No Minister

“Hi. Good night everybody”

with 7 comments

So began the long-dreaded debate between the candidates for Pennsylvania Senator, John Fetterman (D) and Mehmet Oz (R).

I say long-dreaded not because of any fears that the GOP guy would lose but because nobody should have welcomed him “debating” with a literal stroke victim who can’t process questions or give intelligible answers.

I’ve never had much confidence in the argument that debates can sway elections, particularly nation-wide ones. Even the ones that are famous among political tragics – Reagan-Carter (1980), Reagan-Mondale (1984), Lange-Muldoon(1984), Key-Clarke(2008) or Key-Goff (2011) really did not swing those elections but confirmed the trends that were already running.

Perhaps an argument can be made for Kennedy-Nixon(1960) but the winner there was ultimately determined by the Democrat machine politics around the country, especially in Chicago. Or Ardern-English in 2017, but her star (and polls) were already rising fast and of course Labour famously still fell short 37% to 44% in total votes and it was down to Winston Peter’s hatred of National that saw Ardern become Prime Minister.

And let’s not even waste time talking about contests of ideas or even policies. These televised affairs are really about creating good feelings for the candidates and minimising or hiding bad feelings. They’re actually weird job interviews.

While creating good feelings for a candidate is a goal the more important one to avoid gaffes or revealing flaws, because bad news is more attention grabbing than good news. As a result the respective campaigns spend their time leading up to a debate trying to lower expectations for their candidate – to frame it as them being the underdog, their opponent as a great debater, smooth and slick, and so forth.

In the case of Fetterman this reached absurd levels as his team did more than that and basically conceded the debate by sending a memo out to the MSM filled with stuff like this:

let’s be clear about this match-up: Dr. Oz has been a professional TV personality for the last two decades.

As The Philadelphia Inquirer’s top political reporters wrote: “Even before his stroke, Fetterman wasn’t great at debates.We’ll admit – this isn’t John’s format. Look no further than the debates from the primary earlier this year. On the other hand, “Oz is a polished daytime TV host who knows his camera angles and how to craft TV moments.’

There are times when you don’t want to let your opponent get away with this, but Oz is a “professional TV personality”, thanks mainly to Oprah Winfrey, as well being a medical doctor worth tens of millions of dollars made not just from TV but medical devices he’s invented. However, Oz and his team also knew that the real key fact here is that all this normal debate framing wouldn’t matter for the simple reason that Fetterman had suffered a stroke months ago and had still not recovered. That has been obvious for months even in the extremely limited public exposure he’s been allowed. Oz’s team knew there was no way Fetterman could spin that.

And so it proved.

When I say that this is how the debate began with that line from Fetterman, I’m not joking.

It just got worse from there. You can check that link for the video clips. I don’t want to put them up because I’ve already watched them and they’re painful. As you watch them, know that Fetterman’s team insisted he be allowed a closed-caption-real-time translation system so that he could read the questions – because he has problems “processing” oral stuff. I can’t recall anything like that in any political debate.

But it didn’t really help because his other problem is that his damaged brain can’t formulate answers:

We all have to make sure that everyone that works is able to that’s the most American bargain that you work full time you should be able to live in dignity as well true.”

“Here’s what I think we need to fight about inflation here right now. That’s what we need to fight about inflation right now because its a tax and Dr. Oz couldn’t understand what that’s like.”

“I just believe. I just, making it that much. It-it-it costs too much. And I believe providing the resources to reduce the tuition allow families to be able to afford it.”

“I do support fracking. I don’t, I don’t, I support fracking and I stand and I do support fracking.”

What? I will show you one video clip where he simply blanks in response to a question of his flip-flopping on the issue of fracking, and then delivers the gobbledygook transcribed above.

The brain problems are not just showing up in Q&A but in a lack of self-control. He yelled out in the middle of Oz’s closing speech, which is just not a thing that happens at debates even with the most aggressive candidates. It’s a Golden rule that I have never heard of being broken before. That’s how extraordinary this debate was. Frankly I can’t recall any debate like it. He simply should not have been on that stage.

The Federalist described it as “just abusive” while the Spectator said it was “political malpractice”.

There remains the question of why he was on that stage in the firs place. But that’s a topic for another post.


Written by Tom Hunter

October 29, 2022 at 6:00 am

7 Responses

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  1. You and I both know that the result of this particular race will be determined by how good the Democrat machine is at subverting the democratic process rather then the will of the people.

    At the risk of being accused of thread jacking allow me to post a video of a politician in a public forum at the top of his game, a politician who you despise.

    I do this so you compare and contrast Political dialogue in the USA with that in Russia, in particular the debate highlighted in the post with this political event which occurred at approximately the same time in Russia .

    The things I’d like to highlight are

    (1) The seriousness of this speech and discussion on a cerebral level rather than trying to score cheap political points in soundbites suitable to Twitter Posts

    (2) The lack of the teleprompter and in the discussion portion the confident speaking “off the cuff” as it were by President Putin, a man at the top of his game.

    The problems I face in bringing this to you and the readers of this blog is that looking at this requires a significant investment in your time and engagement of the brain the exact converse of dialogue via twitter

    The second problem with this is the original language of this speech and dialogue was Russian but for you the only translation is interpreters English performed in real time which sounds stilted and emotionally flat but this isn’t for entertainment but enlightenment and enlightenment requires work if that is what you seek

    I streamed this event in real time without translation and was absorbed by the underlying wisdom – I didn’t agree with all that was said of course but most of it perhaps

    I’m not trolling – I would like respectful adult debate on serious matters that affect us all.

