybe a very few, who’re tentatively meandering on the side of the Obama parade because of a specific issue attachment may listen more closely, and realize they are closer to her than to him. The reverse would be true, of course, if anyone in the press were even thinking to ask the question – after the last few months, Obama could have done nothing short of calling the DNC to count Michigan and Florida for me to consider abandoning Senator Clinton.* (By the way, DNC, there are totally some voters in Michigan and Florida, look into that, willya?)

The candidates right now are talking to undecideds. They’re talking to people who are wavering, who are voting because they’re true-blue Democrats but are in such awe at having such wonderful people before them that they just can’t make up their minds.

Last week after the Texas debate, CNN took a call from an e-reporter, or whatever they call their unpaid intern bloggers, and they could not get a decision out of the guy. Couldn’t do it. The kid still didn’t know. (Or he’d made up his mind for Senator Clinton and was afraid Matthews would eat his soul. Which was quite silly, as you have to actually be in the studio for a Matthews Attack.) And if you look at the math, well, there’s a surprising number of people who don’t know, and in those push-polls, they don’t filter out die-hards and look at the less fervent supporters separately. The reason the polling predictions often get things wrong – this was a particular failure in NH – wasn’t that people changed their minds from Obama to Clinton, it was that undecideds broke for Hillary. That might be less true after Super Tuesday, but y’know, it might not. I was not much of a math person, y’all, but looking at the Texas and Ohio data, both those numbers are still under 50%, meaning not everyone has made up their mind.

Well, undecideds, and Clintonites who had given up the faith were watching too.  They were watching as Senator Clinton called  the media on its bias, but with a sweet and hearty “I don’t mind answering questions, It’s just curious that I’m always first,” and those undecideds and Clintonites remembered that they fucking hate Tim Russert.  People actually trying to get information, who wanted to make a decision last night, saw HRC give a concise and accurate answer to a question, and then they saw Senator Obama given a verbose (and largely unnecessary) rebuttal, and then they saw Brian Williams interrupt a sitting senator, asking her to wait until after the commercial break when oops, they’d set up video already.  People who hate Senator Clinton probably thought she was whining, people critiquing on blogs asked why she was going for the jugular so early – she wasn’t talking to us.  She was setting up a framework through which those precious undecideds would watch the rest of the debate.  It’s not something you necessarily pick up consciously – though if you are a feminist who perhaps had a bit too much Starbucks today, you were grinding down the elliptical a little harder each time it happened – even if you did not count the times Tim Russert attempted to paint her as a liar, you might have remembered that she’s with these people who were, for years of our collective past, so keen to ruin her marriage.  Women who’d given up the faith after the month long slide – which, though not mitigated as well as it could have been – was after all expected between Super Tuesday and VerTexOhIsland will tomorrow see clips of Hillary snapping back answers on Putin and his successor, and Barack Obama staring and going “what she said.”  There will be a radio spot tomorrow about the candidate of hope and change and post-partisanship parsing his words when describing less-than-desirable supporters, and the “establishment” candidate pointing out that in the process of joining said establishment, she actively and vocally rejected support from hatemongers.

The Dragon Lady – so mean she makes men cringe, but who cries at the slightest insult; so darkly partisan that she’s breathes blue air, but is so trangulating she’s practically a Republican – she’s not real. The reason debates are so good for Senator Clinton is that in a discussion with a human rival and two journalists, people are suddenly surprised that she is a person, and a smart person with lots of ideas.  It’s not necessarily that she is cold, but that the narrative the press has constructed for her is that of a cold woman – that when we see her crackling heat and brilliance and wit, we all of a sudden have a person to whom a rival may be compared.

This debate was about people still making up their minds.  People who are going to be maybe a little friendlier when Red knocks on their door tomorrow.  People who make up that critical margin of error.

Did it work?  We’ll find out on Tuesday.  I hope so.  I hope and I pray and I think of a woman in a San Antonio law firm who’s just been asked – jokingly, of course – if she’s on the rag, and I hope that she was watching, and that she found a little comfort when she remembered that one of the most powerful women in the history of this country was forced to laugh along a couple of days ago too.

*He could’ve tried not being a hypocritical sexist homophobic jackass for the last twelve months, which might’ve made it easier. But there we are.

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