    If you would like to invest your time in this, perhaps even post on it I think it would be a valuable thing for all – this speech was quite possibly one of the most important and historic speeches of our times and the discussion following most illuminating


    October 29, 2022 at 7:47 am

    • I get that you’re not trolling, Andrei, and this at least fits somewhat with this post. But three hours of translated speaking is too much for me.

      Besides that I have, over the last twenty years, stopped watching or listening to any politician. I’m not interested in Bush’s mangling of words, the tilty-head-of-compassion that is Ardern, the stage show theatrics of Trump, or the smooth articulateness of Bill Clinton, Obama – and Putin. Instead I read what they say – and not via some journalist’s cribbing – and I’m not even much interested in that.

      I’m interested in what they do and I make my judgements based on that.

      So my judgement was that the US had to go into Afghanistan and wipe out Osama and company. But when I heard about “nation-building” I knew, from the history of the place, that it would not work and did not support it. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I thought Saddam should have been pushed from power in 1991 and I thought nation-building had a shot there. I did not support the massive bailouts of the banks in 2008/2009. I supported the reforms of the 1980’s here in NZ but not the slapdash, revolutionary way they were implemented and so on and so forth.

      We can look back on those judgements and continue to have the debates, especially in the hope of guiding future decisions, and that includes the judgements of the politicians, whether they jibed with my own or not.

      And as far as Putin is concerned I don’t give a damn how articulate or intelligent he is. He’s done things – many things over many years now – of which I very much do not approve and they don’t outweigh those few things I do approve of. That’s enough for me. He needs to go, though I expect simply another “Czar” to take his place.

      Tom Hunter

      October 29, 2022 at 10:33 am

  2. I’ll give it a miss thanks Andrei – I simply can’t be bothered investing time in something that has no effect what-so-ever on my life.

    Russia will carry on doing it’s own thing as it has since medieval times. Nothing outside of Russia will alter it’s course.

    Not so the current US election where the trend and success or failure of the right-ish wing will largely set the pattern for the near future of the Western World.

    It may even affect communist/racist dictatorships like New Zealand.

    More though, the USA elections are damned interesting because their politics are very open and very little, politically, can be kept behind closed doors for long.

    The big question this election is whether the tribal pattern of voting can be corrupted when the consequences for continued failed and bizarre policies are so obvious.

    The Fetterman/Oz debate was theatre. Some of it brilliant but overall it should not have a great deal of influence on the election result if only because there had reportedly been 500,000 votes already cast and received before the debate started.

    As Tom stated, debates don’t tend to sway elections. IMHO they just cause more people to be interested in the outcome.


    October 29, 2022 at 8:31 am

    • I’ll give it a miss thanks Andrei – I simply can’t be bothered investing time in something that has no effect what-so-ever on my life.

      You are just making my point MT_Tinman

      You may wonder why the leading political political party in New Zealand is so ridiculous and why the National opposition is so impotent to do anything about it

      And you have just illustrated why in no uncertain terms

      In the grand scheme of things the 2022 Pennsylvania Senate race which will be notable only for political shenanigans and skullduggery will have little impact on major unfolding events on the Global stage which will effect events for decades to come

      And even that particular event has been further reduced to a couple of short soundbites as if that is going to provide us with anything profound other than highlighting the absurdity of the Political classes in the West and the extreme shallowness of political discourse.

      But as they say “you can lead a horse to water…”


      October 29, 2022 at 9:59 am

      • You may or may not be right in your view Andre of the world.

        However it is clear as clear that Putin and “his” Russia are an answer to nothing.

        It is simply the end for Russia in this form, the last Communist, but what comes next is any ones guess.

        It still wont be the answer to the question you allude to.

        Authoritarian rule does not trump democracy, even if democracy is going through a bad batch.

        With oil and gas prices plummeting, and a war that is literally sucking the life out of Russia, Putin is a dead man walking either figurately or in reality.


        October 29, 2022 at 10:37 am

      • Andrei, we both said the same thing about the Pennsylvania debate, just with different words.

        Russia’s history is rather easily explained in that from just over 100 years ago they started changing the small group of elite who ruled the country with no real change for most Russians – they still get ruled by a small, unelected cadre with very little input.

        Over the years they have gone from imperial to Leninist to Stalinist and ended up where they are now with Putin.

        Only the names and faces change.

        Political discourse, as you term it, from both sides of the divide is no such thing, just the ravings of mad men.

        The USA election approaching is only really about whether the electorate will attempt to change madmen hoping to change fortune or stick with tribal mores.

        It’s fun to watch though, far more honest than anything New Zealand produces politically.


        October 29, 2022 at 11:07 am

  3. I broadly agree with Andrei, Putin, like it or not, is a strong leader with a vision, and he speak from the heart, not from a teleprompter with words put together by a spin doctor.
    As to the value of candidate debates, or even the ‘meet the candidates’ meetings, they are basically a waste of time.
    There will typically be maybe 150 people there, of which maybe 15 haven’t decided who they are voting for. the rest are supporters of a candidate.


    October 29, 2022 at 12:38 pm

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